Cheese or Fromage or Queso or Formaggio or Whatever You Call It

Trying to Keep Pace

Not much to report on the running front. I finally graduated to mile repeats at track, which is progress and I did a trail run with my friends that had some hills over the weekend, so we keep moving forward. Time is ticking and I feel like I need more and more hill work, but I have to trust the plan that Coach 'T' has laid out, which I have followed for the most part. But if you thought that the title of this blog entry had to do with keeping up with my friends on the run, you're wrong. :-)

Last night, we had the pleasure of hosting some close friends over for dinner who also happen to be foodies and love their wine. These dinners tend to have themes and definitely bring out some friendly competition amongst the gang. Most of the people in the group are classically trained chefs or have worked in professional kitchens. The others just merely "like to cook". Marc and I tend to "hope to keep up" with the talent surrounding us, and then try to keep things classic, simple and with a bit of a twist.

In honor of one of our friend's receiving some really positive news, we let her pick out the theme for the evening. Given her roots, she chose 'Italian'. I knew I didn't want to slave over fresh pasta so I quickly claimed a course of 'protein and veg'. And no, you can't do Ronzoni with this crew. Heh. Marc and our Italian friend partnered on dessert, which ended up being mind-blowing. Translation: non-dessert eaters had seconds. Well played, Marc and Danielle.

I went through some of our Italian oriented cookbooks from places like SPQR, Babbo, Union Square Cafe (plenty of Italian inspired dishes), and Tra Vigne. Plus we also have Molto Mario. I had to find something that wasn't too heavy, wasn't too big and would appease the palates of the gang. I settled on a dish from Mario Batali's 'The Babbo Cookbook', which we use quite a bit - most notably for their awesomely easy and fabulous "Dry-Aged Ribeye For Two" recipe.

So on I went with "Duck Braciole with Fava Beans and Pecorino Toscano". This recipe wasn't too complex but it was going to involve me de-boning a bunch of duck legs/thighs, which I have never done before. I allowed a bunch of time to complete the task and did a couple of extra ones so I could test drive the recipe over lunch. The instructions weren't that helpful in the cookbook so I just kind of improvised and hoped I wouldn't cut off a finger. Mission accomplished.

I substituted the stuffing that had bread crumbs with crumbled up almonds. The rest of the stuffing had fresh Italian parsley, chopped garlic and orange zest. That was pretty straightforward to assemble. Then you basically just put the stuffing in the middle of the duck leg and tied it up so it kept its shape while it baked in the oven. While it baked in the oven, one could say that the depiction of a "duck fat jacuzzi" was taking place. BTW when I used that term with Marc after reading Gastoblog's attempt at the recipe, Marc almost spit up his coffee.

After baking in the oven, Marc and I tasted. It wasn't bad but we both thought it was odd that the recipe didn't have me 'scoring the duck', which helps render the fat out. The upside is that you get some nice duck fat to use for something else. So I decided that I would make a change to the recipe. Score the skins and brown the duck legs skin side down. Then remove, add the stuffing, tie up and bake. AND.... I would use the duck fat to saute the fava beans.

Let's talk about those fava beans, which were procured by Marc. When Marc's family was in town, they went to Pike Place Market and I asked him to get enough for 10 people. Well Marc came back with 18 (eighteen) pounds of fava beans for $10. You couldn't make this up if you tried. OK. If you haven't cooked with fresh fava beans, you should know that they are a complete pain in the ***. They have to be shucked and then peeled before you cook them. 

The recipe called for them to be served raw. I opted to blanch them for a minute and then saute them in the aforementioned duck fat once our guests arrived. 

All I can say is that it came off really well. The kitchen twine really did a great job of holding the shape together and the favas were awesome. Before I had a chance to announce the dish (a tradition of the group), a couple of people were wondering what was "in" the fava beans. Well, that's duck fat for you!

The dish, as a whole, really worked, especially once I topped it with some freshly shaved pecorino toscano. I really didn't know how it would come together as sometimes things don't retain their shape throughout the cooking process and also changing some of the recipe. I guess when you are asked for the recipe, you must have done something right.

But as usual, the rest of the crew pulled off some amazing dishes. You can see the rest of the photos here.

Per Se. We finally made it.

As a result of surgery for the broken hand, the visit to New York post-Australia had to be postponed about a month. It was unfortunate because we already had a table secured for Per Se, a place that I have been wanting to try for a LONG time. 

When I called the restaurant and explained the situation, they were actually really cool about it and placed me at the top of the wait list for when I was going to be in NY. We recruited Lisa and Jarrett to join in the fun, and we purchased a sports jacket for Marc so he has one (funny, he will be wearing it 3 times in 4 months!). Fortunately they were able to get a babysitter for the occasion, and off we went. And the "purple claw" got to join in the fun!

I posted all of the pictures up on Facebook, but I have to say that I was concerned that it wouldn't live up to the hype - especially for the cost of the meal. While I don't see myself paying that kind of money for a meal in the near future (inflation adjusted obviously), I will say that the food, service and the room were pretty spectacular. We received a tour of the kitchen after the meal, and they accommodated the dietary preferences of the table without any issue.

It was a fantastic meal, but the wine mark-ups are significant, bordering on absurd. I'd probably bring a great bottle or two from my own cellar and pay the corkage. I don't know if that makes me cheap but it is a huge pet peeve of mine to pay 4x-5x the amount that I can get retail.

30 March : Sydney

Our first order of business was some Skype time with Lisa, +Jarrett and family to show them our fabulous view. The only problem is that the lighting in the morning here is somewhat intense in the direction of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. It's better in the afternoon and at sunset (which is what really matters anyway).

After this, we walked over to the Andrew Charlton Pool which is on Woolloomooloo Bay on the east side of the Royal Botanical Gardens. This pool is the cleanest and best overall of the three 50 meter pools I've been to in Sydney. Obviously, the N Sydney pool overlooks the Harbour Bridge and Opera House but the locker rooms were suspicious (I wore sandals at ALL times). Bondi has the ocean view and the nice waves crashing in, but that water is COLD (and this is summer temperature).

As I swam, Jill went for another run. We then had a leisurely lunch and stroll back to the hotel on a different path (for me) than I had been on before. Guess what that means? New angles of the Opera House and many more photos. I cannot stop.

We hung out at the pool for a while again. +Jill wanted the end of our travel time here to be maximum chill and we have truly done this.

We then walked over to the lookout at the bridge pylon which was included in our bridge climb the other day. I think we would both tell people to just pay the $11 per person to only do that and avoid the climb. Why? Hey, I had my camera with me to freely take any and all photos. Cool. More opera house (among other things). They also had plenty of history in the structure too so the info the guide tells you on the climb is basically in here.

On the way back, we checked out the "farmer's market" that was closing down and we may have found tomorrow's breakfast patisserie. Jill then felt compelled to show +Lisa the view in better lighting.

Dinner was at the Bridge Room. Jill had booked the previous night via Amex months ago and they had accepted the reservation despite the establishment being closed for Good Friday. They spent weeks trying to contact the Amex person who booked it to let us know but that person no longer works there. Many places were closed. Last minute notification. Jill was not pleased.

The result of her displeasure was a meal on the house tonight. I ended up with the signature dish for a starter which is a Comte cheese souffle wrapped in prosciutto with figs and pomegranate seeds and some other nice stuff. Delicious. In the end, Jill had them charge us a dollar so we could leave a generous tip because the place was fabulous.

2 Mar: Sydney (NSW) --> Brisbane (QLD).

After yesterday's fun-filled day, we had to gear up to organize for the next phase of the adventure - Queensland. We now have a full suitcase of souvenirs and other clothes that we don't expect to need, so we needed to move that to our next hotel in Sydney for the final week of the trip. I know, boring.

Baklava from Xanthi
Given our history in Greece, +Marc wanted to try some Greek restaurants on this trip. Australia actually has a pretty decent sized Greek population, so I wasn't anticipating this being a problem. I found one pretty close to our hotel to try for lunch called Xanthi, and it was pretty authentic. The meats were all freshly roasted on spits and the wine list was all-Greek with plenty of choices (skipped the wine though - we are sticking to Aussie only wines on this trip). The baklava preparation they did was pretty innovative and tasty.

Marc enjoying his 2nd and 3rd desserts of the day plus baklava at lunch!
After lunch, we got our things together and headed to the airport to catch our flight to Brisbane (aka Brissie). The plan is to be in Queensland (the only state we have yet to visit on this trip) for 3.5 weeks before heading back to Sydney. When we landed in Brisbane, it was very stormy and rainy. Not fun. We got the rental car, headed to our AirBnB, and got settled in.

