Monday, April 30, 2012

To Sleep, Perchance to Do it Uninterrupted (Part I)

I have snored all my life.
The Husband has attempted to have me believe that I should hang my head in shame about this fact, but I have preferred to explain to him that it is merely how I more actively participate in the pleasure of the sleep process.  After all, it wasn't keeping me awake.
But the fact of the matter is that while my snoring doesn't wake me, I sometimes usually always wake up multiple times each night.  At first, I blamed it on HRH waking up (she tends to have night terrors and isn't a great sleeper to begin with) or Zooey having a potty emergency, but when I was up in Payson for state testing in February, I woke up so many times I could barely function the next day, and that was without a husband, a child, or a dog to blame it on.
It wasn't an isolated incident.  I've noticed that I've been getting more and more tired of late, and I can certainly feel a dip in my energy levels, even though I have been consistent with my running.  Exercise is supposed to give me more energy, not zap it away!  That my times have been slower this year than last just goes to show that I'm working harder and getting worse results.  Sleep has to be a factor.  I can't possibly suck that badly.
So, off to the doc I went, where I also discussed some colon cancer and genetics stuff in hopes that I can get the HNPCC genetic testing covered now that I have switched insurance companies and have more family information.  I got not only that referral but one to a local sleep center, and after some back and forth with the insurance company scheduled a consult.
I am NOT kidding you, the consult went like this:
          Dr. Gill. "Hi, I'm Dr. Gill."
          Me: "Hi."
          Dr. Gill: "OK, can you open your mouth and say 'ahh' for me?"
          Me: "Ahhhhhh."
          Dr. Gill" "Wow, your tonsils are HUGE.  I'm about 99% certain you have sleep
I mean, there was more; we discussed the exciting topic of how many times I've had strep throat in my life and the fact that one time my tonsils were basically "kissing" because they were so swollen.  And I'll spare you the scintillating discussion of my uvula (also large).  But I DO want you to know that the tech had to measure my neck twice because "it's so slender."
Can I have that woman measure my hips?
Anyway, there had to be another back and forth with the insurance company to make sure I could actually have the sleep study done.
Once that was finally approved as well, it was time to go have strangers watch me snore.
Obviously, a sleep study has to be done when the patient is sleeping, so my check-in time was 8:15.  I was escorted to my room by the nurse who took care of me for the night, where I brushed my teeth, slipped into my jammies, and text goodnight to The Husband, who was being subjected to yet another viewing of Finding Nemo.
After the paperwork, I got to relax just for a bit until the nurse was back to "prep" me.
Prepping me meant that I sat very still on a chair while she measured my head, marked it up with what I am hoping was non-permanent marker, and put diodes or nodes or whatever you call those things that they put on your head that are connected to wires.  Also wired was my chest (to monitor my heart rate, I think) and my legs (to check to see if I have that restless legs business).  Additionally, I had one of those oxygen thingies that went into my nose - not a mask (we'll get to that in a minute) but that thing that is basically a tube and there are little things that go up your nose.  Oh, and I had one of those finger jobbies that monitored my pulse.
Clearly I am up to date on all my medical terminology.
Of course, that night, when I was hooked up to more wires than the world's first computer, would be a night when I woke up having to pee with the greatest intensity ever.  But one does not simply walk into the bathroom when wired so carefully, so I had to call the nurse.  It was an easy unplugging, thankfully.
But holy smokes, was I uncomfortable.  I sleep on my stomach, and I can honestly tell you that the worst part of my pregnancy was NOT being able to do so.  The first night after I had HRH, when I was able to sleep on my stomach again, nearly brought tears to my eyes.
In the case of this night, the wires prohibited my ability to sleep in a comfortable position for most of the night.  Not to mention it's not easy to sleep when you could probably contact Mars for the wiring on your head.  I was able to be on my side for a while, but I ended up nearly pulling off one of the wires attached to my legs, so when the nurse was tucking me back in hooking me back up after I used the bathroom, she asked me to try to sleep on my back.
But, dutiful patient that I am, I tried.
And then she woke me up at 1:30 to change from that nose thingy I mentioned earlier to a CPAP mask.  CPAP stands for constant positive airway pressure.  The mask, which, I was disappointed to find out, does NOT make you sound like Darth Vader when you breathe, is to help keep the airway from collapsing and causing a person to stop breathing (which is basically what sleep apnea is).  There are three kinds of these masks, two of which only push the air in through the nose (preferrable - mouth breathing isn't cool, but I think we all knew that).  I opted, in my completely rational sleep deprived state, to use the mask that fits over the nose but not UP it (not comfortable).  It fit on with a sort of headgear.
C'est sexy, no?
The mask isn't easy to sleep with, either, but I am pretty sure the second half of the night had more sleep than the first half.
Regardless, I still didn't get enough sleep.  The second I got home at about 6:30 (yes, I was woken at about 5:45ish and kicked out!), I crawled into bed and crashed for three more hours, interrupted only when HRH came in to snuggle with me (and subsequently also go back to sleep until 9:30).
The results of the data cannot come soon enough for me, but unfortunately, I can't get in to see Dr. Gill until closer to the end of the month.  I'll be calling my primary care office to get the results in about a week, but I won't get the in depth analysis and the "where do we go next" discussion in until I'm able to  see Dr. Gill.  Chances are I'd be starting with my very own CPAP mask (I've already told The Husband to try to brace himself for me to get even sexier when I sleep), but because I am neither obese nor a smoker, the two most common reasons for sleep apnea, and because I am relatively young, I may be a candidate for something else, like perhaps a tonsillectomy (yikes!).  But we'll see.  I don't want to put the cart in front of the horse.
I just want to get a full night's sleep.

Do you have trouble sleeping?  Do your sleep habits compromise your daytime energy levels?  Do you snore?  Have you ever thought about having a sleep study done?

(Stay tuned for Part II, in which I may get to model one of those sexy CPAP masks! Try to contain your excitement)

Friday, April 27, 2012

One Kitchen, Many Hearts - Round Two

You always know when certain groups of people are good friends.  They have inside jokes, finish each others' sentences, and offer support regardless of the time of day.
In the case of this group of blogging friends, it's clear that we also are almost too tuned in to each other's style and food tastes, and we've been discussing how we all really need a compound or at least addresses on the same street, whereby we can share recipes and cooking duties from a closer locale.  I'm pretty sure the Girls' Nights Out would have to be classified as Epic, too.

Clockwise, from top left:
Mads, Kirsten, Megan, Kat, me, Jeanne -
don't we look like we could take a town by storm?
Damn, we're a good looking bunch of broads.
But until our actual One Kitchen can be a reality, we've been taking turns sending one another gift boxes. This is our second month of doing it, and I'm quite certain that none of us can decide whether we prefer buying the gifts or receiving them, screaming like Ellen's audience when they had to get a gift rather than see Josh Duhamel take his pants off (this actually applies to both sides of the gift-giving; I may have made a scene at the local bookstore when I found Something Perfect for Kat where I wasn't looking this month).
I confess that I had a few ideas for Kat's gift box, but I really felt like I was going to let The Shopping Gods guide me, and guide me they did.  To find out what I sent her, make sure to head over to Tenaciously Yours, at some point today.
I was the lucky recipient of Kirsten's box, and I was all a-twitter to see what my girl from the 45th parallel was going to ship out.  Having lived in Michigan as well, I could only imagine the bounty to which Kirsten is privy year round.  But still I was not prepared for the Awesomeness in a Box that arrived a few Mondays ago.
When Kirsten tweeted that my box would arrive Monday, that basically meant that I wouldn't be able to get any work done once the mail truck came.  Fortunately for work, the truck came later than it usually does, so I was able to make the most of my day.  But once our intrepid United States Postal worker rolled away, HRH and I ran across the street, obtained our little package, and it was on.  Clearly this called for a refreshing beverage.

