Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Holiday Baking--Three Recipes

In the spirit of the New Year I am fulfilling a facebook promise to share the Chocolate Bread recipe, as well as two others I've mentioned recently.

1. Chocolate Bread
This is Mary Wright's Coffee Hour Bread recipe which I've adapted. Mary taught me the basics of baking with yeast back in 1986. Recipe makes 2 large loaves or 4 skinny ones. I usually do half the batch as chocolate bread and half with Mary's filling. 

chocolate bread in the foreground
5-5 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 packages yeast [1 pkg = a shy tbsp]
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
2 sticks margarine
2 eggs
filling (see additional recipes)

In a large bowl mix 2 cups flour, sugar, salt and the dry yeast.  In a microwavable bowl, combine milk, water, and margarine. Heat in microwave until liquids are very warm (but not so hot as to kill the yeast). Gradually add warm mixture to dry ingredients and beat 2 minutes on medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally. Add eggs and 1/2 cup flour. Beat 2 minutes on high. Stir in enough additional flour to make a stiff dough. Kneading optional. Cover and set aside for 20 minutes. [This is a good time to make your filling(s)]. Turn out dough onto floured board and divide in half. Roll each half into a 10 x 14 inch rectangle (or do smaller quarters). Spread with filling and roll from long side. Place on greased cookie sheet and slit top diagonally every inch. Let stand 10 minutes then bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Mary's Cinnamon-Walnut Filling
This is the traditional coffee-hour bread filling. This recipe is enough filling for a whole batch (2 large loaves).

2 cups chopped walnuts
2/3 cup sugar
2-3 tsp cinnamon
2 egg whites
1 tsp water

Chop nuts, add sugar and cinnamon (and raisins, if desired) and mix. Combine egg whites and water and mix in with rest to create a moist but not wet filling.

Chocolate Filling (my concoction)
A crowd favorite with all ages. Christmas for me must include Chocolate Bread and fresh pears.This recipe is enough filling for a whole batch (2 large loaves).

1 bag chocolate chips (I prefer dark chocolate)
heavy cream (I don't measure...maybe a 1/2 - 3/4 cup?)
a splash of rum or Kirsch or Grand Marnier or....whatever

Put in microwaveable bowl and heat carefully, stirring often, so that chocolate melts but does not burn. Remember that chocolate will hold its shape until you take it out and stir it (don't rely on seeing it melt). Ideally you will have a sort of ganache that will spread easily.  Experimentation required; an extra bag of chocolate on hand is highly recommended (because if you burn it there is nothing to do except start over). Extra filling is delicious on ice cream.

2. Christmas Morning Casserole
I found this recipe on-line at, submitted by Maryellen Hays and it has become a holiday tradition.  It is really easy to throw together the evening before and just pop in the oven in the morning. 

7  slices white bread, cubed
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
6 eggs
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
6 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled

In a greased 11 x 7 x 2 inch baking dish [I use a stoneware Pampered Chef covered baker) combine bread cubes and cheese.  In a large bowl whisk eggs, milk, mustard, salt and pepper; pour over bread and cheese. Top with bacon. Cover and refrigerate over night.
Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking [I rarely do this]. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes or until knife inserted near the center comes out clean.  Casserole tends to puff up like a souffle while baking but usually collapses shortly thereafter.

3. Cherry-Orange Bread with Grand Marnier Glaze
I found this as Cranberry-Orange Bread...on but I have a "thing" for dried cherries so I changed it. 

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pans
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup orange juice (fresh squeezed if possible)
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
a 5 oz package of dried cherries

2 cups powdered sugar
6 tablespoons orange juice (fresh squeezed if possible)
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
a little bit of orange zest

Preheat oven to 330 degrees [that's the oddest temp I've ever heard and we always turn our oven down, so I do 300]. Butter two 6-cup capacity loaf pans OR six 2-cup capacity mini loaf pans.
With an electric or standing mixer on medium speed, cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Add orange juice, sour cream, orange zest, and vanilla; mix until blended.
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture and cherries to wet ingredients and mix just until dry ingredients are absorbed. Do not overmix.
Pour batter into prepared loaf pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, approximately 60 minutes for large loaves, 45 for mini loaves.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the glaze ingredients which should be the consistency of corn syrup.  If it is too thick, thin it with additional liqueur.
Let loaves cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove and transfer to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet.  With thin skewer or toothpick, poke deep holes in tops of loaves.  Drizzle glaze so it coats the top, runs down the sides, and seeps into the holes.
Let cool completely then slice and serve or wrap and freeze.  Makes great holiday gifts.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Race Report: Tufts Health Plan 10k for Women

I ran Tufts two years ago and intended to do it again this year.  Unfortunately, plans to meet up with several friends fell through, and I didn't really need to spend money on a bus ticket and lose a long weekend with family, so I didn't end up going even though I had registered.  Boston friend, Cecilia, kindly picked up my packet, bib, and tech tee so I will retrieve those eventually and have something to show for my money (which was well spent for a good cause anyway).  Today, instead of running the Tufts 10k for Women along the Charles and Boston's Public Garden, I ran the Marks 10k for Woman...and 2 Men along the Stillwater and Brownie's Park.  Alan and James and I ran a 6.2 mile route that included portions of the river trail and a loop around/through campus.  It was good (and hard) to run more than just a mile for a change (we're doing another mile-a-day challenge) and I wasn't as terribly slow as I thought I'd be.  So Yay me! and Yay us! and maybe this will become a new tradition, the Marks Family Columbus Day Run...or something.  Anyway, below is my long lost race report from two years ago that never got posted (probably because I was going to plug in some pictures, but oh well, too bad, here you go sans photos).  Enjoy!!

