Tag Archives: Advent

Advent Day 22 Excuses, but they’re good ones

We flew to the US on the 17th and silly me, I thought that through all the crazy holiday travel, I’d be able to keep this up. How wrong I was.

Also, this happened…

Here we are on the beach right after getting married, American style. Photo taken by one of my very lovely friends (Hi, Joeschlabotnik!) who could attend our middle of the workday gathering

Here we are on the beach right after getting married, American style. Photo taken by one of my very lovely friends (Hi, Joeschlabotnik!) who could attend our middle of the workday gathering

We have been officially joined in a civil partnership in Germany since 2011, so that is what we generally think of as our wedding day, but until this year (when DOMA was declared unconstitutional), the option of living in the US as a same-sex couple didn’t bring with it the same guarantees of personal safety and freedom from random deportation that it would for an opposite-sex pair so we have been living in Germany together where the civil rights are better, but the actual marriage is still denied to us.

We have remedied this omission. It was a very simple civil marriage ceremony at the town clerk’s office, followed by lunch with about 15 close friends and family. We wore white, felt beautiful, and finally got to be actual brides in the laws of at least one of our lands. I can’t think of a better way to have celebrated the return of the sun in the long, dark nights at the ending of the year.

And yes, in case you were wondering, our wedding day started with a run. My dearest wife, I want to run together with you in the sun (and the rain and snow, and dark) all the days of my life.

This one was taken by another of my very oldest and dearest friends, who also served as our witness, best man, and driver for the day

This one was taken by another of my very oldest and dearest friends, who also served as our witness, best man, provider of a honeymoon, and driver for the day. P – we can’t thank you enough for all that you did to help us through the day!

And so, dear internet, I admit that I don’t have the time to finish Advent out properly, but I have more recipes to post, triathlon tips to share, race reports to write, and I will see you in the new year!

Until then, we will share good food; love ourselves, each other, and our families; and celebrate our joy in the season!

Happy Solstice!

Happy Solstice!

Advent 2013 Day 8 Lazy Sundays

Which for us means that we do the weekly long run sometime in the afternoon after a late breakfast (waffles today) and general lazing about for a couple of hours. So I ran 9 miles this week, all of them today. The Wife ran 23, a much more reasonable number and appropriately spread out throughout the week. Today’s run was nice, through fields, up over a couple of really tall overpasses, along the river and back through the scenic industrial park trail. Incidentally, that last is not meant ironically. They actually have set up a scenic walking/biking trail that borders on the industrial park and various fields and forests on the other side. It comes complete with informative plaques and scenic overlooks. We wore our matching bright orange hoodies and as usual got more than our fair share of smiles and waves. I actually look utterly ridiculous in it, especially when I’ve got the hood up, which I did for most of the run today.

I told you I looked ridiculous in it. This is immediately post-run being greeted at the door by Devil-Kitty

I told you I looked ridiculous in it. This is immediately post-run being greeted at the door by Devil-Kitty. The Wife likes the silly frizz halo that you can see escaping the dorky hood. What? My ears were warm!

Then when we got back, we had a typical lazy meal, made with chicken legs bought fresh from one of the poultry stalls at the weekly farmers market. They actually do taste better than the frozen ones from the store, even the organic ones.

Chicken Rub Chicken

No, this is not an order. Stop it, chickens! Ahem. Serves 2. These are great with a steamed vegetable and some mashed potatoes or baked sweet potatoes. We make this on days when we don’t want to think about what to cook.