Nothing finer than a bottle of Shiner.
I plunked HRH down in her booster seat with a snack as I tried to carefully open rather than rip with reckless abandon (setting a good example for patience or some parent thing like that).
I knew that this message written on the side of the package was, in fact, The Truth.

I made out like a BANDIT.

Probably The Best Thing Inside was actually the card.  It's going to become my motto the next time I make macaroni and cheese and then hear HRH tell me she doesn't like macaroni and cheese (there is only one explanation for her not liking the M&C - CHANGELING!!!!!).

Would that my fridge were so full.
I'll be honest.  The cherries were dispatched of in short order.  Michigan cherries are worth horking down straight from the bag.  But they are not worth sharing when you really don't want to.  Which I didn't.  If you've ever had Michigan cherries, you'll understand. 

I allowed myself 24 hours to eat the chocolate, which is about the limits of my will power.  First of all, hello, Star Wars fan - Dagoba! ("Luke, you will go the Dagoba system.")  And how dark is that chocolate?  You know that dark chocolate has health benefits, right?  Logic says that the darker the chocolate, then, the better it is for you.  This, clearly, is extremely healthy.  Doctors should start prescribing this stuff like they're on Diagon Alley.  Yeah, that was a Harry Potter reference right after a Star Wars one.  Try not to be jealous of how cool I am.  Can you imagine how impressed my students are?

I did allow The Husband to have some of the lemon ginger.
Because I'm nice like that.
I'll also be a nice wife and let The Husband in on the tea situation.  His allergies are worse than mine (much, MUCH worse), so he likes to drink tea sometimes, and this will certainly clear his sinuses.  Just make sure the Wife of the Year Committee knows of my benevolence, OK?

I am absolutely wild about sweetening my foods with honey, and Michigan honey beats Costco honey any day of the week.  With steel cut oats and peanut butter, it's a Winner.  The Husband has his beady little eyes on this bottle, so I may have to hide it.
The relish, though, I had to text The Husband about: "We need to have brats.  Soon."  I've never had ramps, and I figured that having them over grilled bratwursts would be The Perfect Way to try them out.  Even if it meant sharing with the man who grilled the brats for me.  What can I say - I'm a giver.
Turns out I'm pretty smart.  The relish was sweet and kind of garlicky (that's the ramps) but at the same time had a nice little kick, thanks to the chile flakes in the mix.  The Husband said he would have loved it to be a bit spicier (we're big fans of The Spicy here), but overall we both loved the relish.  I am thinking of getting more brats this weekend to have it again.  I might be obsessed.

It says "wild leek" but that means
wild ramps.  Yum.
But, if my taste buds were not enough, Kirsten must know that I needed something to girl-i-fy myself, since most of what I buy falls under one of three categories: 1) groceries/things for the house, 2) things for HRH, 3) running gear - none of these really help when The Husband and I have a rare date night.  So she went above and beyond with this beautiful necklace and earrings, which are not only beautiful, but they help poverty-stricken people make a living in other parts of the world.  11/10 situation if I've ever seen one.  I wore them the other night to a volunteer meeting, and I cant wait to doll myself up once again.

LOVE the beadwork.
And, since I could adjust the length, it is perfect
for my "very small" (according to the doctor) neck.
Thanks so much, Kirsten!  You rock!
This project has been so much fun to get to know my bloggie sisters better, even though it's clear that we all have a connection regardless of the actual miles between us.  The Internet really has taken down so many barriers; without it, I would not have had the opportunity to meet these five wonderful women (as well as so many other great bloggers and Twitter-ers, etc.).
Make sure that you check out what everyone else got (and notice how crazy-basically-eerie-all-the-same-practically-Miss-Cleo we are to one another!):

Once you do that, it's time for you to round of some of your best buddies and create a gift-giving schedule that will be as fun as ours has been  You won't regret it!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Monday Meal Planning - Being Flexible

The Husband told me yesterday that he'd be late most of this week, and the one evening that I know he WILL be early is so that I can leave to go to a meeting.  Thus, this week's theme is Flexibility.
Not the kind you get from yoga, although I'm trying to get more of that in, too.
Since who knows if we will get a family meal in before Friday (The Husband has Fridays off, and I am taking the day off this week), the Monday Meal Plan, which has been conspicuously absent these last few weeks, is more like a "wish list" than an actual plan.  I found some recipes that I'd like to try to make with the ingredients I have on hand and what came in our CSA share this week, but if I have to wait until this Friday to get in a few of them, I'm cool with a few more salads this week.

  • Beet-chickpea hummus with pita, dolmas (because I'm obsessed lately), and spinach "patties" that I found on a Greek recipes website - I saw beet hummus on the menu at a local restaurant and juice bar, and it sounded divine, so when we got a handful of little beets this week, I knew It Was Time.
  • Crudite plate with bagna cauda, crusty bread, and wine - this isn't really a meal as much as it is a snack, but I haven't had a good glass of wine in ages, so again, It's Time.
  • Soft tacos with peanut-crusted tofu and purple cabbage - I've seen quite a few recipes with this combo, and I thought I might be able to add in some of the hemp seeds my mother-in-law snagged for us at a recent food thing (I'm not actually sure what the "thing" was, to be honest with you, but the seeds were nice and crunchy on salad last night, so using them in a crust might be fun).
  • Grilled shrimp with something else tasty - I know - totally vague, right?  But The Husband is enjoying his new grill, and so I want to keep our options open here.

I'm not sure what I'll actually get to try, but I'm pretty sure that if the hummus doesn't get made tonight, it will be on the lunch menu tomorrow.

What sounds good to you this week?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Give Me a Break!

Eight years ago today, on April 22, 2004, Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.  The loss of an American patriot, a man who gave up his NFL contract (and all the money that came with it) to serve his country, was felt keenly here in Arizona, especially in Tempe, where Pat had played football as a Sun Devil.
While the military coverup of the incident still stings many, it is remarkable to see, each April, thousands of people come together to honor Pat's legacy and love for his country.  Yesterday was the eighth annual Pat's Run, a 4.2-mile race that finishes on the 42-yard line at Sun Devil Stadium (Pat wore #42 while at ASU; he wore #40 when he became an Arizona Cardinal), and The Husband and I both were among the 28,000 participants at the event (there were also numerous shadow runs throughout the country - and globe - which brought the number of participants up to an even greater number).
All in all, it was, like my first experience with the race last year, an absolutely incredible tribute.  After a tear-inducing Star Spangled Banner, performed by Dr. Jessie McGuire, Kurt Warner, a former Cardinal himself, was introduced as the official starter; while he spoke only briefly, his words for a man he never actually met were touching.
And then - we were off.
But not really.
An event of this caliber requires organization, to say the least, and I am here to tell you that Pat's Run is extremely well organized.  In order to manage the thousands of runners and walkers, participants are placed into corrals of 1,000 people each.  We were placed in corral 8.

Once corral 1 was underway, there was a 30-second gap before corral 2 was let go, with its own starting horn (the clock didn't start over; the chip times were, of course, what marked official times).  The race volunteers, many of them ASU ROTC members, kept us non-corral-1 runners at bay until it was our turn.
And then, for real this time, we were off.

