Running 26.2 (as told through gifs)

I’m going to derail and talk about running. I’ve been asked to share what it’s like to run and finish a marathon.
 
First of all, I wish I had some great story to tell about why I wanted to run a marathon. But I don’t. I just knew I wanted to do it and could do it, so I did. Secondly, there’s no way I could have run a marathon without my awesome coach. He got me where I wanted to be in good physical condition and with a training plan that worked out perfectly for my first go-round.
 
When I finished the original version of this post, it ended up reading like a damned thesis. I got bored with it fairly quickly. I feel like most everything has been said and/or written about running a marathon, and all of it is true: it’s mentally tough, it takes dedication and determination, it’s exhausting, and at the end of it all you look like a zombie ambling around just looking for food.
 
I didn’t want to do this post filled with the usual explanations of going through 26.2 miles, so I decided to go all gif-fy with the parts I do remember. I gotta admit, I was on auto-pilot for most of the race.
 
Mile 1: Pure internal confusion when my GPS wouldn’t pick up a signal.
 
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Miles 2 to 16.5: I actually have no idea what happened. I do remember looking over to see a guy juggling while running the marathon. 
 
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Miles 16.5 to 19: There was apparently a large hill to climb between these miles. I didn’t feel it. At all.
 
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Miles 19 through 22: Back on auto-pilot.
 
Mile 22: Things started to get a little fuzzy.
 
max-trash-canMile 23.1: I had to pee and regroup, because that last 5K started to seem a long way off. Then, I encountered a random stranger on a bike sitting at the top of a small hill, shouting: “Pick your damned legs up! What the hell are you slowing down for? Go! GO!” So I did.
 
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Miles 24 to 25.7: All a blur.  
 
Miles 25.7 to 26.2: All downhill. Which is a terrible way to finish. I just ran 25.7 miles, and now I basically have to avoid sprinting because there’s a good chance I’ll fall straight on my ass trying to fight gravity at this point? I’m hungry, all I want is a beer, and I can’t sprint to either one because that would only wreck my legs. 
 
Dyq7klltVUyrROq4sXNNJw2Mile 26.2: I finished in 3:53:08, 79th out of 424 women in my age group. According to my stats loaded from my GPS, the last 10K was actually my fastest 10K. For a first-time marathoner, it was a proper showing.
 
My husband, who had crossed the finish line at 3:24:08, came over and reminded me to keep moving. I had stopped when I officially finished, which is one of those things you don’t want to do after a marathon, even though you really want to just sit down.
 
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He led me through the crowd, into the food tent where he warned me that he had tried to eat a bagel when he finished but couldn’t even get one bite down. He said this as I stuffed half of a whole bagel in my mouth while grabbing for a banana.
 
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I had no trouble eating, as it turned out.
 
So a few minutes after the run?
 
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And a few hours later? 
 
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Deconstructed Sushi (Bowl)

So this is one of those “bastardized” Asian meals I mentioned the other day. But it’s super flavorful, healthy, and has enough Asian standards to keep it interesting (e.g., soy sauce, citrus notes, veggies, no animal fats). Plus, it’s pretty simple to pull together. The recipe is also from a cookbook I let linger on my pantry shelf far too long: “Super Natural Cooking” by Heidi Swanson, the founder of 101cookbooks.com (a great site to keep on heavy rotation if you’re looking for natural, healthier alternatives to your standard fare).
I omitted the seaweed and green onions and subbed in equal parts honey for the sugar. I also added vegetables (carrots and cauliflower here). At first glance, it looks like a lot of separate pieces, but you can multitask some pans and saute veggies on one side of a large pan while you saute the tofu on the other side. And yes, there is tofu in this. A meatier protein could easily be subbed in here, especially chicken or fish. But really, tofu is worth trying out in this recipe. Sauteeing tofu lends it a better texture than the usual mushiness sometimes attributed to it. The tofu isn’t initially seasoned, but it becomes so when stirred in with a brown rice that is flavored perfectly with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, citrus, and a touch of sweetness. Just trust me on this one; if you’re already bloated by those rich (but delicious) holiday foods, this is a great palate cleanser. Plus, there’s enough left over (if you’re feeding two) for lunch the next day (the beautiful/odd thing about tofu is that it keeps its shape for days to come, so reheating in the microwave does the trick). Feel free to add or sub in desired veggies such as mushrooms (especially if you want a meatier texture without the meat), cabbage, broccoli, etc. This dish lends itself well to personalization.