Dinner was at Esquire, which ended up being excellent. Our server wasn't so great, but the sommelier saved the day and the food was top-notch. The desserts were distinctive to the point that Marc actually was more interested in my dessert (non-chocolate) than his (chocolate). Don't worry - mine didn't have fruit. Ha! Anyway, it was a good day and will hopefully set us up for a great stretch in the state of Queensland.

Thanks for tuning in.

19 Feb : Perth

We walked Dylan to school with Fiona and then went to the local coffee shop. They do a capuccino with chocolate on top but I've gotten so used to an Americano ("Long Black" down under) that I couldn't taste the coffee whatsoever. I guess straight up coffee is best.

After this we went to Cottesloe Beach and Jill went for a run in mid 30s C heat (HOT) along the beach while I hung out under a tree. After she returned, I went for a swim in the Indian Ocean. There were lots of fish at this beach!

We had a great lunch at John Street Cafe then we ran several errands before heading back to play cricket with Dylan, Fiona, and Andrew. Dylan taught us some things about the game and how it all works (it was the 1st real sign that +Jill's hand/wrist wasn't right as she couldn't even pitch in cricket). We then went back and had a home cooked meal and ate out on the deck.

06 Feb: Hobart (TAS) --> Bruny Island (TAS) --> Hobart (TAS).

Marc enjoying the very placid waters within
Little Oyster Bay Cove
Finally: South Australia pics (Barossa, McLaren Vale and Adelaide) are finished and posted!

+Marc and I had another early start this morning because we had a kayaking tour arranged outside of Hobart. When Marc was going through the Lonely Planet, he noticed a couple of interesting things to check out at a place called Bruny Island, and I wanted to kayak around there. So to make it work, we did a half day paddle and then spent the afternoon on Bruny.

I can't even begin to describe how amazing the conditions were for kayaking. It was warm (high teens/low 20s) and the sun was blazing. The water was calm and pretty much no wind or traffic was in the D'Entrecasteaux Channel, which is where we kayaked with our guide from "Roaring 40s". Reg was engaging, informative and passionate about the area having grown up on Bruny, but also having the perspective of traveling the world.
LOCAL seafood - as in picked
off the side of the bay!

We checked out an old shipwreck, saw some interesting coves and I got to eat a very fresh oyster from "Little Oyster Bay Cove" of all places. HA! Yum! We paddled through some of the larger boats moored in the marina in Kettering before getting back to the ferry in time for lunch.

On the ferry, we saw some dolphins jumping around. Unfortunately we only got one picture and it looks a bit blurry, but I'll post it to FB anyway. After a quick ride, we made it over to the Bruny Island Smokehouse where I had smoked wallaby for lunch and Marc played it safe with smoked chicken. Both were tasty and definitely smoked for real (guess our Big Green Egg experience has to be good for something, right?). 

Jill and Reg (our guide) on a magical morning in the
D'Emtrecasteaux Channel. H/T to Marc for capturing
this amazing shot
After lunch, it was pretty warm but we headed further south to Cape Bruny, the southern most part of South Bruny. Some dirt roads were involved (yeah for rental cars) but overall it was a nice and picturesque ride. The tide was very low on the west side of the island for the entire afternoon, which we found odd. We checked out the lighthouse and weather station. I am pretty sure Cape Bruny is the southern most point in Tasmania (and obviously Australia) but I need to check that.

After visiting Cape Bruny, we worked our way back up north to HIBA, a local place that makes chocolate and fudge on the island. You can only guess who wanted to stop there. Marc got his chocolate and then we ventured more north towards the Bruny Island Cheese Company (yeah for fromage!). I got a cheese platter for takeaway in what can best be referred to as a pizza box. My cousin, Scott, who runs Scott's Pizza Tours would be so impressed.

Cape Bruny Lighthouse,
South Bruny, Tassie
We made it back to the ferry and got back to Hobart for a quick shower and a walk down to dinner. I wanted to check out a place that seemed to be making the news as *THE* place to go to in Hobart - Garagistes. While the food was very local and the service was attentive, the menu felt a bit too limited for us. Also I was disappointed that they pretty much had only French and Italian wines to choose from. I don't get how you flaunt that you use local ingredients but not back it up with the wine. That said, we enjoyed the food and the portions weren't so big that you felt too stuffed.

We got back to the flat where we are staying and agreed that we were looking forward to sleeping in. We did note that a fire did start near where we were planning to hike so we would have to potentially have a Plan B if the park was closed. We shall see.

Thanks for tuning in.

31 Jan: Adelaide (SA).

Adelaide Aquatic Centre
The day started off with rain and continued with a steady rainfall throughout the morning and early afternoon. This caused us to change our plans slightly. Instead of walking a couple of kilometers to the pool, where +Marc would swim and I would run around a local park, we would drive to the pool and I would skip the run for the time being.

The Adelaide Aquatic Centre was really nice and well maintained. It is a pretty big facility. Another thing to note about Adelaide is that even on a grey day, you can tell it is a pretty city with lots of parks, interesting architecture and different culture. We are hoping for some nicer weather during our brief time here.

Cheese stand in Adelaide
Central Market
After swimming, we drove to Gouger Street where the Adelaide Central Market is located along with a number of great Asian restaurants that we could try for lunch. We sussed out the market since we are doing the AirBnB thing for this city and plan on cooking the next two nights. Gosh, they have so many stalls with fresh produce and meats. A cook's dream - great choices and reasonable prices because competition is so fierce!
This made us chuckle - lots of
witty named stands

Once we knew the stalls we would purchase from, we decided to grab some Thai at a place that was pretty well regarded. Nothing fancy but we saw lots of suits in the restaurant which probably means the locals frequent it a lot. The food was tasty and fresh. Then we went back to the market and did some food shopping. It was fun, but it was also hard to not buy more - so much great stuff! Just like the South Melbourne Market.

Rare home cooking - Roo!
We got back to the apartment and the skies cleared up, so I went out for a quick 3.25 mile run. It felt good to get out there and run through one of Adelaide's many parks. Marc and I then cooked some kangaroo, other meats, beans, etc. It was nice and simple. Awesome. I'll also admit it was good to have a day off from all-day wine consumption too.

25 Jan : Melbourne --> Dunkeld via Great Ocean Road

This was our longest day to date. +Jill and I got up bloody early and on the road by 4:45 so we could get to the start of the Great Ocean Road by sunrise and catch a view from a beach or cliff. We got there at 6am in the nick of time as the clouds were starting to show pinks. Their cooperation and coloring made a pretty spectacular start to the road and the day ahead.
Sunrise at Torquay overlooking the Southern Ocean
 After enjoying that for a while, we slowly drove south stopping at several viewing locations to take in the drive and snap some photos.

"Official start" to Great Ocean Road
Eventually we made it to Kennett River - a tiny town with a dirt road up into the "mountains" that has koalas in their natural habitat, i.e. sleeping in trees 20+ hours a day. We drove up slowly and spotted at least 5 of them along a few km of road. We got lucky with one that was high in a tree from the ground but that tree was over a cliff from the road and right at our eye level. Boom!

Awake koala sighting in the wild! Wow!!! Just Wow!!
After this diversion it was time for "brunch" down the road in Apollo Bay. I couldn't resist a dish of pesto and eggs on ham and sourdough called "Green Eggs and Ham" on this day. To top it off, a mom was at another table reading "The Lorax" to her son.

Weather cleared up just in time for our arrival
It was now time for the main attraction to this wonderful drive. The Southern Ocean and the Twelve Apostles. These are rock formations in the water after years of erosion created by relentless waves. Eventually these stacks also erode away and collapse into the sea.
Looking west on some of the 12 Apostles from the lookout
This was something I wanted to see on the trip and we got there as it was clearing so the lighting was interesting with a constantly changing sun/shade mix. It was well worth the long drive and I took a ton of photos to go with our effort.

Looking eastward from the lookout on to some of the 12 Apostles
After this and several other stops along the Southern Ocean, we headed north to the Grampians. As we approached, it was so  unusual to be driving on essentially flat farmland and see this small/isolated mountain range just sitting there.

We did a "shake the legs out" hike for 45 minutes to the peak and back of the Picaninny with great views of the southern Grampians to prepare us for more hiking the following day up north.