I have been training on hills for the last month or so to make sure that I was ready for both the progressive hill that was about 1.5 miles in as well as for the climb up into the stadium right at the end.  My training schedule has, naturally, tapered since preparing for my half marathon, but I've still been averaging between 10 and 15 miles each week - far more than the 4.2 miles of yesterday's race.
But I clearly took it too seriously, even though I tell most people that "this isn't one of those races that you want to try to PR - it's an event to enjoy being a part of."
Of course I can't take my own advice.
So last night, I got my clothes ready, pinned my bib to my race shirt, set my iPhone's playlist, filled my water bottles, and set out everything that I would need for the day before showering and going to bed.
Where I lay, awake, unable to turn off my mind for most of the night.
I'm not sure how much - or how little - sleep I got, but I can tell you that it would be a night during which Zooey woke me for a potty emergency, so that didn't help.
By the time the alarm went off, I had already been up - again - for at least 20 minutes.
I could barely choke down my breakfast, nauseous in a way that I hadn't been for my half marathon.  As the minutes ticked by, and we were still home after the point at which I wanted to leave, I could feel the stress more and more - I was NOT going to be late.
One of the great things about Pat's Run is the ability to take the Light Rail in - it's much easier to hit the park and ride and head on in (note to everyone who tried to park AT the stadium...).  But as we waited to get tickets, waited for the train to leave, waited to get there, I noticed that my resting - RESTING heart rate was creeping up and up (yes, because I wore my heart rate monitor, too; I didn't mention that yet?), and it was way higher than usual - 125 bpm.  And I was still feeling like I was going to have a reversal of fortune with my bagel.  But I was NOT going to be late.
We weren't late, and we set off with the rest of corral 8, just like we were supposed to.
Since I had been working on hills and making sure that I got three runs in each week, I started off feeling confident; the progressive hill at Curry was much less daunting than last year, and I passed the water stations in favor of my hydration belt, which I was using to wet my whistle as well as my head and neck - it reached 101° yesterday.
But as I progressed through mile 3, that nausea that was prevalent when I was attempting to choke down my bagel and peanut butter refused to go away.  It stayed with a vengeance, as if to say "You ignored me once; you won't ignore me again."  I swigged a bit of water, and then a bit more, and then a bit more.  No dice.  I was about ready to feed the fish in Tempe Town Lake.
I had to walk for about 50 meters in order for my stomach to settle enough for me to have a chance at finishing.  Why couldn't the last water station have ginger ale, too?
I managed to finish sprinting down the side of the lanes, high-fiving as many of the football team as I could, and almost mowing down the dude who didn't seem to understand what "COMING UP ON YOUR LEFT!!!!!" means.  Like many finishers, my hands were raised as I crossed the finish line, my fingers making the sign of the pitchfork.
Pat's Run is an emotional finish; we finish on the 42-yard line, facing the Tillman tunnel.  The scoreboard is set to 42:42 with a tied score of 42.

The south end of the stadium; underneath the seats
is the Tillman Tunnel.
Most finishers stay in the stadium and are constantly cheering those who finish behind them.  As a Sun Devil myself, being able to run onto the field is exciting in itself.
After some honey, an orange, and some water, I started feeling like myself again, although the desire to hurl was still prevalent as I found The Husband (who had the nerve to finish BEFORE ME) and sat in the shade while looking/waiting for some of our friends who were also running and walking.  In the meantime, we had excellent seats to see Marie Tillman, Pat's widow, interviewed by the local NBC affiliate after receiving a huge cheer from the crowd.

Pat Tillman is a hero.
And so is Marie Tillman.
She is an amazing woman and a true role model.
As we left the stadium, we also saw this couple get engaged:

Seriously, this rates 11/10 at worst - a proposal
on the 42-yard line of Sun Devil Stadium!
Again, the crowd erupted into cheers, and I confess that I started to cry a little at the beautiful moment that was both so intensely intimate and more public than most people might imagine a proposal.  I wish these two people, whom I will probably never meet, a lifetime of love and joy.
While sitting at the second of two Irish pubs we visited post-run day (because I needed to somehow feel more terrible than I already did), we discovered that our times were already published, and all 8 of us snatched up our smart phones and headed over to the site.

My time: 40:09, almost 2 minutes slower than my 38:24 last year.

That I didn't lose my breakfast and my beer at that point is, I think, quite remarkable and worth noting.

To tell you that I was disappointed trivializes how upset I was.  If I hadn't been in a public locale among friends, I probably would have started ugly crying.  My goal had been to beat last year's time by about two minutes - I was hoping to finish in about 35 minutes, so the extra time that I managed to tack on, even though I ran more than I did last year, was a huge blow to me.  That The Husband, who barely trained, finished in 34:08, rubbed that much more salt in the wound that was just ripped open.
So yes, I clearly DID take the race far too seriously, and I over-thought it, stressing out and wasting valuable energy on worrying and not sleeping, resulting in dry heaves, nearly losing my breakfast, and finishing slower than my initial year.
Even typing that now makes me want to cry a little.  Or a lot.

So, this week, I'm taking a break from running.  I need to take a step back and rethink my running strategies and remember why I love running in the first place.  There are plenty of races to think about and plan for and set goals for, and I made the huge mistake of obsessing over an event that truly is greater than the sum of its participants and one that is an absolute honor to be a part of.  That made me enjoy it far less than I should have, and that's the sad thing about it.
My goals for this week, then, are simple:
  • Rest - I'm still going to move my body, focusing instead on yoga and the foam roller to make sure that the soreness that I've been feeling of late is alleviated.  I may go for a hike next Saturday as well (depending on the heat).
  • Relax - Chill the f*** out, Allison (feel free to participate in this step if you want, by reminding me of the same).
  • Rejuvenate - I have a week planned, but really, I want to make sure that I get excited about running again, even without a heart rate monitor or a set time/distance, before I start back up in earnest.
  • Reprogram - I'll need to make sure that I have a clear list of priorities as to why I run each time, which can be different, and when I have an objective, make sure that I don't buy in so much I lose sight of the overall picture.
Once I can do that, I can lace up my shoes again.

Have you ever had an "off day" or burned out at the worst time possible?  What did you do to regroup?  Have you ever participated in an event with thousands upon thousands of others?  Whom would you run to honor?

In spite of my lack of proper focus on the day, I do want to thank the Pat Tillman Foundation, Marie Tillman, and all the Pat's Run volunteers for staging, once again, a remarkable event - and one that was amazingly organized for the number of participants flooding the streets of Tempe.  It was truly an honor to participate, regardless of my time, in this event that does so much for the Tillman Military Scholars so that they may create a legacy as great as the one that Pat left.  The sacrifice Pat made is staggeringly humbling, and it is a touching reminder that there is always something greater than ourselves to which we can give.

The Husband and me at the 42-yard line -
next year I'll beat him.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

For the Love of Dog - Twitter Charity Run

Earlier this year, I participated in the inaugural Twitter Road Race, which was an idea spurred by Doug over at I Run Because...  The event was a way for people all over the globe to run a 5K "together" via the social media network.  I had a lot of fun reading through everyone's posts, feeling grateful that my 5K, part of a 6-mile training session, was not completed while slogging through more than a foot of snow, like others.
Inspired by the fun of this event (and a previous one by another running blogger), Jeff and Tamara over at werrunners initiated the Twitter Charity Run.
Like the Twitter Road Race, people from all over the globe could sign up for various distances from a walk to a full marathon.  The only "catch" was that Jeff and Tamara asked people to donate what their entry fee for a race, or whatever they could afford, to the charity of their choosing.  Tamara has been running in a local 5K that benefits a local hospice for years, and the date of the charity run coincided with that date, but werrunners simply asked that people donate to their favorite charity.
I, of course, was in.
Since I've been using my weekends of late to get some hill workouts in as I prepare for Pat's Run this weekend (there is both a progressive hill in the first half as well as a killer run up into Sun Devil Stadium at the end), I opted for a 10K route, which took me from the Ahwatukee YMCA to loop around some lovely south Phoenix hills, and one not-so-lovely-oh-my-gosh-what-am-I-doing hill, before bringing me back to the Y.
Zooey was, as usual, my enthusiastic companion.

