Friday, September 28, 2012

Best of the Week #77

Tomorrow morning at the crack of waaaaay before dawn, I’m going HOME!!!! I am so excited I can barely contain myself for the following reasons:
  • I haven’t been home since Christmas.
  • Lake Tahoe.
  • The Pacific Ocean.
  • Real donuts.
  • Running the trails at Mt. Tam.
  • Good Mexican food.
  • My family (well duh).
  • And oh, the whole reason for this visit – Sister1 is quite literally about to have a baby!!!! (It was “supposed” to happen last week and we are all impatiently awaiting the first arrival of the next generation of my family!
It’ll be a whole week of glorious NorCal time for me and in case you can’t tell, I’m EXCITED.

On the blogging front, my most popular post this week was my Ragnar Relay Race Report. Because our team was AWESOME. For a while there (i.e. all day Monday), we thought we won and got really excited. I told all my friends, and many asked “So what do you win?” The only answer I had was “Umm the glorious knowledge that we are WINNERS.”

But then some bad(ish) news came – Ragnar had made a mistake and we actually got second place. Still not too shabby for a supposedly non-competitive team! So I (i.e. my super-duper-awesome friend/boss) made these certificates to commemorate our achievement. YES.

On the real work front, this report has been my week and I’m rather proud. And the accompanying press release and blog post…because why not do all the things myself?

Ok and now the silliness begins! These are always funny to me:

This New World infographic came out on Sunday, and was followed by this very interesting blog post on Wednesday.

  • However, since the trades of which I am jack (no, that makes little sense to me as well) are secession and irredentism – the fission and fusion of countries* — I can make some general comments and then skip through the cases briefly. First, secession is damned hard: countries resist losing pieces of themselves (see Monica Toft‘s work). There are many lessons to draw from South Sudan, but one of them is secession takes decades — six of them or so, and South Sudan is hardly swell today.
Speaking of Ragnar (as I have been all week), “10 Reasons Running Ragnar is Better Than Dating.”
  • #7 Vans Aren't Creepy 
  • Try picking up a girl for a first date in a van and chances are you'll cause her to run a 10k PR just trying to get away from you. Ragnar makes vans less creepy. Even the ones that have "Free Candy and Puppies Inside" get a measure of respect.
  • #3 You REALLY Get to Know The People You're Sleeping With
  • No more guessing about the "history" of your bed mates. No more thinking...what is that thing on her leg, or that thing he does with his nose? 24 hours (plus a few more if you're not the fastest) and you REALLY get to know your fellow Ranar-ians. Everything from their childhood to (and hopefully not really) their digestive issues.  This might not be a necessary positive unless you like digestion.
  • #1 You Always Get to Run Away
  • On a first date the running away is optional (less so when getting married), at a Ragnar Relay it's the only way to go!
"Listen to ‘Moby-Dick’ as Read by Tilda Swinton, John Waters, David Cameron, and More."
  • Moby-Dick is without a doubt one of the greatest works of American literature — but, being intimidatingly long and detailed, it is not read as widely as it should be. 
  • For the project, famous figures like Tilda Swinton, John Waters, China Miéville, Benedict Cumberbatch and even UK Prime Minister David Cameron will read sections of the novel aloud to be posted online, creating a delightfully patchwork audiobook. The project will post one new chapter per day — so welcome to your new morning ritual for the next 135 days — along with complementary artwork from a variety of contemporary artists. 
Umm hello yes please right now. “Pumpkin Crème Brulee.”

  • Sweaters, stretchy pants, pumpkin scented candles and pot pies. Bring it on.  I see your seasonal change and I raise you a glass of cider.
Nerd alert: “Bigger Cities, Smaller Screens: Urbanization, Mobile Phones, and Digital Media Trends in Africa.”
  • Perhaps most dramatic, cellphones and other mobile devices, already widespread, are becoming a nearly universal platform, not only for telephony but also for audio and video information and entertainment. This offers a fundamentally different “media” experience and has already led to an entirely new and largely unrecognized class of independent media–some newly created channels for international broadcasters–serving the African continent. This report traces the dramatic spread of mobile telephony in Africa and examines how this is affecting the news media landscape on the continent.
This cartoon of a man and his dog is adorable and hilarious. Go to the site and read them all.

Unexpected but excellent re: Libya:
  • Exasperated by the interim government’s failure to curb the militia brigades, thousands of civilians swarmed into the headquarters of several of them in Benghazi on Friday and forced their fighters to scatter — in effect, an angry mob demanding law and order. (source)
Henry David Thoreau the runner?
  • “All endeavor calls for the ability to tramp the last mile, shape the last plan, endure the last hour’s toil. The fight to the finish spirit is the one… characteristic we must posses if we are to face the future as finishers.” (source)
I love the Honest Toddler:
  • Tacos in a Mason Jar
  • What type of tomfoolery is this.  ————————->
  • I suppose come dinner time you just throw it against a wall and try to find meat amongst the shards. You’ll need long pants and gloves for this adventure.
  • Someone said to themselves, “Tacos would be perfect if we just replaced the shell with glass.”
  • It already has 11 repins so that means 11 families are in the emergency room.
I don’t entirely understand how this works…but I want to know more! “A Cookie Coffee Cup That’s Easy To Recycle: Just Eat It.”