On October 9, 2011--our 18th wedding anniversary--Alan and I ran the Great Island 5k in Newcastle, NH and then drove to Exeter where we left our van, donned our backpacks, and boarded the Amtrak Downeaster bound for Boston.  The trip was pleasant and comfortable and we arrived safely at North Station, navigated the subway, and found City Sports in plenty of time to pick up my packet for the Tufts 10k.  The "packet" consisted of a bib, a nice long-sleeved tech tee, and a small sling backpack with several coupons and flyers ("here: go buy something.") and a card that said
So...the actual running part is optional?!?!  Yeah, I don't think so. [But apparently this year, I decided that the location is optional...]

I forgot to mention in the post about Great Island [which I can't locate just now so perhaps I never posted that one either. Oh good, more backlog to use for future post fodder], that we got tee shirts (cotton, but decent) and custom Swix ski hats (very nice--I will totally wear this for the Turkey Trot).  And remember the post-race food?  It was totally awesome.  Post-race fuel at Tufts? A large bottle of warm energy drink shoved at you by someone whose primary job seemed to be to herd you away from the finish, and tables full of boxes of pretzel stix.  Oh, and whatever junk food you cared to buy from vendors in the park.  So the Great Island 5k, which had tons of waaaaay better free food, plenty of bottled water before and after the race, a tee shirt and a hat cost $20.  The Tufts 10k gave us a really nice shirt and a small bag, a bottle of something gross and virtually nothing to eat and cost $38.  But I did get a priceless moment at the end...

But first we had to get there, which was a whole adventure in itself...We had ridden the train out to the Feys in Fitchburg to spend the night.  In the morning, Kathy drove us from there to a train station where we left the car in the garage and got through the turnstiles when Alan suddenly realized he couldn't find his debit card.  Uh oh.  We stopped while he rummaged in pockets, and bags and my wallet and we finally thought it had either fallen out of his pocket in Kathy's car or on the train the night before.  We'd had this mad dash to catch the train so he determined that he just stuck the card in a pocket of his cargo shorts after using it in the ticket machine and before we ran for it.  We imagined it falling out and getting picked up by an enterprising person who was probably having a spending spree as we stood there.  As we fretted about this, we let one possible train come and go and Kathy started thinking about the things she had with her in the stroller and realized she didn't have an important emergency-supply bag ("just the one with the epi-pen...") so she went back to the car to retrieve it (and to check her car for Alan's card) while we waited with the kids and I used my phone to go online to check our bank account.  No unusual activity yet, but the card wasn't in Kathy's car either.  We determined that we would check the lost & found at North Station and then call the bank if that didn't pan out, but that there wasn't much else we could do about it right then and we were cutting things close for getting me to Boston Common in time.

I was getting excited about the 10k--in Boston! with 6000+ other people!--and the sightings of women and girls with bib numbers and/or City Sports bags were becoming more frequent the closer we got.  Plus it was 6-year-old Alex's first train ride [that he could remember] which was quite thrilling!  It's not like there was much money in the bank account to steal we put worry aside and enjoyed the day.

We arrived in good fashion and found ourselves in the throng of runners and their entourages.  Here I was: one runner with a crew consisting of 1 husband + 1 college roommate + her 2 kids (one in a stroller) + 1 other college friend yet to arrive.  And for every body there was at least one backpack/purse/diaper bag/emergency toolkit....we took up some space.  And space was a rare commodity.  It wasn't bad if you were standing still, but navigating from point A to point B was a bit tricky.  I hate separating in a crowd like that but finally had to take off for the restrooms--which meant crossing Charles St in which runners were lining up already--and I feared that I would get stuck in the lines for way too long and either miss the start or not find Alan again before the race or both.  As it turned out, by walking down the row of port-a-potties I found a middle section that was pretty much line-free and I got in and out of there quickly.  Everyone was really very nice and because it was getting close to the start anyone trying to really race was well out of the way, so it was just a big party of generally happy, excited women.  I got back to the road and found the gang about where I'd left them.  I did some last minute "I need x out of my bag" and "wait, I don't need this; take it!" and so the backpack I was living out of got pulled out of the stroller and put back in a few times [sometimes I miss having a stroller...].  Finally, I decided I was ready and I stood in the road, enjoying the jubilant pre-race crowd: thousands of women all decked out in their finest 80+ degree running garb, some with wacky costumes, some with messages on their shirts, some with lots of skin and hard abs, some with lots of skin and not-so-hard abs...

