Bugaboos 2010

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Homemade Probiotic Ginger Ale

I've got a jar of homemade ginger ale brewing on the kitchen counter! You can't buy this kind of goodness at the store - the stuff in the can is usually made with high fructose corn syrup and doesn't even contain real ginger. The real deal is refreshing, delicious, and healing. It's best taken in small amounts after exercise, for PMS, when you're feeling exhausted or dehydrated, with a spicy meal, or if you think you need to fight off a cold.  

...And let me tell you, I've used this drink for all of these purposes in the past few weeks!

Three years after starting from basically nothing, my music life in Seattle is going full-force. I'm officially not taking on anything else. But, I have to say, I haven't felt this inspired about music in at least eight years! I love it so much it right now. I've got 30 students and my studio has a growing wait-list. Orchestra is fun. My quintet is performing the entire Dvorak A Major Piano Quintet in a few weeks, and rumor has it that a music critic will be reviewing the concert...which is motivating us to practice a lot. Playing chamber music is the best! My music world is expanding in other ways: I was asked to be the violin scheduler for the wonderful Seattle Young Artists Music Festival, which is helping me feel more connected to the amazing music education community we have here in Seattle. It makes me really appreciate this city, despite its lack of good mountain biking trails :) 

In the midst of all the goodness, there is hard stuff too. Overuse injuries, burnout, and perfectionism are always waiting to creep in. Most days, I practice and do admin work in the morning, teach for five hours, cram down some food, and rush off to a late-night rehearsal. All good stuff, but it can be exhausting too. I can't quite kick the nagging soreness in my right wrist. Also, living only for upward mobility and my goals leaves me feeling empty and fatigued. Goals are fine, but I can't live by them! I was going to write more on this, but my pastor said it so well here so I decided to save my fingers the trouble of typing. I need to keep my perspective healthy. I also need 10 hours of sleep some nights and a full day of sabbath rest each week. Outdoor exercise is also a must--I'm mastering the art of the short/hard training ride lately. And, of course, probiotic treats like ginger ale never hurt! :)

Now for the recipe: 

Homemade Probiotic Ginger Ale
adapted from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
makes 2 quarts

  • 3/4 C fresh organic ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 C fresh organic lime juice (about 3 good limes)
  • 1/2 C evaporated cane juice or Sucanat (i.e., organic, less-processed sugar)
  • 1 tsp fine-grain sea salt
  • 1/4 C homemade whey (NOT powdered whey; to make real whey with live cultures, strain high-quality plain yogurt through a tea towel or coffee filter. The resulting liquid is whey.)
  • 2 quarts filtered or boiled water, room temperature (to remove chlorine)

Place all ingredients in a 2-quart mason jar (or, divide equally among two 1-quart jars). Stir well and cover tightly. Leave at room temperature for 2-3 days before transferring to refrigerator. The whey will help ferment the drink, giving it probiotics that amplify the healing properties of ginger. To serve, strain about 4 oz of ginger ale into a glass. It will keep well several months well chilled in the fridge. Note: the flavor can be kind of salty at first. Don't give up! Wait a week for it to age for the best results. The taste improves after a week or so. A 2-quart batch typically lasts me about three weeks and the flavor is always the best toward the end--which is why I always start a new batch as soon as the old one is running low!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Apricot Lentil Soup and Lemon-Spiked Basmati Rice

I have an odd work schedule. I typically practice, study, and do administrative work for a few hours in the morning, take a break midday to exercise and do errands (and blog), then teach from 2:30-7:30. Sometimes I have to go straight to a rehearsal after teaching. All my lessons are back-to-back and one goes straight into the next. Teaching is so fun, but it's also intense and I'm pretty hungry by the end. 

Needless to say, walking into a messy kitchen after teaching and wondering what I am going to make for dinner can result in feelings of existential despair, broken dishes, and grumpiness--all classic symptoms of being "hangry" (hungry+angry). I've been making a serious effort to prep meals ahead of time, have leftovers ready, or at the very least know what I'm going to make for dinner and have the ingredients ready. On that note, here are two great recipes that I made last night. I was too busy to have much prep work done, but at least I was organized beforehand and knew exactly what I was in for. It took about 40 minutes for Jon and me to whip these up. AND the soup was a large enough batch so that I had enough left to freeze two portions and save Jon some for his lunch. 

My mom gave me these recipes as a birthday gift. She bought the nonperishable bulk ingredients, printed up the recipe, and packaged them all together. What a fun present - an invitation to make a nice meal! I'll definitely have to remember that trick.