  • "The cookie cup is made of pastry that is covered with a special icing sugar that works as an insulator making the cup waterproof and sweetening at the same time,"
"11 Things You Should Know About Living In Boston."
  • 3. Give Allston a chance. -- This place is generally regarded as a craphole, but I lived in Allston for years and I loved it. You know the Austin, TX saying “Keep Austin Weird?” I once saw graffiti on a wall that said “Keep Allston Shitty.” The rent there is cheap. (I had a huge house with two other people for less than $1,500.) The bars are great. (Check out Model Cafe and the Silhouette.) And the house parties do not stop. (They really don’t.) Allston also has nice thrift stores, good restaurants (Sunset Grill and Tap has over 400 types of beer! Bagel Rising is delicious and hipster!), and fun music venues. Actually, don’t go to Allston. Keep it for the dedicated, proud few.
  • 10. The Fens is where gay prostitution happens. Now you know. -- It’s like the Elephant Graveyard. You are never to go there, Simba. [Editor’s Note: I DID NOT KNOW THIS. My team used to run there!!!]
You’ve probably already seen this, but it’s still hilarious.

Hope you have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Four Firemen Save Me From Roasted Garlic

Last night I got home from yoga and started cooking dinner (like you do). I was making a recipe that required roasting garlic, which takes waaaaay more time than my post-yoga hunger would allow, so I decided to try something new (mistake #1) and took my advice from the internet (mistake #2).

In my defense, I’ve seen quite a few recipes online for roasting garlic in the microwave. It takes an eighth of the time, and allegedly works. So I pulled out my Mini MacBook (yes, it is still 2005 in my life), googled “roasting garlic in the microwave” and was off to the proverbial races!

I followed the recipe exactly – garlic, olive oil, water, covered microwave-safe container, 7 minutes.

All was going well until about 6 minutes in smoke started pouring from the vents on the side of the microwave. Uhoh!  I stopped it immediately and opened the window. Don’t worry Kate! I’ve got this under control! I called to my roommate.

And then the alarm went off. We have some sort of fancy alarm/security system that requires a passcode to make it stop (I’ve set off the “security” part before when I opened our front window). Obviously, we had no idea what the passcode was.

I frantically flailed a Runner’s World in an attempt to fan the smoke out the window, while SpeedyKate ransacked her room in search of our passcode. She finally found it and sprinted up the stairs shouting XXXX! XXXX! 

Alarm disabled, we settled into a moment of silence...until my phone started ringing. It was a call from the alarm system company --  Hello? Yes. Yes, sorry everything is fine. You’re sending a firetruck????? Oh no! I’m SO sorry! That’s really not necessary! Can you make it stop???

Apparently the answer is no. We heard the sirens approaching and collapsed into a fit of incredulous giggles. Is this seriously happening right now?

We met the firemen outside.

Everything’s fine! Really! Sorry you had to come out!

But firemen take these things seriously (as they should). I smell smoke. We need to come in and check this out. 

Umm ok Mr. Serious-face. I explained my cooking disaster as we walked into my apartment, and by the end (once they’d confirmed that we’d opened the window, and in fact are not arsonists), all four firemen were laughing at our pajama-clad panic.

Just call us when the food's done. We'll come over for dinner! they said. Umm really??? Do you smell what I just “cooked”???

Lessons learned:
  1. Next time roast garlic in the oven like a normal person.
  2. Know the passcode. 
  3. Firemen are amused when you take pictures of them.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mollie: By the Book

The NYT’s By the Book column regularly interviews people of interest about their reading. I may not be a person of interest in any grand sense, but in the context of Eat Run Read, clearly I’m the central character! So here’s my interview.

More importantly, I would like to commandeer their idea and make this a semi-regular Eat Run Read series. Any readers out there interested in being interviewed and featured here? If so, email me:

What book is on your night stand now? 
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Well, actually, it's in my purse right books tend to travel with me through the day.

What was the last truly great book you read? 
Ooooh, I’m still totally taken by The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I also keep recommending The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. And Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese was soooo good too! (Clearly I’m not good at picking just one.)

Any literary genre you simply can’t be bothered with? 
Mystery. I know people like mysteries because they like trying to figure it all out before the end. I just get impatient and want to finish the book asap so I know all the answers.

A young, aspiring Africa/conflict/international relations worker [insert career of choice] wants your advice on what to read. What books do you suggest? 
Dancing in the Glory of Monsters by Jason Stearns  (nonfiction, everything you need to know about conflict in the Congo, plus it’s really interesting and well-written)
Little Bee by Chris Cleave (fiction, this will break your heart and remind you why your work could matter)

What’s your favorite Shakespeare? 
I think I’ve only read Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth and King Lear. I’ve seen most of the plays though – most recently "Two Gentleman of Verona."

