Archive for October, 2008

Sorting, Balance, Focus

One aspect of grad school so far has involved sorting things out. Maybe I’m trying to, uh… modernize my life, or something. This sorting and classifying has proven productive: I’ve thought new thoughts and written new things that I might not otherwise have done.

Sorting school from life, first of all. School is not life. School is a job.  Most importantly: I do not live at school anymore (on campus or in the dorms). Never mind that my social life revolves around school… I’m fine with that.

Sorting “things I’m going to study and write about” from “things I’m interested in.” I am interested in food and cooking, bikes, gardening, visual art of various media, language and literature, but I’m not necessarily going to study and write about those things (er, for my job). That does not, however, mean I have to give those interests up.

So I’ve sorted. And am constantly sorting, as new hybrids arise as a result of said sorting. But now I’m trying to find a little balance between the school-life dichotomy I’ve set up for myself.  At orientation last fall, the Department Chair warned the incoming cohort that we would have blinders on for a while– our focus would become very narrow and we might have to give up our hobbies. But not to worry– hobbies and balance would eventually be returned to our lives.

I think she meant “after you finish your degrees” that hobbies and balance would return to our lives… but c’mon! We run the risk of driving ourselves crazy if we don’t find some balance throughout.  I think people with families find that balance (hopefully) much faster than others of us, out of simple necessity (and by virtue of having a spouse/ partner saying “Snap out of it!”). But I have single (or at least, unmarried) friends that seem to find it as well.

This fall was the first time in 5 years that I haven’t raced my mountain bike. In fact, I haven’t touched poor Lucy (geared bike) or Ramona (single speed bike) since April! Tragic.  I stopped because 1) I didn’t have time to drive up to 12 hours each way for races on the weekends, AND finish all the reading I had to get done and 2) While it was really fun to hang out with a bunch of 18-year-old boys when I was an 18-year-old girl… not as much fun anymore (no offense, guys).

I thought that I would miss the social aspects of racing the most (and I could replace those with other social activities), but in fact I missed the actual competition. I missed the nervous butterflies before a race and pushing myself until my vision was blurry. I missed the pre- and post-race rituals too: the pre-race eating, organizing, warming up, going over the course; the post-race eating, cleaning, stretching, and collective bitching and groaning about muscle aches and performance issues. (Hm, eating figures in twice there… surprise surprise.)

I also find that I am a lot less-healthy mentally without some sort of focused physical outlet. I don’t mean that I go off the deep end– I think I’ve hammered out my diet well enough in the past few years that I keep my moods and energy much much more balanced than in early college (I’ve also got a handle– I think– on that transition-time stress that plagues college freshman).  I mean that I can’t seem to *think* sometimes.  The wheels might be spinning, but the hamster is either comatose or dead. I can’t focus long enough to read a page of a book (often an extremely dense and less-than-fascinating book, but still). Thinking, for most people, is an important part of academia (though some of my colleagues might debate this).

In between my two brain-draining seminars yesterday (brain-draining in the sense that I feel like I want a cigarette afterward… and I’ve never smoked in my life) I went to the gym.  It’s the same gym that I’ve been going to for 5 years (now 6).  It’s the gym where I trained for my first Big Bike Ride, and all subsequent races and rides. I was worried that I’d have a panicked “Ohmygodimstillhereaftersixyearsandstillhavesixmoretogo!” attack, but I didn’t.

The familiarity of the place was comforting! Yeah, it was kind of gross and dimly lit, full of smelly jocks, anorexic girls, and other varieties of undergrads, but it reminded me of the fun things I enjoyed doing before work started to take over.

I did a similar routine to what I’ve always done (with a few exceptions).  I spent 20 minutes warming up on an elliptical trainer (I know it’s lame, but real running gives me asthma attacks), and about an hour lifting and stretching. I felt more energized and focused afterward than I have since September.

[I told my roommate that I’d been to the gym yesterday, and she said “What, did they open a coffee shop there?” Har. Har.]

I also drink less coffee when I work out. Bonus!

Of course, being who I am (a planner), I start thinking “Gee, it would be so great to race again in the spring!” I mean, I could fit in workouts in between classes and studying like I did yesterday, and I would feel so much better about life in general!

So I started eyeing the race I originally wanted to do last May: the Mohican 100. I wouldn’t do the 100miler (I simply don’t have the time or motivation to train for that one) but what about the 100k? I could totally do that… right?

The problem is, as soon as I start imposing a regimen on myself, I’ll try to cheat (don’t ask me why, I just will). That has been the trick to eating well– I don’t deny myself a damn cookie if I want one. I don’t eat them very often, but as soon as I start saying “No, cookies are bad,” I start craving them. (That, and I have slowly developed, over 5 years or so, a deep-seated aversion to pre-packaged foods.)

So if I start saying “Mondays are a bike day, Tuesdays are swimming and rock climbing, Wednesdays are lifting, Thursdays are biking, Fridays are biking, Saturday and Sunday are rest days” (which, in fact, is what I was kind of thinking), will I start to think “to hell with it”?

I know I won’t be happy with just racing “for fun”– I want to feel that I did my best. And in order to do that, I have to train well. But will that take the fun out of it? Will I start to feel tired rather than energized (which has happened in the past)? Maybe I’m not cut out for physical competition… maybe it would drain too much of my focus away from other, more pressing things…

Or maybe it would offer a nice outlet, which I could seriously use right now.


And now I present… leftovers.