Royal Mail Hotel: Egg Yolk and New Potatoes, Salt Fish and Crackling
We came here for hiking and of course Jill found a well known restaurant called the Royal Mail Hotel. Several people we have met along the way have told us to have dinner there and Jill informs them that we are doing just that.

Royal Mail Hotel: Tomato on Toast, Hand-Made Sheep's Ricotta
I cannot do this part justice  in writing, maybe Jill can, but they have an omnivore or vegetarian multi-course dinner. They did a great job of substituting when the omnivore option did not appeal to me. The service was fabulous and everyone worked well together as a team the entire evening.

11 Jan : Canberra & Canberra District Wine

 Well, the wine tasting at cellar doors (tasting rooms) as begun. And it'll only get more insane as we hit the warm wine regions.

+Jill and I began the day with a nice 5k+ run in 70-ish degree morning heat. Hot for Seattle-ites but we chose this weather as a means to escape the grey winter so we can't complain. After cleaning up, we drove to the town/village of Murrumbateman which is kind of the center of the Canberra District Wine region. It was lunchtime so we went to "Flint in the Vines" which is at Shaw Vineyard Estate. Our glasses of wine weren't that memorable, but the food was delicious and interesting. We had a pizza that had pumpkin and chili sauce with pine nuts, bleu cheese, and spinach on it. We also shared a chicken dish with quinoa, corn, pomegranate, and a side of carrots with jamon and sage.
Good idea for the Big Green Egg when we return!

For our first stop tasting, we went to Eden Road which is known for Riesling and Shiraz. We learned a lot about the region and tasted some good stuff. 2011 was a particularly wet and challenging vintage for this colder climate region. I really enjoyed their peppery Canberra Shiraz. These folks have a US distributor in NY and they make a nice cold climate syrah.

The other winery that "everyone" has told us to go to is Clonakilla. It is the oldest in the area and the classic example of cool climate Shiraz in the Cote Rotie Rhone style. They co-ferment with viognier and the 2011 is blessed with white pepper notes.

We ate dinner at a place in the capital circle at the lake with a view of the ANZAC Memorial across the way. The food was quite good and the wines we ended up with were really nice - a pinot and a syrah. The shiraz was from 1997 and still had a cork - definitely a novelty here. They're probably at 98% screw cap these days in Australia.
Sunset in the Parliamentary Zone with Int'l Flag Display

The service at this restaurant left much to be desired. Apparently after you have chosen, you should close your menu to indicate this. 2 out of 4 of us did this and me just by chance. So they ignored us for what seemed like the longest time. I didn't look at my watch but it was too long. Then after they cleared the 2nd course, we sat for 45-60 minutes waiting for our mains. It might have been longer, but we asked to speak to a manager to see what was taking so long and WHY no one was even stopping by our table at all. Totally weird. They rushed out the mains which half our table had eaten before all 3 sides actually made it to our table.
Our wonderful hosts, Christine and Ashley

Overall though, we had a good time in the capital so it was nice to see. Perhaps if the government had been in session, that would have made the bike ride more interesting. Over dinner one night, we heard some amazement at what we are doing together. Paraphrased (and anonymous): "You are spending every minute together for over 3 months. How can you do this? I can't even spend 3 months all by myself." Quote of the trip so far.

All We Need Is a Golf Bag, Contraband and What Else?

A crazy set of circumstances had us making plans within a month to spend a good chunk of April gallivanting around to 3 destinations -- San Diego, Barbados and Miami. It's a long story how that came to be, but don't worry, a tale will be told.

Marc's friends from high school and college, Greg and Kate, live and work in Barbados, and have extended many invitations for us to come down. So when the opportunity presented itself, we coordinated and made it happen. 

Greg is avid fan of some of the things that we have cooked and posted on Facebook, so I knew that we needed to figure out how to make something epic. The problem is that even though Barbados is a tropical island, fresh produce and good meat is scarce. Hmmm. To further complicate things, I was told that Fed Ex'ing items in would be likely confiscated by customs. Drats.

But not to be deterred, I launched "Operation Duck Confit" and proceeded to assemble items to make a cassoulet to smuggle down to Barbados. We were bringing my large golf travel bag anyway, which can fit a body in it in addition to my golf clubs. All we needed was some frozen ice packs and A LOT of luck.

We obviously couldn't fly direct to Barbados, so we had to connect via Miami. So not only did we have to make our connecting flight, but our checked bag had to as well. Then we needed to get there on schedule so everything didn't melt. And last, but certainly not least, we needed to get through customs at the Barbados airport without my bag being inspected, particularly by dogs.

Greg and I were exchanging emails about what I *MAY* be bringing over, but I wasn't telling him what. I just promised him that it would be worth it if he had to bail me out of jail with the contraband and that it was all legal in the US. But I kept inquiring about the customs piece and how to "move things forward". Finally as we were sitting in the Miami airport waiting for our connection, Greg finally sent over a message that had something "actionable" in it for handling customs.

Of course, Marc wanted nothing to do with this so I was on my own when I filled out the customs form. I may have inadvertently left things off due to "jetlag" as we did red-eye over from Seattle. Oops. 

We get through immigration and I see a number of valets waiting for new arrivals. Marc conveniently hits the bathroom. Wimp. I ask a gentleman to help us with our very large bag and say that I need to get this through customs. I MAY have also prematurely tipped him for his service. Come on, have some faith. The valet goes and talks to someone else working at the airport.

Magically my bag appears outside of a side door. OK, good sign. The bag made it all the way from Seattle. Now for the walk outside. The valet smiles nicely as the customs agent, who looks more like a flight attendant with her uniform, waves us through. Ah, thank goodness for premature tipping! 

We see Greg and meet his older son, Conor. Greg asks us if we want to go to the beach. Sure. After we drop off a bunch of stuff off at his house and he may want to tell his wife, whom I haven't met yet, to clean out the fridge. We get to the house and I start chucking stuff to Greg to throw in the fridge, which included artisan cheeses, meats, all ingredients for a cassoulet, chocolate and stuff from Trader Joe's.

"Operation Duck Confit" was an amazing success. BTW, my golf bag weighed 71 lbs on the way over. It weighed 31 lbs on the return back to the States.

Oh, and the cassoulet? Totally worth all of the effort.

Next on the horizon...

Well as I talked about in the last post, Rock ‘n Roll didn’t go as scheduled due to a stomach ailment. Things are a little better and I would say that I am about 70% of full strength (with meds – need to get off of those soon). But it was definitely the right call not to race as for the 3-4 days after what would have been the race, I wasn’t consuming anything but smoothies. As a result, dropped 4 lbs. in that timeframe, which is a decent amount for someone of my height. I had worked out later in the week at Crossfit and did a couple of easy runs around Green Lake just to keep things moving, and the pain was tolerable.

Fortunately I was able to get back into gear by the time one of our close friends came to town for a visit for July 4th weekend. Nat arrived on Saturday morning on an absolutely gorgeous day in Seattle, and we immediately did what any proper host does – whisked him up to Woodinville, where many of the best wineries in Washington state have tasting rooms. OK, we did have an amazing brunch at Barking Frog first. Gotta get some food in the system, right?

Unfortunately the one winery that Marc wanted to check out was by appointment only, so we couldn’t visit those folks. We did, however, stop by Pepperbridge, DeLille and Page and properly introduced Nat to some of our favorite wines. He enjoyed all of the places we showed him, but seemed particularly enamored with DeLille. After some wine tasting in the sunshine, we headed back to the house to watch some baseball and get ready to have some friends over for dinner.

We decided to do our tried and true rib-eye recipe on the Big Green Egg. I wasn’t sure if there was going to be much difference from when we grilled it on the regular BBQ, and let’s just say that I was wrong. Big time. Our friends each brought some great dishes over like kale salad, sautéed Swiss chard, meringues and “chocolate peanut-butter goodness”. It was a very fun time and some amusing discussions took place amongst the group that really didn’t know each other beforehand. The entire group works out regularly and I received word on Sunday morning that one of the more “hard core” folks had such a good time on Saturday that they needed to “get some grease” at McDonald’s the next morning prior to starting their training bike ride. Guess we did a good job as hosts! J

On Sunday, the Mariners were in town and Nat is a huge baseball fan. Actually, he is a Red Sox fan. But we have known that since the start of our friendship and have embraced the rivalry and what that brings. We ended up having nice weather for the game and I showed Nat some of the really cool features of Safeco Field, where the Mariners play. Then we ended up meeting another friend of ours, Erik, for dinner at the newly opened and much raved about RN74. It’s named after one of the main roads in the Burgundy wine region in France. The owner, Michael Mina, has a restaurant in San Francisco with the same name, which Marc and I have been to.