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be? 
I actually don’t have a very good answer…possibly All the Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren because it is about the corrosiveness of power and how dirty politicians are created by the system.

What was the last book that made you cry? 
Hmmm it’s been a while. I think the last time was in January reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog – this part:
"They didn't recognize me," I say. I came to a halt in the middle of the sidewalk, complete flabbergasted. "They didn't recognize me," I repeat. He stops in turn, my hand still on his arm. "It is because they have never seen you," he says.  "I would recognize you anywhere." (Renée and Mr. Ozu)

The last book that made you laugh? 
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Faidman. It’s a serious non-fiction book, but some of the ridiculous parallels between the Hmong refugee experience and my own work with refugees really hit home.

The last book that made you furious? 
This is a hard one. Probably Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, I mean, how could a book that is essentially an ode to a pedophile not make you mad?

Name a book you just couldn’t finish. 
Nothing recently – I wish I’d stopped The Fountainhead but I didn’t.  (The whole semi-masochistic endurance athlete thing  tends to carry over to my reading…I will power though anything.)

What were your favorite books as a child? Did you have a favorite character or hero? 
Well my Young Adult Fiction Challenge kind of addresses this. "Child" is different from YA though, I especially remember loving (and reading MANY times) Quest for a Maid by Frances Mary Hendry. And literally everything  by Marguerite Henry – Black Gold and Hold the Rein Free were my favorites.

What’s the best book your mother ever gave you to read? 
This is hard to answer because my mama gives me most of the books I read. When I was 14 she handed me Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, which I LOVED (I think she forgot about the sex scenes, which were semi-scandalous to 14-year-old me.)

If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know? 
This is too hard. I can’t. I guess Shakespeare and I’d want to know if he actually wrote all the plays. Or maybe Jane Austin because as a woman author in the 1800s she was kind of a bad-ass. Actually, I take it all back, I'd meet Roald Dahl so he could tell me stories about his amazing life in person!

Have you ever written to an author? Did he or she write back? 
Yep. Marguerite Henry. No response. :(

You’re organizing a literary dinner party and inviting three writers. Who’s on the list? 
Azar Nafisi, Barbara Kingsolver, and Irene Nemerovsky. All women because I think women tend to be more readily open to discussions. They’re Iranian, American, and French/Jewish, and all from different(ish) times. They all seem interesting and interested and I imagine their conversation would be fascinating.

What’s the best movie based on a book you’ve seen recently? 
Hunger Games. Sorry I’m not sorry.

What are you going to read next?
I don’t know…maybe Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. It was my book club's book this month and I just didn't get to it. But I’m going home on Saturday, so hopefully the fam has some good books to send me back with.

Again, email me if you're interested in participating in By the Book!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Toki Underground

One of my friends has been talking up Toki Underground for months, and last night we finally went. (The delay was much more my fault than his – I am seriously dissuaded by the prospect of a loooong wait when I’m hungry for dinner.)

On a Monday night, however, the wait for this 25-seat very popular restaurant was “only” 45 minutes, and I’m happy to report that it was a meal worth waiting for.

Toki Underground (which, ironically, is not underground) is famous for its Taiwanese-style ramen, but this isn’t your cup o’noodles sort of ramen noodles. Usually I’m not much of a noodles and broth person (when it comes to Asian, I prefer a rice base), but this broth is like a meal in and of itself. It’s made with pork bones and various other mystery ingredients (maybe peaches?), takes over 24 hours to cook, and is rich and delicious.

We split two orders of dumplings – chicken (deep-fried), and seafood (steamed). I preferred the seafood steamed, but honestly, LLC’s dumplings are better. But Toki's are definitely good, and the teriyaki sauce they comes with is great.

As a Toki newbie, I went with the Toki Hakata Classic ramen with no add-ons. The ramen comes with the aforementioned delicious broth, noodles (obviously), pork loin (like a pulled pork), some sort of greens, a sheet of nori (seaweed), scallions, and a soft-boiled egg (which is very soft – if runny egg isn’t your jam then ask for ramen sans egg or give yours to a friend). Also, I highly recommend the “endorphin sauce,” which is like the awesomest sriracha ever. I poured all of mine into my ramen which I do not regret at all, but know that it is hot.

I was warned that the portions would be so big that I couldn’t possibly finish it all, but Umm hello have you met me? Obviously I did. I mean, it’s a big bowl of mostly delicious broth, so actually I left satisfied but not overly full, and very well-hydrated.