Apricot-Lentil Soup 

Sounds a bit improbable, but it's delicious!

3 TBSP ghee or other cooking fat
1/2 to 1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/3 to 1/2 C dried apricots
1 1/2 C dried red lentils (sprouted if you want)
5 C chicken stock (homemade!)
1 dry pint organic grape tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin 
fresh or dried thyme
salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste
2 TBSP lemon juice

1. Saute onion until soft, then add apricots. Add garlic for last 30 seconds of saute. Pour in lentils and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

2. Stir in tomatoes and spices. Simmer for 10 more minutes.

3. Prior to serving, stir in lemon juice. It intensifies the flavors. (We did this by the bowl at the table since I knew I'd be re-heating the leftovers at some point.)  Puree the soup with a hand blender and serve. 

Lemon-Spiked Basmati Rice

Sounds good, tastes even better! Don't judge me for eating white rice...all things in moderation :) You could probably use brown rice if you wanted to cook it longer. 

1 C white basmati rice, rinsed and well-drained
3 TBSP butter
1/2 to 3/4 C onion, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
small pinch of cayenne
1 1/2 C water
1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest
2 TBSP cream or whole milk
1 tsp salt
2 TBSP thinly sliced chives (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Place the very well-drained rice in a 1 1/2 quart glass baking dish. 8x8 or so works. 

2. Melt the butter on low heat in your cast iron pan. Add the onion and saute until soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Then, add the cayenne, water, lemon juice, lemon zest, cream, and salt. Bring to a boil. 

3. Stir the mixture into the rice, being sure to scrape up and include all the pan goodies. Seal tightly with foil and bake 20-30 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork before serving, then fold in the optional chives. 

...Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go saute some onions and bison meat so I can make a slow cooker chili. Part of me just wants to lay on the couch with a book and worry about cooking later, but it will be so worth it when I get home at 8:00 tonight. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How to tell that race season is just around the corner

Fun fact: this is my blog's 100th post! Thanks for reading. 

It's almost that time of year...

I was out on Seattle's Burke-Gilman trail the other day, about to head up a giant, mile-long hill that leads to the summit of View Ridge. I love and hate this hill. It's a twisting, gut-wrenching climb, but it has a few flat spots for recovery; plus, it's the most direct way home. It always gives me a run for my money, no matter how fit I am. As I turned onto the climb, I saw a cyclist coming from the opposite direction. I eased into the hill, not wanting to use up all my energy at once. From behind, I heard bike tires on the pavement. The cyclist pulled up beside me, looked over at me, and then passed. The road steepened and I passed him back, slowly cruising by, not intending to compete or anything, just doing my own thing.

On the next flat, the gauntlet was thrown.

He accelerated up to me and attacked, standing up on the pedals to sprint ahead, checking over his shoulder to see how far back I was. Fine, bring it on. I picked it up a bit. My legs were starting to burn. I predicted that he would flag on the next steep part, and sure enough...I went by him again, feeling strong and keeping my effort steady. A burning sensation was creeping through my legs and gut. Breathing was still OK, but holding this pace for the rest of the hill would take me to my limit. We played the game again, him attacking on the next flat and me holding my pace steady. I knew that the final crest of the hill was the steepest and most sustained pitch and measured out my energy so I could be strong all the way to the summit. Sure enough, he faltered again, standing on his pedals and weaving side to side, slowing to a crawl. I made my move and passed him decisively one final time, staying balanced and strong despite the fact that my whole body was now in agony. Victory!

"This is embarrassing, you beating me," the middle-aged cyclist huffed as I ran by him towards the crest of the hill.

"That hill is hard on a bike! I ride it a lot and it kills me every time. Have a good one," I said. I turned onto a side street and dropped my pace to an easy jog, feeling pretty spent from a workout that was probably too hard for my current fitness. Yeah, I was a bit wrecked after that run.


It must be that time of year. I can't resist a little friendly athletic competition, even when I'm out on a cross-training run. Mountain bike race season begins on Sunday, February 16, at Dash Point State Park! I'm training a lot but don't have a super structured training plan this year, since I've made one and abandoned it three years in a row now. I'm tracking what I do, mainly so I can be sure to rest enough and stay balanced. Racing is fun, but I also like to climb and just do long outings on the bike or in the mountains. I definitely rested lots in the fall, so I am re-gaining some fitness and feel motivated by my progress. I'm looking forward to being strong all spring and summer!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

New Year's Check-In

Happy 2014! Let's talk about New Year's Resolutions. I'm a goal-oriented person, so I love them. My 2013 resolution was to get into a PhD program. And I did it: I got in to UT-Austin, one of the world's best PhD programs for music education. I was even going to get paid to go to graduate school! We went for a visit last March and I loved it. All we needed was for Jon to get a postdoc there.