For a place that was opened 3 weeks ago, the quality of the food and service was really top notch. I have been to a number of places when they were just getting their feet wet, and they definitely had kinks to work out. We really couldn’t find anything to criticize. The team took great care of us and ended what was a really fun day. Oh yeah, we actually got to start the day with a run and then a visit to Elliott Bay Books in their new Capitol Hill location. So yep – outstanding day with Marc and close friends. Nat had to leave early on Monday unfortunately, but we hope he comes back soon (and not alone)!

My next 2 races are pretty close to each other, but they are not typical “races” as in a 5k, 10k, half-marathon. Both are relays, which encompass a completely different line of thinking and training. And the running is going to be at the hottest part of the day in both relays. So I asked Kim of TN Multisports to get me back on track, and she assigned me a pretty tough track workout yesterday. Since it was a pretty warm day by Seattle standards (high 70s and complete sunshine), I decided to hit a different track that had no shade and waited until about 2:30pm to do my workout.

My stomach was a bit upset, but my legs felt good and my cardio seemed strong, so I was happy with the effort. I am hoping that my stomach will continue to trend in the right direction in getting better, and then hopefully getting off of the meds that I am currently on. In preparation for the relays, I am also going to have to start doing something I have never done before since I started running – double running sessions. It’s more of a mental thing, but it needs to be done. Stay tuned as I try and tackle that challenge.

Day 15 - “Mostly” Paleo Challenge

OK, so we are 2 weeks into this challenge and things seem to be going ok. I'm finding more recipes to convert or just follow based on friends' recommendations or on websites. I'm not finding that my workouts are any easier to get through or any harder to get through as a result of eliminating grains and dairy for 85% of the time. And yep, I am still at 85% level of adherence so I am pretty happy about that. Breakfast is slowly becoming a part of my repertoire, which will benefit me in the long-run.

I continue to rotate between a healthy fat combined with either protein or fruit. A healthy fat can be something like avocado or almond butter. So you probably are wondering what I spread the almond butter on, or, uh, maybe you're not because you just spoon it straight out of the jar? :-) Well I spread the almond butter on apple slices. I know it seems weird but I like it and it fills me up. Actually we get such big apples out here that it almost seems like too much with the almond butter and the super large apples that we get, but whatever. It's easy to make and I like the taste.

On Saturday, we had some friends over and smoked some rib-eyes on the Big Green Egg. To go with the rib-eyes, I made a garlic-shallot butter which came out as expected (I used ghee to make it more Paleo-friendly). Our friends were kind enough to make a Paleo-friendly salad, which was tasty & had BACON "croutons", in addition to the Beef and Guinness pie (my puff pastry was "donated" to Marc). I decided to make something with sweet potatoes, but I was struggling with something over than doing a mash. I took a recipe off of Robb Wolf's website and made some tweaks to create a "Savory Sweet Potato Stuffing with Bacon and Sage".

It was a lot of work chopping up all of the sweet potatoes since I was planning on making enough to have as leftovers for the week (my arm was still sore on Monday morning from Saturday afternoon!). I also subbed out bacon for the sausage and chicken stock for the white wine. Finally I swapped in hazelnuts for pecans and left out the raisins. In short, it came out great and I am really happy that we have LEFTOVERS of this dish! And my guests, who weren't huge sweet potato fans, really enjoyed the stuffing as well. Score!

The other recipe that I wanted to share was a Ming Tsai recipe from his "One Pot Meals" cookbook, which I think I have recommended to 6 people and counting. It was a Lemongrass-Coconut Chicken Soup, and it was pretty easy to make. I was glad that I added the serrano chilies for an extra kick because I think it made a positive impact. I also decided to let it slow cook for awhile longer than the recipe indicated, which I think helped. I think it will make for a tasty leftover this week.

Finally one of my running buddies sent over some baked goods recipes that are Paleo-friendly. Marc made some chocolate chip scones, which we served on Saturday at our house and on Sunday at another friend's house. Definitely well received by our friends so that was good. Our Crossfit coach and her husband also received some of the leftovers, which I was told they inhaled. LOL.

Yesterday I spent the day running up a hill with one friend at the Mercer Island Half-Marathon after cheering on a few of my other teammates and former colleagues, and then I went to climb the stairs of the Columbia Tower (69 floors) to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society with some of my Crossfit mates. My goal for the climb was 15-20 minutes, and I came in at 14:59. Seriously that was my exact time. I was psyched. And I was able to run 5 miles pain-free. All in all, a great weekend with some positive progress on the physical fitness side and many laughs with excellent friends.

Day 11 – “Mostly” Paleo Challenge

We are moving along on the "mostly" 30-Day Paleo Challenge. Marc surprised me with a dinner dish that was a combination of leftovers and some veggies, which I really appreciated. It was definitely one of those "make it up as you go along" type of things, but it consisted of leftover pulled pork (thanks to our friends who we saw over the weekend), onions, green beans, coconut aminos and broccoli. Coconut aminos are a soy sauce substitute. It tastes just like soy sauce without the soy or gluten, and you can pronounce all of the ingredients. LOL.

Breakfast so far this week hasn't been too much of a hassle in terms of meal ideas. I've been shuffling between an omelet, an avocado with crab meat, and some almond butter spread on an apple or two. All are relatively easy to make. It's more of just getting into the whole "eating breakfast" mindset. If I have been working out on a particular morning, I found a Lara Bar that is "Paleo-compliant" and so right after the workout I gobble one of those just to give my body something to take in after exerting it pretty hard.

I probably spent about 2 hours on Sunday prepping lunch for the week so I wouldn't be tempted into making bad choices in the cafeteria. Overall that seems to be the most time consuming task. Most of the ready-made frozen meals at Whole Foods contain something that is not Paleo, which I knew anyway. And most of the prepared foods counter at the supermarket fall in the off-limits category so that means I need to rely on home cooking/leftovers from previous dinners. But this will become part of my routine on some level even after the 30-days are up.

Getting more questions about Paleo, and again, the responses are mostly supportive mixed in with some skepticism. Obviously there are the folks who think I am crazy to do this, and that I understand. The skepticism is more around when I say that this isn't about weight loss or hitting a goal weight. It's about modifying some bad habits, which will hopefully lead to healthier food choices and feeling stronger when I run or do other activities such as Crossfit, hiking, etc.

Tonight, we re-did the Basquaise sauce recipe that we used last week and tried some fresh Alaskan Halibut to go with it (last week we did Alaskan Pacific Cod). Happy to report that Marc cleaned his plate. And then this weekend, we are having some friends over and we're going to try out a chocolate chip scone recipe that is Paleo-friendly (thanks to one of my running buddies)! I am also excited about a sweet potato recipe that I found online – and in case you're wondering, other ingredients include sage, bacon and chestnuts. I think the friends we are having over will really enjoy it.

As far as energy levels go, it was a tough start for week 2 because of the "spring forward" lost hour. I'll admit that the alarm going off at 5:30am on Monday did suck because it did feel like 4:30am, but I'm glad I made it out of bed and over to Crossfit for the morning workout. The 7 or 8 of us were feeling that lost hour, but we were all glad that we made it through. The only issue with energy this week was with this morning's workout. I started feeling a little light-headed, which happened once before, so I think I need to incorporate more things like sweet potatoes and yams into my evening meals if I am going to workout first thing in the morning.

And just for some humor, this was my outfit that I wore to Crossfit this morning in honor of St. Patrick's Day.

Food Rehab?

Well the holidays are in full swing in the Beck household. This generally means copious amounts of eating and drinking. OK, I can hear some of you calling immediate BS and saying, "Wait, you guys do that anyway regardless of the supposed 'holiday season'!" OK, you're right generally. But the holidays will generally open up the calendar even more for doing things on "school nights" as opposed to "non-school nights".

It has gotten to the point where I am going through the multi-colored Tums container and taking out the colors I don't like (orange) so I only consume the flavors I want. This must be the adult version of taking out the oats from the Lucky Charms so you only had marshmallows in the cereal box (yes, Lisa – I am talking to you!). It's probably not a good sign when you are sorting out Tums by color. Oh well.

