Home Cooking

Day 17: Bogotá, Colombia —> Armenia, Colombia (Coffee Triangle).

Today Marc and I left Bogotá for the Coffee Triangle, where we will be spending Christmas. It was a very quick and an easy flight to get there, which was nice. We were picked up at the airport by the place we are staying and were surrounded by mountains and lots of different crops. It was pretty and a change from what we have seen so far on this trip.

Side note on Bogotá: We will be back. I was a bit bummed that we didn’t have more time to explore, but I really liked what I saw and experienced. Really cool vibe, lots of parks, good layout of the city and excellent food. 

When we arrived at the hacienda, it just felt so peaceful. The layout seemed very traditional and has lots of flowers, places to chill and beautiful views to take in. The staff was really warm and friendly, and had our room ready to go plus our itinerary for our stay. Unpacked, had a nice lunch by the pool, and also applied bug spray (yep, we’re now in a place where the bugs are “friendly”).

Our guide came to pick us up at 2:30pm for a tour so we could learn more about what is grown on the property. We went through a bamboo forest, where we were chased down by cows (kind of reminded me of this incident on the ‘Australian Walkabout’) - literally they followed us and blocked the entrance out of the forest. Fortunately our guide had a good distraction and we escaped unharmed. 

Guillermo, our guide, is in the process of becoming an official ‘Coffee Taster’, which is a rigorous course of study similar to the ‘Court of Master Sommeliers’ process. As the non-coffee drinker of the couple, it was interesting to see how some of the process parallels to winemaking. If you’re interested in the comparisons of coffee, wine, cola, tea, spirits and beer, Marc and I can’t recommend this book enough.

We then learned some interesting facts about Colombia from Guillermo. Colombia is a country that straddles both the Atlantic (via the Caribbean) and the Pacific Oceans. It also has 2 different mountain ranges, 3 glaciers and 2 deserts. This leads to 86 different microclimates and the weather forecasts being about 50% correct (hmmm). They also have 1900+ species of birds. We are now at 3600 feet of elevation in the Coffee Triangle as opposed to the 8300+ feet of elevation we were at in Bogotá.

We looked at cocoa plants and talked in depth of how the plant grows, is cultivated and then how the beans are extracted so they can be sold. This set us up well for the cocoa tasting that we had later on in the afternoon. Amongst the cocoa plants were lots of banana trees. We learned that the bananas take lots of moisture out of the soil, which helps the cocoa plants. Also for those who were always curious about the difference between plantains and bananas - the former is a veggie and needs to be cooked. The latter is a fruit and does not need to be cooked. 

Marc and I then went to our chocolate tasting class, which had similarities to the one we took in Peru. This one was more in-depth and was led by the chef of the property itself, Reuben. Guillermo stayed on to translate for us. The main delta between today’s experience and the one in Lima was around the grinding process. In Lima, we skipped the step of grinding roasted beans until a smooth paste. Reuben ground them into a chocolate paste in the shape of a ball so the output was less chunky than in Lima. Basically it was ground down until the cocoa butter was separating from the rest. 

We also learned that Peru and Colombia have many similarities around cuisine and gastronomy, but the main difference is that Peru has done a better job of promoting it. As we were talking to Reuben, we started discussing how cassava and yuca being used in Colombian cooking fairly frequently as a starch. It dawned on me that I might have better success with the cassava flour that we experimented with earlier in the year as a thickener. Arrowroot is a gluten-free thickener used in Paleo circles, but it doesn’t always work how I would like in my dishes. I am excited to try this when we get home! 

After the class, the property prepared a special Christmas Eve dinner outside with really nice lighting. It was a set menu and they had more chocolate treats than Marc could ever ask for. It was a beautiful setting to watch the sunset with a cocktail or two. All in all, a wonderful start to our chapter in the Coffee Triangle.

Day 5: Lima, Peru.

We started out the day with a tour of Pachacamac, which are Incan ruins just outside of the city limits of Lima. On the way out to the site, our guide, Ursula, explained about how bad the traffic is in the city and how it can take her almost 2 hours to go under 20km from her house to where all of the hotels are on a given weekday. We also spent a fair bit of time talking about all of the amazing food to take in while in Lima. She encouraged us to come back to Peru and visit other regions of the country as their cuisine is very different and just as wonderful. Let’s just say I concur.

During the drive, we also talked about the recent elections from Sunday and how mandatory voting has pros and cons. A con is that many people do not care to get educated about the candidates and/or the issues, so they just vote for “whatever is easiest” so they don’t get a fine from the government. We also discussed the complicated legacy of Alberto Fujimori, the former President of Peru, who made a lot of tough choices that benefitted the people of Peru but also got the corruption bug in the latter part of his tenure.

We arrived at Pachacamac and walked around the various archeological sites that have 
been unearthed to date. The site was first settled around A.D. 200 and was named after the "Earth Maker" creator god. It flourished for about 1,300 years until the Spanish invaded. We saw pyramids, which are not in the style of the Egyptian ones that most people think of when they hear that word. The main pyramid that we were able to walk around was the “Temple of the Sun”, which has sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.

After walking around that location, Ursula took Marc and I down to the Recinto de Mamacones. The area was an enclosed space in which the prettiest young girls would be trained to be either the wives of nobility, sort of nuns and lastly sacrificial offerings. We saw some men working on drawing sketches of Incan artifacts that had been recently unearthed, which was pretty cool to observe.

We headed back to the car and drove back into Lima, where Marc and I were going to be dropped off for lunch for traditional Peruvian chicken. Yesterday I called “an audible”  our lunch plans for today after Ellie, our guide from a couple of days ago, started talking about Peruvian chicken. I couldn’t believe I didn’t make the connection for our trip because our neighbor makes Peruvian chicken and it is one of my favorites (she actually made it for my birthday this year!). And based on Marc’s epic performance on eating lots of seafood yesterday both at lunch and at dinner and admitting it was “pretty good”, I figured he deserved a break from creatures of the sea. So I switched our reservation to a chicken place recommended by Lourdes, our guide from the food tour on Sunday.