But, as you can probably guess, we didn't move to Texas. Leaving the Northwest and coordinating two full-time academic careers was just too much, given our lifestyle and family priorities. Some academic couples live apart for years, or live between two universities and commute hours daily. No way. Most importantly, I'd be getting my first professorship right around the time we'd hope to start a family. That craziness just isn't for us. Then, Jon's postdoc at the UW took off. Seattle it was.

Over the months that followed, I had some feelings of loss. I'd always envisioned myself getting a PhD and becoming a professor. At times I felt unsure about where it was all going. Yet, looking back, so many good things have come out this. Violin teaching is the job I've loved all along, and it's becoming a career that actually pays well. I've realized that the idea of a "dream job" and "doing what you love" is kind of misleading. Yes, I love what I do, but I'm also cultivating an attitude of contentment. I always idealized academia, but it's probably not as glamorous as I'd imagined. Universities have a lot of politics and I hate politics. And if you do research, you never stop thinking about it - Jon can attest to that. As a violin teacher, I am very independent and self-directed, yet also have a supportive community of colleagues. As far as my love of research and writing goes, I have decided that my curiosity, drivenness, and desire to organize my knowledge will be honored in some form, someday. For now, I'm focusing on building my teaching program into something truly excellent. It's nice to be settling into something.

Also, Jon won't share this publicly, so I'll do it for him: this fall, he won a prestigious NASA postdoc grant to fund his research at the UW for three more years. Only five people per year worldwide receive this award, and he was one of them! Go Jon!

After the PhD fell through, I engaged in some retail/outdoor therapy and got a sweet new mountain bike. I committed to riding it 52 times in the first year. I've done 36 rides already and still have four months left. Hopefully I'll exceed my goal!

24. 10/25/13 Kachess Ridge with Jon. Recovering from major stressful period, needed the solitude and quiet in the wilderness. We did an out and back from the steep side due to reported snow at the pass. Great views of the Stuart Range and golden larches. Was a major hike-a-bike on the way up; best to go up forest road when there isn't snow. Great day. Brakes were acting funny.
25. 11/1/13 Soaring Eagle/Duthie -  Trails dry. Woods beautiful.
26. 11/9/13 Anniversary-of-meeting ride with Jon! 4 hours of riding in the Chuckanuts. So much climbing. Best part was Raptor Ridge. Amazing. I decided to get XT brakes to replace my faulty Magura ones. It was a good choice. I'm much safer and more confident with the better brakes.
27. 11/16/13 Duthie/Grand Ridge. Can I say MEH? Crowds, mud, lame trails...
28. 11/23/13 Soaring Eagle 1-hour loop.
29. 12/6/13 Soaring Eagle - in the cold snap, this place was fun. Trails were firm and fast.
30. 12/11/13 St. Ed's - trail with some road hills thrown in for extra fitness. Better than nothing.
31. 12/15/13 Tolt McDonald Trails - major disappointment, dark, dreary, boring. I think I said something like, "Is this all I get for living in Seattle??!"
32. 12/28/13 Golden Birthday Chuckanut Ride to Lily and Lizard Lakes - fun and beautiful! Some serious climbing and hike-a-bike. Caught a great sunset at the viewpoint after.
33. 12/29/13 Galbraith adventure with Kristen - lots of twisty, technical singletrack. So fun.
34. 1/1/14 Duthie with Cathy - we played on the freeride trails and it was fun! Combined our outing with 1.5 hours of bouldering at SBP. Tired me out!
35. 1/12/14 Duthie/Grand Ridge with Kamila - muddy but fun. Back wheel came loose.
36. 1/18/14 Galbraith with Kristen - great 2.5 hour ride with lots of fun downhills and XC trails.

As for my 2014 resolutions: 1) to keep improving my studio and get my students into a more cohesive program/community.  2) to cultivate the habit of cooking in large batches, freezing leftovers, and prepping meals ahead of time so I don't have to spend more than 20 minutes making dinner when it's 8:30 and I've just taught 9 lessons with no break. So far so good. 3) bike down to Santa Rosa and take my Suzuki Book 7 teacher training July 7-11, if I can get a violin down there.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Golden Birthday

I celebrated my golden birthday! I turned 28 on December 28th. I know I don't have the right to say I'm getting old quite yet, but this is the first birthday where I felt like time was moving by quickly.