At $10 a bowl this is the cheapest delicious meal ever. I will be braving the long wait to return because I want to try all of the things!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Ragnar Relay Race Report

BREAKING NEWS UPDATE (9/24): We won the open mixed category!!! GO FISH!!! (results)
BREAKING NEWS UPDATE (9/25): Ragnar made a mistake in the original results -- we did not win, but we did get second place! (updated results)

Once upon a time, (i.e. on Saturday afternoon) a group of 12 very stinky, sore, and semi-delirious exhausted runners crossed a finish line after running 197 miles over the course of 24 hours. How did they get there? Well let me tell you...

Our Ragnar Relay team (“Go Fish”) was made of a random assortment of loosely connected individuals (friends of friends of friends of co-workers, etc.). Some of the team members were good runners (i.e. SpeedyKate), some were experienced relay runners (I've done a couple myself), some were other kinds of impressive athletes, and at least one person was doing her first running event ever!

On Friday morning we rented big black Secret Service-esque SUVs and drove to the starting line in Cumberland, Maryland.

The Ragnar Relay course is made up of 36 legs of varying distances and degrees of difficulty, and each team has 12 runners. Two vehicles alternate running/supporting and resting. I was the last runner in Van 1, which meant that the five others in my van ran their legs, then I did mine and passed off the team slap-bracelet (our "baton") to SpeedyKate, who was the first runner in Van 2. Each vehicle operates pretty much independently -- the only times I saw SpeedyKate were as she started her runs.

At the beginning of this venture I didn't know anyone in my van (we were all assigned legs by the team captain, who I also didn't know). But after spending approximately 30 hours together with minimal sleeping, some running, and a lot of very close very smelly togetherness I can tell you that we are now all FRIENDS and luckily they were super-fun. 

Over 300 teams participated in this 2-day o'crazy. We started towards the end of the staggered (by projected time) start -- not until 12 noon on Friday. As the sixth runner, I didn't start my first leg until around 4 pm. I got in the team spirit, got kind of excited (ooh! running! team sports! yay!), and raced it. The 6-mile “very hard” rated route had some uphills, and a lot of very steep downhills (net elevation change of -675 feet).  

On the Western Maryland front, I think we can all agree to forget "Fatti Maschii Parole Femine" (which is Italian for "Strong deeds, gentle words") -- the state's motto should be "freaking hillier than expected" (which is Ragnar runner for "WHAT THE WHAT!?!").

I only saw and passed (i.e. “killed”) one person, but finished in 38:48, about 6:28 pace. 

As Van 2 took over, my van drove to the next major exchange at a high school. Sleeping bags filled with napping runners were randomly dispersed throughout the grass, and after a shower in the high school locker room (ick, but at the same time, so good), and a pasta dinner from the cafeteria (again, ick, but at the same time, so good), we lay down to try to get some rest before it was time to run again. 

After a couple hours of downtime, part 2 commenced! Van 2 had logged an impressive "kill count" by the time they reached us and were clearly ready for some food and showers themselves. Our first glowing-vest-clad runner took off into the night around 10 pm ('s all kind of a blur) and we started the whole operation again. 

The nighttime legs were kind of surreal. It was completely dark (head lamps necessary), and the roads were empty except for the assorted runners plodding along the shoulder.

My second leg started around 1:30 am. It was only 3.5 miles, but was incredibly hilly and difficult. I only saw/killed three runners along the way -- the rest of it I was allllllll alone. I went into a bit of a headlamp-lighted nighttime trance, with late night noises (crickets, other bugs, who knows what else…) echoing in my ears, and absolutely nothing but darkness in front of me. Every time I looked up my headlamp illuminated one very steep hill ahead. But once I peaked my personal mountain at about 2.5 miles, it was all downhill from there. I flew through the night (mostly because my quads no longer had the strength/ability to brake), praying that I wouldn’t lose control and tumble all the way to the bottom. 

After 28:20 of absolute quiet besides the sound of my own heavy breathing, the exchange area was completely overwhelming. Luckily SpeedyKate was there waiting, jumping up and down and cheering me to the end. I passed off the bracelet, shouted a GO KATE GO! and wandered off into the crowds (lost-face out in full force) to find the rest of my van. 

Something very strange happens when it's the middle of the night and you've been running on and off for many hours. Basically, things stop needing to make sense and everything is funny. Did you just cheer for that random runner in a Jamaican accent? Is it 2am? Are we at a dairy? Did I just run the most difficult 3.5 miles up-and-down of my life and then eat two scoops of ice cream? Maybe...

Our van drove ahead to the next major exchange to catch a few much-needed z's while Van 2 took over. We passed out on another random grassy field under the stars. It was the best 2-hour sleep ever -- that is, until we had to get up, and felt the full force of our achievements in the form of a lactic-acid takeover of our legs. Aaarrrggguuuhhhhh.  

At about 7:30 we started all over again on our last legs of the race. Most peoples’ last runs were relatively short -- 4 to 5 miles -- I however, had an 8.5 mile final run. The preceding day's extreme hills had definitely caught up to me and my legs felt tight and dead. Again? Running? REALLY? Ok...