We kicked off things by having almost 2 Thanksgiving dinners at the house over Thanksgiving weekend. Oh, and one of the Thanksgivings had 2 turkeys served for 7 people (yes, that was 7 not 17 people). The 2 turkeys for 7 people was necessitated by a new toy that we purchased that would be used to cook the turkey, and Marc wanted a Plan B – that is where the 2nd turkey came in. So Marc owned the prep of "Turkey A", which was smoked, and I owned "Turkey B", which was roasted with a bacon-sage infused butter. Copious amounts of food was served on Thanksgiving Day, and then more food was served on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Right – and I wasn't running the Seattle ½ Marathon because……????

We had some parties to attend and then we hosted an open house, aka "Beck the Halls". It was a great deal of fun and we were able to see many folks but it is a long evening because we try and make it easy for our friends to choose to bring their kids or not bring them. This generally results in an early shift, middle shift and a late shift in terms of attendees. The party is easy in terms of prep because everyone brings a dish for others to consume, but it is a complete pain in the neck from a clean-up perspective. That took a few days after the party, but I am sure my body appreciated the extra opportunity to burn some more calories.

In the midst of this, I am in between projects at work, which was expected. So I am taking advantage of the downtime to try something new in my workout routine, which alluded to in my last blog post. In addition to switching running coaches, I am also trying Crossfit based on the recommendation of some friends who run. There is a lot to Crossfit with respect to not only the workouts but philosophies around nutrition, etc., and I'll skip that component for now.

So I took a rookie series at my local Crossfit, which included 6 classes of learning the basics of some of the exercises that they cover in the regular classes. The rookie series (aka fundamentals) is great because it is generally a smaller group of people than a typical class so you really get the attention you need to focus on technique. Crossfit is only as effective as your technique, and trust me, you can get hurt if you don't focus on it. The classes, rookie and regular, probably go from 45 minutes to an hour when you take into account warm-up or working on some weak spots to improve upon – NOTE: I have many weak spots. An hour is definitely on the longer side, so I like that fact that I feel like I worked really hard without spending a couple of hours at the gym.

It's hard to give a full-on evaluation at this stage as I just did my 1st regular class today, but I will say that I ran a pretty tough run (stomach weirdness the day before meant no food 24 hours before run – NOT SMART, Jill) on Friday with my friend, Tricia, and my leg didn't start hurting until 5 ½ miles into the run. This is a significant improvement, so I was pleased. Is it the start of things to come? I'm not sure, but I'll take whatever positives I can in what has been a long and tedious rehab process.

OK, back to the food and wine component of this entry. On Saturday I had the pleasure of leading Tricia, her family and some friends through a Pinot Noir tasting, which I wrote about on the Purple Teeth Cellars blog. Even though Pinot is not one of the wines that we make, we have spent enough time learning about it and drinking it (LOL) that Marc and I thought we could help in telling folks that they don't need to take wine so seriously in order to enjoy it. We did some food pairing experiments and had more than our fair share of laughs. One of the guests is definitely more microbrewery oriented, so I am wondering if he now has some ideas for tasting some of his favorite brews. Hmmm…..

Then last night, we were invited to another friend's house to be wined and dined at an event he called "Duck the Halls". Yes, lots of duck. Yes, lots of goodness greatness. Yes, lots of wine. Hence the "less than awesome" feeling this morning. But well worth it – thanks, Erik! I should add that another good friend made me some tasty chocolate chip pancakes earlier in the day yesterday, so life is good when you got your friends cooking for you all day! J

Life is good, but tonight is definitely a Progresso soup night with some water. My body needs to detox a bit. Oh wait, Danielle just dropped off some homemade cookies. Oh well. Guess I will have to try them.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Well I Finally Got To See Disneyland…. Uh, Sort Of

As I am typing this, I have my left leg sitting in a garbage can full of ice and water. I'll admit that the pain is worth it because of what happened during a race I ran yesterday with a good friend of mine, Nat. Nat is a lifelong runner and once I was able to build up to a ½ marathon, we knew that we needed to run a race together even though we live in different cities. It almost happened 18 months ago, but a last minute snafu prevented that from happening.

Fortunately the opportunity arose again when Marc decided he wanted to fly down for a reunion with his club swim team being organized by his former coach, Lori (for those of you who have made comments about Marc's talents in the pool or lake, talk to Lori as she was responsible – LOL). During that same weekend was the Disneyland Half Marathon, which would be perfect for Nat and me to meet and run together.

Since Marc is the less-verbose of the two of us (ahem), I always enjoy it when I can meet people from his past that can share some stories with me. Coach Lori was no exception, and the most notable story was about Marc's refusal to follow her instructions about tapering before a big meet. Marc ended up doing really well in the meet, but apparently Coach Lori still uses my husband as an example about the concept of tapering. It was meeting some of his friends from that period of his life. Oh, and it was hot. Like 100+ F hot. Given the race the next day, I was calculating how much to hydrate without completely weighing myself down and feeling bloated. Plus I knew we were drinking wine that night when meeting Nat and Ric for dinner, so I had to account for that as well. It's not easy being me.

Marc and I met Nat and Ric for a great meal of protein and carbs (inc. above mentioned red wine), and then we went to bed relatively early. The race started at 6am and we were told that we needed to be in our start groups by 5:30am at the latest, which ended up being not true. But nothing like getting out of the elevator at 5am and seeing a bunch of people wearing Mickey Mouse ears pop up right in front of you. I then remembered – yes, I am running the DISNEY half marathon. OK.

See Nat and I had a different plan – given his Red Sox loyalties and my Yankee loyalties, we decided we would be thematic in our race attire with respect to supporting our teams. For those of you who wondered why we didn't race each other, it's because it wouldn't even be close as in Nat just effortlessly glides as he runs and coached track for many years. So yeah, he would kick my a** if we raced.

I didn't sleep well the night before and as a result, my right shoulder was barking a bit (this is related to the leg injury I have been rehabbing, believe it or not). My concern about racing with an injury probably also contributed to my anxiety – this is new territory for me. But I was at the start, so I was "in". It was dark when the gun went off and I figured we had about an hour before the sun would come up and really make its presence felt. It was also warmer and more humid than the forecasted temperature, which wasn't making me feel awesome. I had to decide if I wanted to get as far as I could before the heat started or just stay steady and consistent. Nat and I were pleasantly surprised that we didn't have to do the normal weaving in and out of people. Marc and Ric were waiting for us at the start of mile 2, and waved. I think Ric already had his tea – LOL. Clearly he doesn't mess around.

I started out pretty fast for me for the 1st couple of miles just to see how I felt. Nat was kind of just doing whatever I was doing. At mile 2 ½, you actually start running through Disney's California Adventure and then you run through Disneyland. You run through both parks in their entirety. Characters were everywhere and I'll just say that it was super fun. I knew at that point I wanted to come back and run it again, but not race it so I could take pictures with the characters. They had plenty of dance troupes and musical bands (like marching bands) all over the park. It was a blur, but it definitely brought a smile to my face throughout that phase of the race. Going into mile 4, I noticed my average pace was 8:27/mile. Whoa Nellie!

I told Nat that I needed to bring it back a few pips, which we did. My shoulder was still really hurting as we left the friendly atmosphere of Disneyland and hit the streets of Anaheim at the start of mile 5. The course was very flat with the exception of going over the freeway at mile 5 ½, so I appreciated that for sure. We saw Marc and Ric again just before we finished mile 6 and at mile 7 ½. They were great and Marc of course knew when to give me my beverages, etc. I yelled out to them that they looked good, which got some chuckles from the surrounding spectators and a high five from Nat.

The sun looked like it was about to come up and heat up everything, so I kept throwing water on myself at the aid stations to stay cool. They always say you don't want to do this once you feel really hot or dehydrated because it's too late, so I was trying to be proactive.

Halfway through, my shoulder is still hurting and I started getting annoyed. I think I must have gotten so annoyed that my shoulder got the message to shut up because I didn't have any pain there for the rest of the race.

Meanwhile, Nat and I were keeping score about how many cheers for Boston vs. New York were happening along the course. He was up 2-0 at this stage. We knew we would be running through Angel Stadium later on in the race, so we knew we were going to have to say something in the "non-kid-friendly" camp about the Rally Monkey, which is a mascot of some kind for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. We ran past the Honda Center where the Anaheim Mighty Ducks play hockey and then we hit some dirt path along something that looked like a wasteland.