Ursula somehow encountered very little traffic on the way back into town, so Marc and I went for a walk in a residential neighborhood called San Borja with lots of greenways 
and parks. It was a bit humid but it was nice to still be on our feet and see a different section of Lima. We then got to lunch at Don Tito’s and the roasted Peruvian chicken was epic. The sauces, including the one with aji chiles, did not disappoint. The place had a great atmosphere and I think we were the only non-locals in there and based on our lack of Spanish speaking skills, we were fortunate that the menu is very simple. LOL.

After lunch, it was good that we had about a 40 minute walk back to the hotel. After getting most of our packing done, I decided to head to the gym to torture myself some more. Of course, we then had to test out some of the chocolate that we made yesterday. It’s not easy being us but we try to persevere in these circumstances.

Dinner tonight was at Rafael in the Miraflores neighborhood. Marc and I decided to go “a la carte” as opposed to the “tasting menu” track, and we were rewarded for that choice. We both enjoyed all of our dishes, although Marc said that Sunday’s version of the “arroz con pato” was a tad better than what he had tonight. So we spent time analyzing the differences between the two so I could attempt to replicate whatever he thought was awesome at home. 

We also sat next to a lovely couple from Lima who said that Rafael was their fave restaurant and gave us some pro tips on dessert. I also really appreciated it how when I asked the server for a reco between the ceviche and the tiradito dishes that he didn’t hesitate and chose the former. Plus Marc had some unique choices for rum and I had the opportunity to enjoy a Malamado dessert wine from Zuccardi in Mendoza (for newer members of this blog, Marc and I are very “pro-Zuccardi” - here is why). All in all, a fun evening.  

We are sad to be leaving Lima but we are excited for the next phase of Operation Cincuenta. Plus I have some great inspiration for cooking at home! Thanks for tuning in so far!

For more pics, please click here.

Day 4: Lima, Peru (ChocoMuseum)

We started the day a little earlier with breakfast so that we could walk about an hour before starting our chocolate bean to bar making class at ChocoMuseum. We walked South out of the hotel in the San Isidro area along neighborhood streets heading into the Miraflores area. The streets interconnect at strange angles in places and I slightly lost track of the direct route so by the time we crossed Av Jose Pardo we were further West than I had planned but only 7 minutes too far that direction so we still made it in time to start the class without a problem.

Marcelo was our instructor and was great. He talked us through the cacao plant and where they grow in the world (equatorial regions in South America and Africa). We tasted an opened one that had a gooey white stuff that was slightly sweet. That fruity and sticky white stuff is fermented with the beans for almost a week and then the beans are removed so that they can be dried in the sun. For most chocolate growing regions, this is where they bag and sell the beans to countries like Switzerland and the United States to finish the process into various chocolate products.

So we started the chocolate bar making process by roasting the beans about 15+ minutes constantly stirring until you could begin to hear popping like popcorn. After these cooled on the counter in front of us, there were about 25 beans for me, Jill, and Marcelo. We cracked the roasted beans and put the outer shell into one bowl and the inner bean into another bowl. We used the shell portion to make a tea with. While it was seeping, we used some mortars and pestles to grind the beans. The goal is to grind for a long time into a paste such that you can actually separate the cocoa butter from the cocoa powder but Jill and I were not as experienced as Marcelo nor did we have enough time to just keep doing that. He looks like a paste at least - ours were still just fine grains but we had to move on from there.

So after we drank the tea, which was pretty good, we made two different chocolate beverages with the ground beans. The first was more Mayan traditional. We added honey, chili powder and hot water. The second was Conquistadores style with sugar and hot milk. That one was really good when the bean remnants were strained out.

Now that we knew but didn’t accomplish the cacao butter/powder separation, we heard about the process. That takes about a day. After that, you decide your target chocolate percentage which indicates how much cacao powder is going in. For the 50% range, you have less than half cacao powder, then some of the cacao butter, then some sugar, and the rest is milk powder. For the 70% range or higher, you have about half cacao powder, some of the cacao butter, and the remainder is sugar. The closer to 100% you get, the less sugar involved. 100% is about 90% cacao powder and 10% cacao butter and no sugar. That is powerfully good for you but you generally can only eat about 1 (perhaps 2) square(s) of it a day.

Once your target percentage is determined, you put those into a machine that blends them for 24 hours. This breaks down the crystals in the components to make things really smooth. It takes time! When that is done the liquid rests for several hours and then it is time to temper it so that it is shiny! If you don’t temper it, it will taste just fine but it will be a lighter brown look that appears raw. But if you temper it by cooling it on a marble stone and then mixing in some more and cooling that and eventually refrigerating it, then when you use that chocolate to pour into molds it will hold the shininess and will have a snap when broken.

So we got to the point of choosing 47% milk chocolate or 70% dark chocolate for the bars we would be making and both chose to get the 70% for our bars. Then we had to choose a mold from about 25 options. Jill went with a bar mold while I chose chocolate egg mold. We then could choose any of about 20 fillings for the bars. I went with coffee beans and m&m’s while I cannot even list all of the stuff Jill chose for her chocolate bars. We filled the molds slightly and then made sure the chocolate had covered the interior of every mold. We then had to get the air out by dropping and tapping the mold pans several times. Then we put in fillings as desired. Jill elaborately put all kinds of stuff in there making me proud. I just put a few of either choice in my eggs. After this we covered our fillings with a drizzling motion and had to ensure none of them were “above” the bottom of the chocolate mold when they’d be turned over to remove later. They were put in the fridge for about 20 minutes and dropped from the molds. Nice popping sound coming out. And after 2 hours working with chocolate, we had our own bars to enjoy!

We bought a little from the store and walked 15-20 minutes over to a seafood restaurant that is well known called La Mar. I didn’t see a single thing on the menu that was not some kind of seafood dish. Jill knew this going in. So we ordered a shared scallop appetizer and two other “cebiche” dishes. The scallop thing was ok - perhaps a bit fishy for me but both of the “cebiche” items were actually good and I had seconds of each. Jill was impressed with my ability to consume more than a few bites with the ugly face of yuck. It was admittedly pretty good.