Me in a sea of people-looking-the-other-way.

I was glad not to be messing with my mp3--I love to take in the sights and sounds and needed all my senses to navigate around people once I was actually running.  I had my phone with me and kept pulling it out to take pictures; eventually I just quit bothering to put it back in my pocket until the last stretch.  Alan took some waiting-in-the-sea-of-runners shots and I tried half-heartedly to stretch a little.  There was a lot of music and announcements constantly streaming over these giant loudspeakers the whole time and it was kind of hard to know exactly when the race began.  The speakers were on staging before the turn onto Beacon St so I had the (false) impression that that was where the starting line was.  The announcer would say things like "RAISE YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR IF YOU'RE A FIRST-TIME TUFTS RUNNER!!!"  and a bunch of us would even though we were way far away from the start.  And then she'd say "SMILE FOR THE CAMERAS, LADIES! THIS IS YOUR MOMENT!!" and as we got to those speakers I was smiling and looking around and thinking "Wow, I have really no idea what I'm doing."  Finally, we turned the corner and I could SEE staging, and the arch over the starting line ahead of us, and more speakers, and off to the left there was a platform and bleachers and a bunch of officials and media personnel and cameras and I was like, Oh, I actually get to start the race, now!  This worked well, because I had been doing a light walk-jog to get to this point and now the crowd very smoothly stretched out and there was enough space and momentum to actually start running.

I enjoyed the run immensely.  Almost the whole time there was something interesting and exciting to look at and there were people to navigate around constantly except for maybe one stretch. As we headed over the bridge toward Cambridge, the leaders were already coming BACK over the bridge so we--the enthusiastic back-of-the-packers--cheered and whooped and took pictures of those incredibly fast women, one of whom was very close to winning Tufts the day after winning the BAA Half while we were just getting warmed up. Water stops were crazy busy crowded but frequent and I was in no hurry and it was really hot so I didn't mind 'pulling over' to hydrate.

Really,it was too hot for this time of year, but it made the views spectacular.  There was a stretch in Cambridge that felt like lonely desert so I was happy to get back on the bridge. Commonwealth Ave was fun and friendly and feeling like the home stretch, I spotted Alan at the turn that starts the last loop around the park but lost him immediately after.  I assumed he crossed the park in time to see my finish.  I know I am slow but the finish is one of those times when I allow myself to feel more athletic than I am.  "Start Strong. Finish Stronger." is the race motto and I was feeling it, loving it.  Coming down Charles Street, which was much less crowded by this time, I saw Joan Benoit Samuelson--my hero!--standing smack in the middle of the finish line, smiling and slappin' high fives and celebrating women of all shapes and sizes and abilities. I steered myself right next to her, enjoyed that moment when I hit the mat, and got my high five thinking THAT will be a finish line photo I'll actually pay for! I hoped Alan had a clear shot, too.  And then I was herded along with the other cattle into a long, uphill finish line chute, handed my warm energy drink and pointed toward tables once full of food, now pitifully bereft of anything more than boxes of pretzel sticks.  What I really wanted was ice water and a shower.

I was anxious to find Alan, Kathy & kids, and a good friend from Mt. Holyoke who's living in Boston and arranged to meet up with my "crew" during the race, but I was also desperate for the restroom.  I texted Alan that I was bolting for the potties and he replied back "Wait, what? Are you done?" and thus discovered that he not only didn't get a picture of my finish, he didn't see it at all!  I met up with them and gave poor Cecilia--elegant as ever--a disgustingly sweaty hug looking and feeling a little different than I did the last time we saw each other, 18 years and 1 day earlier, at our wedding.  Then I bolted to a handicapped accessible (read: large sized) port-a-potty to pee, contemplate barfing, and take a baby wipes sponge bath and change into something less sticky.  I still felt really gross, though, in pretty much every sense. I couldn't handle whatever the jug-o-warm-energy-drink was, and I was afraid to sit down again (the potty was OK, but I didn't think I'd get back up off the ground).  The Common was almost like a fair with several vendors scattered around.  I said "I need a snow cone.  Preferably red.  Or blue.  Or whatever." and someone kindly got me one.  I started to feel better after that.  Then, even though traipsing around Boston all gross and sweaty and shaky and tired was kind of the last thing I  wanted to do, I was bound and determined to get to Mike's Pastry Shop for a cannoli.  So we headed off along the Freedom Trail and stopped at Fanueil Hall for lunch, 'cause we realized we needed something real before dessert.  I had recently read Joan Benoit Samuelson's first book "Running Tide" in which she talks about being totally useless (my word, not hers) before a race: her husband was often the one making sure she had the right shoes, socks, fuel, etc.  With me, it's after.  I'm a mess.  But I want very specific things and I'm cranky if I don't get them.  I need to do a better job of planning things ahead.  What we should have done in Boston is found a place for a good, comfortable sit-down meal where we could relax and visit.  Or packed a picnic lunch with really good food....but we were in the midst of traveling and doing things on the fly and on the cheap.  So I had a mediocre lunch and we parted company with Kathy & the kids who needed to wend their way home from Fanueil Market.