I nearly always spend my birthday at my parents' house in Bellingham - still the city where I feel most at home. What a treat it is to spend a week here, visiting my parents, cooking, going for gorgeous bike rides, and reading in front of the fire! After all of the holiday festivities, I'm usually in the mood for a simple day with some outdoor time plus dinner at home with family and a close friend of two. Jon and I did a 3+ hour adventure on bikes in the Chuckanuts. We had never ridden in the southern portion, so we explored the trails to Lily and Lizard Lake. It involved about one and a half hours of climbing steep singletrack. We did all the little loops up there and then bombed down as darkness descended on the forest.

After our ride, we drove up the logging road to the Samish Overlook. It had been foggy all day in the lowlands, but we saw hints of sun in the higher portions of our ride. We were richly rewarded with a beautiful winter sunset. I love sunsets. I've always imagined them as God's living painting, and He made a particularly beautiful one that day. We capped off the day with a delicious dinner cooked by my mom, joined by my best friend Kristen. I feel so thankful to have been born into this life, family, and time in history. What a gift this life is!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Small Moments + House Pictures

Sixteen delicious days of vacation started Friday when my last student walked out the door. Yes, I still get Christmas break! We don't have major plans, but it will be a nice chance to rest and recharge. Which brings me to today's thought: life is made up of small moments, and I've been appreciating them a lot lately. Having a beautiful house to live in really helps. I LOVE home!  I haven't posted many pictures of the house here, as we have been camera-less since the car break-in this summer. I borrowed my mom's point and shoot so you can see how it turned out after all our painting.

Today was Monday. I didn't have any lessons, but wanted to be somewhat productive. The soft, gray light of a December morning woke me up. The paint color we chose looks so inviting in the morning, not quite as gold as the camera shows.

Last night's climbing gym session left me stiff and sore, so I rested while Jon jumped out of bed and began boiling water for oatmeal and coffee. Here's the breakfast nook, again looking more gold than in real life:

Jon was eager to send in his final edits for a hard-won publication, so he zoomed off to UW on his bike right after eating. The house was quiet, save for the furnace. Rain fell outside, but it wasn't an oppressive, low overcast like we'd had the day before. I lingered over the rest of my coffee, reading and looking at the beautiful Christmas tree we got this year. Here's the view of the living room from the table. The house is a 1943 Bolsch-built house and has distinctive archways and some nice built-ins.

After some dishes, vacuuming, and dusting, I headed to the studio. I passed through the Very Blue Hallway, a paint color that I regretted at first but love now. It's like a little bit of summer sky. Oops you can see our dirty ceiling. Oil heat does that.

Every time I walk into my studio, I can't quite believe that I have my own space to teach and play in. It is so inviting!

I spend the first part of every practice playing open strings, immersing myself in the resonant tone of the violin. The sound that captured me twenty years ago still stirs something in me. Scales, exercises, and Kreutzer felt light under my fingers. I worked on memorizing some intermediate student repertoire, then did some deep cleaning on my Dvorak Quintet part. I sat at the piano playing notes for myself and matching them exactly on the violin. Quartet intonation is a beast, but adding a piano to the mix takes it to a whole new level: the intervals are all fixed! Dvorak really likes his modulations, too, and there are some sections in crazy keys like F# major where every note has a sharp. I concluded with a sampling of solo Bach.

As I worked on some writing for a teacher training course, the sky had that raw, blustery look it gets after a storm. Then, the sun came out. On with the spandex! Out the door for a spin to Golden Gardens Park! The ride itself is somewhat tedious, bumpy, stop-and-go, urban bike trail riding with some treacherous train tracks thrown in. But the reward is beautiful: a quiet beach and a full view of the Olympic Mountains and blue ocean. It was a delicious 50 degrees as I soaked in the late afternoon sun. Only two days into the official winter season, and I am already looking forward to spring! Typical.