The server talked me into finishing the meal with a glass of Pisco to sooth the stomach. While I went through that, we saw some cookbooks in the back and took one to the table. The one we will get has lots of interesting stuff in it and it is available on Amazon so we don’t have to carry around an extra 5+ pounds to get it back to our kitchen.

We then walked back to the hotel via a different route to see some other parts of the city and ended up walking past the place we will be going to dinner later. So it was a productive walk and good way to burn off some of the chocolate and lunch before we go workout in the nice hotel gym for the day.

We went into the hotel gym which is really nice and started warming up on some bikes before doing our workout. The same guy that stretched us after our workout yesterday was there and he was happy to see us. I went into the room where we can do some Crossfit like moves without machines in the way and he came in there to turn up the music for me again. He doesn’t speak a lot of English, but he asked what kind of music I like. I told him rock. He said “metal?”, and made a guitar motion. I said no just rock. He thought about this a bit then asked for a band. I said Rush. He eventually had me type that. Then he plays Tom Sawyer and he seemed pleased and walked out of the room so a few Rush songs played while I stretched and did some mobility movement waiting for Jill. Eventually we ended up on songs that had the word “rush” in the song but were no longer by the band.

For dinner, we walked to Astrid and Gaston for dinner. I had no idea that we were in for a 10 course tasting menu PLUS 3 courses of dessert PLUS take home box of chocolates. I’m confident Jill didn’t expect that either. They worked around my food restrictions perfectly. At the END of the marathon meal, they brought complimentary bubbles and wished me a happy birthday. I could write AS MUCH about this dinner as about all the paragraphs of chocolate earlier in this post. Instead, I will summarize with the following and if you want more please ask or talk to Jill :-)

Jill thought every course was great which is saying something given the number of courses there are usually one or two “whatever” moments for her. The only exception was the palette cleanser dessert starter that she wasn’t fond of. For me, thinking back to any 7+ course tasting menus I HAVE EVER HAD, I can say with certainty it was the best I have had. My favorite memorable item was course #5 (early) which was a Cantonese Peruvian taco that was simply amazing and not outdone by any savory courses after that. I’m including a photo of the menu and you can click the link to view all of our photos if you really need to see this stuff.

Day 3: Lima, Peru.

Well the day started out with the power in our room going out 2x at 4am. Other than that, the day kicked off normally with some brekkie and then off to meet our guide for the morning, Ellie. Today we focused on the neighborhood of ‘Cercado de Lima’ aka ‘Centro de Lima’. 

Ellie walked us through some of the history of Peru, including the Spanish invasion led by Francisco Pizzaro. He conquered the Incan Empire in 1532 and claimed it all for Spain. Pizzaro ended up being the founder of what is now known as Lima in 1535. Peru ended up being liberated from Spanish rule by José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar in 1821. 

We walked around Plaza San Martin as well as Plaza de Mayor. In between, we walked down a major shopping thoroughfare for locals and learned about how Peruvians love their chicken, cerveza, chocolate, coffee, coca, chifa, ceviche and casinos. Of particular note is that chifas are commonly next to casinos as they are owned by the same person typically. 

They also love their Pisco Sours. So much so that a controversy exists between Peru and Chile over who “owns” the Pisco Sour. I can say from both of the times I was in Chile, I never saw the pride and the ownership on the drink like I have seen in the roughly 48 hours we have been in Peru. So there’s that. In fact, once a year they empty out the main fountain in Plaza de Mayor and fill it with Pisco. And yes, they pour people tiny shots of Pisco.

We then ventured over to the Museo Convento San Francisco y CatacombasMarc and I both enjoyed the explanations over the course of the tour by Ellie. Unfortunately no pics allowed but saw a fascinating Peruvian-based rendition of ‘The Last Supper’ as well as some really interesting looking “andas”. They can be described as thrones that are used in religious processions. We also walked through the catacombs and learned about the history on who was buried or how people “donated” items to the church so they could be buried there. Check out the pics in the link above.

After our tour, we went to lunch at a restaurant called Osso - known for the meats (BEEF) selection and for being one of the best in Peru. I figured if I am going to make Marc sit through eating ceviche (and many of you are well aware of his “love” for fish), I should at least ensure we get some good red meat.

Osso didn’t disappoint; Marc and I split a steak as opposed to getting something larger after yesterday’s shenanigans. I’d post some of the pics from the bathroom that were very funny but may not be appropriate for a family-friendly blog.

We walked back to the hotel and rested (aka ‘digested’) before hitting the gym at the hotel. It’s probably one of the best hotel gyms I have experienced, which is saying something. I created a “High Intensity Interval Training” workout for Marc and I, and then one of the trainers (who was watching and encouraging us in Spanish) offered to stretch us out after.

It was time to walk to Malabar for dinner. For being one of the “Top 50 Restaurants in Latin America”, it was refreshingly laid back with respect to service and had wonderful food. Since we were now allowed to consume alcohol legally in Peru, we seized the opportunity to try some Peruvian Syrah. Marc and I had some tacos and tostadas that had some unique flavor combos to us. Then I had a “hot ceviche” with the massive corn kernels that are known in Peru. It was just yummy (yeah, I said it like that). Marc had a local duck dish, which had some equally delicious action going on. Wine was good.... better for duck than my dish, but that wasn’t the point. 2 days in Lima has already led to lots of home cooking ideas. Success.

For those wondering about Peru producing wine, the country has 28 out of the 32 world climates within its borders. So not a complete shock that it is producing wine. 

As for dessert, Marc decided to go for something completely different with ‘Chirimolla with Meringue’ which had mangoes and oranges in it. I actually chose the chocolate as an insurance policy for Marc. Both were good, but I really enjoyed Marc’s dessert dish and all of the different textures. Surprisingly, Marc also enjoyed the mango dessert (but I think he was thankful that I ordered something chocolate).