Visiting with Cecilia along the way, we eventually did get TO Mike's Pastry Shop, but the line was out the door and up the block and we literally did not have enough time to get in and make our train back to New Hampshire.  As I gazed at the line and realized the futility of the situation, I wasn't overly upset because we were right next to a really good place for gelato which was also crowded but not as bad as Mike's and gelato was really much better for  me than a heavy giant cannoli would have been anyway.

Cecilia walked us back to North Station, we said our goodbyes and promised to keep in touch better.  We checked with lost & found--no debit card--and then we reversed our journey: the Downeaster back to our car in Exeter, and then the drive home.  It was nice that Alan didn't have to drive the whole way and we enjoyed the journey.  It was a great weekend overall--although a bit on the sticky side--and I definitely want to go back and do Tufts again, hopefully next time with some girl friends. But definitely with the ability to shower afterwards!

Oh, and the finish line punch line?  The professional photographer got a great shot of me high-fiving....the edge of the picture.  Joanie isn't in the shot at all!!!!  Aaaaaaaahg!!

Green Mountain Marathon report, Part 3

And now for Part 3 of 
The Really Long-Winded [pun intended] Race Report:
(inexplicably being posted exactly one year after the fact. Sorry!)

Miles 19-26.2
I caught up with Alan somewhere around 18 or 19 miles in.  I was a little concerned that if he was slow enough for me to catch up, he must be in bad shape, but I was craving the company and tired of chasing him.  Once he knew I wasn't planning to blow past him (as if I could!), he was happy to have company, too.  By now, the wind was constant and cold and always against us.

Hard to see, but this is a "kite-surfer', alternately riding the waves and hanging on the wind.
We were like, "What the ?@#&*%?!?!"
Do you SEE Madeline's hair whipping in the wind?! 
From then on, it was a joint effort of power-walking into the wind, swearing at its bitterness, and encouraging each other to jog little bits here and there to boost our over-all pace in order to beat that 6 hour goal.  And thanks to Alan's garmin we had a really good idea of exactly how close a finish it would be. We were well-matched; neither one dragging the other down, each of us  pushing in turn.

At the end we were both exhausted and in pain and could barely run at all but attempting to "sprint" to beat the clock.  We actually saw it flip to 6:00:01 before we crossed which was disheartening but neither of us could have pushed it any more than we did.  As it turned out, the clock was a little off and our official times--both net and gun--were just under 6 hours.

Later, I really wished we'd gone inside to greet and thank all those awesome volunteers, but after we crossed the finish line, and got our medals, and a nice person with clippers removed our chips from our sneakers, and we hugged our family and posed for pictures, I looked straight ahead and there was our car in the parking lot and I just started limping toward it.  I sat down (easy) and hauled my legs up into the van (not easy) and said "ok, let's go".  Rich drove the two of us and Sam (who conked out in the car) back to the house, while Helen and our kids went to Al's (a fast-food joint, what is it with that name?) to pick up burgers and fries and milkshakes for all.  At the house, I was able to function long enough to go downstairs, get clean clothes, climb back upstairs, shower and dress, and then sit down to eat.  The shake and fries went down easy but about a third of the way into my cheeseburger (with bacon*) I just kind of shut down.  I announced that I was done and went downstairs to crash.

Random thoughts on how it feels now:
You know those signs people sometimes hold up that say "By tomorrow, you'll think this was fun"? I kinda get that.  I might just amend it to "By next weekend...".
Even the very next day, I felt pretty good, all things considered.  When I wasn't climbing stairs. Or walking. Or holding up anything more than my own head. And even that seemed abnormally heavy.
We both came out of the race with no blisters, but my big toes were really swollen, and still feel bruise-y.
Mostly, though, I feel really proud and happy. I'm glad that I toughed it out, and feel very fortunate that everything worked out as well as it did.
A week later, people were still asking me, "how do you feel?"  Some people meant "Are you in pain?" and others were asking "How does it feel to be a marathoner?"  For the last 10k or so, my legs hurt. My feet hurt.  Even my back hurt. And my muscles were sore the next couple of days.  But I never experienced dehydration.  Mostly, I experienced extreme tiredness that lasted a good 6 days.

I'm also really grateful to all who helped us out:
~Helen, Rich & Sam for hosting us all weekend, chauffeuring, feeding, housing us and for doing the whole race support crew thing all day with two of our kids and yucky weather;
~Alan, for believing in me all along and pushing me to do more than I think I can;
~Nana Mary who stayed home with James and Mum & Dad who brought us dinner and custom-decorated balloons the night we came home and for all the other times they've provided race support and childcare.

*Our friend Anne-Marie (reputedly a former vegetarian who came back for bacon) had a pre-marathon anxiety dream on our behalf in which she attempted to make us breakfast but only cooked 5 slices of bacon for 10 people, got annoyed with herself, and went back to bed!  In her honor, I made every effort to alleviate any real or perceived bacon deficit throughout the weekend.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Green Mountain Marathon, Part 2

And now for Part 2 of 
The Really Long-Winded [pun intended] Race Report:
(probably of interest only to other runners, but too bad, Mom, you have to read it anyway)

First meet-up with our support crew, around mile 6: we're still together and surrounded by other runners (half marathoners are passing us in the other direction).

