Basic Burgundy Borscht

‘Tis the Pacific Northwest season for root vegetables.  Until a couple years ago, my root vegetable repertoire consisted of potatoes and carrots.  My horizons were expanded when I discovered the Seattle Farmer’s Markets and took the time to talk with the farmers.  I learned the names of this colorful array of root vegetables I had never seen before – rutabega, celery root, turnips, parsnips, sunchokes, beets – and got suggestions for how to prepare them.  Although these are hard, starchy vegetables, they are most flavorful when eaten raw – yes, even the potatoes!  Each year around this time, I experiment with root vegetables, trying something different than the year before.  But a staple for me has become Borscht.

The first time I saw a beet, I knew that I was going to make borscht with it, and I knew exactly how to make it.  In an instant, the taste was in my mouth and I visualized myself preparing this delicious soup – even though I could count on one hand the number of times I have had it in the past. Maybe this gift comes from my Eastern European roots (no pun intended), or maybe I have just discovered that I have a superpower for beet-channeling.

Borscht can be served hot or cold, but during the Autumn and Winter it is much more comforting and satisfying when it is hot.  It is often served with a dollop of sour cream on top, but I prefer it naked.  Far and away, my favorite thing about borscht is the color – the magenta is so vibrant that it is scary … almost unnatural.  But there is noting more natural and there is absolutely nothing that can be done to take this beauty away.

If you haven’t had the delight of Borscht, treat yourself on a cool Autumn or Winter day.  To complete your experience, I recommend diving into a copy of Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume.  Don’t ask why.  Just do it.  You’ll see.

Basic Burgundy Borscht

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 white or yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 med-large red beet
  • 2 med red potatoes
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 lemon
  • salt and pepper
Directions:
  • Heat olive oil in a med-large soup pan.
  • Saute onions for a couple minutes, then add the thyme and paprika.
  • Continue to saute the onions until soft, about 5 more minutes.
  • While the onions saute, skin the beet, and chop into 1/2″ cubes.  NOTE:  If you don’t want “blood on your hands” you may want to wear gloves.  Handling a beet unprotected will douse your skin in a strong, vibrant, deep red color.  But never fear, the stain is not permanent.  Personally, I love this imperfection of working with beets and am happy to have the stain on my hands for a couple hours.  It gives me a mild thrill. (Does that make me weird?)
  • Chop the potatoes into 1/2″ cubes.
  • Add the beets and potatoes to the onions.  Continue to saute for another 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
  • Add the vegetable broth and juice of a 1/2 lemon to the vegetables.
  • Lower the heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.
  • Enjoy while hot (my preference), or refrigerate and eat it cold.
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The Challenges (and Relief) of the Triathlon Off-Season

As the misty monotony of a Seattle Winter lurks, I admit I have lost my fervor for racing this season.  I am proud (sometimes beyond belief) at what I have achieved in the sport of triathlon this year, and am already antsy about racing another half ironman next year.  But rather than drive myself mad during the next ten months trying to master one structured training plan after another, I am content to maintain, not train.  I suppose every amateur triathlete contemplates how to keep their motivation for movement and svelte physique during the off-season.  Here are a few ideas, which seem to do the trick for me.

Try a new activity.  Make your body do something it has never done before.

Improving in triathlon is fun because every workout is different than the day before.  The mental and physical challenge of the variety leaves me feeling like I could succeed at almost anything, physically, because of the solid foundation that swimming, biking, and running provide.   Harnessing this inspiration, I like to try something brand new (at least one time) in the off-season.  Last week, I did just this.  I made my body do something it has never done before.  It was a bit unconventional, but also a mega core workout, an acrophobia-facer, an upper-body brawl, a flexibility challenge, and is even considered an “art” so I can feed my inner artist while getting an amazing workout.  This glorious activity is Aerial Silk.  I am intrigued, and plan to continue my exploration of it throughout the winter.

Create workouts that allow you to focus on your triathlon weaknesses. 