All in all, another fun and stomach filling day in Lima. I’m hoping we will have more of the same as we progress on the trip.

For more pics, please click here.

Adventures in the Kitchen....

One thing that has picked up in earnest has been some adventures in the kitchen. That took a back seat with all of the chaos with the previous job, so it's good to be back at it. 

I had a boatload of fun when ramps were in season. They may be my favorite thing to cook with and this year, I went a little nuts. Roasted on pizza, blended into pesto and chimichurri, sauteed with eggs, grilled with salmon and baked with lasagna. And of course, I pickled some too!

We have also been using the sous vide more because it's actually pretty easy and really ensures that the food is evenly cooked. It just requires a bit of planning, but is really handy when you may not have much time to cook the day of a dinner party, etc. In most cases, we sous vide the meat for a pre-determined period of time and then we just sear it for more flavor, etc.

For the first time, at the suggestion of a friend we tried salmon in the sous vide. It tasted really good but the transfer from the bag to the plate is really challenging as the salmon is fairly delicate. Gotta figure that one out because Marc actually liked it the flavor and the texture! If anyone has any ideas, please send them my way.

This year also had me doing some baking, which is definitely not the normal order of things at Chez Beck. I was determined to prepare a gluten-free version of Thomas Keller's 'Quiche Lorraine' recipe. At the recommendation of a friend, I used cassava flour for the first time. It definitely absorbs a ton of moisture so you have to work quickly. But it came out really well.... after 3 attempts. The recipe is not for the faint of heart though. Lots of steps and the timing matters. But well worth it.

Then I wanted to do something fun for a friend's birthday and she is really into strawberries, which happen to be in season locally around the same time of year. So I decided to opt for The Modernist Cuisine 'Strawberry Panna Cotta' recipe. It's not a hard one to make but the proportions are really important so the panna cotta actually sets properly. So yes, Marc is not the only one in the house that can bake and/or make dessert.

Finally with the weather being nice and all, we have been getting some quality time in with the Big Green Egg. Salmon, Duck, Pork and Chicken. I love that thing. Knows how to keep things juicy and make everything tasty. More food experiments to come soon.

Go Eat The Freakin' Cupcake!

Yes, I said that. 

Just eat the freakin' cupcake!

While we tend to eat relatively healthy, sometimes we have been known to indulge here at Chez Beck (see pic on left). If you follow us on Facebook, Instagram or have been a guest at our house, you'll know this. But we try to eat relatively healthy most of the time. 

This post isn't about throwing healthy eating out the window. It also isn't meant to feel bad for us. It's about living life and not taking things for granted. Ever. 

The past 4+ weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind at Chez Beck. A pretty unpleasant one at that. We had a most unexpected and a very serious health scare that required immediate attention. Details aren't necessary but needless to say, it demanded putting everything on hold to focus on the situation at hand and the uncertainty that went with it, which was considerable (and on some level, still is).

OK, back to the cupcake. When an email was sent out to a small group of people as events were unfolding, a joke was included that someone could help by stopping at Cupcake Royale, a local shop in Seattle, to pick up some cupcakes or shakes for Marc and Jill. 

The percentage of those people willing to head to Cupcake Royale on our behalf was pretty astounding! It prompted some thought as well. So the next email that went out included an update on the patient and exhorted all of the recipients to go eat the freakin' cupcake because life is short. Clearly the joke touched upon a nerve that people were in need of a cupcake!

The great news is that things are getting better. Much better. We are cautiously optimistic and continue to progress forward everyday. This is due not just to the perseverance at Chez Beck but also due to the incredible support we have received from our families and our friends during this time. We are so lucky. Oh, and a great medical team to boot.

Marc and I have this little tradition that we do at dinner every night. Yes, every night. We always toast to something positive. It can be something as inconsequential as a household bill not being as high as we expected to getting great news on the health front. You name it. We've covered it in the daily toast.

We encourage y'all to find something positive to celebrate everyday with the folks in your life. The longstanding tradition has helped a great deal during these past few weeks.

And don't wait for an excuse. If the opportunity presents itself...


Home Cooking, Neil Gaiman and Some Recent Reading.

Since we returned from our trip, Marc and I have been focusing on home cooking. After eating out constantly for almost a month, it was a welcome change to eat a bit healthier and have some more variety.

That said, we got roped into a 'mac n cheese' competition of sorts with some friends so I tested out some recipes last weekend from "The Modernist Cuisine At Home" cookbook. Plus it was Passover, so I whipped out one of my faves from John Besh - Creole-Matzo Ball Soup

This resulted in about 6 hours of total cooking last Saturday, which I felt the next day at yoga (BTW, I just finished my 38th straight day of yoga today - go figure). The combo of the 2 'mac n cheese' recipes and the soup made for an "interesting me
al" that night but whatever. It was mostly done so I could watch the Final Four with Marc, so I was happy.

Given that it was Passover, I was excited to make a soup from scratch since I had a bunch of bones from when we smoked chicken on the Big Green Egg. Matzo ball soup can tend to be bland, which is why like the one from Besh. Matzo balls are pretty easy to make - chicken fat, matzo meal and some eggs. I didn't have enough chicken fat, so I had duck fat on hand to use - shocking. Hey - give me credit for not using bacon fat since it was Passover, ok?

The 'baked' version (left side of above pic) from the book was more on the traditional side in terms of prep. Grate a bunch of cheese, parboil the macaroni, throw in some milk and a couple of other things. Then throw it in the oven. I worked out a kink or two in the process and look forward to showcasing it with our friends in May.

The 'fat free' version (right side of above pic) was very different in the sense that you used a sous vide to create "cheese water". This is done through putting grated cheese and water together in a vacuum sealed bag and throwing it in a sous vide machine. After cooking, the water from the bag is filtered out and that is what ends up in the dish. The cheese can be used for something else but is no longer needed in the dish (hence 'fat free'). The creaminess was made through pureeing cauliflower and it was actually pretty good.