Miles 8-13
We didn't see our crew at the second meet-up (around mile 10) but I was so jazzed by the scenic course and the runners passing me on their way back and the awesome volunteers that I barely even noticed.  There was even a little band of 3 people by a B&B playing pots & pans and a gong.  It was fun and there were still people coming toward me and we were smiling and waving at each other and sharing words of encouragement.  It wasn't until we passed several other spots where the gang could have been but wasn't, and I started to catch up to Alan, that I got concerned because I suspected he was relying on them more for supplies than I was.  I realize now that this is also when the bulk of the other marathoners were done passing us on their return trip.  After a couple texts and a breathy phone call to Madeline, I determined that the gang had gotten confused: they thought they had missed us at 10 miles and therefore headed to the turn-around point.  I instructed them to STAY THERE and then caught up with Alan to assure him his supplies were less than a mile away.  I had passed mile 12 at 17 minutes ahead of pace and still felt pretty good.  We had another check-in from Al, the friendly "sweep" who had been following at a respectful distance so he and Alan got introduced.  We met up with Helen et al, grabbed what we needed, made a U-turn and crossed the mats at the halfway mark.   Helen would only confirm that I was 5 minutes ahead of pace, which momentarily confused me but I realized soon after leaving her that she was looking at Alan's pacing strategy, not mine.

Alan and Al on opposite sides of the U-turn (13.1 mark in the background)

Sam (how cute is she?!), Jeremy, Madeline, and Rich showing  their support
(Helen should be in this but she's the one who took the pictures)

 Miles 13-15
I confirmed my pace at the next mile marker and felt immediately better, but I was already starting to slow down and the necessary stop at a port-a-potty lopped a chunk off my lead.  It was right next to a water stop and the volunteers all cheered for me AND for Al before amiably packing things up.  Al rode next to me for a bit when I started running again.  I think this was the last time I started running after a stop without consciously telling myself to run, not walk.  I passed the B&B band again but it was sort of ethereal this time because it was just them and me and the wind and a nice downhill stretch that I was not able to fully take advantage of.  I knew I was slowing down, but I concentrated on keeping my walking to a minimum, and remembering to fuel on schedule.

Miles 15-19
With the rest of the runners out of the way, the gang had an easier time meeting up with us.  They would park somewhere, wait for us, scream, cheer, snap photos, and give us supplies, then pull ahead a couple miles to another convenient spot along the way.

How can you not be motivated by this?
The kids all had posters which got progressively more colorful every time we saw them.  My childhood nickname was NESsie (as in the famous Scottish monster, similar to "Champ" who is rumored to occupy Lake Champlain) so, naturally, there were sea monsters.  Alan, AKA"Big Red" was portrayed as a very cool cartoon character.  And Sam's sign read "GO ZIPPY BANANAFANNY!" referencing a certain Captain Underpants book in which Professor Poopypants plots to change everyone's name. According to the chart, we become the Bananafanny family and ironically, my name becomes "Zippy".  I can't remember what Alan's is supposed to be, but I've dubbed him "Squeaky" because for the first mile or so I thought some very enthusiastic squirrel was cheering for us but it turned out to be his knee sleeves rubbing together.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Green Mountain Marathon, Part 1

We did it, folks: Alan's second and my first ever marathon!

The facts:
We finished!
No, really: we both finished! (even though my name was missing from the preliminary results at first!)
We finished together (not quite what Alan had in mind, but it was nice to have company the last 8 miles or so).
We finished in under 6 hours...barely.
The race organizers and volunteers were awesome, as were all our family members who pitched in to make the whole weekend happen for us.

And now for Part 1 of 
The Really Long-Winded [pun intended] Race Report:
(probably of interest only to other runners, but too bad, Mom, you have to read it anyway)

Friday, we yanked Madeline and Jeremy out of school at noon (James stayed home with Nana Mary because he had a X-Country meet on Saturday) and drove to Vermont.  The trip was uneventful except for the flurries we encountered in Bethlehem, NH.  Actual white on the White Mountains kinda freaked out these runners a little.  Saturday, we had a lovely breakfast (including bacon*) and then we all went into Burlington to pick up our race packets and shop a little before splitting up.  Rich stayed home to hang out with the kids while Helen and Alan and I went to the island to drive the course.  The weather was gorgeous and the colors were still largely brilliant and the whole area was incredibly picturesque.  There were farms and vineyards and cabins and estates. We saw cows and horses, geese and ducks, sheep and pigs, and hunters with elaborate blinds and decoys. On one stretch of the course there's a veritable city of brightly painted birdhouses.  On another stretch there's an entire field of "farm fresh fuel"--sunflowers gone by now, but how brilliant they must have been in full bloom!  After getting a thorough understanding of the roads on and around the course, we headed back down to S. Burlington for our pre-race breakfast-for-dinner at Denny's (with more bacon, of course).