"Let's go, Mom!  Put the camera down!"
The charity that I initially had chosen was my favorite local rescue, the Beagles of Arizona Rescue Club (BARC), the group for whom I made my gluten-free pumpkin pupcakes for Cake Week back in February.  The group is in the process of obtaining a new headquarters, and I want to help everyone out to make sure that foster homes and adoptions are continuing.
But a few weeks ago, one of the coonhound rescues posted a story on Facebook that I could not ignore, and I decided that this effort would focus on that.
RobDar's HoundSong Rescue is a group based out of Indiana.  In operation since 1995, the rescue started working with coonhounds about 8 years ago.  I would venture to bet that their most recent effort has been one of the largest and probably the most heartbreaking.
Thirty-four bluetick coonhounds were found to be neglected and in terrible conditions (so bad I won't go into the details here) in Kentucky.  At first, the owner was thought to be a hoarder of the dogs, but as time went on, it was discovered that he and his wife had gotten ill and had asked someone for help in the care of their hounds, some of which had extremely pedigreed bloodlines (one post I read stated that the owner used to show them).  The care had not happened, and the hounds were in a desperate situation.
RobDar's Houndsong Rescue basically flew into action, and the group was able to pull many (although not all) of the hounds out of their situation and into some immediate veterinary and foster care.  Of course, many of the dogs needed a lot of medical attention, so a ChipIn fund was created to help offset some of these costs, which included everything from heartworm testing on up (the last update is that 11/11 of the hounds who had heartworm testing tested negative - truly a blessing for those fur-babies).
This was where I donated.  The first post I read about the blueticks had me sobbing, and I held Zooey a little too tightly for her comfort, I am sure.  Those poor hounds.  And those poor owners.  Can you imagine asking someone to take care of your pet, part of your family, only to realize that the absolute opposite happened?  I can hardly stand to take Zooey to the doggie hotel when we go out of town, even though she always comes home healthy and happy, and I am grateful for that.  My heart ached - and still does ache - for these hounds, who didn't have someone to make sure that they were happy and healthy or even have a soft, clean place to sleep.

Zooey has LOTS of soft sleep spots.
Had I not had this on my mind, I might have stayed home instead.  The weather over last weekend was not what you'd expect for Arizona in the spring; it was windy and cold (relatively - remember we get used to triple digit temps for a good portion of the year).  The wind, of course, made it colder, and I didn't relish the idea of a run - up and down hills - while it was windy and maybe rainy.  But out the door we went, for neither rain nor sleet nor snow (well, probably sleet and snow, but not rain) can keep my coonhound from going for a run.  For the record, that was a hell of a run, and I was extremely thankful for breakfast, my shower, and my foam roller when I got home (I'm pretty sure that the sounds I made while using the foam roller were similar to the sounds Zooey makes when she's writhing on the floor, trying to scratch an itch on her back).
In what was almost a strange twist of fate, during the first half of our run, we literally ran into another coonhound, something that is not common at all in Arizona.  Since Zooey is a black and tan coonhound, she often gets mistaken for a Doberman whose ears and tail are still in their "natural" state or an extremely underweight Rottweiler, so I'm used to her not being recognized at all as what she is.  The couple who was walking their dog down the hill as we were charging up had an absolutely stunning redbone - the kind featured in the book Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls.  He had a deep bawl that was just like honey, and his fur was just an amazing shade of russet.  When I asked, "Is that a redbone?" the couple stopped in their tracks, shocked that I didn't ask if he was a vizsla or other reddish "it" dog, and we traded excitement in our exclusive "No One Ever Knows What My Dog Is" club and chatted for a few minutes, while the two dogs sniffed each other inappropriately, before we all went on our merry way.
At 6.18 miles... c'mon, Z - .02 more miles!
I hope that my contribution can remind people again that coonhounds, while originally bred to hunt, are not just hunting dogs; they are fantastic companions who are capable of more love than I can imagine.  Zooey is a big lap dog who likes nothing better than to be invited up on the couch to snuggle with The Husband, HRH, and me.  If these blueticks can find homes where they can get a similar invitation because of my small participation (and the larger participation of others who donated and RobDar's HoundSongRescue), I can celebrate another coonhound success story.
There are so many outstanding charities, and I hope to be able to make contributions to the ones that are closest to my heart - the Colon Cancer Alliance, BARC, and United Blood Services (where my donations are in blood).  But I hope that my small contribution will help the blueticks saved by RobDar's HoundSong Rescue not only get spayed and neutered but find homes where they, like my beloved Zooey-girl, can be happy and healthy and where they can curl up contentendly on a soft bed.
Thanks, Jeff and Tamara, for hosting this lovely, compassionate event.  It is always so wonderful to be able to run for a reason that is greater than myself, and knowing that I had my running brothers and sisters out there, running for reasons greater than themselves too made what should have been a chilly, windy day bright and warm instead.  I can't wait for the next Twitter Charity Run!

***4/18 Update - Sadly, the owner of the blueticks has become so ill that he has been hospitalized; thanks to Robdar's HoundSong Rescue, 7 more blueticks are being rescued and fostered, with the last remaining 5 hounds being cared for by the owner's friends.  If you think that you would like to help this rescue effort out (two of the hounds are actually being transported to a Canadian coonhound rescue for fostering), please visit the rescue's Facebook page for details.  I hope and pray that the owner will recover so that he can live his bluetick dream.
***4/22 Update - I learned this evening that the owner passed away earlier today.  My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife and family.  All of the remaining hounds are going to need rehoming now.  A donor has announced that the next $500 in donations will be matched, which will enable the rescue to help pay for boarding and veterinary bills for almost all the dogs.  If you can help, please click on the link in my original posting for the ChipIn site.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cabbage-Ramen Salad Gets a Makeover - Plus a Link Party!

You're back!  Didn't you just love all the Salad Week salads from the girls?  I know; I can't decide which one I'm going to try first, either.
Now, I make it no secret that I like things in my salads that make them crunchy.  The greater the likelihood a topping is to retard a conversation because I'm only able to hear the crunching going on in my mouth, the better.  In fact, I would not be averse to putting sunflower seeds (my favorite salad topping, actually), croutons, toasted almonds, AND won ton strips on the same pile of lettuce and be perfectly happy with life.
So it's probably not a surprise that I am a Big Fan of the ubiquitous cabbage ramen salad.
If you have never come across this picnic favorite, take a minute and search for a recipe on the web.  I'll be here.
The salad has plenty of checks the in plus column going for it, including:
  • Lots of crunchy bits (first on every "plus" list for salads)
  • Ingredients are usually inexpensive and easily obtained
  • People feel good about themselves for eating cabbage
But the well-known "use a package of Top Ramen® chicken flavoring and crunch up the ramen noodles" part often concerns people.
First of all, what is in that chicken flavoring other than salt (we'll talk more about salt/sodium in a minute)?  This flavoring also means that anyone who is a vegetarian cannot and/or will not partake in it, and the mysteriousness of the other aspects of the ingredient list just makes me plain suspicious.
The ramen noodles in the college dorm staple area also are not the best option ever.  Most instant noodles (which is basically how Americans know ramen) are low in fiber and often fried before packaging, adding plenty of saturated fat to the mix, too.