Marc forwarded me a great interview with Neil Gaiman on "Raising Readers, Fairy Tales & More". Highly recommend it as more kids get engrossed in the digital age and maybe don't read books as much.

I finished the book, "Always Running: La Vida Loca", last week. I was a bit disappointed based on the reviews saying how great it was. I just felt it was a bit light on substance and had much more potential to tell a more compelling story. Oh well, I had a good string of books for awhile so I was bound to come across one that I didn't enjoy as much.

After finishing that book, I started "Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World's Greatest Wine" by Maximillian Potter. Marc and I have travelled to the region that they are talking about in the book so it's good to know where they are talking about and how far places are from each other.

Malbec, Mojitos, Monica Lewinsky, Savings Crisis=Gender Crisis, #HeForShe, Women Being "Likeable" and Homeless Youth

Things have been busy in Beck land since our return from #PatagoniaCaminada. While most of this post deals with mostly current events that are fairly serious, we consider ourselves lucky that we get to learn more about these issues and asked how we can contribute towards fixing these problems.

We had to consume the final wine we picked up at duty-free in Argentina when we had to dump Argentine pesos, so we had a Malbec tasting with some friends the other night comparing ones from Mendoza (Argentina) to the US. It was fun and then I tried to recreate an Argentine Mojito that we had at Oviedo in Buenos Aires. I am not a mixologist, so while the creation was ok, it needs some work on my end. Of course, we paired the Malbecs with steak because that seemed to be very Argentine!

I had the opportunity to attend 2 events last week that really hammered home the importance of being genuine when presenting to an audience. The 2nd one was for an organization that I was previously heavily involved with and have gone through a significant reboot. It was Sallie Krawcheck, the Chairwoman of Ellevate, that hammered the point home of the savings crisis being a gender crisis.

The basics - women earn less then men, women outlive men, and women do not earn social security contributions by being a "stay at home mom". Ellevate, formerly 85 Broads, is trying to change the dialogue about this and I am pretty excited about it. It seems timely given other initiatives around giving women more of a voice. I heard Sallie speak on Friday morning and she was candid, self-deprecating and thoughtful in her responses to questions from the small gathering. I was absolutely pumped after meeting her!

Currently we have the Ellen Pao lawsuit against one of the oldest and most respected venture capital firms out there. Much of the testimony is around "how likeable" Ms. Pao is and that the feedback was she was either too pushy or didn't speak up enough in meetings. It's a common problem for women but the concern is that will male dominated industries shy away from hiring women so they don't have to deal with being more respectful to members of the opposite sex? This is in spite of evidence that companies perform better with women in senior executive positions. Remember when Obama said to Hillary in their early debates that "You're likeable enough, Hillary"? Does someone want to define "likeable" as a characteristic for a performance evaluation?

Speaking of the Clintons, the first victim of cyberbullying - Monica Lewinsky - gave a FANTASTIC TED talk on bullying. Admittedly, I mocked her back in the day and in looking back, not a proud moment for me. She talked about why she decided to speak out now and one of the people she mentioned was Tyler Clementi, a young man who committed suicide because of cyberbullying by his college roommate.

Emma Watson continues to put herself out there around testifying at the United Nations for the "#HeForShe" initiative. She continues to draw many kudos for her advocacy to change the dialogue. Clearly her social activism from being Hermonie Granger has translated into something much more significant.

The other event I went to last week was for YouthCare, one of the top non-profits in the Pacific Northwest. They focus on teen homelessness, which is a significant problem here. Many reasons exist for this and I had the opportunity to learn about this issue in more detail in co-founding and being the Executive Director of Upower. I wish it was "just homelessness" but it expands to so many other areas, including sexual exploitation to children as young as 12 years old. 

YouthCare arranged for a surprise guest speaker to talk to the 1300+ people in attendance at the luncheon. He is better known as Macklemore, but also known locally as Ben Haggerty. Like Sallie Krawcheck, his remarks were candid, self-deprecating and thoughtful about his own struggles and his luck with his family being instrumental in changing his life for the better. He talked about how many of the youth served by YouthCare do not have that system and why the work they do is so important. More needs to be done and we'll leave it at that.

One of my goals from when we returned from #PatagoniaCaminada was to read more books and not be consumed by the 24-hour newscycle. Last week, I finished "All The Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr. Well I started it last week and I couldn't put it down so it was finished in about 4 days. It's fiction but anyone who has read any non-fiction works from that timeframe can do some extrapolation on their own. Get it on your Kindle or at the library if you haven't read it already.

"Green" by R.E.M. is 25 Years Old.... Wha????

Yes, that awesome album/CD/tape (whatever format you had when it came out) is now 25 years old. How the heck did THAT happen? Wow. It's 5 o'clock somewhere, right? Of course I will age myself some more and indicate that this brings me back to the years of Massapequa High School... Oy!

Many of our regular readers are baseball fans. And almost every baseball fan complains about how absurd the scheduling is for their respective team. Great little "30 for 30" on the husband and wife team who did the scheduling by hand.

I wouldn't say that I am a huge NBA fan. I lost interest in the Knicks thanks to the idiocy of James Dolan and his blind loyalty to Isiah Thomas. I know some of the players, particularly the ones on the marquee teams, like the Miami Heat. I was pleasantly surprised to come across this article by Chris Bosh in WIRED about the virtues of being able to write code. He also mentioned an interesting non-profit called 'code.org', which has some really interesting ideas about incorporating programming into education. Check it out.

Remember the adage "don't run 1/2 marathons on back-to-back weekends"? You don't? That's probably because most people do not need someone to tell them that. They just are smart enough not to do it! Unlike moi. Yep, ran the Snohomish River Run the week after the Nike 1/2 Marathon and let's just say it was a fight the whole way. Legs had no mojo and missed my PR by ~40 seconds. A bit disappointing, but given that I was sick for most of October and the hard 13.1 the previous week (even though it wasn't race pace), I can't complain too much.