But the weather continued to be perfect and the course through Rock Creek Park and along the Capital Crescent Trail was very nice. Over the 61 minutes the run took me, I killed a whopping 20 Ragnar runners, so I finished exhausted but rather pleased with myself. I was also incredibly pleased to be done. 

(The best thing about this picture is NOT me and SpeedyKate.)

We drove (i.e. David drove because he is awesome) to the finish line at National Harbor, and on the way finished off some of our many many snacks (we were well-equipped with Wheat Thins, bagels, string cheese, peanut butter, nutella, and Swedish Fish -- that's a healthy diet, right?).

At around 1:30 pm Van 2's final runner made his way around the corner to the finish and we all crossed the line together in a delirious screaming mass of celebration. We hung out at National Harbor for a bit, basking in the glow of our awesomeness. (I know, I know, in the grand scheme of things we're not THAT impressive...but at the same time, I think any team that finishes one of these things without any drama/anyone getting hurt, dying, and/or plucked from the course by midnight cornfield bandits,* is pretty freaking awesome!)

Saturday night and Sunday (and today, for that matter), SpeedKate and I both feel like we just ran a marathon (which she can say from experience) and/or got hit by a truck. Stairs are NOT my friend, nor is the quad engagement required to sit down. I have been foam rolling to the point of tears and am hoping that things calm down soon. 

But to Go Fish's credit, a series of text messages and emails have already begun, averring our commitment to do one of these crazy races together again -- maybe Hood to Coast next year? 

Now IF ONLY RAGNAR COULD POST THE RESULTS I would tell you for certain how awesome we really are...

*Some might argue that "plucking" is an unreasonable fear; however, I say that until you are all alone, half-way up an ungodly hill, in the middle of nowhere Maryland, at some time o'clock long after midnight, you are in no position to judge. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The State of Mollie: Running Edition

It’s fall so here we go – the quarter-annual update on my running.

I don’t blog specifically about my running too too often; mostly because though running is great and I love it, I’m not 100% sure how much the interwebs need/care to know the daily ins and outs of my training (or lack therof).  But every now and then you won’t mind if we take a venture down the rabbit-hole of my life, right? Ok!

As I think everyone by now knows, it was an ungodly hot summer, which meant a lot of very sweaty morning runs. Luckily I have two running friends to motivate me out of bed on a regular basis!

Since moving to Eastern Market in May, I’ve tried to incorporate more cross-training (mostly biking and climbing, and a bit of pooling too) into my workout routine. This is because I am a wee bit injury-prone (or, more accurately, I am prone to getting over-excited about running -- a lot! super-fast! every day! and then ignore pain until it’s incapacitating), and trying to get better about not being injured.  And though I have had a few small problems this summer, they’ve all been minor and not particularly long-term, so go me!

I puttered along with an unstructured mix of running through June and July – basically doing whatever I felt like whenever I felt like it. Then I spontaneously ran a 1 mile time trial race on June 25, which went shockingly well, so I decided to return to CAR track workouts.

The workout thing may or may not have been a mistake. My IT band tightened up hard and caused a bit of knee pain mid-August (which I totally handled with strength/stretching exercises!).

Then an unexpected unpleasant surprise happened ALL OF A SUDDEN on August 20. Some call it perroneal tendonitis, I call it a pain in the foot, which I blame on walking too much in bad shoes (TOMS I’m looking at you). So I booted around for two weeks, only barely suppressing my rage at the injustice of it all, and taking out my aggression on the pool.

But this story has a good ending. The boot came off on September 1, my foot feels great, and I’ve been running ever since.

This is important because before all the shenanigans, I signed up for a lot of upcoming races. I’m doing the Ragnar Relay this Friday/Saturday, which means I’ll be running 18 miles over a 24-hour period. I am tentatively excited…I think.

I’m even more excited to be signed up for the Backyard Burn Trail Running Series – five 10-mile trail races from October 14-December 2. I love trail running, and I’ve never done a trail race (or a 10-mile race for that matter), so it should be an experience.

To conclude this State of Mollie: It is now fall, running and I are back in love, I haven’t done a workout yet but I might soon, and I’m racing this weekend!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cake of the Week: Fig Cake with Rosemary Syrup

My grandma has an orchard in her California backyard that has walnut, apricot, plum, and fig trees.

Pretty much every time we see Grammy Jean, she hands us a box of odds and ends – books and articles she’s clipped for my mama, sample-sized makeup for me and my sisters to split, and maybe some cookies or chocolates or petit fours if we’re lucky. And in the summer and fall, whatever is in this box is accompanied by another box, full of fruit from her orchard.

When we were kids, we were tasked with picking all the plums in August, but the figs didn’t come in until September when we were back in school and seeing my grandma less often. This was a-OK with me because figs’ dark wizened outsides and purple-y seedy insides totally weirded me out.

But then, sometime around junior high, my mama made fig bread out of our box of Grammy Jean fruit and I realized that figs are awesome.

