Sunday, November 27, 2011

Seattle Half Marathon

Today, in the wee hours of morning when it was barely light, I joined 17,000 people in downtown Seattle to voluntarily slog miles and miles through the rain. Yes, it was the annual Seattle Marathon and Half Marathon. I drove down with my training buddy Gabi, and we checked our post-race clothes and prayed we'd have time to go to the bathroom before the starting gun went off. Here's Gabi, pumped for the race.
And the finish line at Memorial Stadium at the Seattle Center, about 15 minutes before the race started.
We made it to the start line just in time, and took off with the sea of bodies down 5th Avenue, under the monorail, and then through the international district. I saw my friend Johnny, and Gabi saw another friend, amazing me that we could find familiar faces in such a large crowd. We got on Interstate 90 as it started raining. The grey scenery improved as we turned onto Lake Washington Boulevard and had a nice view of the lake.
One of my favorite parts about running an official race is the community and camaraderie of it. All these strangers from different backgrounds have somehow decided on completing this same, somewhat arbitrary mileage goal. It's fun to people watch, see miles of the city by foot, chat with people around you, and see the signs of some of the supporters. My favorites were "Chuck Norris never ran a marathon!" and "You've got great stamina!... call me (phone number)". When your clothes are wet, you've been running for 10 miles, and the uphill stretch of Galer St, Madison Ave, and the Arboretum seem like they will never end, a little humor goes a long way.

Johnny, Gabi, and I kept each other entertained, and we tried to share the laughter around. But the response was disappointingly quiet as the majority of runners had headphones on. I understand that music is a major motivator and the norm for modern workouts, but I think it's really too bad that it creates an atmosphere of isolation when this type of momentous event could be shared with more people. At one point, Gabi and I came up behind a guy in shorts with bulging calves and beautiful sleeve tattoos on both legs. "Awesome tattoos!" Gabi said. No response. Silence. We passed him and saw he had headphones in. I just don't like the feeling that you can't have a simple conversation if you want to.

But my headphone rant aside, the race was great. It's well organized and supported, and really wasn't even that miserably cold. We finished, got snacks, and it was just around 10am, so it felt like we had already accomplished a lot for the day. I like doing races so that I have something to train for, not because I'm fast or competitive. I ended up getting the exact time I have in 2 other half marathons, so my pace was on track. I got a better time in the half marathon in Seoul last year, but the course along the Han River was completely flat, so I don't think it can quite compare to the hilliness of Seattle. I ended up getting 308th place out of 629 in my division, so it's nice to know I'm a little faster than the average woman my age. Mostly, I was happy to have a reason to get outside and be active this fall, and to see a project through.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thankful for Home

Happy Thanksgiving! I was home for the first time in four years, which was really nice. It was a mellow holiday at my mom's with good food and good company.

My culinary excitement of the day was making my first Tarte Tatin. I had never heard of it until a few years ago when my friend Miri had me over for dinner and whipped one up nonchalantly for dessert while we were chatting. I was struck by the beauty, and deep caramelly flavor of the apples, the rustic elegance. I found a great recipe on Orangette, and while my process was a lot slower than I remember Miri's being, I was really happy with the end result.
Later I went to a friend's house who was hosting an "orphans" Thanksgiving. The post-meal lethargy eventually wore off and turned into a dance party. It was the perfect way to end a day of lots of eating and sitting!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Seabrook, or, A Crash Course in Razor Clamming

For the 3-day weekend of 11-11-11, my family rented a house in the little community of Seabrook on the coast of southern Washington. I mean immediate family, as well as grandma, first cousins, aunts, uncles, and a few friends- 21 of us total in 2 different houses. Coincidentally, it was just announced that razor clamming would be open for 2 days only on a small handful of beaches in this exact place!
By the time we got through the holiday traffic on I-5 and made it out there, it was later than we had planned. It was practically dark and almost dinner time, but my step-dad Larry and I couldn't be confined indoors for the night until we had at least attempted clamming. The only problem was, neither of us had ever clammed, and my uncle who was going to show us the ropes had already headed out. We didn't get cell signals in this stretch of coast, so there was no way to get in contact. Shrugging, Larry and I geared up for foul weather and decided to head out anyway, admitting that we were the blind leading the blind.

