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Archive for July, 2010

My New Mantra

Climbing this hill on my last bike ride was exciting

The sprint triathlon that I’m doing this Saturday is my first multisport race since my half-Ironman almost exactly a year ago.  So I definitely am a little out of racing practice, and even more so out of short distance racing practice.  I always say that Olympic tris or 10Ks and longer are a better value, because the cost is almost the same so you get much more distance for your dollar.  Really though, I know that short races are even harder in their own way for me.  In a sprint, you can push yourself closer to your true physical limit.  I have gotten back in shape enough that I’m no longer worried that I won’t be able to finish the distances.  But I still find the prospect of going hard for an hour and a half or more to be very daunting.

All of this has me thinking about one of the two important things I learned from one of my Mt. Adams hiking companions.  The first thing I learned is that if you are going hiking with a 2:50 marathoner, DO NOT let them set the pace.  Lesson number two came as we were sitting at Lunch Counter, looking up at the steepest part of the climb up the false summit which as you may recall looked like this:

View of false summit from Lunch Counter

All I could think of was locked-up quads, burning lungs and slipping and tumbling down the snow.   But as he faced the mountain,  he said, without a trace of sarcasm,

“I’m excited! This is going to be hard!”

My initial mental response to this was “friend, you and I are very different people.”  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he had the right attitude.  Doing hard things is exciting!  It may not always be comfortable or even especially pleasant, but it’s thrilling to push yourself beyond what you are sure you can do, and emerge with an expanded knowledge of what you are capable of.  Devoting mental energy to dreading the intense effort it would take to reach the top wasn’t making things any easier.  It was just channeling that nervous excitement into negative channels.

So I’m trying to take that attitude more and relish the challenges ahead of me, rather than worrying about just how much I’m going to suffer when faced with a hill to climb or a tough workout or my first triathlon in a year when I haven’t been super consistent with my training.  Instead I just smile, and think to myself, “this is going to be hard!”

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Grilled Pizza

I love the idea of grilled pizza, especially in the summer when it’s way too hot to be running the oven at 500°.  But I’ve never been able to get the technique quite right.  Fortunately, ugly pizzas are still tasty pizzas, so I don’t mind doing lots of experimenting.

For the crust I used Peter Reinhart’s Pizza Napoletana recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which is an amazing book for anyone really interested in bread and patient enough for extremely detailed instructions and explanations.

Whatever crust you use, the grilling method stays pretty much the same.  You’d probably be better off following the instructions at 101 cookbooks or Serious Eats, but here’s about how it went when I attempted it a few nights ago:

Stretch the dough into a nice even round, and assemble all your toppings and ingredients.

Clockwise from top: Spray bottle with water, toppings, olive oil with minced garlic, pizza dough

Toppings were sliced orange bell pepper, mozzarella, and shiitake mushrooms sauteed in a little butter with thyme.

Brush the round of dough with the garlic olive oil.

Attempt to flip the dough onto the hot side of the grill while maintaining the nice round shape.

Fail.  Curse.  Realize your pizza has caught fire, and curse more.  Forget about taking pictures and grab the spray bottle of water to put it out.   Brush the top side with the garlic olive oil.

Once the underside of the pizza is nice and browned (or charred, as the case may be), flip it over and place sliced mozzarella on the cooked side of the crust.  In my grilled pizza experience it’s necessary to put the cheese on first so it will melt.

Then put the rest of the toppings on, move the pizza over to the side of the grill with no burner on, and close the lid. 

Once the underside of the crust is crispy and the cheese is completely melted, slide the pizza off the grill and top with fresh basil.

Decide, hey, that’s a pretty decent pizza, even if it is a little homely.

Cook the second pizza pretty much the same way, messed-up shapes, cursing, flare-ups and all, but only get one picture of it like the less-loved second child pizza that it is.

I really like the flavor of the crust, although it ended up a little thinner than I would have liked in the middle.   I would chalk that up to user error though, since I didn’t give it the full resting time out of the fridge before baking which I think would have let it rise more, and I have a tendency to pile on the toppings.  I’ll definitely be trying this pizza dough again, along with working to refine my pizza grilling technique.

