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Tales of a Reluctant Runner (Part 2 of 2): I Run Because I Can

 

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For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor…In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.” – Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running 

Running is a mental game. The hardest part about running isn’t the physical act of pounding the pavement. It’s not the stitch that has you bent to one side, or even the aches in your joints.

The hardest part about running plays out before you even lace up. It happens between the mental chatter of ‘I’m too tired’, ‘I’m too busy’, ‘I’m hungry’, ‘it’s too cold’, ‘it’s too hot’, ‘it’s raining’, and ‘I need a nap’ (which on most Sundays trumps my impetus to run). The excuses add up. To quiet the chatter, to muster the courage and to harness the discipline is more than 80 percent of the battle.

When I closed my first running chapter in 2010, it was a mental collapse that turned into a physical one. It took me 3 years to dust off my running shoes. In 2013, I signed up for a “Learn to Run” clinic at work. It turns out there is a great deal of science to the art of running. In 13 weeks they take you from barely running two-minute intervals at a time to running 50 minutes non-stop. The program demystified many running myths I had told myself, and it shattered my fear of running with a group. By the end of the 13 weeks, I completed The Vancouver Sun Run in 1:01:11. It wasn’t a great race time, but I was chuffed that running was finally a lifestyle I wanted to maintain.

If you diligently do the work, you will see the results. It’s as cliché and simple as that. It’s also why running is in equal parts frustrating and rewarding. It’s a constant reminder of the power of discipline. On most days, it takes me a good 20 minutes to find my stride. Each time I lace up, it’s a different run, some days are easy and others impossible.

It doesn’t get easier. I can’t say I love running, but I love more than just the idea of it now. I’m still a reluctant runner, and I still keep it stylish (I’ve been known to run bedazzled in bling).  But your mind learns to get over it, and the legs seem to know where to pick up where they left off. The mental game is a long game. I figured it’s best to keep up with running. If nothing, I’m reminded that anytime I think “I can’t“, I know I can.

 

 

Tales of a Reluctant Runner (Part 1 of 2): How a Shirt Duped me into Running

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I’m a reluctant runner. You could even call me a vain runner, but I do like to run in style (see tutu above). Please don’t mistake that for running with style, because I assure you there’s no grace to my form.  I signed up for my first 10K race because I fell for the race t-shirt. It was a smart, red Nike Human Race technical shirt with your personal registration number stitched on. Since there was no way to buy the shirt, I had to sign up for the race to get it. Having never run a day in my life (except for desperately running towards my gate during “last call” for a flight at the airport), I didn’t quite comprehend what I had signed up for.

The sticky hot August evening arrived. I found myself in an electric crowd, amid a sea of red shirts in the middle of downtown Vancouver with my gold Puma kicks on – by no means a running shoe, but stylish nonetheless. The friend who I signed up with was an avid runner, and she bolted off at the start. I was left to embark on a slow shuffle. Most of the race was a blur. What I do know is my shuffle didn’t progress beyond a sloth’s slog, but it didn’t turn into a walk either. I chugged my way to the finish line, and it dawned on me that I might just be able to get into this running thing.

That year, I subsequently signed up for more 10K races. To my chagrin, the race swag didn’t get more glamorous. There was nothing that would have caught the eye of a non-runner like the Nike Human Race shirt first did. I ran sporadically in between these races, but by no means did I follow a formal training program. It didn’t take long before the idea of running lost its luster.

What finally sealed my running fate was the job I had at the time organized an informal “running club” after work. It was awful. Not only could I barely keep up for a 30 minute jog, the act of running as a group intimidated me. I was too focused on trying to “keep it together” that it was all I could do from completely falling apart. The thought of holding a conversation whilst trying to keep pace was completely foreign. The whole idea was the opposite of “team building” or “morale boosting”. Shortly after, I left the job, and I was just grateful not to have to run with a group of people. With that, I closed my first running chapter. My running shoes, along with my Nike Human Race shirt were retired to the back of my closet for a 3 year hiatus.

 

Earnestly Good Ice Cream

Earnest Ice Cream 2

Earnest Ice Cream takes the business of making good ice cream seriously. Their tagline after all is “Seriously Good”, and in each glass pint the ingredients are seasonal and often inspired by the diverse cultures in their East Van hood. From Strawberry Basil to Cardamon and Mexican Chocolate, every hand labelled jar packs a punch. Just over a year ago their name began popping up amongst locavores who’d gotten hooked on their ice cream at farmers markets and artisan stores around town. I first bumped into a pint of their Pumpkin Pie on a rainy autumn morning at the Winter Farmers Market. It’s been a guilty affair since. I could return their jars for a $1 refund, but why when they double as a compact flower vase?