Excuses, Round 1

It’s not that I’ve been lazy. I was training for my first marathon. You guys, I ran 26.2 miles. I did it. And now I’m lazy. Well, now I’m not supposed to train as much to give my body some recovery time. Which means I feel terribly lazy and not quite sure of what to do with myself since I can pretty much go home after work and hang out. It’s an odd, disconcerting feeling after being driven week after week by a training schedule. I miss that schedule. One thing’s for sure: I haven’t been blogging about food. I’ve eaten plenty of food, and I’ve cooked plenty of meals, but in the days leading up to a race that amounted to a tug-of-war between my brain and legs, the food got pretty bland. There are certain ways you want to make sure you end a race, and finishing relatively clean other than the expected sweat is right up there on the list, if you catch my drift. So, I consumed lots of baked chicken, potatoes, rice, cooked vegetables, bread…it’s a food cycle my body doesn’t enjoy. Technically, it’s called a low-residue (low-fiber) diet. It’s not fun. Which means there wasn’t much to say here.
 
But, the marathon is behind me. Ahead of me are more marathons, but not for another four months. So, the food options have opened back up, hallelujah. Which means I’ve had the chance to literally feed my growing obsession with Thai food. That’s probably what you’ll see a lot of on this site during the days and weeks to come. While others indulge in the usual pumpkin-and-spice of the upcoming holidays (foods that I admit are still my downfalls), I’ll be exploring the ginger-and-spice-and-coconut-milk-and-lemongrass-and-Thai-chili-and-fish-sauce foods that are starting to scream “comfort” to me when laden with fresh chilies/heat.
 
So, this is just a way of saying, “Hey, I’m back” and a chance to provide a sneak peek into the meals that will likely make their way onto the site. They probably aren’t all technically Thai foods; some I’m quite sure are just bastardized versions. Regardless, they have an Asian flair to them, and they provide a great respite from the animal fats of milk and butter that weigh down the holiday table. Just hang in there, and I’ll get back into the swing of things in a day or so!

Roasted Duck

Sometimes I like to think of cutesy-esque headers for each blog post. Roasted duck does not need a cute title. It’s just perfection. Simple, pure perfection.

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I first had duck about two years ago at a Roanoke restaurant called Lucky. Specifically, it was duck leg confit. I remember we visited the restaurant sometime near winter, which means some cold weather in Southwest Virginia. And it was raining, which only added to that bone-chilling effect. Something warm was in order, something cozy. Lucky (which I’ve found has garnered some kind of reputation as a hipster joint, which couldn’t be further from the truth) prides itself on offering French comfort food in a gastropub-type environment. I had always wanted to try duck, but I was wary of all that fat. I’m the kind that carves fat off of my meat (after it’s cooked, of course, because not even I’m immune to the flavors some fat can impart during cooking). But, I decided to go for the duck that night because it just sounded, well, comforting.

That night started a love affair with duck. Roasted duck. Duck fat. Duck confit. It doesn’t matter the style, I’m in love. To me, duck trumps all other meat. It trumps pork. I know that’s blasphemy to meat eaters, but I’ll take a good piece of duck over the best bacon you could find.

And it’s all because of that fatty skin. What made me avoid duck for so long turned out to be the best part.

It wasn’t until recently that I was able to roast duck at home. Because I eschew meat unless it’s raised locally and humanely, duck was off the list for a home-cooked meal. But a local farm from which I get our chickens started raising duck for meat, and I was among the first in line to buy one. Now, it’s not cheap. It’s a treat (which, let’s face it, really should be the norm when it comes to meat in general). It’s a glorious, succulent, sinfully crispy-skinned treat.