So I have been thinking about how I could tweak and improve this salad for a good while.  It's one that The Husband and I can easily demolish between the two of us, even if we double the recipe and use an entire head of cabbage at a go.  But I don't want to sit there, crunching happily in silence, thinking erroneously that since we're eating a salad, we're automatically eating healthfully.
What, then, can be done to make this American favorite something that doesn't keep me up at night for the guilt?
  • Add variety to the greenery - while green cabbage, as a member of the cruciferous family, has plenty of nutrients, purple cabbage (I think it's technically called red, but in my mind it's purple) has more vitamins A and C in each bite than its pale counterpart.  Additionally, purple cabbage gets it flavor from a group of antioxidants called anthocyanins.  These bad boys are excellent for their cancer-fighting and memory-improving properties.  Plus, purple is really pretty.  Throwing in romaine or leaf lettuce (red or green) can add valuable Vitamin K as well.
  • Change up the noodles - finding a noodle that has more of the whole grain, whatever the particular grain you choose, means that there is more fiber in each bite.  Using noodles that aren't instant noodles also means that they aren't going to be fried prior to packaging, too, which means that a bunch of that nasty saturated fat is automatically erased from the end result
  • Don't add extra salt - the recipe that I used as my "model" had not only the flavoring packet but also a bunch of table salt as an ingredient.  I'm not sure why; even when using the original recipe, I didn't add it but never missed any saltiness.
  • Add plenty of health-laden toppings - the original recipe calls for toasted almonds and sesame seeds, which are both awesome, but why stop there?  Loading the salad up with more than just a couple of scallions, sunflower seeds, and even carrots, celery, or a lovely Granny Smith apple can boost the nutritional value of each bite.  Don't just stick with my additions - throw in whatever sounds tasty.  I didn't think of the apple until just now, and I have to tell you that it sounds just fantastic.
So, here we are... my upgrade on one of my family's favorites.

Updated Cabbage-Ramen Salad
  • 1/4 head purple cabbage, chopped
  • 1/4 head green cabbage, chopped
  • 2-4 leaves from either romaine, green, or red leaf lettuce, chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped (including the green parts)
  • 1/4 package buckwheat noodles, crushed
  • 4 Tbsp sesame seeds (either white or black... or a combo)
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cube vegetable bulllion (I use Rapunzel brand, which also has a sodium-free option)***
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (preferably organic)
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil, bullion, vinegars, soy sauce, garlic powder, and pepper over medium-low to medium heat until the bullion cube is fully dissolved.  Allow to cool completely (I recommend making the dressing the day before, if you have time).

Using a pint jar isn't fancy, but it's great for a dressing that will need a good
shake-shake-shake before serving.
Combine the cabbages and lettuce with the scallions and noodles in a large salad bowl.  Toss the dressing (you won't need it all, so use sparingly as per your saturation preferences).
Toast the sesame seeds and almonds in the oven (or toaster oven) at a low heat (I usually go about 200°) until nicely browned.  Watch closely - you don't want to burn your nuts (snicker... giggle...).
Toss the seeds (sesame and sunflower) and almonds with the cabbage mixture and serve immediately.  Or just eat it straight from the salad bowl.  Not that I have ever done that.

Most recipes for salads won't have you pour the dressing over the greens until you are ready to serve, and usually I agree.  However, since the buckwheat noodle pieces can be kind of sharp and much crunchier than the original ramen noodle, letting the dressing mingle with the greens and noodles for a little while will soften those noodles up just a wee bit, making them delightfully crunchy instead of jarringly so.

***Now, let's talk salt.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among other medical groups, has published extensive information about the fact that Americans have too much sodium in their diets.  Basically, people need to aim to consume way fewer than 2300 mg of sodium per day, keeping it closer to 1500 (or less) mg.  Most Americans are consuming over 3200 mg per day.  YIKES!!!!
Because this recipe uses both bullion and soy sauce, it's going to be high in sodium, so this is a recipe that you still want to use sparingly, drizzling over the greens instead of dousing them.  That's another reason to let the dressing and greens mingle for a little bit; that sitting gives everyone some time to get to know one another in the bowl, allowing less dressing to make a bigger taste impact.
That being said, this certainly isn't a dressing that I recommend using all the time.  Good thing we've had so many other fantastic salad options this week.
And speaking of other fantastic salads, it's time for you join in!  Add your favorite salad links by clicking the inLinkz link below.  Tell your friends to do the same!! Enter both the URL and your email address (not visible to anyone), and then upload a photo.  You can link your recipe through the end of April.  Once you have entered your salad link, come back here make sure you didn't miss a single amazing salad this week - I've listed them all below!

And just to give a quick recap:
Monday - Tabbouleh from Yours Truly
Tuesday - Toughie's Apple Salad from Inside NanaBread's Head
Wednesday - Parmesan Salad Cups at Climbing Grier Mountain
Thursday - Tenaciously Yours, threw a Party Salad.
Friday - Egg-Free Caesar Salad from Comfortably Domestic and chicken mole salad (olĂ©!) from Wanna Be a Country Cleaver
Saturday (today) - a little something from all of us:
  • Kirsten prepped a gorgeous Greek quinoa salad at Comfortably Domestic.  Yes - quinoa is so good that it needed two salads this week in order to truly represent its awesomeness.
  • Megan whipped up a wannabe a waldorf salad over at Wanna Be a Country Cleaver.  But it's anything but wannabe.  You're gonna wanna eat make it yourself.
  • Meanwhile, Mads at La Petite Pancake made, despite all of her crazy grad school work, a zesty steak and arugula salad.  'cause she's a rocket woman.  Arugula's called rocket in other countries.  I thought it was a cute pun.
  • Kat over at Tenaciously Yours, went so retro you may feel like you're Marty McFly.  It's the word from the bird.
  • Jeanne with Inside NanaBread's Head gives us a creole potato salad.  Can't beat that with a stick.
  • Monica, The Grom Mom, is sending us all a taste of Hawaii with a tropical chicken salad in a papaya boat. Aloooooooooooo-HA!
  • Lauren created a spiced lentil and lamb salad while Climbing Grier Mountain.  Serious food porn alert.
  • Carrie at Bakeaholic Mama created an avocado ranch BLT salad in bacon cups.  Bacon. Cups.
  • And all our friends who post a link or two of their favorite salad recipes, too!  And hey - if you want to join our wild and crazy recipe theme weeks, just let us know - our motto is "more is more," especially when it comes to participants!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Un-Salad

So, when I say type the word salad, what comes to mind?
What about candy bars or gumdrops?

(insert sound clip of a record screeching to a stop as the dance floor comes to a halt)

While I have been familiar with the ubiquitous 1950's Jello® style salad for years, it has only been in the last few that I've become acquainted with pot luck offerings that somehow managed to attach the word salad to themselves in the same way that the word natural is able to be attached to any food product (there are actually no legal parameters for the placement of the word onto food labeling)

First of all, I think that if I am going to dedicate a post to those salads that have horrified and reviled me, we should start where every English teacher likes to start: the dictionary.
The New Oxford Dictionary defines salad thus:
a cold dish of various mixtures of raw or cooked vegetables, usually seasoned with oil, vinegar, or other dressing and sometimes accompanied by meat, fish, or other ingredients: a green salad | bowls of salad
(etymological notes - the word comes from the Old French salade, which is derived from the Latin sal, meaning salt.  Weird.)
So, to paraphrase (because that's really how you understand the definition of a word, my dear pupils), a salad has veggies which can be either raw (like lettuce) or cooked (like a potato), and it generally is mixed with some sort of dressing.  It can go with other items, but it doesn't have to.