I don’t know about you, but ice cream is my happy place. So, it came as the perfect summer’s treat to hear that Earnest Ice Cream was finally opening their very own ice cream parlour. I arrived at last Thursday’s inaugural launch 5 mins after their 5pm opening time to find they were already in full swing. Those that were seated with ice cream in hand, also guarded several pints at their table. By 5:15, the line was out the door. I whisked up a scoop of their Whiskey Hazelnut and didn’t think twice about picking up an extra pint for the road.  As founders Ben and Erica say, “a world without ice cream? it would be awful, and sad to think about.” Well, lucky for us, we don’t have to.

Earnest Ice Cream 7

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The Little Red Truck That Could

PazzaRella Truck

Pizzas are a dime a dozen in this city. My stomach rumbled for a slice, and not the $3 variety of a pie and pop combo. I stumbled down to PazzaRella food truck in Victory Square, to see for myself what a food truck with a wood-fired dome oven would serve me up.  (*Hint – keep your peepers open for the red truck with a chimney). With a set-up like that, these folks don’t mess around. Their Neapolitan style pies are as close to Naples as you’ll get without a plane ticket.

Wood Fired Pizza

As Canada’s first wood-fired pizza truck, they make a mean pie with limited space. Their concept is straightforward – use what’s fresh, and keep the ingredient list minimal. Observing the Vera Pizza Napoletana tradition, they use only Caputo flour from Naples, San Marzano tomatoes (long heirloom tomatoes from Italy) and Fior-di-latte (fresh mozzarella). The dough consists of just 4 ingredients – flour, water, yeast and sea salt. No rolling pins required here, since the dough must be hand-stretched. They’ve also mastered the perfect cooking time of just 90 seconds at 750F.  Just long enough to produce a thin and soft crust, with a slightly wet centre that’s easily foldable.

PazzaRella Sign

The Neapolitan pizza craze has swept Vancouverites off their feet like a modern day Casanova. People flock like pilgrims to the hot spots in town like Via Tevere, which often has a line-up of at least 10 deep before their doors even open.  Even amidst the multitude of choices, PazzaRella stands out, offering a substantial 10 inch pie for $10 or less.  The menu is basic, anchored with staples like a classic margherita, proscuitto and arugula, and salami pizza, plus a roster of weekly specials.

Smoked salmon pizza

I couldn’t resist the wild smoked salmon pizza special. After a 90 second blast on the hot stone surface, the crust was ready. It was quickly assembled with a light cream sauce as the base, topped with slices of wild smoked salmon, fior di latte, fresh arugula and drizzled with a pesto olive oil and delivered piping hot.

Neapolitan style pizza is best served straight from oven to plate. Save the take-out for Pizza Hut. The serving is generous for one, and conservative for two. The crust was light and soft with just enough chewiness to the bite. While not a traditional combination, the smoked salmon and arugula made for a fresh West Coast spin. The only thing missing might be a sprinkle of capers and extra olive oil on the side to mop the crust up with. You would never guess that something this good was made from the back of a truck.

PazzaRella Truck Back

“Christmas cookies and happy hearts, this is how the holiday starts…”

Christmas cookies

Christmas is about rituals. I am that person that attempts to send 2 dozen hand-written Christmas cards around the globe. They never make it in the mail box until the 22nd, and every year, I vow to start earlier. I look for the Christmas tree guy to set-up shop in the empty lot up my street, and try to haul the heftiest noble fir home, only to find that I can barely get it through the door. I wrestle the tree to sit in its stand; much to the chagrin of my parents who beg me to choose a “smaller tree” every year. You get the picture, I’m a slave to re-creating the “Martha Stewart” magic of the season.

My kitchen turns into a cookie factory at Christmas. Over the course of a night or two, I’ll churn out hundreds of cookies from gingersnaps to shortbread. I tuck them tightly into glass jars before sealing them with a ribbon and a label.

I prefer savoury to sweet, which is why I’m a fan of shortbread that makes good with cheese and herbs. Here’s a tried and true recipe for Rosemary Parmesan Shortbread. The fragrance of the rosemary really comes through, while the confectioner’s sugar adds just the amount of sweetness to cut through the sharpness of the parmesan.