Black Mission figs were introduced to California by Spanish missionaries and grow along the coast, especially in the South Bay Area. They’re very sweet and great fresh or baked into things.

But if you can’t find fresh figs (as I couldn’t last week), dried work too. Funfact: All dried figs harvested in the United States are grown in California's Central Valley, and dried fig production has averaged 28 million pounds over the last five years (source).

For this cake, I reconstituted my dried figs in simmering water and a splash of red wine, and then reduced the excess liquid to mix into my rosemary syrup. Along with the sweet corn flavor from the cornmeal, this cake tastes like a summer afternoon. In the pan it doesn’t look particularly impressive, just a standard sheet cake. But with fresh whipped cream on top it is absolutely delicious.

(I was inspired by this recipe, which has fresh figs and juniper berries.)

Fig Cake with Rosemary Syrup

Serves 10-12. Printable recipe. 

  • 10-12 dried black mission figs
  • 1 ½ cup water
  • Splash of red wine (optional)
Rosemary Vanilla Syrup:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (optional, i.e. didn’t have it)
  • 1/2 cup milk (any kind you like)
Reconstitute the figs:
  1. In a small pot, bring water to a boil.
  2. Add figs and wine and turn the stove off. Let figs soak for 1-2 hours.
  3. Remove figs from liquid (save the liquid!) and cut into quarters. 
  4. Fig Syrup: Bring the remaining fig liquid to a boil, then turn to a simmer for about 2 minutes, or until it has reduced to a syrupy consistency. Cool completely.
Make the Rosemary Vanilla Syrup:
  1. Note: The syrup must be cold to absorb into the hot cake, so make the syrup first. 
  2. Stir sugar, water, lemon juice, and rosemary sprigs, in small saucepan. 
  3. Bring to a boil over medium heat, giving the pan an occasional swirl to help the sugar dissolve, then turn the heat down slightly and boil 2 minutes. 
  4. Turn heat off, and stir in vanilla extract and cool completely. 
Make the cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9”x13” cake pan. 
  2. Mix flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. 
  3. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs one at a time until the mixture is fluffy and pale yellow. 
  4. Beat in the vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste (is using). Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture alternatively with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Be careful not to over-mix; the batter should be fairly thick.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and Arrange the fig quarters in a single layer on top (the figs will sink into the cake during baking).
  6. Bake until golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
  1. Remove the rosemary sprig from the Rosemary Vanilla Syrup, and mix both syrups (rosemary and fig) together. 
  2. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, slowly pour the cooled syrup onto the hot cake. 
  3. Let the cake sit at room temperature 2 hours (or overnight) before serving. 
  4. Top with fresh whipped cream and enjoy!

Printable recipe. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Weekend Report: H Street Festival

I had one of those weekends that felt like it went on forever (aka the best kind of weekend!). I did many many things on Friday night and Saturday, so by the time I got to Sunday all that was left was to seriously putter and it was excellent.

On Friday I left work, met 6x6, and lounged on the grass in a park. The weather here is glorious right now and we need to take advantage.

Then we went over to LOTR Emily’s boyfriend’s house [Sidenote: I have a rule about boyfriends not getting blog names...but this is getting ridiculous because "LOTR Emily's boyfriend" is just annoyingly long to write out. So I hereby dub him "Uruk-hai" for the rest of eternity (he knows why).]

Anywho, my friends and I are onto our third year of a super-awesome dinner and a movie tradition. I will write a more comprehensive blog post about this soon enough, but for now let it suffice to say that it is one of my favorite things about us and there is themed food à la this basket of veggies and cheese and bread, raspberry salad, flat bread pizza, and cake (obviously).

Saturday started with a long run (again, GLORIOUS weather) around Roosevelt Island and back.

(See route details here.)

Then my friends and I went to H Street Festival. It was HUGE. There were 12 stages for music, some art and street performers, a ton of food, and lots and lots of people. The best part was probably the people watching – it is unreal what some people wear/do in public! So. Many. Hipsters. The downsides was the sheer degree of crowded…it got to be a bit overwhelming.  I think I prefer H Street at its normal Saturday night level.

“Peregrination” is one of my favorite words. It literally means to wander from place to place on foot, which is exactly what I did on Sunday.

After a second long run (I did 12 on Saturday and 10 on Sunday! Who’s ready for the Ragnar Relay? ME!), I meandered from Barracks Row to the grocery store to Pound. There I sat on the back patio and enjoyed coffee and a biscotti while I tried to be some semblance of productive.

Which I was until the café closed at 4 (!?) and I had to pack up and decide where to wander next. The day was still beautiful, so I peregrinated over to Eastern Market and basked on a bench in the sun. I called my mama  and started a new book, which a bypassing stranger man assured me is excellent…so that’s good I guess.