Final races for the year seem to be a 5K in about a week and a 4-miler about a week later. Then I think I will be good. I look forward to spending some time building up at CrossFit and working on a project that has been in the works for a few weeks.

We have been doing some fun things on the home cooking front. Picked up a new cookbook from "Gramercy Tavern", a long time favorite of mine in New York. Then I do some experimenting with a cookbook from a wonderful place in Sydney that we ate at called "Quay". 

One of the birthday gifts that Marc picked up for me was "Modernist Cuisine At Home". Interesting take on cooking because it is written as if cooking is more about the science as opposed to some of the art involved. I like a little bit of both. We actually went to an exhibit currently showing at the Pacific Science Center showcasing some of the photography used in the book. Definitely unique.

Even with all of the science, I have been able to use the cookbook on a few recipes over the past couple of months and look forward to using it for a dish in celebration of a close friend's birthday. Lucky me!

Interesting Reads, Cooking Adventures, Etc.

It's been a busy month, thus far. Running, cooking, CrossFit, friends, quick trip to Whistler, getting ready for the JDRF dinner and helping Harvalicious with his "Barbells for Boobs" fundraiser. 

I never get around to reading as much as I would like, but found a few articles over the past 3-4 weeks that have been interesting:

I had NO IDEA that if you declare bankruptcy that pretty much every debt will be forgiven, except for student loan debt. I am not sure which "genius" decided on that, but it has the potential to stifle innovation and risk taking in America. I am all for paying your debts but this is absurd. You try and get a new start, and your student loans will always be with you (but not your credit card debt). Not good.

Fascinating read on the sequence of events that took place after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Good job, Esquire.

What a cool story about a "sommelier on wheels". Shows that you can always pursue your dream if you really are passionate about it. It would be interesting to understand what was involved in the service portion of the Master Sommelier exam. 

I am convinced that Gianni Agnelli was "The Most Interesting Man In The World" before Dos Equis came up with the moniker for their very hilarious ad campaign.

It's not looking good for the Yanks to make the playoffs. I am pretty much "anyone but Boston" at this stage, but I think it would be pretty cool if the Indians and Pirates made it to the Fall Classic. The Giants are off to a horrific start. No O-Line and a leaky defense. Not sure how Kevin Gilbride still has a job and how much more of a pounding Eli Manning can take.

Running is going well mostly. Some aches and pains, but getting through the workouts and improving efficiency.... hopefully.

Spent the long Labor Day weekend in Whistler, BC. Hung out with a good friend, golfed for the 1st time since getting the broken hand fixed and cooked some lasagne. Good times.

On the home cooking front, Marc picked up for me "Modernist Cuisine At Home" as a gift and I have been busy trying things out like "Sous Vide Pork Belly" for an upcoming dinner party challenge, omelettes, pressure cooked vegetable soup, amongst other things. It's definitely educational and I look forward to seeing how I can "up my game". Other recipes I have worked on include an heirloom tomato salad from "Down Home: Downtown", which was great, and Chocolate Pudding Souffles with Almond Butter Ganache, which was adapted from "Michael Mina: The Cookbook". Yes, you read that right - Jill baked.

We are still fundraising for JDRF (will be through mid-November) and have our big dinner on Saturday. The dinner is sold out, which is awesome. Hovering around $18,000. Thanks to all who have donated to date! Harvalicious (aka Dad) is also fundraising to provide mammograms for those who can't afford them. You can donate here! Harv is going to do a special CrossFit workout with his "box" on October 5th for the cause! More to come on this.

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.

“When I was a little boy, I wanted to be a baseball player and join a circus. With the Yankees I’ve accomplished both."

Who said that? Quick, quick....

Well, it was apt at the time it was said (~35 years ago) and it seems really appropriate now. The quote was made by Graig Nettles, while playing for the Yankees in the late 70s. Sportswriters, followers and players referred to the chaos surrounding the team as the 'Bronx Zoo'.

Now we have what one writer called the 'Bronx Zoo 2.0'. I don't appreciate cheaters, but I dislike NOT following 'due process' even more. The situation with A-Rod has just devolved into such absurdity that no one knows what to believe. But what if the A-Rod situation (replacing Reggie Jackson) was happening with George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin alive, and reprising their roles in the 70s, except with Twitter accounts? Now that would be awesome.

Numerous baseball players have complained that A-Rod gets to play while he appeals an unprecedented suspension. But they seem to forget that THEY voted on the collective bargaining agreement that grants players to RIGHT to play during an appeals process. So if they really want this to stop, they can call upon their union leadership to open up the CBA and change the process. Until then, they are sore losers since, somehow, the Yankees have started hitting again.

Last night's game was beyond awesome after Dumpster decided to be the moral arbiter of MLB and plunk A-Rod. BTW, it only took him 4 tries. Maybe Dumpster (funny how autocorrect was working last night on my phone and iPad) can ask David Ortiz about his failed PED test that he promised to get to the bottom of if he is so outraged. Anyway when A-Rod clubbed a home run to deep center, I was pleased. After Dumpster loaded the bases soon after, got pulled, then received a standing ovation walking off of the mound, I jumped for joy when Brett Gardner knocked in 3 runs on a triple.

BTW those runs got charged to that pitcher who had just received the standing ovation. Nice job, Boston fans. Yanks ended up winning and Dumpster got the loss. Golly, hope that loss doesn't affect playoff placement for the Red Sox. ;-)

We also had some more VIPs visit in the name of Marc's parents along with our nephew and niece from SoCal. They stopped in for a couple of days en route to Alaska, so it was good to see them. Marc got to play tour guide and show the kids the local, fun places. And I got to showcase some healthy cooking ideas for Dee & Bruce in between some meetings. 

In other news, my runs are progressing. I had a solid track workout and will be able to move on to mile repeats tomorrow. Never thought I would be excited about that, but that's what happens when you're injured for a bit. I did some hill work on both Saturday and Sunday with mixed results on my times, but helpful from a mental perspective as I got to work out some frustration from earlier in the week. The workouts have increased in intensity for both Marc and I in swimming (MB), running (JB) and Crossfit (both) over the past few weeks, so by Sunday afternoon at an engagement party for close friends, we were gassed and made an unfortunate early departure.