Have you made grilled pizza before?  Any tips?

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Climbing Mt. Adams

I’ve never been especially interested in climbing mountains.  The whole “because it’s there” argument does not strike me as a compelling one.  Mountains are great to view from a distance, but on top of the mountain itself is not usually a very pleasant place to be.  Watching movies like Touching the Void just makes me think of all the pleasant, comfortable places in the world where one could be.  In a world full of spas, beaches, and beds with soft fluffy pillows, why would you go out of your way to put yourself on cold and windy glacier or rock in the thin oxygen-lacking air?

Nevertheless, I found myself doing exactly that this past weekend.

Mt. Adams was our goal, and as we drove towards it and it got bigger and bigger, I started to feel more and more apprehensive.  The route we were taking wasn’t a dangerous or technical climb like Everest or even Mt. Rainier, involving rope lines or ladders across crevasses.  You basically walk right up the south face.  But once I could actually see that face and imagine myself walking up it, it didn’t sound quite so simple.

Mt. Adams from a distance

This doesn't look that big...

Mt. Adams Closer

...okay, maybe it does

None of the three of us had ever done any real mountaineering before, but we had plenty of backpacking and hiking experience, and we did our research beforehand.  We armed ourselves with crampons, ice axes, and the half-dozen different permits and forms required, and headed on up to the trailhead.

We camped at the trailhead to head out first thing in the morning, doing the entire 11-mile round trip hike in one shot.  The campground was basically a real-world demonstration of Nietzsche’s statement that hell is other people, but despite the noisy neighbors we got some sleep and set out on the trail at 6:30 am.

We were hiking in snow within the first mile, and within the second mile the trail went from “a little steep” to “straight up the mountain”.

Hikers heading up the South Climb trail at Mt. Adams

It wasn’t too long before we were high enough above the trees to get views of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens.

View of Mt. Hood on the South Climb of Mt. Adams

Mt. Hood off in the distance

We kept trucking along and made pretty good time getting to Lunch Counter around 10:30, where we had a view of the infamous false summit.

View of false summit from Lunch Counter

You would think you'd be at the top after that climb. But you'd be wrong.

The people climbing up looked like tiny ants. Tiny ants that were moving at a depressingly slow pace.  After a lunch break, we strapped on crampons and started our own depressingly slow ascent.

One of the good things about so many people being on the mountain (the ranger station told us over 200) was that the steps in the snow were pretty well-defined for the most part.  I was in good spirits for the first third of the climb, and started to get excited and believe for the first time that we really were going to make it to the top.

View of the climb up the false summit

Kind of like a stair climber machine at the gym.

About 2/3 of the way in, it got steep enough that I got slightly freaked out looking around or taking pictures.  I always say that I’m not afraid of heights, I’m afraid of falling (yet another argument against my future as a mountain climber).  When I stood still, all I could think about was the slipperiness of the snow, and the pull of gravity, and how you could keep on sliding down all 2,000 feet you just climbed up (unless your crampon snagged and you broke your ankle on the way down).  Really, the climb never got all that steep and there were several little kids and a dog that made it to the summit as well, but I was still very glad that I had crampons and an ice axe to help anchor me into the snow.

I also started to tire out and have to rest more.  I live about 400 feet above sea level, so I could feel the effects of the altitude even at the trailhead at 5,600 feet.  Making that steep climb at 10,000 feet required lots of stopping to catch my breath.  I got in a pattern where I would take 20 slow steps, then rest for 30 seconds, then take 20 more.  After 60 steps I was allowed to look at the top to see how much further, because looking more often was discouraging since the top didn’t seem to be getting any closer.

Overall it took me about an hour and a half to reach the false summit.  We rested for a while before setting out on the final section of climbing.  We knew about the whole false summit thing, but the final climb looked steeper than we had expected (or hoped, I guess).

Mt. Adams

Just a little more climbing...

