Bugaboos 2010

Monday, June 09, 2014

Summer Vanilla+ Pudding

Summer has arrived! What a relief. As great as this year was, it also brought some major stresses, late nights, and unwanted big-ticket expenses. Things finally seem to be calming down. I'm recovered from the pneumonia and we're getting into the mountains every weekend. Music has dialed back a lot, too. I am really enjoying a bit of open time and space in my life.

To celebrate, here's a quick recipe for a refreshing summer dessert that goes well with all the wonderful fruit that's in season now. I took my favorite chocolate pudding recipe, removed the chocolate, and added some nice touches. I'm calling it Vanilla + pudding because it's got a wonderful blend of flavors, much more nuanced than your average vanilla pudding! Enjoy.

1/6 to 1/4 C corn starch*
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 C evaporated cane juice (sugar)**
1 tsp cinnamon
2 3/4 C whole milk (preferably that yummy non-homogenized grassfed stuff)
1 TBSP vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 TBSP butter
1 ripe banana
flaked coconut for garnish
fresh raspberries or other fruit for garnish

Before making, assemble all your ingredients, 6 custard bowls, and slice up a banana into medium-thin rounds.

Sift corn starch, salt, sugar, and cinnamon into milk. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat this mixture gently over a medium heat, stirring regularly with a whisk. 

When the pudding gets hot and starts to steam, it will begin to thicken and stick to the back of a spoon or whisk. Keep stirring as it thickens, but don't let it boil.  Remove from heat. Add butter, vanilla, and almond extract. Once the butter is melted, stir it all together. 

Put a banana slice or two into the bottom of each bowl. Pour the hot pudding into the bowls. Add another banana slice or two to the top. The banana will soften just enough to be delicious but not soggy. Sprinkle the top with coconut flakes. 

Let cool at room temperature until no longer hot, then refrigerate 4-6 hours. The flavors in this pudding are subtle and while it's delicious warm, you'll have the most flavor when it's had a chance to chill and flavor. It's fabulous with fresh raspberries. 

*Corn starch is probably not the healthiest thickener: processed, GMO, etc. Egg yolks are a great thickener for pudding, and there are many recipes that explain how to use them. However, I spend hours cooking already and dealing with eggs is the last thing I want to do when making an "easy" dessert. I figure that if we eat clean/organic 90% of the time, that's good enough! Bob's Red Mill cornstarch is great, but tends to be stronger than more conventional brands, so use a bit less. 

**Jon and I rarely have sweets, so we've sort of lost our taste for sugar. With 1/2 C sugar, this recipe is sweet but not overwhelming. I thought I'd like it less sweet, so I tried it again with only 1/4 C sugar, but the pudding didn't set as well - it was a little runnier but still definitely still "pudding." Both tasted great. 

Friday, May 09, 2014

Pneumonia Derails the MTB project

It's the night before Stottlemeyer, a big 30/60 mile mountain bike race that I look forward to every year. But, instead of packing my biking backpack with Shot Bloks and bars, I'm still convalescing.

The pneumonia is going away, slowly. My fever went away after two doses of antibiotics. I can teach lessons, go for walks, and keep up with housework, so that's good. But I need 1-2 naps per day. I get a little out of breath walking uphill. I can almost take a full breath now, but my lungs still feel crackly. I plan to be VERY cautious with returning to exercise. You can do serious damage by trying to push through pneumonia. Sick people are called patients for a reason. You have to be patient.

In other news, today is my mountain bike's first birthday! It's time to make my final report on my "Mountain Bike Project." My goal was to ride my new bike 50 times in the first year of owning it. Well, I didn't quite get to 50, but I have some pretty good excuses (the rainiest March on record and pneumonia). But I had some really fun rides in the past year. My technical skills improved a lot and I saw some beautiful places. The best rides were Cutthroat Pass and the Chuckanut Enduro. The most disappointing ones were when I tried new areas near Seattle like Tolt, hoping to finally discover some good riding around here. Nope. The riding near Seattle is not so great, and involves driving 40-60 minutes each way, often through random, unpredictable traffic. The commute really deters me from riding because it takes away a lot of the fun. Maybe someday Jon will get a job in a small outdoors city that has easy access to open space and the outdoors. Until then, mountain biking will be more of a weekend/destination activity, a rare treat. Sigh. Cities: horrible, confining, traffic-ridden things.