I literally yell to Nat and say, "what the bleep is this [the wasteland]?" He informs me that it is a river (Marc later informs me that it is the Santa Ana River). Note that there is not a smidgen of water in this thing. He informs me that we are in Southern California and essentially, I should lower my expectations. We have a good laugh and trudge on to Angel Stadium, which is at mile 9 ½. We run into it together and are just taking it in since we literally got to run around the perimeter of the field along the warning track. We even saw ourselves on the Jumbotron and of course, we said what we had to say about the Rally Monkey. :-)

At this point, I should talk about the diversity of the bands that we saw along the course. Many high school bands and dance troupes. It really made the Rock 'n Roll races look lame just because the entertainment was so fun and diverse – think mariachi and African dance acts, for starters. Plus they probably rounded up every high school cheerleading squad in the greater LA area and bussed them in. They were loud and boisterous – everything you would want on the sidelines as a racer. It was fabulous and really kept me in good spirits. My splits are staying within a good range as I slowed up a little in the middle, so I could save something for the end.

I saw some Yankees hats and got some cheers, but felt I had to dock myself ½ a point because someone was wearing a RED Yankees cap. Huh? Nat ended up winning this contest. LOL.

At around mile 11 ½, one of the toes on my right foot started to really throb – a lot. To the point that I noticed that I was running with a weird stride. This wasn't good and apparently I had the same chat with myself that I had 5 miles earlier with respect to my shoulder. This led to me running with my normal stride again. We finish mile 12 and have 1+ miles left. Nat then says, "Jill, we only have one more mile to enjoy this." I yell back, "Are you freaking kidding me? I'm happy we have one more mile but I'm not going to enjoy it." Granted I was laughing as I said it, but I was working hard at this stage because once we left Angel Stadium, I knew I had a chance for another personal record (PR) so I was busting my rear to really get in under the wire.

Nat is just cruising at this stage and making it look so easy, and I am definitely huffing and puffing. We get into Downtown Disney and I know the finish should be appearing anytime, but it was one of those finishes where the finish line wasn't straight ahead where you could see it from ¼ mile out. Nat then yells out, "I see the finish!" Of course I yell out, "I can't!" I then saw it and we sprinted through the finish. I knew I had a PR – not by more than a minute, but still. My sister then texts me with a message from my nephew saying "Yay Aunt Jill!", so she must have gotten the alert that I finished. She then texted me that my time was 1:52:15. A PR by 48 seconds! Woo woo!

We get our picture taken together, and unfortunately missed out on the character pictures, but it was so much fun. We find Marc and Ric, who definitely admire our finisher medals. I then realize that I am soaking wet from throwing water on myself about 5 or 6 times, so a shower is in order and then breakfast with the guys. I wasn't hungry yet, so I opted for chocolate milk, which is a fabulous recovery drink and then a Mimosa. Yep, the breakfast of champions! We say farewell to Nat and Ric, and head off to spend time with the family, but we really had a great time and hope that THEY WILL COME TO SEATTLE SOON (yes, I'll make the cassoulet).

If you ever decide that you want to run a ½ marathon once in your life, do this one. The course is flat and the spectators are everywhere. So much fun. And oh yeah, I almost forgot. The sun never came up. We had the marine layer that has been so pervasive in Seattle this summer. What a lucky break! Thanks to Nat for running with me and keeping me in great spirits, and thanks to Marc and Ric for getting all over the course to cheer us on!

Pics here, but will add more once we get the e-mail that the official photos are ready.

Bringing It Down A Few Pips

Yesterday was my last "long" run before my race in a couple of weeks. It turns out May 2nd is a very popular day to hold a race – I know of friends participating in races locally in Seattle, Vancouver (BC), Lincoln, New Jersey, Long Island and San Francisco on that day.

My run was originally slated to be 10 miles, but I asked Lesley if she would have any objection to me doing 12 miles instead. Thinking hard about the races I did last year, I am fine through the 1st 10 miles, but I need to be stronger in the last 5k (3.2 miles) of the event. So the more times that I get runs in of 12 or more miles, the better. Oh yeah, the other reason for the extra 2 miles was that Marc and I were going to be hosting 6 other hard-core foodies and wine drinkers at the house later on that day. I needed to burn as many calories as I could before this dinner – you can see why here. What a fun time, but I digress.

Lesley was ok with it, although it meant getting up 30 minutes earlier on Saturday morning (6am) to meet an earlier group to take me to where the run would start. The positive side of getting up and meeting the 1st car at 6:30am was that I was able to see a pretty sunrise over Lake Washington and the Cascades (camera is terrible on the phone and no, I don't run with a camera). But I am still not a huge fan of getting up early on a weekend to run. Anyway, I was waiting with Carol in her car to start and was pleasantly surprised to see one of my running buddies, Tricia, also wanting to start early. Score. Off we went.

The course this morning had a little bit from the Seattle Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon course (June) and a fair amount of the Seattle Half Marathon course (November), so we were pretty familiar with what was in store for us. Tricia left me at mile 8 (she is doing triathlon training so gets other homework assigned to her schedule aside from running), and I went off for what was the hardest part of the run.

The 1st 9 miles were flat and then there is a miserable climb that I remembered from the race that I PR'd back in November. It still sucks in case you were wondering because it is under a ½ mile but steep. I did run it a few seconds faster than I did in the race, which is good. I think having that positive experience from just a few months ago also helped keep me focused as I was swearing all the way up the hill. Once I reached the top, I knew I could finish the rest of the run at a very solid pace.

The intent was not to run at race pace, but at a moderate pace, which I think I did so it was a good outing.

With the race in under a couple of weeks, I need to stay active but ratchet down the intensity of my workouts a bit. I've been going at things at a fairly intense clip since the beginning of January between the runs and elliptical. I've haven't been as religious about doing my core work as I should have been and the aches/pains have crept in a little. I should be fine for the race, but am just going to be vigilant about getting extra stretching stuff in each night.

The difference in this training cycle has been that I had some lactate threshold testing done to identify my optimal training zones for my heart. The net effect is that my workouts on the elliptical have been closer to how I feel on a run in terms of how hard my heart is working. So it's been a good, but intense training effort since the beginning of the year. This means I am ready to taper, and am focused on staying healthy for the homestretch so I can give what I hope is a top-notch performance in a couple of weeks.

Slacking in the Blogging Department

We have definitely been a bit remiss on the blogging front. Lots of things going on in the household that have precluded us from updating things, but we hope that is going to change a bit. Today's very LOOOONG entry is going to be about some of the more recent exploits in the kitchen (non-baking edition because that is Marc's department). You can see some pics of these creations here.

But a friend of mine, Marlene - whom I had the pleasure of going to school with from 1st grade through undergrad, told me that she wanted some of the recipes after I posted some pics on Facebook. While this isn't an all-inclusive list, it is a start. Where I couldn't find the actual recipe, I'll post a link to the cookbook I found it in.

Grilled Flank Steak with Cilantro, Lentils, Feta Cheese and Green Grapes - this can be found in Tyler Florence's book, Tyler's Ultimate. This is one of many recipes I have made from that book and have enjoyed. And Marc really enjoyed the Lentil Salad, but I'll add that you want to mix and serve the ingredients in the salad the same day. For some reason, the flavors just don't mesh well when they sit together overnight.

From the same book, there is a recipe for 'The Ultimate Spinach Salad', which really does rock the house. I can tell you that I have made this countless times without anyone complaining and people asking for another serving. For those of you who don't eat pork (the recipe calls for bacon), you can substitute mushrooms and it still works great.

With the spinach salad, we decided to go for some hard core protein and made Rosemary Balsamic Vinegar Glazed Ribeyes. I think we opted to do this after I ran Beat the Bridge to raise money for JDRF.

Shifting over to poultry, we did one duck dish as well as a few chicken dishes. There was Martha Stewart's Grilled Chicken with Red Pepper and Basil that was served with Carmelized Shallots with Barley. The original recipe from her cookbook, Martha's Healthy Quick Cook, calls for corn instead of barley, but we decided to make it a little healthier with the barley. It takes a bit longer to cook with barley, so you need to either cook it the night before or just allow an extra hour as opposed to corn, which cooks pretty quickly.

Next up from Jacques Pepin's Simple and Healthy Cooking cookbook - Chicken African-Style. It was pretty easy to make and it's a recipe that you can make on a night where you may have more time (i.e., Sunday night) and doesn't take a lot of time to cook if you wanted to serve it during the week when you have less time (i.e., Monday or Tuesday night). We opted to do the marinating on Sunday and served it on Monday, and it was very flavorful.