To roast duck, I stick with this recipe. But I stop short of glazing it. The first time I tried out this recipe, I actually had the glaze made as suggested. It was simmering on the stove, and my husband had a taste of it. And he made a terrible face. While I argued with him that the glaze was pretty tasty, the glaze burned. It was a sign, and my husband kept me from making a big mistake by trying to cover up the simplicity of a salted duck. So, the moral of the story is: the first time you roast duck, just go with simple. If you feel it needs something more than salt, go for the glaze the next time around. But this first time, just keep it simple.

Then hold on to your mother effin’ hats, because that first bite will be pure euphoria.

Yes, the recipe seems a bit labor intensive, but it’s really not. It really all boils down to scoring the skin/fat, roasting, flipping a few times, and pricking the skin at every flip to allow all that fatty goodness to drip down into the pan to collect later. It’s worth it, trust me. It’s all worth it in the end.

And yes, you should snip off the extra fat and render it as suggested. First of all, it’s super simple; just let the extra fat simmer in some water to render. Added to the fat that collects from pricking the roasting bird, you’ll end up with a good cup or so of fat, which keeps in the refrigerator for months and makes roasted vegetables (especially potatoes) insanely delicious. And it makes for some great cornbread.

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The recipe, I think, is pretty self-explanatory. There’s no need to elaborate, but do keep an eye on your duck to ensure you don’t roast it too long and end up drying out the meat. Once that skin becomes a gloriously golden, crispy, bubbling mass of glory, it’s time. The meat itself should be incredibly tender and cut like butter. Don’t doubt your instincts when it comes to roasting; cooking times are subjective and dependent upon the oven type, the size of the bird, etc., so don’t assume four hours of roasting is going to be the rule. Also? The fresher the bird in general, the less roasting time is required. Just something to keep in mind.

As far as sides go, this doesn’t need much other than some roasted potatoes and a simple salad. It’s the perfect fall meal, so as the weather cools, forget the hot chocolate, and go for the roasted duck.

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River and Rail-style Summer Squash Soup

In the words of the Dead Body that Claims It Isn’t in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m not dead.”

I’ve just been busy. So am I going to take the easy way out with this post? You betcha!

I had the authentic River and Rail summer squash soup on my first visit there, and I loved the light flavors. I was naturally excited, then, to see a Tasting Table email sitting in my inbox one day with a summer squash soup recipe adapted from River and Rail chef Aaron Deal. Now, one doesn’t automatically think “soup” during the waning summer weeks, but this one is perfect because, well, it embodies all of those bright summer flavors of squash, leeks, and fresh herbs.

This is a great way to use up those last summer squash of the season. We had a few hanging out in our “accidental” garden (meaning we just threw seeds in our compost pile, never really expecting the squash to produce as well as it did), so in they went.

There’s not much to this, but it’s usually the recipes with fewer ingredients that taste the best because, well, you’re not masking any natural flavors. Just be sure to keep an eye on the leeks because they are quite fragile and can color easily. I subbed in olive oil for the 2 Tbsp. of butter just because we rarely keep butter in the house.

The garnish listed isn’t necessary, but it is an easy accompaniment if you’re so inclined. Any excuse to use country ham is a good time!

You’ll have to excuse the lack of photos here; just look at the Tasting Table photo. The soup will look like that, unless you pull a Bridget Jones and use blue twine not meant for cooking purposes and end up with blue soup. And Colin Firth sitting at your dinner table. In which case: lucky bitch.

I’ll be back soon with roasted duck, the perfect way to usher in the coming fall weather!

Back from the dead…

Life has been a blur! So, I’m still here, and, starting this week, I’ll be blogging about what’s been going on around here. Lots of exciting things! Lots of catching up on: 1) other restaurant experiences in Roanoke, 2) a few other recipes, and 3) Lambstock at Border Springs Farm. Here’s your preview:

Catfish ‘n Corn

Catfish are one of those great Southern foods and are surprisingly versatile. It can be gussied up (or fixed with an ethnic flare, as I’ve done before). It can be blackened and grilled. It can be battered and fried. But, as far as I’m concerned, cornmeal and catfish can’t be beat. It’s like peanut butter and chocolate, but better (some of us aren’t chocolate fans, okay?). Because cornmeal isn’t heavy it doesn’t detract from the natural taste of catfish. I like to say the fish is “cornmeal dusted” because it’s just a lighter breading. Plus, it makes me sound fancy.