Here are the rest of the rides, for what it's worth. I'm looking forward to getting back on the bike this summer!

38. 2/2/14 Team ride at Dash Point to practice for an upcoming race.
39. 2/6/14 St. Edward's ride with some road hills thrown in.
40. 2/8/14 Tapeworm trails. Pretty fun, but a very small area. Probably shouldn't have gone mountain biking, as I had a student recital that night and it ended up being just too much for one day.
41. 2/16/14 Dash Point Race. Went out hard, blew up, finished the race. Felt really nauseated during race. Oops..
42. 3/14/14 Chuckanut Ride! Hard and fun!
43. 3/23/14 easy St Ed's Ride on a sunny day.
44. 4/30/14 I took my mountain bike for a VERY slow lap around the block, helmetless. I had a 102 fever. What can I say, it was 80 degrees and sunny that day and my facebook newsfeed was filled with pictures of happy bikers. I had to at least pedal a few circles!

Friday, May 02, 2014

I got what?!

Ten days ago, shortly after returning from Red Rocks, I came home exhausted from a long day of work. I couldn't get warm. "I really miss the desert heat," I thought. When a sweatshirt and blanket didn't work, I took a triple dose of cod liver oil and collapsed into bed.

It was all downhill from there.

For the next week, I had a fairly high fever that came and went throughout the day. I had a bad headache and couldn't turn my head or lean over without a lot pain. I also couldn't take a full breath without coughing. I cancelled all my lessons for the first few days of the illness and was able to Skype or re-schedule them after that.

I let the fever burn and used every home remedy I knew, but nothing really helped. I also felt pretty sad and hopeless. Saturday, Jon went climbing and left me alone. I felt very isolated, but also didn't really want to see anyone--or make them sick.  Every show I watched on Netflix made me cry. I also felt really homesick for Whatcom County. I despaired over my career's lack of sick pay and benefits in general. Basically, I was a mess.

After one week, I was more clear-headed and didn't need to sleep all the time. It seemed like I should start getting better. But the fever kept spiking every afternoon, and I had some tightness and congestion in my chest that wasn't going anywhere. Then, the coughing started. I'd wake up coughing and soaked in sweat, unable to stop. Poor Jon got woken up too, but thankfully he hasn't gotten sick. I stayed up for the better part of several nights, breathing steam, drinking tea, and coughing. From 1-3 AM one night, I finally figured out our new health and found a great-sounding new doctor. I see her next Tuesday!

However, not sleeping wasn't good for recovery. To make matters worse, my appetite went from low to zero. I've lost seven pounds in ten days, so far. My body was struggling. Something just wasn't quite right.

Yesterday morning, I'd just had it. I hadn't eaten or slept, and my fever had spiked to the highest yet at 4 AM that morning (102.8 degrees). I went to urgent care. Naturally, when I got there, I wasn't feeling too bad, and when they took my temperature, it was a prim and proper 98.6 degrees. Of course! I felt a little silly for going in there, but was just so tired of being sick that I would have happily paid for a doctor to pat me on the back, tell me I'd be fine soon, and send me home.

I got excellent care there. They listened to my breathing, gave me some medicated steam to inhale for ten minutes, did a chest X-ray, and tested how hard I could exhale. Then the doctor came back into my room and said, "I have good news and bad news. The good news is that we know what's wrong with you. The bad news is that it's pneumonia."


Yep. I was actually not too surprised. I am normally able to get better pretty quickly. My body was doing everything it could to fight it, but it wasn't enough. I saw the X-ray myself. One lung had a sizable growth of pneumonia in the bottom - not a severe case yet, but definitely there.

Bring on the inhaler and antibiotics! Wait, you may ask. You most likely had the flu (a virus), so will antibiotics even work? I tried to ask my doctor about this but I was pretty out of it by that point and she assured me that it was bacterial and antibiotics were the right choice. I did believe her, but was still curious. My sister, a med student, helped out by explaining it further. She said there is such a thing as viral pneumonia, but it wouldn't show up on an x-ray. Texting Dr. Amy is much better than consulting Dr. Google. She is well on her way to being an awesome doctor :)

So yes, antibiotics. I'm very against the overuse of antibiotics, but they are miraculous when you actually need them. I've taken four of the twenty pills and feel MUCH better already. My appetite is returning slowly, the doctor said I can go back to teaching, and most importantly I feel alive and optimistic again! Whether I can sleep without coughing tonight remains to be seen. I'm dreading going to bed a little because the last few nights have been awful and my chest is still congested. But I WILL recover and soon this will be in the past.