It was a lot shorter and less steep than the previous section, and my outlook started to improve.  The morning’s clouds had cleared and the sky was an amazing deep cobalt blue like I’ve never seen before.  I started thinking about how amazingly lucky I was to be there and to have the chance to be doing something like this.

Climbing Mt. Adams

Finally, after 8 hours, we reached the summit.  It was exhilarating to be up so high, seeing for hundreds of miles, and looking at just how far we had come in one day.  We had seen Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens the whole way up, but this was the first time we could see Mt. Rainier to the north.

View of Mt. St. Helens from the summit of Mt. Adams

Mt. St. Helens in the distance

View of Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier. I forget what that range to the right is called.

I had been hoping to see the old mining building, from the days when they used to take mules up here to mine sulfur, but it was all covered with snow.  It made for a great “king of the mountain” posing spot though.

Me on top of Mt. Adams

Way higher up than Mt. St. Helens

After spending some time taking it all in, we started our descent.  There were around a dozen people on the summit at the same time as us, and about half of them had snowboards or skis with them for the descents.  We stuck with glissading down, sliding on our butts down chutes created from all the previous glissaders.

Glissading down the mountain

Glissading down the mountain

That picture is actually from when we were hiking up.  I didn’t get any pictures while we were descending because I was too busy screaming in terror.  For the most part it wasn’t too bad, but there were some really steep sections where you quickly could gain enough speed to feel very out of control.

There was still some hiking to do, but being able to glissade down those long steep sections really sped up our descent.  It took us less than half the time to descend than it did to reach the summit, and that’s with one especially slow person who kept digging in her ice axe trying to slow down while glissading (ahem).

Hiking back down

Hiking back down

Overall it was an incredible experience.  It was great for a first climb because it was basic enough for beginners with no mountaineering experience, but it still definitely felt like a real mountain and a big accomplishment.

I definitely have more understanding of the appeal of mountain climbing now.  The mere mention of the word “crevasse” still kind of freaks me out, but I could see myself doing something like this again in the future.  On the drive home, we saw Mt. Hood glowing in the sunset light, and it looked awfully tempting…

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The view from my ride

Scene from my bike ride yesterday. I don't know why I have a hard time getting out there, it's so nice when I do.

It’s halfway through July, and one week after I outlined my goals for the month, so I wanted to update my progress on each of them.

  • Get prepared for a sprint triathlon on July 31st. I’m at 4 bike rides and 4 runs in the past week including last Thursday.  Still working on dragging my butt to the pool.  I also registered for the race, so there’s no backing out now!  You can see all my training at The Daily Mile.
  • Re-build the habit of morning workouts. I’m 4/7 in the past week, but 3/3 in the past 3 days.  I feel like I’m getting back into the a.m. rhythm, now I just need to stick with it.
  • Bike commute at least four times. Still 1/4 since I haven’t done this since last Thursday, but I’m planning to tomorrow.
  • Keep a food journal. Only 3 for 7 on this one.  Due to my Saturday activities it wasn’t really feasible to track everything I was eating (more on that in a post to come), but I can definitely do better on this!

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Green Curry Chicken

When I’ve been eating out too much and start to crave a home cooked meal, more often than not this meal is what I turn to.  It may not be authentically Thai and it’s definitely not fancy, but it’s one of those rare dinners that’s 1) delicious enough that I truly crave it, 2) healthy enough that it feels like a welcome reprieve from greasy happy hour fare, and 3) easy enough to function as a no-brainer weeknight meal.  It’s even relatively cheap once you invest in the curry paste and fish sauce.

So the next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up some of this:

Thai Kitchen Green Curry Paste

And some of this:

Thai Kitchen Fish Sauce

And if you are like me and keep ridiculous stocks of coconut milk you are all set for a fast and tasty meal.  I generally follow the recipe (similar to this one) on the back of the curry paste jar, substituting light coconut milk, whatever veggies I have on hand, and sometimes shrimp or tofu instead of chicken.  The fish sauce is key!  After adding it, the smell will make you think that you have made a horrible mistake and ruined your dinner, but it gives it a subtle fishy je ne sais quoi.