When I was little, various family gatherings tended to feature a lemon-and-lime Jello® salad to which my grandmother included, horror of horrors for 4-year-old me, shredded carrots and diced celery within that green, Bundt®-like molded shape.  While the jiggling of the "salad" was almost hypnotic, I knew even at such a young age that there was something just Not Right about the combination of vegetables and gelatin, a tenet I feel has served me well in my 34 years.  A related tenet is that raisins don't belong in cookies.
The Husband's family continues to have a ritual of bringing Jello® salad to holiday meals.  The recipe is always the same, made with sour cream, cottage cheese, and marshmallows, as well as some other items (I think), and my mother-in-law explained to me once that her mom, my husband's grandmother (and the namesake of our daughter), always made it, so it's become a tradition.  Both The Husband and I give this dish an extremely side berth at each gathering, but I do think that it's extremely sweet and lovely to continue this gentle nod to a woman who raised six children, held down a full-time job for many years in a time when women didn't usually hold down full-time jobs, and prepared great meals for her family.  This was the first Easter since her passing in December, so I'm certain that the salad (which is usually the first to be spoken for during the "who brings what" email thread) had a special significance to the family.
My overall thoughts on Jello® are that it should be reserved for shots, but that might be the College Allison coming out.  And if you're going to do Jello® shots, don't use Everclear.  Use sparkling wine.  I say go classy whenever possible.
Just don't put the Jello® in a salad.

The Jello® salad, like I mentioned, still might have some qualifications of a salad, although it's still a stretch in my imagination to call the Jello® the "dressing," as per the definition above.  Not so much with these next couple of... items (I just can't call these salads).

First off, gumdrop salad.
Yes, I did just type the word gumdrop and follow it up with the word salad.  Kind of makes the whole jumbo shrimp oxymoron look a little ridiculous, doesn't it?
I first came across this a few years back at a day-before-Easter potluck get together.  There I was, making my way through the fairly traditional potluck fare of burgers, hot dogs, and various casserole and salad makings, filling up my plate with those that tickled my fancy, when I saw a bowl that clearly had candy bathing in a frothy, whipped concoction.
"What's that?" I asked, trying not to sound as horrified as I felt (we were guests, after all, and I know that my personal tastes don't always gel with others).
The answer: gumdrop salad, and I just had to try it.
I don't like gumdrops as a rule (although I can make myself sick on Dots®; it's the difference in being coated in sugar or not), so adding them to a salad that also contained Cool Whip® or other whipped topping, something else that freaks me out, gave me the willies, to say the least (I have never liked the stuff, preferring whipped cream that I saw whipped).  So while I did take a small portion, I pretty much just moved it around on my plate and dug out (and wiped off) the grapes that were also hiding in the folds of the whip.  I just couldn't bring myself to take a full bite, even though our hosts were so kind to invite us in the first place.
All right, I guess the fact that most of the recipes use both grapes and pineapple squeak this bad boy in to the "salad" category of meals, and using a whipped topping certainly means that you're going to make the "oil" qualification.  But let's be honest.  RuPaul makes a more convincing woman than this makes a convincing salad. (ba-dum-bum!)
Apparently a lot of people like to make this recipe around Easter, considering the web searches I have done about this very salad.  I mean, what says "I'm celebrating the resurrection of Christ" more than non-dairy whipped topping and gumdrops?  When you can answer that, let me know, because I'm still wondering.
OK, OK... that was kind of snarky.  Especially because I myself took down an entire box of Peeps® (the purple bunny pack of 12) and three chocolate covered Peeps® over Easter weekend.
It's not something I'm proud of, people.
But when I think Easter dishes, I think spring and fresh.  Like a quinoa-based tabbouleh (shameless plug) bursting with parsley, lime, and, when it's not dying in the garden because the coonhound keeps trampling it, mint.  I don't think a heavy, sugar-laden candy dish.

And, for the grande finale, as it were, I give you Snickers® salad.
OK, gumdrops are one thing.  A recipe that calls for freezing candy bars, chopping said candy bars, and serving them in a bowl as a side dish just should not be allowed.  Seriously, who even came up with this in the first place?  If someone ever asks you why Americans are fat, just point them in the direction of this "salad."  Just because the recipe also includes Granny Smith apples doesn't make this a salad.  That's like my dad saying that the lettuce and tomato on his burger were a "big salad" at lunch (he literally used to say this, and we all knew he was full of it).
I love the article that I linked above (it also has a recipe), as the food editor from the Indy Star who wrote it said this about salads with candy: "Despite what all my community and church cookbooks would say, I don't think anything with marshmallows can really be called a salad."  I love her.
While this recipe, as the others I've mentioned here, are often brought to potlucks and large get-togethers that focus on delicious food, delicious doesn't always have to be laden with sugar and artificial ingredients.  I mean, except for Peeps® (thank goodness the store was almost out of them - a girl just can't resist a purple bunny Peep®).  That the salad has evolved from a grouping of raw vegetables tossed with a bit of oil to this... well, I'm kind of speechless.

Yes, this week we are featuring some interesting salads that play with some crazy-sounding ingredients, but the nod to the 1950s and 1960s highlights American creativity at using leftovers, etc., and no one -NO ONE - in our blogging buddy group suggested making a salad that featured candy as a main component.  So we have comfort food salads and fun salads and healthy salads.  But we don't have any candy salads.

***Just a final note - if you or someone you love makes or adores these type of salads, I mean no offense.  I certainly am not perfect in what I consume, especially at holiday events (hello, three dinner rolls).  These dishes are just so far away from the concept of what I think a salad should be, and I wanted to take a few minutes to make a (hopefully) light-hearted commentary on how Americans can make anything unhealthy with just a little creativity.  My blog does focus on being a healthier eater, so if highlighting these makes someone think twice about taking an extra spoonful, I think it's worth the kerfuffle it may cause.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Tabbouleh That Made Me Cry

It's Salad Week!!!!!!!  Are you as excited as I am?
I knew you would be.
The Usual Suspects, plus a few more new additions to our "Week" party bus, have come together again to offer you a week filled with fun and interesting salads that you can use as a snack, a tasty lunch, delicious side, or main course - whatever tickles your fancy.  Some of us are going for comfort.  A few are going for "wow, that's crazy!"  Others are focusing on healthy.  Regardless, we are all making sure that you will be set with plenty of tastiness to go around.
Now, we are changing things up a bit to make everyone a bit more comfortable.  We're the kind of people who don't mind when you take off your shoes and unbutton your pants after dinner.  Just keep the pants on, for heaven's sake.  Each day this week, a handful of us will be posting a favorite salad recipe with you.  Then, Saturday, we're asking for your participation; I'm hosting a Linky Party, and I hope that you will post the links to your favorite salad recipes.

Let's kick things off, then, shall we?

A few weeks ago, I got one of my usual Hankerings For Middle Eastern right around dinner time, and since we had chickpeas and pita, I knew I could make it a Reality.
But while pita and hummus alone qualify as a complete meal in my book, I knew I'd need something more.  I also knew that there was a bunch of parsley in the crisper, and it needed to be dealt with before it became another victim of Garnishes Gone Bad Before Their Time.

Well, duh - tabbouleh!

Now, I like it, but I don't usually love tabbouleh.  It's good as a bite or so along with my falafel and grape leaves, but it's not usually something I think of, and it's certainly not what I crave when I'm in the mood for a side to my baba ghanoush.  I knew, then, that if I was going to make it at home, I'd need to have a heftier portion, so I needed to jazz it up a bit.
Thankfully the internet knew what I needed, like it usually does.  It led me to quinoa tabbouleh.
Oh, sweet Jebus, hold me.