Moral of the story: health is gift.

Moral #2 of the story: if you think you need to see a doctor, just do it. Had I waited, I'd have only gotten worse.

Moral #3 of the story: This experience made me incredibly grateful for the generous health insurance plan I have through Jon. I'm also thankful for the amazing doctors and nurses who are here to serve us. Yet, I feel sad that, in this country, the career path you choose determines whether or not you will have good health coverage. I've got as much, if not more, training than many professionals do. I'm also successful and hard-working. But since I decided to become a violin teacher, not a programmer, lawyer, public school teacher, nurse, etc...I'd be really limited if I needed to buy my own health plan. Thankfully, I don't have to find out what that's like as long as Jon has a job. But I do feel more awareness and empathy for others who work hard, don't make much, and therefore don't have the luxury of a great insurance plan. Usually, people in those types of jobs don't get sick pay and have high deductibles. It's good that we are making steps to take away some of the injustice in our country's health insurance system, but we have a long way to go.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Red Rocks Recap

Jon and I went to Red Rocks for spring break this April, five years after our first trip there together in 2009. I've experienced a renewed interest in climbing this year. Climbing feels like freedom! Leading feels good and I'm feeling more and more confident climbing above my gear. Jon and I want to climb as many great routes together as we can before kids come along in a few years, because once we have a family it will be much harder to get out on long routes.

During our Red Rocks trip, we enjoyed living outside and watching the sun and moon travel across the sky. Crisp, refreshing mornings turned into lizard-hot days. The grippy, featured sandstone seems to be made for human hands. For ten days, work, email, and the evil phrase "makeup lesson" didn't exist. We got to see Jon's dad, who is retired and lives in his RV full-time. He met us there to camp out together. Unfortunately, he had some painful back issues and couldn't hike with us as planned, but we were able to help him get some medical care and move to an RV park so he could recover without having to move camp or do any heavy lifting.

Here's a quick recap of our climbing days.

Day 1: Evening cragging at Panty Wall (5.8 and 5.9 sport climbs). All the climbs were sort of the same, but it was fun. Two other parties were there, both from Seattle. Over the week, 75% of the climbers we met were from Seattle.

Day 2: Dark Shadows (4 p, 5.8); Chasing Shadows (1 bonus 5.8+ pitch); Birdland (5 p, 5.7+). Fun to do all these climbs in one day, and we also got shade on all the routes! We couldn't believe how good the climbing was. Starting Birdland at 2 PM was a smart move, because everyone was done and it got shade around 2:30.

Day 3: Necromancer Wall: 3-pitch 5.8 route, Sensuous Mortician (scary 5.9+ pitch, 20 foot run-outs above small nuts; Jon led that and called it "character building.")

Day 5: Crimson Chrysalis (9 p, 5.8+ ultra classic). Awesome 1000' route up a very steep pillar. It was vertical to overhanging the entire time, but the rock had so many holds on it that it climbed quite reasonably. I led half the pitches and felt great on lead. Hanging belays every pitch wore out my achilles tendons! Only two other parties on route, both from Washington. Amazing day!

Day 6: shady afternoon sport climbing in Calico Hills area (5.9 to 5.10c). I took some good lead falls on a 10c roof, climbing hard until I fell and not wavering when I started to get pumped. "Climb until you fall or send."

Day 8: Sour Mash (7 p, 5.10a). A great route, pretty sustained. All pitches except the first pitch were spectacular. The 5.9+ felt like the hardest pitch. I am always leery of pitches rated 5.9+. It seems like a dishonest/sandbagged rating! Only one other party on route, two hilarious guys from Vancouver who climbed up after us.

Red Rocks is truly a gem and we'll be back soon. Sadly, there are no pictures to share. We still don't have a camera after ours was stolen last summer in a car break-in. We want a small, mirror-less interchangeable lens camera so we can get amazing pictures without the bulk of an SLR, but our budget hasn't allowed it so far. I was longing for a camera the entire time. The desert there is so full of life in the spring and everything was incredibly beautiful!

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!