Good times on many fronts. That said, when I recommended to Marc to take a 'recovery week' like Coach T prescribed for me this week, he jumped at the suggestion and said, "Yeah, that sounds like a good idea." So there you have it. An easier week on the workout front for Marc and I this week. Thankfully.

Phil the Thrill.

I wouldn't say I am a huge golf fan, compared to say baseball or football (US), but after taking up the game once I moved to Seattle, I definitely started to appreciate it more. I never was a fan of Tiger Woods. He just always seemed to be arrogant and a poor sport, especially given how much success he had playing golf and how much money he made as a result. The events in late 2009 only cemented my disdain for him. His conduct on the course has finally become a topic for discussion, which was well overdue since it seemed like sportscasters just kissed his rear for fear of angering Tiger. Oooh.

My beloved grandmother, Mollie, was a Phil Mickelson fan. I remember watching the US Open with her in 2002 on Father's Day when it was played just down the road from us at Bethpage Black. I somehow became a Phil fan on that Sunday afternoon even though he lost to Tiger. He just always seemed like he knew that he had it really good and knew his role was to golf and entertain the fans. And he played to win, and not just collect a paycheck.

Phil can be maddeningly frustrating to watch. Winged Foot. Merion. But when he pulls something out of nowhere, you get just as rewarded. His win yesterday at the Open Championship was a shock and thoroughly enjoyable. And he has done something Tiger hasn't - Phil knows how to win majors from behind

I have no idea what Phil is like in private, but I know that he realizes his job is to be with the fans and thank them for supporting the game, in addition to golfing. I like that. I LOVE that he doesn't slam his club down when he hits a poor shot, swear incessantly after a mishit, and doesn't treat interviewers like garbage when he has a bad round.  So congrats, Phil, and I know Mollie had a celebratory G&T "upstairs" in your honor.

Of course we have the other side of the spectrum in bad behavior in Ryan Braun, who finally admitted to taking PEDs. I hope the sample collector who Braun demonized and caused to lose his job sues the pants off of him. Braun was so adamant about the collection process being flawed and blaming this person that one can hope that karma comes back to Braun's checkbook. Speaking of reformed cheaters, I always wonder if Lance Armstrong ever apologized to Emma O'Reilly after making her life miserable?  

Moving back to being positive, I had a good week on the running front. I actually hit my assigned paces/HR zones on my runs this past week, so I am incredibly pleased. The work is paying off, but we have so much more work to do to get me where I need to be for my race. My stretching program is helping and more routine, so that is good. I definitely got inspired watching my former coach race and place 2nd in her age group in yesterday's Lake Stevens 70.3 Ironman.

Moving on to food, we were able to hit Crush for dinner -- one of Marc's faves. We chatted with Jason (chef and owner) about his new restaurant, our visit to Quay in Sydney and the awesomeness of the Big Green Egg. Really great restaurant with the food and service, plus we opted to sit at the bar so we saw some of the interesting prep they do in the kitchen.

I signed us up for a Gluten-Free Doughs class (focused on pasta) at the Pantry at Delancey. It wasn't Paleo-oriented but it was good to learn a few more tricks when working with non-traditional flours when making pasta/dumplings from scratch. We only wished that the class started at 5:30pm instead of 6:30pm because we didn't eat until 9:15pm, which is a tad late for us. I don't think we're at the "early bird special" stage yet, but still... we're not in NYC either. That said, I am somewhat inspired to experiment some more on this front with Paleo "doughs". Stay tuned for more in this space after last year's sweet potato gnocchi (success after FIVE attempts!)

I also attempted some other dishes in the kitchen last week. Two of them are Paleo versions of existing recipes from 'Avec Eric' by Eric Ripert and 'Simply Ming One Pot Recipes' by Ming Tsai. A third night consisted of a meal from 'Practical Paleo' by Diane Sanfilippo so obviously no versioning required to make it Paleo.

Let's talk about Chocolate

Jill is taking our Facebook notes we did in Australia and converting them into posts on our blog. I figured why don't I write about something since we got back. CHOCOLATE.

The Bouchon Bakery Cookbook has some interesting stuff in there and the book seems to be well written. I recently made these Fuhgeddaboudits and they were delicious. It's basically a round rice krispie treat covered in a thin layer of caramel on top and then chocolate all over.

What's The Right Sequence, Eh?

View from Jill's run: Mt. Rainier
from Lake Washington Blvd.
Just over 2 weeks into being committed to a 1/2 marathon and I am still trying to figure some things out. Since I am doing PT for my hip/knee, plus doing cross-training in addition to running, I am trying to assess the most optimal sequence. And I need to figure in rest days into the equation because they need to happen.

As it turns out, PT takes a lot out of me and leaves some lingering effects for a day after. Mind you, it has been incredibly effective but I need to schedule it the day before a rest day. Then my body can recover from runs, Crossfit and PT on that off day. So that needs to get fixed pronto.

"Barely Cooked" Scallops (Marinated in Ceviche) With Corn
and Scallion Relish (adapted from "Michael Mina")
In spite of the sequence not working this week, it was not a bad training week by any stretch. I did do my long run yesterday, which took away my 2nd rest day (lesson learned). The run went fairly well as I pretty much followed instructions to keep my heart rate in zone 2 (easy), so I can't complain too much. The view of Mt. Rainier was pretty special too (see above).

And hey - I even got closer to following Coach T's instructions at track as well. Progress. 