Race day
Sunday morning we got up early and got on the road only a little behind schedule.  Getting there was easy since we knew where we were going.  The main parking lot was full so we were directed a little ways up the road, to a farm stand/petting zoo.  It was cold and windy in an exhilarating, crowd-bonding kind of way.  Everyone was hopping around like they had to pee.  Of course, people do that anyway in the porta-potty line, which is where we were once we arrived until about 10 minutes before the start. Sadly, while waiting in line, we noticed two very small, very pink, very dead animals on the ground that made me sad and were kinda freaking out a couple girls behind us.  I picked them up with a a large leaf (and wearing gloves) and deposited them next to a fence.  A man who worked there (who called Willy, the donkey, for his breakfast, eliciting a loud bray, and got a kiss from him) told me they were newborn bunnies and said something about how they let the rabbits out to roam....  I didn't catch whether the dead bunnies were an unwanted side-effect or population control.  Alan cared only that he now has proof that I'm perfectly capable of removing dead rodents from our house.  Helen and co arrived just as we got to the front of the line and dutifully started photo-documenting.

post-potty, but pre-race: ready to go!

Miles 0-3
At the start, Alan and I positioned ourselves about 3/4 of the way back in the crowd, tried to shake off the nerves, shared a kiss, and we were off!  Helen thought we'd be all the way at the back so she kinda missed us with the camera.  We chatted a bit through the first mile, mostly commenting on some interesting wardrobe choices [I really wish I had a picture of the two gals in matching running tights that were so unfortunately unattractive (the pants, not the gals).  Not only were they thin enough that one lady's polka-dot underwear showed through, but the seams--white stitching on black pants--made a design that is best described as the pictorial version of "place panty-shield here".  We also noted that, clearly, a lot of people didn't get their chance at the porta-potties at the start, because every now and then someone would suddenly turn 90 degrees right or left to make a beeline for a random potty.  Or tree.  Or--in at least two cases--to "water the corn stalks".  Actual fact turned new euphemism. [No Mom, this isn't the type of thing I'm usually referring to when I say that "runners enjoy a special, close-knit community", although it does seem to apply...].

Miles 3-8
During the first third of the race I felt really good.  The air was brisk but the wind was mostly behind us and I was dressed appropriately; I kept a good pace.  I had a laminated pacing sheet with me, tied to my belt pouch so I wouldn't lose it, that I dutifully referenced at every mile.  I'd consult my watch as I passed the marker, then compare the number to the one on my chart.  I had mapped it all out for a 13:30 pace the whole way which would get me to the finish in a little under 6 hours.  My strategy--which I shared with the nice fellow on the bicycle assigned to bring up the rear--was to be as much ahead of pace as possible through 15 miles or so, "banking' whatever time I could before dipping into it when my pace started to crash later.  The early miles were more like 11s so my plan was working well.  I even pulled ahead of Alan briefly on a nice downhill stretch that was just too good to pass up (and I knew he'd catch up on my next walking/snack break).  My chart also had the locations where "the gang" (my sister, brother-in-law, niece, and Jeremy & Madeline) was going to be meeting us and notes about when I should be fueling (every 40 minutes).  My mood was great and I enjoyed the scenery (in spite of weather that markedly dampened the landscape), and the people.  I had 6 hours of music on my mp3, but the race technically didn't allow headphones and I wasn't really missing it, so I kept it in my belt pouch, figuring I would pull it out later, when things got lonely and I needed motivation.


The prettiest housing development ever.

*Our friend Anne-Marie (reputedly a former vegetarian who came back for bacon) had a pre-marathon anxiety dream on our behalf in which she attempted to make us breakfast but only cooked 5 slices of bacon for 10 people, got annoyed with herself, and went back to bed!  In her honor, I made every effort to alleviate any real or perceived bacon deficit throughout the weekend.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Let's Pretend This Has Been Happening All Along

I haven't blogged in ages, but instead of trying to catch up or make lame excuses, I'm just going to reference this book made of Awesome by Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) and move on. You need to read her (as long as you're not at work and won't be offended by prevalent use of the f-word. And aren't drinking something you don't want to come out your nose. Seriously. Don't blame me if that Margarita stings on the way out. Did you check out her blog yet?  I doubt it because if you did you probably didn't bother to come back here.  Or if you did, it's a month later and you suddenly remembered who you have to thank for exposing you to Jenny's wacky, thinky, dark humor. Either way, I hope you ordered her book. And another margarita.).
So I finally met my new primary care physician (to whom I was assigned when my previous one left the practice like, I dunno...a year ago??) and had a long-overdue physical. [Wow, you are so clicking on the Bloggess' link again aren't you? Totally don't blame you.]  my new doctor is nice, seemed attentive, and was delighted to have an easy patient (Smoker? No. Diabetes? No. Hallucinations involving giant rabbits? No. And so on...).  She's not a runner so she didn't have much to say for or against the marathon I'm supposed to be training for [more on that later].  I did mention that I was pretty sure my iron was low again so she sent me to the lab and said she might call in a couple days if anything showed up.
I think I was first on the call list the next morning.
I imagine the answering machine message was something to the effect of
"Your iron is extremely low.  Like, REALLY low.  Like, maybe you're not answering the phone because you fainted.  So...start popping iron pills like candy,OK?  Now please.  Or as soon as you're done fainting.  Whichever's easier.  Maybe snack on an iron bar or two between meals? Tell us how that goes." 
I'm sure it was just like that.