I started this meal knowing I wanted a version of shrimp and grits, a true Southern staple (and one I’ll cover further down the line). Except, you know, catfish and grits. I decided I wanted to use a tomato base instead of the classic roux (a thickening agent comprising a mixture of flour and fat) found in most shrimp and grits recipes. I originally planned to try out a tomato gravy recipe from (personal food obsession culinary hero) Sean Brock that I stumbled upon in a magazine. However, somewhere along the line during a mass recycling effort, that magazine got tossed. Sinful! As I couldn’t find the recipe online, I just decided to wing it and stew some bright cherry tomatoes from the market in sauteed onions and cilantro-lime butter.

The grits? If you’re not in the South and don’t have easy access to locally milled grits, then a) I’m sorry and b) Bob’s Red Mill has a decent version. For my money, though, I’d rather support a smaller operation. Unfortunately, our supply of Geechie Boy Grits from Edisto Island, SC, had quickly dwindled, so during a recent outing to the farmers market in Abingdon, VA (what’s up hometown?!), I picked up a bag of White’s Mill stone ground yellow grits.

Recipes are below for my take on catfish and grits topped with what I’m going to call a chunky tomato gravy. You can serve these with a side of greens (which provides its own entertainment if you have an eater like my husband who physically recoils at the sight of greens), but honestly, this was incredibly filling on its own.

Cornmeal-dusted Catfish (serves: 2, with some leftovers)

1/2 c. cornmeal
1/4-1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (depends on how spicy you want this)
1-2 tsp. smoked paprika or pimenton
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 c. milk
1 pound catfish fillets
Olive oil
Hot sauce
Fresh cilantro, chopped

In a small, flat dish, mix the cornmeal, cayenne pepper, paprika, salt, and black pepper. In a separate bowl, pour the milk. Dredge the catfish fillets in the milk, then dredge in the seasoned cornmeal, lightly coating each side of the fillet. Place the fish on a plate and put in the refrigerator until ready to cook. (I’ve found breading seafood/meat then letting it chill in the fridge results in a crispier texture when grilled.)

When ready to grill, remove the fillets from the fridge. In a large skillet or cast iron grill, heat over medium high enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Once the oil is heated, add the catfish and cook about 10 minutes per side (if the fillets are thicker, add another 3-4 minutes per side). The fish is done when it flakes easily with a fork.

Place the fillets over the grits (below) and top with a few spoonfuls of the chunky tomato gravy (below) and chopped fresh cilantro. Serve with hot sauce (obviously).

Corny Corn Grits
Note: You can omit the milk and use an extra cup of water, or you could sub in chicken stock. Basically, you want a 3:1 ratio of liquid:grits.

2 c. water
1 c. milk (I use raw, but 2% works well)
1 c. stone ground grits
1 tsp. salt
2 c. fresh corn kernels
1/4 c. grated hard cheese (I used a locally made cheddar-style cheese, but any mixture will do of a sharp, hard cheese)
3-4 dashes hot sauce
Pepper

Bring the water, milk, and grits to a boil over medium heat. Add corn and salt, then reduce heat to low. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently. Keep an eye on the grits, because in just a few minutes’ time, the consistency can turn from perfection to plaster. You’ll know the grits are done when the ingredients all come together while remaining creamy.

Pull the grits off the heat, then stir in the cheese, hot sauce, and pepper. Taste and add more salt as needed.

Chunky Tomato Gravy
Olive oil
1/4 c. yellow onions, diced
3 Tbsp. cilantro-lime butter (this can be made by just mashing chopped fresh cilantro and lime zest into softened butter)
1 pint cherry tomatoes (an array of colors makes for a better presentation)
Salt
Pepper

In a small sauce pan, heat over medium high enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Once the oil is heated, add the diced onions and butter. Let sweat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until the onions are translucent and soft. Add the tomatoes, cover, and let sweat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the tomatoes are softened, smash with the bottom of a spoon (you still want to keep a chunky consistency). Season with salt and pepper.