This. Is. Brilliant.  The quinoa has a lovely, nutty flavor that bulgur or couscous just can't offer, and the protein punch it packs meant that this would be a perfect "main" portion of the meal, leaving the hummus to be the side.
Of course, I never have everything that a recipe calls for, so I modified the recipe linked above.
I used...

  • 1 cup red quinoa, cooked (I like a 1-1.5 ratio of quinoa to water)
  • chopped scallions
  • 1 bunch of finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 2 (maybe 3) chopped Roma tomatoes
  • 1/2 chopped cucumber (we used the rest to convey hummus to the mouth)
  • a lot of minced garlic
  • juice of 3 limes (you put the lime in the quinoa...)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • some dried oregano
  • some dried basil
  • some red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper
I tossed everything together, and voila!  The Tabbouleh Salad That Made Me Cry.
Seriously.  11/10 at worst.
***I would have used mint if my mint plant was further along in getting settled into its new garden-y home, but I didn't want to shock the poor plant more than it already was.
Oh, and I think that the lime works way better in this salad than lemon.  I'm sure I'll be even more convinced of that when I add mint (mojito, anyone?)  But that's just me.  You can choose your own citrus.  I don't want to be pushy.  
Use the lime.

What I really liked about the quinoa was that it was the star.  I don't love a tabbouleh that is overly parsleyed (is that a word? it's a word now, OK?).  I mean, there is a reason parsley is used sparingly in most recipes, so those tabboulehs that are more parsley than Other Things are just not my cup of tea.  But this recipe has enough parsley that you know you're going to have fresh breath, despite the garlic (I used a lot of garlic), but not so much that you feel like you're eating grass cuttings.  And let's face it - quinoa has a way better texture than a ball of chopped parsley anyway, so the chewing was much more pleasant than many a traditional tabbouleh I have sampled.  There was just the hint of a crunch, but not like I'd undercooked it, just that nice little toothy resistance that makes biting into a food satisfying.
OK, now go.  Go make this.   Now.  The temps are warming up.  You need something fresh and light and completely refreshing along with your cocktail (you deserve a cocktail - did I mention that? because you do).  This is that fresh and light thing you need.  You won't be sorry.  
Just make sure to use the lime.
And don't forget to check out the Lovely Ladies of Salad Week:
  • Jeanne from Inside NanaBread's Head is up tomorrow.*  Don't worry - there will be plenty of salad to go around.
  • Lauren over at Climbing Grier Mountain will be getting us through Hump Day.
  • On Thursday, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, but do visit both Kat at Tenaciously Yours, and Monica from The Grom Mom to see what they have on tap.
  • Kirsten from Comfortably Domestic and Country Cleaver's Megan will be making Friday that much better with their offerings.
  • And then, yes, Saturday, come back around for a second helping from all of us before posting your favorite salad recipe on the link party (PAAAAAAARTAY!) right back here at Decadent Philistines Save the World.
*8:30 PM update - Carrie at Bakeaholic Mama is having some technical difficulties with the post she had planned for tomorrow, so she sent a message saying she probably won't be able to get it going in time, so I've taken down her link in the schedule, but she will be back for Saturday's postings, so don't fret! :)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

When You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Eat Takeout

You'll notice that I have no menu plan this week again.  Part of the reason for that is because I forgot to renew our CSA membership, so we didn't have new veggies this week (we still have some from last week that we're going through).  Most of the reason is that I was just super lazy this weekend.  Coming off an amazing birthday dinner at The House at Secret Garden (hint - get the tender belly appetizer - you. will. die. totally 11/10), I basically just wanted to sit/lounge/lie on the couch all day Sunday, which is basically what I did.
So this week, we're flying by the seat of our pants.
That's not so bad.  Monday night I cooked up some penne and tossed it with the arugula pesto I had made earlier last week, and a bowl of pasta is always a good meal in my estimation.  It isn't gourmet by any means, but it filled me up, and I felt better about not having a vegetable on the side because of all the arugula it took to make the pesto.
Last night, however, well, I wasn't making anything.  I had thought, earlier in the day when I wasn't quite feeling the effects of a sleepless night (waking up multiple times and then being woken up by the princess another set of multiple times), that I might use the chard to make a quiche.
It's cute how I thought I'd have energy for anything.
So I texted The Husband: "Your choice. Quiche or pizza."
I'm not stupid, folks.
His choice: pizza.
My response: "Great. Can you stop at Papa Murphy's on your way home?"
And he did, and we had a late dinner that will also be my lunch and maybe part of my dinner, since The Husband has a late meeting that means I'll either have the leftover pizza and/or a Hugh Jass Salad, a'la Mama Pea.  I already have a fresh batch of her lime-tahini sauce in the fridge, waiting to be drizzled over some greenery.
As for the rest of the week.... meh.  Who knows.  I could still make that quiche, and I'm sure I can rustle up something, even if it's rice and lentils with an onion over it (actually one of our favorites, and while it takes a while to cook the lentils, it's all hands-off).
Actually, that sounds pretty tasty.
But so does Chinese takeout.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Grazi, Graze - My First Tasting Event

The Twitterverse is a mysterious, exciting phenomenon, and it's helped me not only become friends with many other amazing food bloggers from across the country, but it's also caused me to come into contact with several food bloggers and food lovers right here in the Valley.  I have had a great deal of fun interacting with them, and I have learned about many outstanding local venues thanks to this bunch. Since I have tended to focus this blog on what we make at home, with few forays into what we eat at local establishments, I'll be honest and say that I kind of blog stalk those who have made it their focus to discuss what local chefs are making for dinner.  That way when events like birthdays and anniversaries come up, I have a list of Places to Visit.
Two of these local foodies are the ladies over at Phoenix Bites.  Started in 2010, the website works to bring together lovers of food from across the Phoenix metro area (which has a larger footprint than some states).  And they were kind enough to add me into their circle of those who have been brought together "in real life."  Last Tuesday, I was invited by Amy and Taryn to a private tasting for food bloggers.  I may have squealed when Taryn's tweet popped up on my phone.  I also may have spent the next hour, in my excitement, googling information about things that had nothing to do with the job I am paid to actually do.  But the only one with me was the dog, and I've made sure she won't tell.
Even better was that the stars had basically aligned themselves to make it possible for me to go with complete ease of schedule - HRH was already going to be overnighting at my mother-in-law's, so it was just a matter of telling The Husband that he was on his own for dinner.  As it turns out, he actually had scheduled what I like to call a "bro date" with a friend of his (he's gonna love that term...), and I was going to be on my own for dinner.  Except that I was going to a tasting.
I've never been to a tasting aside from the cake tasting we had before The Husband and I were married (way back when he was just The Fiance), so to say that I was excited is only a little bit of an understatement.  That combined with the fact that it was going to be a rare weekday evening out, doing something outside of the routine that we all find ourselves in made the work day on Tuesday drag a little slowly.
The event was located at the Zona Hotel & Suites in north Scottsdale.  The address alone had me feeling far more interesting than I had the previous night, when I was dressed in yoga pants and eating the rest of the Thin Mints, and I was looking forward to an evening that didn't include chicken nuggets or a free toy.
Zona Hotel and Suites offered the tasting, actually a menu reveal, as the culmination of the resort's reinventing of its bar and restaurant, Graze Desert Grille, previously under two names.  The new name is a nod to the emphasis on fresh, seasonal, and organic (whenever possible) local ingredients.  This philosophy of farm-to-fork means that the items we tasted will vary by season and ingredient availability; what may have been a fresh beet Tuesday night may become a radish when seasonally appropriate.  This, of course, means that diners in every season will be able to enjoy items in the prime of their flavor.
Menu items offer a snapshot of American cuisine with an emphasis on Southwest influences.  That doesn't mean that you'll see chiles or chimichangas on every plate; the variety that we were offered clearly demonstrates Chef Kevin Myers's endeavor to offer a plate for every palate.  Some of those plates might surprise those who think the Arizona food focus is still mostly "cowboy cuisine."  We've come a long way from a chop house on every corner, baby.
Our menu included samplings from Graze's breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus, which, while unveiled for us that evening, will be officially offered beginning April 5.
Along with each course was an appropriate wine or beer pairing, presented to us by Paula from Arizona Stronghold Vineyards and Hana from Quench Fine Wines.  While the food was excellent, the pairings, and the subsequent information that Paula and Hana shared with us about each pairing, was by far my favorite part, and as all but one course was served with a local Arizona brew or vintage, I came away from the evening with a new appreciation for Arizona wineries and wines that is more on the level at which I appreciate Arizona breweries and beers.
I could likely take an entire post to talk about each course and its pairing, so I've selected my favorites here.