So I'm back on iron pills 3 times a day (with meals, 'cause I've learned the hard way that taking them on an empty stomach with an OJ chaser--as recommended by the medical professionals/lab nerds who never have to follow their own advice--is really not worthwhile since it induces massive stomach pains) and hoping this will magically make me live up to my Captain Underpants nickname:

Using the first letter of your first name:
N = "Zippy" 

[Do I have to tell them that our last name is "Bananafanny"? No?  Oh good. Thanks.]

Because I need some zip in order to finish 26.2 miles in under 6 hours.  See, since I've been blogging about this all summer (see title of this post), you know that Alan and I are planning to run the Green Mountain Marathon in October.  Yeah, I still can't believe I might actually do this.  Then again, since some of my training runs have been about as substantial as my summer blog posts, I might not.

Here's the thing:  I'm behind on my training runs--the longest I've managed is 15 miles--and I've done pathetically little cross-training.  Alan's behind too but I'm confident he'll do fine.  So we've been waffling a bit and hadn't actually registered until last night when Alan looked online and determined that registration is capped at 700 and they were at 686.  Yikes! Time to commit!  There's a Full marathon, and a Half, and they allow you to switch from one to the other up until about a week out (for a fee).  This has been my safety net all along; I knew I could drop down to the half.  But then we did the math and I ended up registering for the half with the option to bump up if I feel I can handle it.  I don't mind spending more to do the real deal, but it would just add insult to injury to pay extra to wimp out. I haven't given up yet, but I really need to stay on target for the next five weeks.
That didn't come out right.  I meant to say


Holy bananafannies! So here's the plan:

MDI Half Marathon next Saturday [remember when THAT was a huge big deal? The thing is, it won't be as easy as it should be at this late stage...]
18 and 20 mile runs the following two weekends (simple, right?)
Eat my Wheaties.

I also need to keep my job and keep on top of all the kids' extra-curriculars and keep taking my iron pills and keep running my lines for the play I'm in later this month....

Oh yeah: and keep blogging.  Which shouldn't be hard 'cause I've been doing that all along, of course.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Good Intentions Do Not Keep a Blog Going But I'm Trying To Make Up For That A Little By Finally Posting This Recipe

Just in case you didn't notice, I've been super lame about blogging.  As in, I haven't.  Since October.  Wow, that is really pathetic.  Oddly enough, wanting to blog, meaning to blog, and composing blog posts in my head are all things that are helpful to a blogger, but do not in fact necessarily result in any actually blogging.  Who knew?

So I've taken another inadvertent hiatus with no dramatic reasons behind it.  The Marks family is doing fine and keeping busy as usual. It's just been the same old underlying problem of not actually scheduling time to blog.  Plus, we don't have any good pictures of anything since October 2nd.  Wasn't that the day Alan ran his first ever full marathon? you ask.  Why yes it was!  It also rained.  A lot.  And the camera got wet.  A lot.  And it died. Just once, but very thoroughly.  So we've been limited to whatever our phones can capture and that makes me unexcited about documenting events because the pix are just lame (mostly because there's a tangible delay between when you hit the little shutter icon and when the fake shutter sound--and the actual taking of the picture--occurs) and not having good pictures has made me unexcited about blogging.

But never mind that for now.

For Lent, I have promised myself that I will complete some sort of correspondence every day (and also that I will not eat fast food for lunch but that's another post altogether, mostly about the fact that I am not giving up Coke this year. Go ahead: call me a wuss, but I think I'm doing my family a favor).  So far, I have written one long-overdue thank you note and composed an article for a newsletter.  Today I am blogging. [And by "today" I mean Friday even though it's technically Saturday because it is now after midnight(!).]

So, here is my recipe for Homemade Granola Bars that I promised I would pass along to several people, but particularly Anne-Marie at Green(ish) Monkeys.  These hearty snacks debuted officially at last year's MDI 10k and fun run and a picnic afterward which our two families enjoyed together.  This is my favorite healthy-ish food and four-fifths of our family* loves them, particularly when hiking or before and after road races.  I could eat them all day.  Nut-free versions have been endorsed (by virtue of practically being inhaled) by the Orono Middle School Field Hockey team and the Cheerleading squad.  Here's James showing his approval at MDI. 

*Alan doesn't "do" oatmeal.  Or nuts.  Or dried cherries.  And definitely not wheat germ. Oy!

Nancy's Homemade Granola Bars
Recipe adapted from several I found online and my personal penchant for combining almonds, dark chocolate and dried cherries.  