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken legs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp paprika powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.
  2. Mix the spices on a small plate. Variation is encouraged – the only things that I always end up putting in are the salt, pepper, and paprika, so if you prefer e.g. cumin, curry powder, or chili powder, feel free to add that to the mix instead. But try the cinnamon at least once – it’s really excellent with chicken!
  3. With your fingertips, rub the spice mixture all over the chicken legs until they’re evenly coated and, for most given versions of spice mixture, red.
  4. Place chicken legs on a on a piece of aluminum foil with the edges folded up, and stick in the oven on the middle rack. Bake for about 25‐30 minutes. If you’re making a potato side dish, it’s a good idea to start the potatoes now – then everything will be ready together!
Today's Chicken Rub Chicken with mashed potatoes (and goat cheese instead of milk or sour cream) and some nice steamed snap peas

Today’s Chicken Rub Chicken with mashed potatoes (and goat cheese replacing some of the usual milk and sour cream) and some nice steamed snap peas

On today’s run, I listened to Paul Simon’s Graceland all the way through from start to finish and was reminded once again of just how excellent this album really is. I’ve been listening to Graceland for 27 years at this point and it still hasn’t gotten old for me.

Here’s Rhymin’ Simon singing it in 1991 at the Concert in Central Park (which I was at, at the expense of a final exam in physics)

And me at Graceland with my traveling companion in 1990 when we did one of those things that you can only do in the invincible stupidity of youth. We spent two months on the road as we drove off to look for America, New York to San Francisco by way of Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans, Austin, the Grand Canyon, the New Mexican desert, and the Pacific ocean.

Me and a friend, going to Graceland, 1990

Me and a friend, going to Graceland, 1990

And cat-hats are the latest trend, really they are. And they do wonders for keeping the ears warm.

Devil-kitty as fascinator. Many thanks to the Bloggess for the inspiration.

Devil-kitty as fascinator. Many thanks to the Bloggess for the inspiration.

Advent 2013 Day 7 No Bake Cheesecake

We were at the Christmas Market today, buying gifts and drinking Glühwein, thus the late and slightly slurred post. I failed spectacularly to run today, but I did manage to get to Aikido class. And I haven’t taken cough medicine in more than 14 hours so I think maybe I’m done with the cold. The Wife, however ran 14 miles so far this week and we’re heading out for a long run tomorrow, so she’ll have about 25 miles all together and I’m her coach, so I claim her miles. I can do that, right?

I’m also writing up one of her recipes that she made for me yesterday. So basically, this post is entirely the fault of the Wife, thank Santa that I have her to do the heavy lifting while I sit here hiccuping Glühwein in the catbird seat. Speaking of Thurber (who really did come up twice in today’s conversations) did you know that Ben Stiller’s making the Secret Life of Walter Mitty into a movie? The posters are everywhere here. I just wish it was an actor that I liked a bit better.

Anyway, I’m warm and full of Poffertjes (favorite Christmas Market food along with Dampfnudeln, Kartoffelpuffer, and big cones of freshly cut and cooked french fries. There’s a lot of carbs in Christmas in these parts.) and cheesecake and it’s getting late, so here’s the Wife’s Cheesecake recipe. It uses quark, though, which is nearly impossible to get in the US. I’ve scanned a bunch of websites and it seems that you can make your own or substitute mascarpone . Other than the finding of the quark (sometimes – according to a non-functioning web site – labelled as fromage blanc in the US, I have no idea how it differs from actual French fromage blanc, but it’s worth a shot if you can find it, I guess) this is a very straightforward and incredibly tasty recipe that involves no ovens.

Wife’s Cheesecake

  • 1 pkg hard cookies like graham crackers, shortbread, etc. (Use your judgement here. I don’t remember the weight of the package we used this time, but it was pretty small and yielded probably a cup or so of crumbs.)
  • 1/2 stick (4 Tbsp) melted butter
  • 3/4 cup heavy (whipping cream) (150 ml)
  • 3/4 cup sour cream (150 ml)
  • 3/4 cup low-fat quark or mascarpone cheese (150 ml)
  • 4 Tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp coriander