As it turns out, the beer AWBG suggested is precisely the brand that the recipe I had for baked beans called for. I don’t usually go looking for the specific brands mentioned in a recipe, but I give points to AWBG for the suggestion.

In all, the baked (er… slow-cooked?) beans turned out pretty tasty.  However, I think the pintos that I bought at the co-op had been sitting around for a while. I soaked them for ~10 hours overnight, and then slow-cooked them for a good 8 hours during the day… and they still were not-quite-tender. Hopefully the leftovers will be a bit better. Plus, I have a cold, which means everything is a bit lacking in flavor lately. I’m sure they smelled delicious while they were cooking– at least, my roommates said they did.

I also made some multigrain/ amaranth seeded biscuits from the same website (actually, I got the recipe from her print cookbook).  I know, I know, Doc (are you reading this?) you’re likely appalled that I chose a non- classic baking powder biscuit at all. Biscuits should be light, fluffy, and snow-white, right? Preferably doused in sausage gravy? 😉

Sadly, they did not turn out as light and fluffy as the picture accompanying the recipe might have indicated. Maybe because I used multigrain flour instead of the whole wheat flour it called for? Next time, I might add some baking soda as well, to try and puff them up a bit.

In any case, they were pretty good with some (vegetarian-ish) baked beans, and lots of delicious berry beer broth. I predict I will be eating them into the next week.

Hopefully, letting the beans sit in the broth for a few more days (in the fridge) will soften them up a bit.

Winter Bike Commuting?

Oh yeah.

fenders + studded tires

on my 29-er.

Menú del Fin de Semana

On offer today, we have first a mug of the most healthful green tea, a dried-fruit entrada, and a cup of coffee. For lunch we have a lovely omelette con ensalada, cebollita y chorizo de pollo y espinaca.  Dinner begins with a glass of the finest Malbec [under 15 dollars], followed by Thai Curry with chicken, peppers, carrots, greens, and lemon grass, and Rice.

Tomorrow will feature Berry Baked Beans and Greens for dinner, with a small side of wild rice.


I think the Attractive Wine and Beer Guy (henceforth known as AWBG) at Plum Market is starting to think I’m an alcoholic. I see him every time I’m in that store. Which is multiple times a week.  And every time I go there, he asks, “Can I help you with anything, Miss?” He calls me “miss.” He seems nice. I need to come up with a good alcohol-related question to ask next time…

I stood for about 15 minutes in front of the beer selection today trying to decide which berry/ cherry wine would be most appropriate for my baked beans tomorrow. He came up to me and, seeing the six-pack I held, asked, “So, you like the wheat- berry beers?” I stammered, “Uh, well, I’m, uh, going to make some baked beans tomorrow, and it calls for either berry or cherry beer…” He kindly directed me towards a thicker, more flavorful beer than the one I held.  We’ll see how the beans turn out.

The Heat Is On!

The heat is o-on!

The heat is on, on the street
Inside your head, on every beat
And the beat’s so loud, deep inside
The pressure’s high, just to stay alive
‘Cause the heat is on

Oh-wo-ho, oh-wo-ho
Caught up in the action I’ve been looking out for you
Oh-wo-ho, oh-wo-ho
(Tell me can you feel it)
(Tell me can you feel it)
(Tell me can you feel it)
The heat is on, the heat is on, the heat is on
the heat is on Oh it’s on the street , the heat is – on

(Glenn Frey)


I gave in. I turned the thermostat up. Blasted it, in fact– 72 degrees!! Gimme a break– my nose was running from the cold. And I’ll turn it down again– to 60.

Sigh.  Winter’s a-comin’.

Roasting Things

“Things” being red and green tomatoes, later turned into a tomatillo-like sauce with beans and rice (yum) and mole (really yum, but read previous post for chili-pepper exploits). A portion of the green tomatoes were also breaded and fried in a fun little experiment. Delicious with the mole…

Feel the Burn

I don’t usually cook with chiles, but spices and herbs are an area where I could stand to expand my repertoire, so I’m trying to experiment.

Last night I made mole with jalapeños.  I would say my spice-tolerance is well above average for a WASP who grew up in the Midwest US, but below average for say… anyone else. Let’s put it this way: when they pass around the picante (hot sauce) at a meal in Guatemala, and they say “no, no pica” (no, it’s not spicy), I laugh and pass on it anyway.

I removed the seeds from the jalapeños, because those are the hottest part of the fruit. The rest of the fruit is sweet-ish when cooked (think jalapeño- poppers), so I chopped it up and sautéed it with some onions and garlic.

Without pause, I moved on to grind up the dried chile de arbol I bought at the store the other day. I’ve been searching for them for months! They’re more smokey than spicy, so I thought they would be nice instead of the paprika my recipe called for.

Chop chop chop, grind grind grind.

I was standing in the kitchen and chatting with one of my roommates and my other roommate’s girlfriend, and absent-mindedly rubbed my eyes.


That was the most painful thing I have ever experienced. I thought I was going to go blind.

I stood over the sink, where I had ever-so-conveniently discarded the jalapeño seeds, spashing my face with water.  Standing that way also allowed me to inhale jalapeño seed-fumes. Not cool.

After about 15 minutes (it felt like an eternity) of spashing my face with water, my eyes no longer felt like someone was rubbing sand into them. The rest of my face, however, felt strangely warm.

Lesson learned: wash your hands immediately after handling hot peppers. And you might want to exfoliate, too. With sand paper.

16 hours later, and my hands still produce a vague burning sensation when I rub my eyes.