Wrapping up the poultry section of this blog entry, we went for something in Jerry Traunfeld's Herbal Kitchen cookbook - Tarragon Chicken Breasts with Buttered Leeks and Ramps. OK, I added the ramps because they happened to be in season when I made this recipe. Another easy recipe to make during the week due to the fact you do not need a ton of ingredients, which means less chopping and prep work.

Finally, we're going to end this entry with a seafood entry. Yes, I said seafood. Given Marc's dislike of seafood, we don't cook it much around here but we were hosting a dinner party in honor of Cousins Claire and Arnie being in town, and salmon is in season. We made special adjustments for Marc because this dish not only had seafood, but something else that Marc has a strong dislike for - mushrooms.

So I made one of my favorite dishes - Seared Salmon with Roasted Sweet Corn, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Balsamic Vinegar Butter Sauce from Danny Meyer's Union Square Cafe cookbook. While this recipe is not hard, it is a decent amount of work because of the amount of ingredients and chopping involved - particularly if you go with fresh corn as opposed to frozen corn. But even with the amount of work involved in putting together the dish, I never regret it because it always tastes so darned good.

As a matter of fact, I recommend you make extra of the sweet corn and mushroom mixture, as well as the butter sauce, because you can also serve it with chicken as a leftover, which is what we did for Marc. We also made a separate corn and carrot mixture for Marc, given how much he does not like mushrooms. It worked.

An Overdue Entry on Some Culinary Adventures

Marc and I like to experiment in the kitchen and given the exceptionally crappy weather in Seattle recently, we've been doing a lot of it. A friend of mine on Facebook responded to one of my statuses and complained that we make her hungry and jealous, which kind of reminded me that we're overdue on a 'home cooking' entry.

Some recent recipes include Cinnamon Basil Chicken, Osso Buco with Pine Nut Gremolata and the Dry Aged Ribeye (a favorite of our guests) - those recipes can be found here in a previous entry.

We served Savory Potato Gratin from The Herbal Kitchen by Jerry Traunfeld with the osso buco. Even though I like Danny Meyer's version known as Creamy Potato-Gruyere Gratin, I happened to like Chef Traunfeld's version better because it wasn't as heavy.

Another dish that we just made this week is Roast Chicken with Pancetta recipe in the most recent edition of Gourmet magazine. From the same edition, we also made Braised Cannellini Beans with Garlic, Marjoram, and Oregano - scroll down (you need to register on Gourmet's website - it's free - to get this recipe). I substitued in flageolet beans for the cannellinis to make this work and added in a little bit of mascarpone cheese to make this a bit creamier. Good stuff and both recipes are shown in the picture on the left.

We also made some homemade pizza that I'll let Marc talk about in terms of the dough, but I like to top mine with pancetta (bacon makes everything better), shitake mushrooms, spinach, and some of my Sottocenere al Tartufo. We've done a hybrid lasagna that does a little combo of Marc's favored lasagna recipe vs. my favorite lasagna recipe. More goodness to come out of the kitchen.

We've been busy conjuring up pairing ideas for our 2006 Purple Teeth Cellars Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah. So far, we have two outstanding pairings that you should check out including a Pan-Seared Duck with Plum Sauce and Creamy Mascarpone Polenta recipe (pictured on right), as well as a Braised Short Ribs with Cocoa Powder, Assorted Spices and Scallions recipe.

Let's see... what else have we been cooking? Oh yes, the French Onion Soup from Tyler Florence's cookbook - Tyler's Ultimate. And from the same cookbook - the Ultimate Spinach Salad, which is quickly becoming a mainstay recipe in our kitchen.

Marc got us this awesome cookbook, which focuses on food pairings with Washington State wines - Cooking with the Wines of Washington. One recipe we tried recently, which Marc thought was awesome was the Fort Walla Walla Cellars Sweet and Sour Pork Ribs. If you want the recipe, just ping me - it was really simple, but really, really tasty!

On a recent plane ride, I picked up an issue of Saveur and decided to make a Hanger Steak with Bordelaise Sauce based on this recipe. Liked that. The Butternut Squash Puree that I attempted - hmmm.... not one of my better efforts. But Marc's efforts around the Herb Gnocchi from Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook led to great results.

So there you have it. Lots of cooking going on in the kitchen here in Seattle. Most of it successful, too! And of course, we have been drinking some great wine to go with these dishes. I think I'll have to recap that in another entry.

Reminiscing on the campus tour

I started my day with Michelle of the Alumni Office taking me to breakfast at one of the dining halls. We ate at Lakeside, the dining hall that served the Scales, Waterbury, Johnson and Riggs dorms. The wind started to show itself as I figured it would. Lakeside has been completely renovated and still provides awesome views of Lake Ontario. It wasn't like Pathfinder or Cooper, the dining halls that I typically ate in when I was a student. Both Johnson and Riggs have also been renovated extensively, and look great. And neither one of them are single-sex either. Johnson is a freshman-only dorm now, and they have special leadership programs for those students to get involved certain activities.
I'm going to talk about my impressions of the campus before I get into what happened in class today. Michelle also gave me a tour of the campus and she invited a current student to join us. It was cool because I graduated in '93, Michelle graduated in '98 and the student, LaTasha, is graduating in '09. So I was able to get many of my questions answered on when certain things were changed.
Lonis and Moreland, part of the Mackin "complex" – the dorms that were the closest to The Shed, are now singles for seniors. That's pretty cool because when I was there, those dorms were definitely not the places you wanted to live in, although given the proximity to the bars, I now question that logic. Hart and Funnelle look the same. Scales and Waterbury have not been renovated yet. Michelle called going in there a time warp and you still have to walk outside from Scales when you go to Lakeside to eat, which must stink given the proximity to the lake and of course, the wind. New Campus, which consists of Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga and Oneida, looks the same except for recent paint jobs on Seneca and Onondaga.
LaTasha's student ID was good enough to get us into the Seneca dorm and the lobby looked exactly the same in every way possible. Yes, pictures will be posted. I remember the rugby players pulling pranks like putting stinky cheese in the elevators (what a waste of stinky cheese, right?), etc. No, we didn't go upstairs but I didn't get the sense that the rooms changed all that much. The buildings in the center of campus like Mahar, Lanigan and Penfield looked the same pretty much, although Penfield now has a coffee shop/café inside, which is handy. Of course, the reference area is now devoid of any evidence of card catalogs and microfiche and is full of computers. But an area that we used to study in on the 1st floor, the Documents room is gone. They just put some sheetrock there and use it for library offices. Come to think of it, I would love to know if anyone recalls seeing a student or professor ever use those 'Documents' in the room?
Park, Piez and Snygg look the same. I learned later that those buildings, which house Natural Sciences, Computer Science and Mathematics, are next in terms of major renovations. That should be cool once they finish that.
The big news is that Hewitt Union is pretty much on its last legs. The only things that seem to be left in there are the actual book store, which is different than the campus store where you would be Oswego State merchandise. There are a handful of offices still there, but no major student activity seems to go on there. That is because Oswego State renovated Swetman Hall, former home of the School of Business, to be home of the new Campus Center.
The Campus Center is now home to the aforementioned campus store, numerous cafes, lounges, smoothie bars, Career Center, media (WTOP, WNYO and the Oswegonian), meeting rooms, Study Abroad Office, amongst other organizations. It is bright, well laid out and way more accessible for students to not have to go back to their dorms or off-campus for something decent to eat. It is also home to the new hockey arena, which is very cool. No more schlepping to Rommey for games, and during the day, they let students rent skates and host an open skate session. Way to share it with the students. I had the opportunity to meet 3 of the hockey players (more on that in the other posts) and they think it is awesome because the crowds are way better.
In essence, they very shifted the center of campus away from Hart/Funnelle and Hewitt Union, and moved it to Swetman/Poucher. Oh yeah, Poucher was also significantly renovated. So I don't think Swetman really exists anymore in how we might remember it, but Poucher still has classes – English, Education, Foreign Language Labs, I think. More lounges and rooms for students to meet up in between classes. Really cool. I thought it was great they moved the Career Center, now called Compass, to a place friendlier to students. I remember it being in Culkin Hall, which was and still is administration, and who would want to go there. I don't think I ever did in retrospect. Oh and the Centro buses now stop at the Campus Center vs. the back of Hewitt Union where the dumpsters were. That's a plus, right?
So you are probably wondering where the School of Business is, right? When we (meaning my classmates) were there, Rich Hall was used for Foreign Languages – I hated schlepping there for French because I basically had to walk from one end of campus to another, being on New Campus and all. On the other side of Rich Hall was Public Safety. Well I don't know where Public Safety is now and that has to be a bonus that I didn't need to find out, but the entire building is now the School of Business.
The best way to compare Swetman to Rich in its current form is like thinking we had the Best Western and the current students have the Four Seasons. No offense to anyone who stays at the Best Western, but these digs are palatial in comparison. The new building opened up in 2003 (?) and it has everything you need for presenting seamlessly from your laptop, wireless, café, meeting rooms, lounges, etc. BASAC is still there as well. It was pretty cool to see that they made such an investment. I'll post some pics on that too. I must have looked like a complete dork (ok, I'm typically a dork anyway but still) taking pictures because I was really impressed. Different recycling bins were in every classroom that I saw – people seemed to take it seriously, which was cool.
After speaking to the classes, I went for a run around campus in preparation for my ½ marathon. There was no excuse not to run because it was absolutely perfect running weather – clear, sunny and high 50s. I did a 5 mile loop, which included a bit of off campus too. "The Blues", right near the soccer fields and Rommey, are still there and are still very blue. LOL. My run took me around the New Campus area loop, so yep, there was Glimmerglass Lagoon (that was for you, Lisa A.), and there was a ton of construction going on over by where the Hidden Fields are.
So think about coming into the main entrance of campus and taking the 1st left, and that is where the construction is. They are building suite apartments, so like Onondaga but with actual kitchen facilities, that will house 350 students. Demand is very high for that kind of living arrangement on campus, and it looks like they just broke ground recently. Since I was doing my run, no pictures but right now there are just a bunch oversized Tonka trucks on the land.
I was really looking forward to the tour when the Alumni Office put together my schedule, and I'm glad that I wasn't disappointed. But it looks like even more changes are afoot, which should be great for the students, professors and the rest of the community.