2 cups oats
1 cup crushed Cheerios (this started because I had a bunch that were stale and I thought it was a good way to use them up, but I liked it so I keep putting them in)
3/4 cup chopped almonds (I usually use unsalted)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup honey crunch wheat germ

2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
4 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons vanilla

a handful of dried cherries, chopped 
chocolate chips/chopped chocolate, to taste

1. Mix the first four dry ingredients together, spread on a baking pan and toast lightly in the oven. Add the wheat germ after toasting because it tends to burn. 
Note:  Don't let the dry ingredients burn.  And if you do, don't use it anyway because you'll still taste the burny parts even if you add orange-flavored chocolate you got for Christmas and that's just a big ol' waste of good chocolate. In fact, I'm not entirely sure this whole toasting step is necessary.... 

2. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, honey, butter and vanilla in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat.

3. Mix everything together in a large bowl, adding the chocolate last.  Pour mixture into a greased 9 x 13 pan. Cover with a piece of parchment paper and press flat into pan (I use a small cutting board to make it very smooth). Allow to cool before cutting into bars or square.

Of course you can play with the ingredients all you want.  I usually use a combination of dark and milk chocolate.  The orange-flavored stuff would have been great if it weren't for the whole burned wheat germ thing. I have plans to try white chocolate, pecans, coconut, peanut butter, orange zest, etc.  Skip the nuts when sending to school functions (ours has a nut-free policy, but it's good to err on the side of caution anyway). 


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Race Report: Great Island 5k

For our anniversary weekend, Alan and I took a little road trip.  Well, first we delivered the kids to Nana Mary's house up in Milo [Thanks-have fun-see ya!], then we turned around and drove south.  It was a perfect fall day and we enjoyed the drive.  We found our hotel in Kittery pretty easily and scooted right on over to Portsmouth, NH, where we managed to navigate to Runner's Alley to window shop a bit before remembering-the-hard-way how to get onto the little island that is home to Newcastle,NH.  Once we found the right causeway, though, it all came back to us and we wandered around the lovely park a bit and took some pictures before hitting packet pickup.

After that, we checked in to our hotel and wandered around Kittery a little while trying to figure out where to eat.  We didn't do more than set foot inside the Kittery Trading Post long enough to observe that a wooden statue inside looks a lot like one of Alan's former grad school professors at UMaine, the late, great Welch Everman.  If you knew him, I think you'll agree, although the outfit is a bit off (he was a writer, not a mountain man):

Ultimately, we hit a drugstore for a few snacks and a leg sleeve for Alan (because his ankle was bothering him) and then got take-out 'cause we were almost to the point of shaky, we were so hungry.  We ate in our hotel room, did the night-before-a-race ritual of laying out our running clothes, and turned in.

The weather for the race--and our anniversary--could not have been any nicer.  We arrived in plenty of time to use the restrooms, finish our breakfast, drink some water, stretch, etc.  We embedded ourselves about halfway back in the pack--well in front of the strollers, but not really approaching the "real" competitors, waited for the horn and off we went.  This course is really pretty, the volunteers are abundant and amazing, the race organizer is a total pro and seems like a genuinely nice guy.  Alan started out at a pretty good clip and I stuck with him for almost the whole way.  We were wearing these signs on our backs, see, and people kept commenting on them:

"Hey! Happy Anniversary!" "Congratulations!"  "Awwww... that's sweet!"  "Good for you!"
I loved it!  I wasn't sure how much of it Alan could hear (he had his headphones in) so I felt obligated to respond on both our behalves, which meant uttering a lot of breathless "thank you!"s, but it was great.

When I finally gave in and walked a little I felt bad about splitting up.  I imagined that people behind us were running a little faster just to catch up enough to read the signs.  Of course, it was pretty amazing that they all passed us easily and disappeared into the distance....(!)  Anyway, I took a couple short walking breaks but managed to use the few little downhill stretches to make up some time and eventually caught back up.  I was pushing it the whole time--breathing hard--but my legs felt good.  Alan, however, was dealing with a lingering shin thing [technical term] leftover from his marathon the previous weekend, and said later that he should not have run Great Island at all.

Once again, we finished together and once again our names were not called by the announcer.  I think we have a family destiny to be the unmentioned finishers at every race.  We weren't announced at Big Lake--even though we crossed hand-in-hand.  Alan's name was not called at the Maine Marathon--even though he crossed the line alone.  My survivor mom didn't even get announced at the Komen for the Cure!  This was not the announcer's fault, however--I'm embarrassed to admit that a child of mine who shall not be named tripped over the microphone cord and unplugged it just as Mom was finishing.  It didn't happen at the Tufts 10k, either (and there was a picture snafu, but that's the next blogpost).  We're cursed, I tell you, cursed!

We also had hopes of actually winning one of the gazillion door prizes or maybe even getting some sort of mention on account of our anniversary (and our clever signs), but unfortunately we could not stay long enough to find out.  We did, however, enjoy the awesome post-race spread.  For a little race in a small town, they have a LOT of food.  And good food, at that.  There was plenty of water and bagels, cream cheese, donuts, homemade blueberry-banana bread, pretzels, bananas, pita chips & hummus....I can't even remember it all.  We visited, and ate, and I took a sort of baby-wipes-sponge-bath in the restroom, and then we were off to catch a train for the second half of our Anniversary Adventure.