We found a beach, pitch black except the evenly-spaced dots of yellow lantern light from the other clam diggers. At least we are in the right spot. So with heads bent to the wind, and awkwardly gripping our flailing buckets and clam guns, we started walking across the beach toward the water. If you've been to the Washington coast at low tide, you know that this can be a long, flat stretch. It was dark ahead of us and dark behind us. It was the most extreme weather I've been in for a long time- the kind where the wind is so strong you can barely breathe, and driving rain has a way of finding any tiny cranny of clothing. Luckily it didn't last long, and by the time we got out to the shore, the rain had stopped and the full moon came out from behind the clouds.
We knew we needed to find the airholes in the sand, and in my head I was picturing compact, round black holes. We saw a few of those and dug, but to our dismay, nothing came up. We stooped over in the wind, eyes strained on the sand, til Larry said, with an intuition that amazes me, "That looks like something." It was just a faint dimpled crater, not an obvious dark hole. But Larry dug, and lo and behold, up came a big razor clam with its oblong yellow shell and long neck and digger foot at each end. It was sort of shocking at first, that the tiniest of clue could indeed yield a real creature living down there. It reminded me of digging potatoes, how you can't see them but you trust that they're there, and up from the darkness comes food. We dug for the next hour, until Larry reached his limit of 15, and I had a solid 10.

We got back to the house cold and tired, but happy with our catch. The whole family had arrived and convened for dinner, various carloads from Seattle and Oregon managing to find each other. Dinner turned into dessert, for which I had made nutmeg pot de creme. (Years ago, my grandma gave me a set of baking ramekins when I graduated college, which I thought was a completely useless gift. But I already loved eggy, custardy desserts, and found that with ramekins in my possession, I became a creme brulee making machine that summer.) This recipe is like creme brulee without the torched sugar top, and with nutmeg and vanilla and heavy cream tasted just like the holidays.
Then dessert turned into drinks and games and poker... but those of us who had caught clams had to clean them before any more fun could be had. My uncle showed us how to blanch them so that the shells would open and easily slide off. Here's a particularly big one with his neck stretched out. Then you have to gut them, and fillet them open to get all the sand out.
On Saturday morning we awoke to... you guessed it, more rain! I went for a soggy run on a back-road logging trail, where I saw no other humans but did see bear scat, a large 3-point buck, and a random hand-painted sign that said "My man Otis". The next few hours went like this: coffee, a group walk to the beach,
my 3 year-old niece in mini-human raingear,
clam chowder and fried razor clams for lunch, a dip in the pool and hot tub... all just distractions until it was time to go clamming again. Since we hadn't been able to go together the night before, we planned a group departure at 3:30.

Razor clamming is best 1-2 hours before low tide. The low tide was at 7:20 so going out at 3:30 was a little too early, but we were hoping to do some clamming in the light. We got down to the beach and saw similar dark black holes to the night before, and on the off-chance that they were clams, started digging... only to find sand shrimp! I had no idea that there were shrimp that lived under the sand. The seagulls overhead were happy with our find, but it wasn't of much use to us. The tide was still in too far for us to get to the clam zone. So I headed back to the house with my sister and a few others for a self-imposed "happy hour". We drank some wine and ate some brie and home-smoked tuna dip and felt fortified to head out for a second round.