Green curry chicken with asparagus, spinach and onions

This iteration included brown rice (buried underneath!), asparagus and spinach.  Add in some roasted paprika and cumin-spiced cauliflower, and I almost feel like I made up my veggie deficit for the previous few days.  Almost.

Any suggestions for other meals that hit the delicious / healthy / easy trifecta?

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I was intending to scale back this summer.  Just not quite so much.  My wedding was just about a month ago, and I didn’t want the stress of wedding planning on top of maintaining a demanding schedule like I had last year while training for my half-ironman triathlon.  And post-wedding, I convinced myself that I deserved a break from being consistent with training and healthy eating, and I’d be able to ramp back up quickly.  I also convinced myself that it was perfectly fine to develop a daily (occasionally multiple times daily) leftover wedding cake habit.

Wedding cake

In my defense, it was really spectacular cake.

But the wedding and honeymoon break got extended into a recovering from a cold break, and after three weeks of minimal exercise I was faced with the registration deadline for a local sprint triathlon that I had planned on doing.  I told myself I still had the fitness to muscle through it and do fine, I just didn’t want to spend the money to go through all that hassle and not get a PR.  But after huffing and puffing my way through a slow 3-mile run yesterday and then struggling to squeeze into a pair of formerly loose dress pants, the conclusion is unavoidable:  I’m kinda out of shape.  Like, may-not-have-been-able-to-finish-that-sprint-tri out of shape.  And I don’t like it.

So I decided to make July all about getting back on track.  I still want to have plenty of summer fun and keep a more low-key approach to training and eating, but I miss that fit, in-shape feeling of knowing that I could bang out a 10K or a sprint triathlon or a long demanding hike without thinking twice about it.

July Goals

  • Get prepared for a sprint triathlon on July 31st. This will involve things like “biking” and “swimming” and “not blowing off training to go to the brewpub instead”.
  • Re-build the habit of morning workouts. I have gotten out of the mode where working out in the morning is just what I do every day.  Instead it’s a choice and a debate, and for me if I’m asking myself the question “should I sleep in?” then the battle has already been lost.
  • Bike commute at least four times. Bike commuting is great for squeezing more cycling time into the day, since you’re trading useless car time for extra training time.  I have a good start on this one since I biked to work this morning.
  • Keep a food journal. I really tried to come up with a less-tedious goal for improving my eating, like treats only on weekends, or eating more fruits and vegetables.  But even though tracking calories is a pain I think it’s the best option for me right now.  I’m not sticking to a calorie limit, just trying to honestly record everything for a bit of a reality check.  And looking at my Plate at Livestrong is definitely a reality check (eating out for four meals in the past three days – not the healthiest).

I figure if I can stick with these it will ease me back into athlete mode, and put me on a good path to achieving some of the loftier fitness-related goals I have for the rest of the year.

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Festive patriotic cake

Tastes like freedom

The 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays, and I will use any holiday as an excuse to make dorky novelty desserts designed to appeal to a 10-year-old (see also: gingerbread houses).  So when I saw this brilliant cake design I knew I had to give it a try.

It’s not very much harder than a normal layer cake but it is really impressive looking and so much fun when you’re cutting the first slice with bated breath, wondering if a flag is actually going to appear.

Colored sugar on top helps hide my third-grader-esque frosting job

I used Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake recipe like Jayme from Delectable Deliciousness did, and made the cream cheese frosting from the original post at 17 and Baking.  I slightly overbaked some of the cake layers, but the cake was still so good that I didn’t mind it interfering with the cream cheese frosting (at least, not too much.)

Some tips based on my experience:

  • Gel food coloring is the only way to go for bright vibrant colors, even if it does stain under your fingernails
  • A pyrex custard cup was the perfect size (around 4″ in diameter) for the template for cutting out the center
  • As you can see, the blue layer tends to tip towards the outside of the cake.  I’m thinking it might work better to do the blue as an inner circle, instead of an outer ring.
  • Make sure to account for the frosting between the inner circle red and white stripes when you are planning the height of the blue layer.  My red and white layers were half an inch high, so I made the blue layer just shy of 1.25″ and it turned out about perfect.

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