Preparation

  1. Crush the cookies in a plastic bag using a rolling pin, hammer, meat tenderizer mallet, baseball bat, or similar
  2. Mix cookie crumbs and melted butter and press firmly into the bottom of an 8″ x 8″ baking pan (If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that the last 3 recipes all used an 8″ x 8″ baking pan. That is because our kitchen is small and we have very few different size pans. Our 8″ x 8″ brownie pan gets a lot of use. It’s definitely not a unitasker! What’s a unitasker? Googling it gives you the wikipedia page for Alton Brown. He’s a cool guy. The answer is on that page somewhere.) using a piece of waxed paper and a bit of brute force. You can also use a slightly smaller pan to press it down for a nice, even crust.
  3. Whip the heavy cream until <S>it cries for mercy</S> it is fluffy
  4. Mix sour cream, quark, honey, and coriander together
  5. Fold the sour cream mixture into the whipped cream
  6. Spread mixture evenly over the crust
  7. Refrigerate at least two hours until set
  8. Eat and enjoy
Captain Dukie stands guard against nefarious cheesecake nabbers. Also, note our cool coffee table. It's a cheap IKEA model with a glass top where we've finally figured out what to do with some of our old race numbers!

Captain Dukie stands guard against nefarious cheesecake nabbers. Also, note our cool coffee table. It’s a cheap IKEA model with a glass top where we’ve finally figured out what to do with some of our old race numbers! (Also, now you know what the L stands for if you hadn’t already google-stalked any of my race results…

Why did I post this video? Were you paying attention to Alton Brown’s biography?

Until tomorrow, dear internet.

Advent 2013 Day 6 – Pagan Pears

Because nothing says Christmas like recipes from the civilization that killed Christ.

Yep, I’m still sick and possibly slightly high on cold medicine. I did swim today though. Swimming first thing in the morning when it’s windy and dark and cold and icy out is really nice. You get to the pool where it’s nice and warm, swim for an hour, sit under the lovely hair dryers for a while and then come out, and the sun is shining, it’s no longer icy and you still have the entire day ahead of you. Also, we did some good exercises in swim class. My favorite went like this:

Push off from the wall and without kicking, glide as far as you can. Then swim 6 strokes. Then glide again, 6 more strokes, and one more glide. If you’re good, you should be able to make it with just two sets of 6 strokes and the last glide should bring you to the wall in a 25 m pool. I came close, but still haven’t made it. The instructor promised that by the end of the course, I’ll be able to. I am hopeful.

We also had lunch today with a triathlon friend who’s just back from Thailand where she did the Laguna Phuket Triathlon. That one is now on my bucket list. And Thailand features (sort of) in today’s recipe so I’ve very cleverly worked in the reference now.

Recently, we were visiting the Roman reconstruction and museum at Saalburg (one of the towns on the Roman Limes (wall) which is as far as they got into Germany) where we picked up a cookbook. Here’s the first recipe we tried from it:

Patina de Piris

(or weird Roman pear thingy)

Ingredients

  • 1 kg (2 pounds) Pears
  • 2 Tbsp Honey
  • 200 ml (1 cup minus 1 Tbsp) Passum (Roman raisin wine. It’s red and sweet and generally hasn’t been made for like two thousand years. Feel free to substitute Sherry or do what we did and make your own by dumping about 100 g (2/3 cup) of raisins into 200 ml (a little less than a cup) of red wine and letting it sit in the fridge for 3 days or so. Then hit it with the stick mixer. Or not. The recipe works either way.)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • Liquamen (Roman fish sauce. Also hasn’t been made in two thousand years. Use Thai fish sauce instead. Trust me on this.) As for the amount, the recipe isn’t entirely clear. It says use a shot of it. Probably around a teaspoon or two.
  • Olive oil (Another shot. We used about a tablespoon.)
  • 4 Eggs (Size not specified. Roman chickens were probably about the same size as modern chickens. You should have seen them in the gladiatorial games, though, with their armor and little chicken swords. They were dynamite!)
  • Pepper to taste

Preparation

This one takes at least a day of prep, 3 if you’re making your own Passum.