I just had my iPhone camera;
the fading sunlight gives it away that I am NOT
Ansel Adams.
Queso Fundido (Family Style) - lunch and dinner menus
Served with warm flour tortillas and stuffed with Schreiner's chorizo and a variety of exotic mushrooms, it was basically all I could do to keep from stealing everyone else's tortillas to pick up every last delicious bite.
I've had queso fundido before in many iterations, but the mushrooms were a first for me, and I can assure you that it shall not be the last.  I can't recommend enough tearing off small pieces of the tortilla to use as the utensil instead of a fork or spoon here.  You get the soft tortilla, just chewy enough, surrounding the melty cheese, and then you get the chorizo and mushrooms; the mushrooms add a little bit of resistance to your bite, so you have to spend a little time chewing, which of course makes the flavor just intensify.  In fact, despite this being the second of our eight courses, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it, which means I'll either have to source ingredients to make my own "at home" version or go back in the very near future.
This was also the only course to be paired with a wine that is not local to Arizona.  Instead we sipped Bisol "Jeio" Prosecco.  Like the laws dictating what is and what is not Champagne, Prosecco can only qualify as Prosecco if the grapes are grown in a particular region of Italy.  Hana explained that the Prosecco - very light, crisp, and with plenty of apple and citrus - cut the fattiness of the chorizo and cheese very well.  She was absolutely right - the smaller bubbles of the Prosecco (which I honestly prefer to Champagne any day of the week) were excellent company to the fundido, so when I recreate this at home, I'll just have to obtain a bottle or two.
When I told my friend Alexa about the dish the next day, because I hadn't been able to stop thinking about it and was basically harassing my Spanish teacher friends to find out if they had any recipes they wanted to share with me, she said that this style of queso fundido - with the chorizo and mushrooms - is common in Spain, although it is generally paired with Spanish Cava.
***Note to self - go to Spain.

Photo: LightRain Images
Duck and Brie Quesadilla - dinner menu
Since the words duck and brie are two of my favorite in the genre of food, I knew eating in a manner dictated by social norms - you know, not using both hands and stuffing the quesadillas whole into my maw - was going to be difficult.  I did, however, manage to channel all the lessons that Savor offered me to make sure that I not only enjoyed the idea of the food but the food itself.
This did not disappoint in any imaginable way.  The confit of the duck leg was literally perfect with the Brie.  I'm not even sure how else I can describe it other than perfect, because it was.  It was perfect. Both duck and Brie can be rich, but the combination was not at all overpowering; the balsamic reduction drizzled over it was all that was needed to add a little acidic zing to the otherwise full-flavored bites, and I could easily imagine making this a meal rather than the appetizer that it is on the menu.
Paired with the quesadillas was the 20120 Arizona Stronghold Tazi, a white blend that had a thick and almost syrupy bouquet.  In fact, I dreaded taking a first sip for fear that it would be cloyingly sweet, so much so that I asked Paula if it was a semi-sweet or semi-dry.  She said, "No.  Just try it.  You'll be surprised."  And indeed I was shocked to find instead an extremely full-mouthed and dry wine that was filled with citrus and finished clean.  If asked, I probably would have put a red with this dish, but the full-mouth feel of the wine really made it pair nicely with the duck and Brie, especially in the warm Arizona evening.

I should have put a photography class
on my Twelve for 12.
Local Beet Salad - dinner menu
I know, I know - of all the courses I could have discussed, I chose a salad.  But it was - surprise! - the pairing that made this phenomenal, and it was truly my favorite.
The salad consisted of both "regular" beets as well as golden beets, so the looks of the salad alone should win it some sort of artsy award - green, deep red, gold, and the scattering of lavender-infused goat cheese was far better in person than my phone's camera could capture in the evening light.
I could tell that Paula was excited to offer the pairing for this course, even over her enthusiasm for the other pairings she had already described for her.  She kept saying, "Wait until you try this with the beets. You'll be amazed."
"This" was the Centennial Red - one of three blends that celebrate Arizona's 2012 centennial (which, if you missed it, was February 14 - we're not only The Grand Canyon State, but we're also The Valentine State, in case you're ever on Jeopardy!).
I took my first sip before having any of the salad - the bouquet was laden with berries and some spices, and that initial sip reminded me of some zinfandels that I've had.
THEN I had another sip after a bite of the golden beet.
The wine was completely transfomed.  It was silky and earthy and mineral-y, kind of like sucking on a piece of granite.  That's a Good Thing, mind you - it was the perfect balance to the earthy beet.  But where the beet's earthiness is sweet, the earthiness of the Centennial Red still had the dry spiciness and currant-y finish that thoroughly countered the beet.  I went back and forth between the two - bite of beet, sip of wine - until I had no more beets.  Or wine.

What didn't I discuss but could have?  Well...
  • corned beef and green chili hash with egg, sunny side up (breakfast menu)
  • pressed pulled pork sandwich (lunch menu) - paired with Mudshark Scorpion amber ale
  • rocket salad (lunch and dinner menus)
  • pan seared grouper (dinner menu) - paired with Arizona Stronghold Dala chardonnay
  • whiskey braised shortrib with white cheddar mashed potato (dinner menu) - paired with Page Springs Vino del Barrio rojo

Pressed pulled pork
Photo: LightRain Images
whiskey braised shortrib
Photo: LightRain Images
So, by the time dessert was presented, I had to force myself to take a bite of the flourless chocolate decadence cake, which was deliciously bittersweet.  The cheesecake lollipops were adorable, but my love for the grouper - atop the best spaghetti squash and greens combination I could imagine - pretty much sealed the fate of dessert that evening.
Now, these were all brilliant dishes and lovely presentations, but they were far from being overly pretentious.  The restaurant is, after all, at a resort that has many families visit (there is a children's menu, in case your Wee One is so inclined to request chicken nuggets like mine does every day), so while everything from the candles and grass centerpieces to the platings were elegantly done, the food itself was comfortable so that a family can easily enjoy a meal without worrying that the other diners will look witheringly over at the people who are letting their child sing the theme song for Jake and the Neverland Pirates over and over again (not that I have ever had that experience; a friend told me about it).  That comfort can make a good meal great, and a great meal fabulous.

My most sincere thanks goes out to Chef Myers, Brian Blanke, and the rest of the team at Zona Hotel and Suites as well as to Paula and Hana for their information and education on the different wines (and one beer) that we sampled.  I can honestly recommend each of the plates and glasses that I was offered and am anxious to try more pairings when I get the chance.  Most of all, however, I am grateful to Taryn and Amy for inviting this teacher-come-blogger on a fun "field trip" to see how the big guns in blogging do a Tuesday night.  Ladies, it was fantastic to meet you two in person; I knew I liked you via Twitter, but in person you take awesome to a new level.