The other modification I have made to training has been at Crossfit. Instead of doing the flat out/back runs we are randomly assigned for 200m and 400m, I am taking a different path which has some incline on it. Just more of incorporating uphills and downhills into my regular routine while my body is pretty fatigued. We will see if it pays dividends as I get into longer runs with real hills thrown in. 
Pan-Roasted Chicken Breast with
Spaghetti Squash "Carbonara"
(adapted by Jeff Mall of 'Zin')

The other positive news is that my hand and wrist are getting stronger, so I can cook more regularly and give +Marc a break. Marc ate scallops (used a recipe from 'Michael Mina') and went back for seconds... it took me awhile to get myself up off of the floor. So yes, miracles can happen. Then I "Paleo-ized" a dish from 'Down Home Downtown', which is a cookbook from one of the restaurants we frequent when we are in Healdsburg. 

It's a great time of year to cook in the Pacific NW since so many things are coming into season. I can't do heavy amounts of chopping, but I am grateful for what I can do in the kitchen. Since we have VIPs (+Lisa+Jarrett, Jeffrey & Mollie!!) coming to visit at the end of the month, Marc and I are working furiously on menu options. Expect lots of 'home cooking' pics posted that week!

20 Feb : Pinnacles area and Perth

The Pinnacles were on the list of top 25 things to see in Australia in the Lonely Planet book and we made the time to drive up there and back from Perth (2-3 hours each way).

At 10am as we were approaching the park it was 40C which is uncomfortably above 100F. It turns out that the walk is 1.2 km which we could do in the heat. A very strange and wonderous place that was worth checking out. After a visit in the
museum and shop (to cool down), we drove the 4-5 km road for a different perspective.

Then it was off to lunch in Cervantes - a town 15km north that has "The Lobster Shack". +Jill got a HUGE crustacean while I drove elsewhere in town to get a NON-seafood lunch to bring back and consume. The Lobster Shack is all seafood all of the time. As we both ate, we filled out post cards before the long journey back to Perth.

Once we got back, a much needed water fight took place around the house between Andrew, Marc and Dylan. Crazy times ensued, and fortunately everyone cooled off while the fun was taking place.
We prepared and cooked dinner on the BBQ - steak and mixed veggies over flame. Good long day despite the road time.

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.

16 Feb : Dunsborough / Margaret River Area

+Jill and I "slept in" thankfully as Dylan went out early to the beach although we missed the sunrise. Sleep was needed. Jill got in a quick run along Geographe Bay. After everyone got some breakfast, we headed to the coffee shop and to a gallery by a local photographer. Great stuff to see there.

Our first stop in the Margaret River WINE region - well known for Bordeaux varietals - was ..... the Chocolate Factory! It's not truly all my fault really. I'm not complaining though. It was good - they make lots of stuff. I only picked up 3 small things to eat soon - it was hot. Melting chocolate is bad.

On the grass lawn at the factory, we played some baseball. We then headed to Sandalford right down the road. I'm pretty sure no one had anything memorable to taste there although none of us paid for the high end stuff to taste. Then we went out on their lawn and the Americans learned to play some "footy" - Aussie Rules Football.

After this it was tasting and lunch at Cullen. The person pouring for us knew his stuff so we were well taken care of there. The wines were good and the food was fresh and excellent. They have bee hives on the property to help plant pollination so the menu has some wonderful stuff incorporating honey or honeycomb that is so fresh and tasty.

At Cullen, we played a little soccer - Dylan has started associating wine tasting with sport. 

After this, we parted ways for the afternoon. Jill and I went for more tastings while Andrew, Fiona, and Dylan went back to Dunsborough beach. We went to Evans & Tate, which was ok and the 10 year old tawny port was good enough that I bought a bottle.

We then went across the road to Moss Wood for our only appointment of the day. Alex gave us a fabulous and informative tour where we tasted several barrel samples. Everything we tasted was good. Definitely winery of the day. We bought a cab to have for dinner in the coming week.

We headed back to the cottage in Dunsborough so I could swim. It turns out that a tiger shark has been roaming and spotted in the area and people are walking in the very shallow waters but not swimming. I walked out about 200 meters or so where the underwater plants start growing and then swam toward short until I simply couldn't perform an underwater pull without hitting too much sand.

The evening was capped with a great home cooked meal: steaks, salad, rice mixture, etc. Nice day overall.

1 Feb : Adelaide --> McLaren Vale

Unfortunately they weren't open for a visit when we came by.
Happy Birthday to +Jill's sister, +Lisa, as well as Happy Anniversary to her parental units, Harv & +Yvette.

We started off with an alarm so that we could go do a Crossfit workout and gauge what we've lost skill-wise so far. I'm down from 21 straight pull-ups to 7 already. Yuck! After a quick shower, we were off to McLaren Vale - a bit cooler climate wine region that Barossa but fully capable of ripening the big reds that I enjoy. 

We started the tour at Molly Dooker - Aussie for left hander. Sparky the winemaker went to university with Mike Z - our winemaker. We were given a great tour and history by Sparky's dad, Leigh. He's the one that came up with the name when they were desperate to name, print labels, and begin selling wine. He suggested it at a meeting and brought the house down. After everyone calmed down, they took a poll of attendees in the room that were left handed and 7 out of 12 were - so it was fate.

The tour was a great experience about how they treat the vines during the growing season and their vine management philosophy. We tasted several great wines and learned the "Mollydooker shake" for young bottles. In a nutshell, because wines are packaged with nitrogen gas, you empty a little wine out and then close it up and shake it to help release the gas. This is only recommended for young wines that are not sparkling.

After that great tour and lunch in town, we checked out other recommendations we've been given. Some odd things happened when we arrived at Samuel's Gorge. First, we ran into the same couple we had tasted with at Penfolds a couple days back in another valley. Next, the winemaker showed up and gave us a sample of the just about to be bottled 2011 Shiraz that no one outside of him/assistants have tasted yet - not even the tasting room manager who was there. He talked to us for a LONG time (and could have been longer but he had a private appt) and even though I'm not sure that we said anything impressive to him, he gave us a bottle of Sparkling Shiraz to evaluate and send him our thoughts. Wild!
We went back to the cottage we are staying at and cooked up some dinner and enjoyed both bottles we were given at Mollydooker during the tour. What a great day.

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.