Food porn – yes, you heard me right

I know we have been back for 3 weeks and while I was completely on the case in terms of getting the pictures posted to Facebook and Shutterfly, I know that I was completely lame on providing some commentary to go along with the food pictures – or food porn as some of you called it. Now I know that porn is technically not a family-friendly word, so allow me to apologize for that right now. But the title is not changing and that's that. 

We hit so many awesome restaurants on our recent trip to Europe that I felt like that I needed to go to Cirque Lodge (you know the place where the stars go for detox or recover from "exhaustion") for food re-hab. I'm serious. I was foie gras'ed out. I mean, it was all incredible but it was full on eating and drinking for 16 days. I was thankful that I was training for my ½ marathon (still am) because that was the only way that my clothes were going to fit when we returned back to the States.

I'm not going to name every restaurant we ate at, but will mention the notable ones. The 2 "special ones" (in this case, "special" is good; normally in my family, "special" doesn't necessarily have a good connotation) will get a separate blog posting because they were restaurants that could potentially make it into my Top 5 of all time. I have a feeling that decision will come to me as I am typing this on my plane ride to NYC to see my nephews – and the rest of the family, too. :-)

The 1st full day in Bordeaux, and in Europe for that matter, was marked by watching CNN announce Sarah Palin's coming out party – you already know my thoughts on that, as well as some wine tasting. That evening, we ate at the Relais de Margaux gastronomic (or gastronomique) restaurant – that means fancy, gourmet, rich, over-the-top. Yeah, you get the idea. Marc had the first of his many jamon/jambon experiences and we had pretty amazing chocolate dessert. Too bad we were so tired from staying up all day that we barely made it to dessert and back to the room.

The next day was actually one of the best food days on the trip. We ate at Café Lavinal in Pauillac on the Left Bank. It was a beautiful day and the menu was fairly traditional French. I had some perfectly seasoned duck, and Marc had a roasted chicken that was as good as we have both ever tasted. See, the French treat chicken with respect by not just using plain chicken breasts but by roasting it to extract all of the flavors. Wow. That evening, we were told to eat at Lion D'Or. It's where the local winemakers go and eat, and given it was a Saturday night, we were psyched to have scored a table. If it's good enough for the local Bordeaux winemakers, it was good enough for us. More roasted chicken for Marc and I had some steak with béarnaise sauce. Lovely. The chef came out, said hi, and made sure everything was ok. He was making the rounds throughout the restaurant – very cool. Then we see him pull a chair from another table, sits down with some of his friends and drink some wine. Awesome.

In St. Emilion (Right Bank), we hit some nice restaurants, including Clos de Roy, which was featured in some of the pictures on Facebook (talk about pornographic with the foie gras), L'Envers du Décor, amongst others. L'Envers du Décor is where we first saw the decanter that looks like an oversized Margarita glass that has been included in some pics. All kidding aside, it is a great decanter for younger wines because it allows air to get into more of the wine quickly because of the surface area.

As we went down to Sauternes and Pessac-Léognan (also in Bordeaux), we had the opportunity to stay at Les Sources de Caudalie (awesome – just go, relax, get spa treatments, eat and drink). It's owned by the same folks who own Château Smith Haute-Lafitte, who make some excellent wines. We had dinner at their "casual" restaurant, which was still pretty crazy with the food options. Marc didn't see a ton of things on the menu that he liked, so we went with the steak for 2. It was so well seasoned (read: SIMPLE) and tender, but it was unfortunate that it was more like steak for 6 as opposed to steak for 2. Next time someone complains about French portion sizes too small, I'm going to have some issues with that individual. We had lunch at a great place in the middle of Sauternes called Le Saprien. The next night, we ate at La Table de Montesquieu in La Brède. I think that place won for best jambon, but to be fair, it was jamon from Spain as opposed to being from France. I also had some terrific monkfish in a beurre blanc, so I was happy.

In Basque Country, we hit San Sebastian which had its share of restaurants – grand and not-so-grand. We checked out Senor Arzak's (more on him later) favorite tapas bar – Bar Haizea – and I probably had more fun than Marc did because of the fresh seafood and mushroom tapas offerings. Tapas bars typically have you eat at the bar and just throw your napkins, etc. on the floor when done. It seemed like every traditional tapas bar had lots of old men and some old women in there talking feverishly about some topic of the day. Special thanks to Guré and Sally for pointing out Anthony Bourdain's show that was on a couple of weeks earlier, which tipped us to going there. 

Ah, another reason that my phone came in handy. We also ate at Bar Gambara on my birthday. The New York Times wrote about the mushroom selection, so needless to say, we had to go – yes, there is a picture in the albums posted on Facebook and Shutterfly. We also had the opportunity to hit one of Guré and Jim's favorite places (Guré is from Basque Country) in Getaria called Elkano. You'll see a picture with a huge slab of meat in front of Marc and a monster lobster in front of me. Big Yves would be proud how I surgically approached extracting the meat from the lobster.

When we hit Rioja, we ate in the restaurants at the Gehry hotel – Marques de Riscal. The restaurants in the hotel were both OK, but other than the Gehry egg that matched the design of the hotel, the food quality and service were not really commensurate with the price of the meals. We did have a nice lunch at the Wine Museum in Briones, but overall given the quality of all of the other food we had, this was the food low point and it wasn't that terrible. The bar was just set so high from what we had thus far in the trip.

We wrapped up our trip in Paris and had dinner at Chez Christine, Chez Georges and another restaurant that will get the special blog entry. Cousin Claire's friend, Margo, a frequent visitor to Paris, gave us the recommendations and we were not disappointed although I think we really enjoyed the atmosphere of Chez Georges a bit more. The owner's father, Bernard, was in charge tonight because his son was picking up wine in the Champagne region. 

Bernard was charming and I was on a quest this evening for roast chicken. I asked where who made the best in Paris. I didn't care – I was gonna get me some. He replied that the French make roast chicken every Sunday at home as it is the family meal. That is where it tastes the best, so I didn't get some but we had a great chat anyway. Bernard is actually the son of the original Georges, who then owned the restaurant for awhile, and then passed it to his son. Very cool. Tables very tight together. Great food, excellent wine and lively atmosphere. We really enjoyed it. BTW when we got home, I checked my Jacques Pepin and Julia Child cookbook and they both confirmed what Bernard said about roast chicken being a family dish made at home.

The 2 restaurants that will get its own section will be Guy Savoy and Arzak. Both are Michelin-star restaurants and I can tell you that in spite of the price tags both totaling a mortgage payment, they were just awesome. Stay tuned.