Step 1. Make the passum. Wait a couple of days. Don’t drink it or you have to start over.

Step 2. Peel, core, and quarter the pears. Then cut them into pieces. I don’t know. Maybe Jupiter or some other god likes things to come in groups of four.

Step 3. Pears into a pot. Add in the honey, fish sauce, olive oil, Passum, and cumin. Cook, covered (again no recommendations as to heat. Go with medium low to medium depending on how closely you want to watch it.) until the pears are soft. Then hit the whole thing with either the potato masher or the stick mixer. I recommend the latter.

Step 4. Let the pears cool completely. Also, do not worry about the intense cumin and/or fishy smells during the cooking. It will all work out in the end, I promise.

Step 5. Preheat the oven to medium. I don’t know. The Romans clearly didn’t have convenient temperature dials on their ovens. (I mean, my grandmother’s cook book describes the type and number of logs needed to cook certain things, so this is no surprise, really. I’m not sure anyone ever gave specific cooking temperatures before sometime in the 1970’s. Oil a casserole dish or baking pan. We used an 8″x8″ brownie pan.

Step 6. Beat the eggs until fluffy. Fold them into the cooled pear mixture.

Step 7. Cook, covered until the eggs are firmly set. At this point it should look like a slightly browned omelet. Cooking time? For us it was about 35 minutes.

Step 8. Add a dash of freshly ground pepper to the top and serve. The consistency is a bit odd, but the taste is really nice.

So there you have it. Roman dessert with pears and Thai fish sauce. I posted this one for my friend P who’s been having a lot of nasty dental work and can’t eat crunchy foods these days.

So, being sick, I’ve been curled up half the day watching christmas cat tv. It’s one of the most entertaining reality programs I’ve ever seen. The internet is for cats!

christmascats.tv on their lunch break. They're adorable, especially the ones in sweaters. Devil-kitty won't wear sweaters.

christmascats.tv on their lunch break. They’re adorable, especially the ones in sweaters. Devil-kitty won’t wear sweaters.

And finally, the Air Force Band was at the National Air and Space Museum on Tuesday. My other friend P. was there for it. I wish I still lived in the DC area so I could go to one of their Christmas concerts.

Advent 2013 Day 5 still sick and also tired

Which reminds me of a line from one of my favorite Bill Cosby standup routines.

I need to get to bed because I got a swim class in 7 hours. I got home from aikido to discover that the internet had exploded with news of Nelson Mandela’s death. He was a  great man and also a good man and this sad news has kind of taken the wind out of my sails so today will be short.

First, tomorrow at 9 am EST, tune in here for a live stream of Christmas cats (this weirdness is explained here by NPR). Interestingly, I have actually adopted cats from these nice folks many years ago when I lived on LI.

I haven’t made mine this year yet, but I can’t think of anything more heartwarming and able to keep the darkness away than homemade fudge that’s so stupidly easy that anyone can make it:

Ridiculously Easy Fudge

Ingredients:

  •  1 can (14 oz.) Condensed Milk
  • 14 oz. baking chocolate (semi-sweet, milk, or white)
  • Mix-ins – possibilities include:
  • Vanilla (1-2 tsp.), Walnuts and marshmallows

Mix in examples (but really this is up to you, that’s what makes this so much fun!):

  • Red wine (about 2 Tbsp) and dried cranberries
  • Vanilla and candied ginger
  • Peppermint extract (1-2 tsp) and crushed candy canes
  • White chocolate, pistachios, rose water (2 tsp)
  • Crumbled bacon and a dusting of sea salt on top (I’d use dark chocolate for this one)

Directions:

  1. Line an 8 x 8 inch square pan with aluminum foil
  2. Break chocolate into pieces (Use semi dark and milk in any combination or use white chocolate on its own.)
  3. Combine chocolate and condensed milk in a microwave safe bowl
  4. Microwave on high for about 1 minute and stir
  5. Microwave in increments of 30 seconds to 1 minute (depends on microwave wattage) until only a few small chocolate chunks can be seen and then stir until these melt and chocolate and milk mixture is smooth and shiny
  6. Add in mix-ins of your choice.
  7. Stir until combined
  8. pour into prepared pan
  9. Refrigerate at least 4 hours
  10. Cut into 1 inch chunks
  11. Store in an airtight container

Today’s music (in addition to the Christmas music accompanying the livestream of the cats in Christmas sweaters linked above) is for Paul and all the percussionists out there. Yes, they’re playing the ice on Lake Baikal:

The boys playing in my favorite marathon swag, the 25th anniversary backpack from the 2011 Frankfurt Marathon.

The boys playing in my favorite marathon swag, the 25th anniversary backpack from the 2011 Frankfurt Marathon.

 

Advent 2013 Day 3 Motivation is hard, spinach is easy

I haven’t run, swum, or biked yet today and it’s already mid afternoon. Sure, I’ll be spending 3 hours later today doing martial arts, but does that really count as exercise? I’d like to think it does, but there’s always that part of my brain that says no, if it’s not swim-bike-run then it somehow doesn’t count. Which is ridiculous as the damp and sweaty stink of my dogi can attest. I shall now tell that part of my brain to shut up.

“Shut up, brain!” (Apologies to Jens Voigt for co-opting and corrupting one of his signature phrases…)

I know how stupidly hard the off-season can be to all of us, especially when it’s coupled with the stress of holidays. So let’s give ourselves permission to be a little indulgent, run (or other cross training – maybe ice skating with the kids?) because we want to, eat because food is good, and generally be good to ourselves (and each other) this season.

With that in mind, when I asked the Wife what I should do with the bag of spinach in fridge yesterday, it really wasn’t a difficult decision. So, in the spirit of indulgence and being good to ourselves, here’s our favorite spinach recipe (not particularly healthy or vegetarian). Later in the month, I’ll post some of my much healthier alternatives.

Spinach al Forno

Otherwise known in our house as Spinach Porn because with all this lovely cheese it’s pretty much the sexiest and most overindulgent thing that you can do to spinach and still call it food.

We happened upon this a while ago in the favorite Italian restaurant of a good friend of ours and knew immediately that we had to recreate it. We’ve given it a bit of a twist with the cheeses that we use and this version involves sheep, goats, and cows. Really, the cheese choice is up to you but we recommend using one hard cheese like parmesan, one crumbly cheese like feta and one soft cheese like ricotta or anything like that.

This will serve 2 as a main course or 4 as an appetizer.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 kg (1 pound) fresh spinach
  • 1 small to medium onion (chopped)
  • 3 cloves garlic (finely diced)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup parmesian, asiago, or other hard cheese (finely grated)
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) feta or other crumbly cheese (crumbled)
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) ricotta or other soft cheese
  • 100 ml (1/2 c) heavy cream

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 175 °C (350 °F)
  2. Lightly coat a small casserole pan or baking dish (8″ x 8″ or equivalent) with olive oil
  3. Wash spinach, remove stems, and cut or tear into small pieces
  4. Heat a large frying or sauté pan to medium with ½ the olive oil
  5. Add the onion and sauté for about 2 minutes
  6. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes
  7. Add the rest of the olive oil and about 1/3 of the spinach. Continue adding spinach as its volume reduces until all the spinach is soft but still bright green
  8. Remove from heat
  9. In a separate bowl, mix the crumbled feta, the soft cheese, and the heavy cream with 1/2 the parmesan.
  10. Add the spinach and mix thoroughly
  11. Transfer to the baking dish and cover with remaining parmesan
  12. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes until cheese on top is golden brown but not burned.

OK, all this spinach love reminds me how much I love my vegetables, so even though I said I’d post flutes today, instead, I’m going to give you a vegetable double feature:

and now instead of music about vegetables, how about music with vegetables?