While the cards never make it on time, the cookies always do.

shortbread

Rosemary Parmesan Shortbread 

Recipe courtesy of Food Network

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp water (if needed)

1) Put the flour, sugar, rosemary, salt and parmesan into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.

2) Add the butter and pulse until a soft dough forms; the dough should hold together when squeezed with your hands. If not add water and pulse until combined.

3) Spread a large piece of plastic wrap and spread the dough onto it. Using the plastic wrap as a guide, form the dough into a loose log along 1 edge of the long side of the sheet.

4) Roll the log, twisting the plastic gathered at the ends in opposite direction until the dough is tight and compact; about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Chill in the refrigerator until firm, about an hour.

5) Preheat over to 375F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice the dough log into 1/3 inch thick slices and arrange onto the baking sheet, about an inch apart.

6) Bake until the edges just begin to brown, about 12-14 mins.

7) Cool the shortbread on the pan for 5 mins. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Store the shortbread in airtight containers at room temperature.

Christmas cookies 2

Christmas Cookies 3

Always Take a Wildebeest by the Horns

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With a $161.28 bill, it may look like a feast was ordered for four, but really just for two gluttons who took Wildebeest by the horns. As the name suggests, anticipate both rustic and gamey fare on a carnivore heavy menu. There is a small selection of seafood, but let’s be honest, you didn’t come here for the halibut. It’s nose to tail dining, a trend long lauded on the global food scene (think The Black Hoof in Toronto, or St. John’s in London), but our West Coast menus have been slow to embrace.

The meats are sourced from local farms, as are the seasonal vegetables. The dishes are meant to be served family-style, which made it tough to differentiate between starters and the mains, or at least that was my excuse for rattling off half the menu. Regardless, prepare yourself for a rich undertaking. The waitress raised an incredulous eyebrow after I placed an order of foie gras poutine, bone marrow, lamb tartare, veal sweetbreads, beef tongue and pork jowl. This was after a bowl of smoked castelvetrano olives and truffle popcorn and before a warm chocolate lava cake and apple sorbet.

The buttery bone marrow was simply roasted with a dash of sea salt. So good, it’s since inspired me to seek out my own version at home. Here, tartare is served with a spin, using lamb instead of steak, along with pickled onions, nasturtium emulsion and herb croutons. Poutine, a classic guilty pleasure, was made even more criminal topped with foie gras. To be honest, I can’t elaborate on the beef tongue or the pork jowl, probably because the veal sweetbread put me over the edge. In spite of it all, I couldn’t pass up the apple sorbet with vanilla grapefruit crème anglaise, granola and finished with an egg yolk – it didn’t disappoint.

My ordering was ambitious, excessive even. Dare I say, I was satiated to the point of  nausea. The cab ride home was dicey. I kept it together though, since my conscience couldn’t let me regurgitate a meal of such epic proportions.

Wildebeest | 120 West Hastings | Dinner 5 – midnight | Brunch 10 -2 Sat & Sun

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Hawaii (Part III) Hang Ten

No trip to Hawaii would be complete without an attempt to hang ten. We found Brother, our surf instructor in a little beach hut just outside the Waikiki Outrigger Hotel. In his mid 40s, bronzed like cocoa, bearing a pot belly, he appeared an unsuspecting instructor. Without wasting a minute, he got us suited up, giving us a crash course on the basics before taking us in the water to test our moxie.

Little did I know that the hardest part of surfing was not the balancing act.  With a little push and the right timing, finding balance on the board took little effort. Half the battle was the paddling back to our starting point, which seemed to take triple the time it took to ride the 3o second wave. Between waves, Brother revealed that he was a former pro-surfer, who used to compete in California. Every once in a while we’d see a sinewy old man skim past us. Brother would give him a shout-out. He told us later that the man, who is in his 80’s, has been around since Brother was a kid, and is still riding the waves in his twilight years. Brother no longer competes. He teaches surfing Monday to Friday, and in between trains his nephew, a former pro-baseball player, to surf. His life is simple, but content.  He beams with pride as he tells me he has repeat customers from Australia who look him up every time they’re back on the island.

No sooner had I stripped off my wet suit, I was already itching to get back on the board. Brother chuckled and said, he’d didn’t know about me, but he’d be having breakfast. He told me I could return after lunch if I really wanted a second go, but his prescription was simply to relax.  If not today, he warned us our arms would be fatigued by tomorrow. Of course he was right. Nonetheless, we found ourselves back a few days later for round two of hang ten the Hawaiian way.

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