There were about 12 of us out there clamming, so it was quite the family endeavor. As people reached their limit of 15 clams, they headed in, but of course those of us who had gone back to the house were a little behind in numbers. My 10 year-old niece was my faithful assistant, holding my catch bag when I couldn't in the whipping wind, and staying out as long as my step-dad and I did. My brother-in-law had already reached his limit, so he wasn't digging anymore, but he was scouting holes for us. He would call out, "Amber, over here!" or "Larry, here's one!" and keep his light trained on the tiny crater until we came over. That might have been my favorite time of the whole weekend- the working together, the inter-generational and almost tribal mentality of helping each other forage for food.
Later we had a pizza potluck and I made mulled wine. Then the music got turned up so loud that we could hardly talk, and the only thing left to do was dance. Cousins, aunts, sisters, mom, and yes, even my grandma couldn't help but shake it at the end of this wintery vacation day.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Babies Galore

You know those times when it seems like all your friends are getting married or having babies? Well, right now is one of those baby times. Just in the last couple weeks, 2 friends have given birth to beautiful, healthy babies. First, congratulations to cousin Mary on the little girl! Luckily she lives close by so hopefully I can meet the baby this week. Also, a big congrats to my friend Annie in California. I probably won't meet her son that soon, but I'm sooo happy for her and her husband.

Also recently, within the same two weeks, we found out that our immediate family is about to expand. Congrats to my brother Isaac and his girlfriend on their pregnancy, and to my sister Laura and her hubby on theirs. Two more nieces or nephews on the way!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Garlic Planting

So it's fall, which mostly means things are winding down in the garden. Maybe you planted root crops months ago to overwinter, or recently transplanted some established brassicas, but otherwise it would be crazy to think about seeding anything in this cold...That is, of course, except for garlic!

Mid-fall is the perfect time to plant garlic in our climate, so it can start to sprout, overwinter, then keep growing in the spring. I've been meaning to get garlic in the ground for weeks, and now is a tad on the late side, but better late than never! If you are thinking about it, Seattle Tilth has a great, simple guide to garlic planting with all the basics. You can use any cloves really, preferably ones that were grown in this region so you know they will do well. I got a red variety from Irish Eyes garden seeds.
And as I was prepping the bed to plant the garlic, I found some red potatoes that were somehow overlooked this summer. Bonus!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Day of the Dead

Halloween is my favorite holiday, hands down. There are the costumes, creativity, carved pumpkins, cold air, and candy. Heck, I don't even eat candy, usually only sweets that are homemade and/or organic, but for some reason the little chocolate bars that I usually find waxy and overly sweet are enjoyable.

But Halloween can swing too far in one of two directions- the preoccupation with goofy, slutty costumes and intense partying, or with darkness and fear. In my eyes, Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) exists as the perfect foil and balance to Halloween. On November 2nd in Mexico, families congregate around home and community altars to commemorate dead loved ones. It addresses death but in an intentional, festive way. The idea is that the spirits of the deceased are present, so you should set up the altar with things that they would enjoy- candles to light their way, their favorite foods, flowers, water so they can drink and wash their hands, etc. I recognize that I'm not Mexican, and this is not my culture's holiday, but I respect and value the space that is created to remember the deceased, something I feel we don't do enough of as Americans. Perhaps we visit a loved one's grave on their birthday, but otherwise we don't have a centralized time to celebrate and reflect on the people who have passed on.

A staple to any Day of the Dead celebration is the Pan de Muerto, or Dead Bread. It is a yeasted egg bread that is usually round, with crosses on it represent bones, and a tear drop in the middle for sorrow. This is the recipe I used, which seems pretty authentic and turned out well.
At my mom's house we set up an altar with the bread, plus fruit, and pictures of our loved ones. I also showed my 10 year-old niece how to make paper flowers with tissue paper. She made some, and along with real flowers, we added those to the altar.
As much as I love dressing up on Halloween, I often have a hard time coming up with a costume idea until right before the day. This year, since I was already so excited about Day of the Dead, I figured I stay with that theme and be a Mexican skeleton, also called La Catrina. I got a straw hat, sewed on some lace to the brim, and added flowers, and other tidbits, including a craft box lid straight from Oaxaca.
With a little face paint and skeleton body suit, the outfit was complete. I realized it was the first time I've ever really been something 'dead'. As kids in my family, we were never allowed to dress as anything dark, deadly, magical, evil, etc. My mom did not approve of that aspect of Halloween for kids. Which was fine, because I basically wanted to be a princess from age 5-11. But somehow the Skeleton didn't feel dark and evil- it felt totally appropriate to the season, and just the right mix of spirit and life.