A cat sleeping on a bed

Yes, Devil-Kitty has his very own pillow on the bed. And all this talk of cooking and exercise and vegetables has tired him out

Advent 2013 Day 2 – Things go swimmingly

Today, on the second day of Advent, I got up early to get to the pool by 7:00 am for the first day of a 2-week Advanced Crawl swimming class at the local pool. There were 7 of us, 2 women and 5 men all with varying amounts of interesting tattoos (one has some very Maori tribal ink down both arms and another has his entire back covered in very Japanese artwork) I was a bit worried about this because I don’t believe in my heart that I’m good enough to be advanced, and because this class is taught in another language on top of it. But the instructor knows me and she said I’d be find, so there I was.

You know how in every class, there’s one person who has to be last? Yeah. That wasn’t me. Actually, it turns out that I can outswim this entire class. The guys started getting out of my way, saying “Ladies first” so that I didn’t catch up with them and pass them. So huzzah for ego-boosting swim class. After the class ended, I stayed around for an extra 15 minutes, just swimming by myself and feeling comfy in the water. I haven’t swum alone since deep in the high volume weeks before Ironman, so it was nice and peaceful not to be looking out for anyone else and having to set an example. I was so peaceful and in the zone that I swam directly into some guy who magically appeared out of nowhere in my lane, backstroking right towards me. Oops! Overall, it was a fun and new experience to be the fast kid in class. I could get used to it!

Possibly, my swimming has improved since I obsessively do about 300 meters of technique exercises at the start of every swim. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Catch-up Drill
  2. Fist Drill
  3. Zipper Drill
  4. Underarm touch
  5. Tarzan drills

Anyway, might as well stay under the sea for today’s recipe. The other week, the Wife brought home 2 kg of fresh mussels from the local fish shop. We didn’t have any white wine on hand for traditional Moules Marinières so I improvised.

Moules Triathlonières:

Ingredients

  • 2 kg fresh mussels
  • 3 Tbsp Olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes in juice (or 1 cup fresh tomatoes, skinned and diced + 1 cup water)
  • 1 Tsp dried thyme
  • 1 Tsp dried basil
  • Fresh or dried parsley to taste
  • Pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Rinse the mussels in fresh water and remove beards and barnacles. Discard any obviously dead ones (Like ones that are already open and don’t close again when you poke at them or very obviously broken shells.)
  2. In a large heavy sauce pan or stockpot heat the oil over medium heat
  3. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until translucent, try not to burn the garlic.
  4. Add the wine and cook an additional minute
  5. Add the tomatoes plus a cup of additional water
  6. Add the spices
  7. Bring to a low boil
  8. There will be about three waves of mussels. Make sure each wave is wearing the appropriate color swim cap…Cover and steam for 3 to 4 minutes or until most of them have opened. Send them to T1 and add the next batch. Repeat until all mussels are cooked and the broth is rich and tasty.
  9. Add all mussels back into broth (or serve mussels in separate bowls and spoon broth over them)
  10. Serve with garlic bread.

I used the leftover broth the next day to make vegetable soup with spinach, mushrooms, and pasta. It was pretty salty so I had to cut it with more water for the soup.

And now let’s hear from some folks who met someone who’s 6’4″ and full of mussels…

This is especially for the Wife and the theme of rock musicians playing flutes. We’ll continue with that theme tomorrow.

And now for your daily cat. At the Christmas market we got a cat surprise treat bag that contained a catnip treat. The cats turned it into a tiny, sodden pillow soaked in cat spit in short order. While I don’t have any pictures of them fighting over it, falling over in a kitty stupor, and subsequently getting the munchies, I do have a picture of them covered in ribbons, helping us take down last year’s tree.

Captain Dukie and Devil Kitty undecorate the tree. And yes, if you notice, our angel topper is a weeping one. Don't blink!

Captain Dukie and Devil Kitty undecorate the tree. And yes, if you notice, our angel topper is a weeping one. Don’t blink!