I rode through the familiar, empty university campus on the way back. Student life feels so distant now. I met Jon at his lab and we rode home together. I saw Jess on the bike trail, then, a few minutes later, Lori rode by. We made a quick stop at Bill the Butcher (the only meat to eat!), then slogged uphill to home in the fading daylight. We've both had a bit too much sugar and starch lately, and were really feeling it. Time for something ultra-nourishing! I made sesame kale chips, roasted squash seeds, delicatta squash, and a simple vegetable soup with a rich chicken stock base. Here's the kitchen, quite a cheery little place:

Each bite felt good. I could practically feel my body thanking me. After a dessert of pear, gruyere cheese, and roasted squash seeds, we went to Nate and Val's house for a bit. Our day concluded peacefully with books and Christmas music. I'm grateful for every small moment of this lovely, perfect day, December 23, 2013. I'm looking forward to savoring every moment of this holiday season--and the New Year, too. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Economics of Homemade Larabars

I've eaten a lot of energy bars in my time outdoors. However, most energy bars contain heaps of ingredients I'd prefer not to eat--not just for health reasons, but also for my athletic performance. Bars made with a lot of sugars, soy, and synthetic proteins don't sit as well and put me at risk for blood sugar crashes, something I really need to avoid during races and mountaineering trips. 

I first tried LaraBars at Folklife in 2010, at a table full of free samples. I don't remember liking them that much. I still liked my synthetic and grainy energy bars. But, as I transitioned to a more "real food" diet, I realized that my outdoor nutrition needed a makeover. So, I returned to Lara Bars last year, since they have only 3-4 ingredients. Now, I love most of their flavors! I think my tastes and cravings have changed along with my diet. 

Lara Bars are great, but they come at a price. When summer arrived and our biking/climbing activity spiked, we wanted to see if we could make our own for less. There are lots of recipes for homemade Lara bars online. Essentially you puree some dried fruit and nuts, knead them into dough, press them into a pan, refrigerate/freeze to set, then chop into bars. This is one good recipe with great details and photos. And here is another one.

Here is the recipe I used today:

3 cups of Trader Joe's Almond Meal
4 cups of dried fruit: about 75% pitted dates and 25% dried cherries
pinch salt
1/2 C unsweetened shredded coconut
  • Line an 8x8 glass pan with parchment paper.
  • Grind the almonds. Or, in my case, don't. I'm an expedient cook whenever possible. Using almond meal saves my small food processor from overheating and shortens preparation time. 
  • Soak the fruit in hot water for 10 minutes until it is soft, drain the water, and puree in the food processor. The extra bit of water from the soaking really helps get an even puree. I got impatient, so I put the bowl of water and fruit in the microwave for 30 seconds (anti-microwave people, avert your eyes!). It had the same effect as a 10-minute soak.  
  • Then, take your (clean) hands and knead it all together in a bowl. Once it is blended, press into the baking dish. Freeze for 20 minutes to set. Use a sharp knife to cut into squares or bars. Wrap individually in foil, or store in the fridge and package them as you go. 

The cost-benefit analysis:

Retail prices of Lara Bars in Seattle as of summer/fall 2013:
$1.59 - single 1.6 oz bar, PCC; $15.90/lb
$1.49 - single 1.6 oz bar, QFC; $14.90/lb
$19.99 - box of 16,; $12.50/lb
$18.00 - box of 18, Costco; $10.00/lb
$5.99 - box of 10, Grocery Outlet; $5.99/lb unfortunately they were stale and tasted bad.

Costs of bulk ingredients at Trader Joe's:
1 lb almond meal: $4.99/lb or $0.31/oz
1 lb apricots: $2.99/lb or $0.19/oz
1 lb dates: $4.99/lb or $0.31/oz 

Total cost of 3 lb raw ingredients was $13, or $4.33/lb.

Cost for the batch I made today:
2 C almond meal: about 3/5 of the package, or $3 worth
1 lb dates, about $5 worth
4 oz dried cherries, about $2.00 worth
1/2 C coconut was probably about $0.50.

So, today, for $10.50, I made about 2 lb of Larabars. That's about $5.50/lb, give or take. Cherries were an expensive treat that I got in honor of Jon recently receiving a 3-year NASA grant to use at the UW. Other dried fruits like cranberries and apricots provide flavorful tartness at a lower price. If I had a Costco membership, I think I could get a lower price on the dates, but the nearest Costco is a longer drive and you have to pay to join. Yep, there's always a tradeoff!

Overall, making your own bars is one-third to one-half the cost of buying them. It is a bit of a project, probably taking 30-60 minutes per batch if you factor in all the clean-up. We also overheated our little food processor while pureeing the dried fruit the first time around. The microwave trick really worked and resulted in better texture. Another downside is that homemade bars have less of a shelf life and wrapping them individually is tedious. We have to be more careful when throwing them into bike jersey pockets and backpacks because they're more squishable. Also, they are so delicious and since they are homemade, I feel like I have a license to eat them anytime I want to! I'm much more stingy with the pricey store-bought LaraBars. 

Bottom line? Eating real food always costs a bit more time or money, but it's soooo worth it!