Hope you had a lovely weekend too!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Best of the Week #76

My week in review:

  • Eating SpeedyKate and I went to the opening of Cheff Geoff’s in Rockville Monday night. That meant a $25 three-course meal: I got Smoked Gouda Risotto Balls for an appetizer and Chesapeake Stew (crabcakes, shrimp, mussels, bronzino, cornbread, sherry cream) for my entrée. And then get this: Oreo Bread Pudding (with chocolate ice cream, chocolate-covered Pop Rocks, and caramel sauce) for dessert. Yum. Also, large portions = leftovers. #win
  • Running – I’ve been doing it! I ran between 5 and 7.5 every morning this week (except for a pool run on Wednesday).
  • Reading – I’m finally reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It is creepy and I am having nightmares.
  • Work – Trying to teach myself how to make CGI-style movies in Google Earth Pro – anyone know how to do this/wanna help a girl out?
  • Friends – LOTR party tonight! I baked a variation on this. Totally psyched.

Ok and now for Best of the Week!

With the completion of the conventions last week, election season is in full swing, which means bring me the finest muffins and bagels in all the land! Because I’m watching West Wing from episode 1 (again).

This article about a study testing why we trust or don’t trust people is really interesting: “Who’s Trustworthy? A Robot Can Help Teach Us.”
  • To find out what cues the players were responding to, the researchers filmed the students’ five-minute conversations before the game started. They discovered that four specific gestures predicted when a person was less trustworthy: leaning away from someone; crossing arms in a blocking fashion; touching, rubbing or grasping hands together; and touching oneself on the face, abdomen or elsewhere. These cues were not predictive by themselves; they predicted untrustworthiness only in combination.

I want this chair:

This is a must-read for writers (and everyone actually): “20 Common Grammar Mistakes That (Almost) Everyone Makes.”
  • Farther and Further -- The word “farther” implies a measurable distance. “Further” should be reserved for abstract lengths you can't always measure. e.g., I threw the ball ten feet farther than Bill. e.g., The financial crisis caused further implications.
  • Nauseous -- Undoubtedly the most common mistake I encounter. Contrary to almost ubiquitous misuse, to be “nauseous” doesn’t mean you’ve been sickened: it actually means you possess the ability to produce nausea in others. e.g., That week-old hot dog is nauseous. When you find yourself disgusted or made ill by a nauseating agent, you are actually “nauseated.” e.g., I was nauseated after falling into that dumpster behind the Planned Parenthood. Stop embarrassing yourself.
  • Whether and If  -- Many writers seem to assume that “whether” is interchangeable with “if." It isn’t. “Whether” expresses a condition where there are two or more alternatives. “If” expresses a condition where there are no alternatives. e.g., I don’t know whether I’ll get drunk tonight. e.g., I can get drunk tonight if I have money for booze.
  • Moot -- Contrary to common misuse, “moot” doesn’t imply something is superfluous. It means a subject is disputable or open to discussion. e.g., The idea that commercial zoning should be allowed in the residential neighborhood was a moot point for the council.
Cookie Monster does not care...(source)

Time to go to the zoo?? "National Zoo Welcomes Baby Gazelle."

  • Dama gazelles are native to the Sahara Desert and sub-Saharan grasslands, particularly in Niger, where it is a national emblem.
This interactive map shows information about major rebel movements in Africa. "The separatist map of Africa: interactive."

  • When African states gained independence, the continent's new leaders agreed to respect the old colonial borders to avoid endless wars. But separatist movements still abound

Hmmmm I guess that's all I have for you this week. Anything to share with me?

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Literary Bite: Moby Dick

My fatal flaw in reading Moby Dick was my timing. It is good reading, but it is not beach reading, pool reading, metro-on-the-way-to-work reading, nor camping reading. So starting Herman Melville’s masterpiece at the beginning of August, when I should have stuck to summertime funtime reading, was probably not the best choice.

Here’s the read-out: Moby Dick is a masterpiece, but I can’t say that I enjoyed it. I’m glad that I’ve read it though, and surprisingly, the story was not what I expected at all.

So what drove me to embark on this literary masochism venture? Moby Dick is consistently considered one of the best American novels ever, and yet so few people (people I know, that is) have read it. Like many of my former book club’s assignments, it’s a book I want to have read because it has influenced American culture and is a constant source of references.

Reading Moby Dick is kind of like being in Moby Dick. All Things Considered  “declared it a great lesson in ‘how to pursue a pointless battle to its bitter, violent, inevitable end.’ By which we meant, in part, reading the book.”

And according to this reviewer, “This is a feat of endurance, captain… The long stretches of tedium interrupted by bursts of gripping excitement? Exactly like the experience of whale hunting. The intense, exhaustive, narrow focus on whales? The equivalent of a claustrophobic sea voyage with an obsessive captain. And so on. The novel all but dares you not to finish it, lest you fail like Ahab.”

If that was intentional, then go Melville! I can’t think of another book like it.

I expected the story to be much more philosophical – a lot of ranting and raving about the white whale on the part of Captain Ahab. I guess the best way to describe it is that I was surprised by how practical the story is. Moby Dick really is all about whaling.

Many of the chapters seem infuriatingly irrelevant – whale anatomy, the intricacies of whaling, and every aspect of whale ships –and an impatient reader is tempted to skim (I didn’t…but I definitely wanted to) because well, get me to the story already! 

But then there are moments of brilliance and poetry, even in those seemingly tangential ramblings. My favorite quote comes from “The Tail,” which is quite literally a chapter devoted to every aspect of a whale’s tale. "Real strength never impairs beauty or harmony, but it often bestows it; and in everything imposingly beautiful, strength has much to do with the magic."

And here’s a shocker for you – Moby Dick is a romance novel! And not just romance, but bro-mance (or possibly a gay romance depending on how you read it). The relationship with the narrator (“Call me Ishmael.”) and the South Pacific “savage” Queequeg starts at the beginning of the book with the two sharing a bed and then falling in love, as best friends? As lovers? Who knows...

And a less explicit but much deeper relationship is the one between Captain Ahab and First Mate Starbuck. Starbuck knows that Ahab’s quest is crazy, but he can’t help getting sucked in.
  • “Oh, my Captain! my Captain! noble soul! grand old heart, after all! why should any one give chase to that hated fish! Away with me! let us fly these deadly waters! let us home! …Away! let us away!—this instant let me alter the course! How cheerily, how hilariously, O my Captain, would we bowl on our way to see old Nantucket again! I think, sir, they have some such mild blue days, even as this, in Nantucket.”
And I think Ahab loves Starbuck because Starbuck is the only one who even kind of understands him.
  • “Oh, Starbuck! it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky… Oh, Starbuck! is it not hard, that with this weary load I bear, one poor leg should have been snatched from under me? Here, brush this old hair aside; it blinds me, that I seem to weep. Locks so grey did never grow but from out some ashes! But do I look very old, so very, very old, Starbuck? I feel deadly faint, bowed, and humped, as though I were Adam, staggering beneath the piled centuries since Paradise. God! God! God!—crack my heart!—stave my brain!—mockery! mockery! bitter, biting mockery of grey hairs, have I lived enough joy to wear ye; and seem and feel thus intolerably old? Close! stand close to me, Starbuck; let me look into a human eye;”
(Unlike I’ve always been taught, Melville does not economize when it comes to exclamation points!)

Moby Dick is definitely not a rush-through-it kind of book. Maybe this would be a good book to read one chapter a week, which would give you time and patience  to focus on appreciating the superb writing – seriously, the level of language really is unparalleled.

And though you’ll be tempted to skim or skip, do read all of it, because you never know what you’re going to like. (The infamous chapter “Centology,” which describes (inaccurately) all of the whale species, happened to be one of my favorites!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cake of the Week: Chai Spiced Blondies with Cream Cheese Frosting

It can take me a while to warm up to people. New co-workers especially -- I’m nice to everyone, but I take friendship seriously and it is not guaranteed. (I guess that means I’m some combination of introvert, curmudgeon, and change-resistant? Though I prefer to think of myself as selective…)  At both organizations I’ve worked at, people come and go constantly -- interns, staff, people leaving for grad school, going abroad, or returning from either of the two.  This revolving-door style of workplace ensures that office space is a series of musical chairs, and I just can’t muster the energy to become friends with everyone. 

Last week though, our most recent new hire was someone I’d already gotten to know and like during her internship last fall. Instead of ugghhh I need to get used to a new person, I thought YAY Carrine is back! So, as I do for people I like, I baked her a treat!

These Chai Spiced Blondies were very well-received by the entire Comms team. Baked goods = job security. I’m serious.  

I’m also serious about how easy and delicious these are. There’s no actual chai in the recipe, just the spices that make chai delicious. These blondies are not excessively sweet, and my version has half the butter than the recipe I used as inspiration, making my version a cross between cookie-ish and cake-ish bars.These are great for fall -- spicy and yummy and delicious with a hot cup of coffee -- you must make them!

Chai Spiced Blondies with Cream Cheese Frosting

Blondie Ingredients:
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander seed
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup water
Frosting Ingredients:
  • ½ stick (1/4 cup) butter, softened
  • ½ block (4 oz) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  1. Preheat oven to 350*.Grease and flour a 9x9-inch baking pan. (You can also line it with parchment paper to make them even easier to get out.)
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until smooth (about 2 minutes). Add in eggs and vanilla and beat again until smooth.
  3. Add in dry ingredients and stir until partly mixed in. Add in water, and finish mixing until the batter is completely incorporated.
  4. Spread batter in pan and bake until the sides begin to pull away and a toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. Do not frost until blondies are completely cool.
For the Frosting:
  1. Beat the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla until smooth. Beat in powdered sugar, adding milk as needed to reach a spreadable/glaze-y consistency.
  2. Spread over blondies and enjoy! 

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