I am a big fan of preparing for a race with a structured training plan, but one of the frustrations with this is that, at nearly four hours of training per day, there is no time available to dedicate to my weaknesses.  The off-season is a great time for me to modify my workouts with exercises that emphasize leg strength and improve my biking speed – two areas in which I want to improve.  For leg strength, I plan to take on four weight-training days instead of two – concentrating on higher weights and lower reps of lunges, leg presses, and any leg machine I can get myself on.  And as for the bike, 50-mile Saturday rides are not possible during the rainy winter in Seattle, but an hour a day on the trainer (while I catch up on Lost on Netflix or The Colbert Report) is completely do-able.  While my in-season goal is miles, miles, miles, I can use the off-season for finding a pedal technique that improves my efficiency by experimenting with foot position, a balanced exertion between both legs, and burdening  new and different leg muscles with every stroke.

Plan a nutrition detox.

I’m a nutrition nerd.  I am fascinated with food as fuel, cravings and what they are trying to tell you, and disease-prevention through diet.  Not to over-simplify something incredibly complex, but when you train 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, your body needs more carbs than usual along with a balance of proteins and fats.  There is little room to reduce your fuel intake.  Finding these balanced calories, while also getting a variety of flavors, colors, and textures to prevent boredom, is the racing season nutrition challenge.  In the off-season, while my workouts are less intense, I have the freedom to stop pounding carbs into my face and try new, healthy endeavors.  For me, a 1-2-week detox of a vegan or raw foods diet, every now and then during the winter, is a welcome relief to my system.

Enjoy.

Finally, Enjoy.  Sometimes I forget this, in the rigor of racing season when I’m laser-focused on a plan.  While I get a high from accomplishing what I set out to do, the path to these goals can be stressful.  I often forget that I am supposed to be enjoying myself.  The off-season is a time for me to throw out the plans, the spreadsheets, the heart-rate monitor, the food scale, and all quantifiable activities and tools that taunt my obsessive, competitive heart.  In the off-season, I can simply swim, bike, and run.  And assess, “Do I really, truly love this?”  Because, ultimately, the only thing that should ever really matter is that I am enjoying myself.  And this requires practice too.

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A Creativity Detox

While I was living in Sydney, Australia in 2000, I was introduced to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  We are all creative beings.  Some of us don’t know it, or don’t acknowledge it, while others are aware of this creativity but are blocked and cannot access it.  The Artist’s Way is a twelve week self-guided course on nurturing your inner artist, allowing yourself to grow free and easy with your self-expression.  Although I have only completed the course one time (many followers of The Artist’s Way complete the course on a regular basis), now nearly 11 years ago, the concept of allowing myself to be freely creative has never left me.

I do know and believe that I am an artist – but unfortunately, I forget this in the analytic and bureaucratic grind of my work in technology.  All too often, I am keenly aware that my “inner artist” is stifled and suffocated, and the consequences of letting this artist suffer usually amount to some sort of breakdown – over-sleeping, tears, extreme irritation, and insecurities that slowly begin to reek from every pore of my being.  When these horrible habits begin, I know it is time to feed my inner artist some old-fashioned comfort food … usually in the form of Chopin, Gershwin, Schubert, or Joplin.  But tonight, the medicine was a canvas and acrylics.

a painting in progress...

This is just a sneak peak of tonight’s masterpiece, still in the works, incomplete.  But here is a gallery of my paintings, which I intend to grow slowly and steadily.

The end product (named: "Auspicious")

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Tickling to Travel, Aching for Adventure

I’m tickling to travel, aching for adventure, fetching for freedom, wanting the world!  Each time I travel to another country, I gain a substantial amount of satisfaction and knowledge about Americans, other cultures, and myself.  I am a sucker for contradicting pairs – the yin and yang, the black and white, the sky and sea.  And when I travel, I feel like I live in a place between all of the world’s dichotomies, having the opportunity to observe everything from a neutral place for exactly what it is.

Here are the lessons I learn and the things I think about when I travel –

Life is Art is Life:  Every new landscape, new city, new foliage is a feast for the eyes and inspires a slew of questions.  Seeing something for the very first time makes the world feel like an endless museum.  The planet is here to be enjoyed, questioned, observed, and honored.  Just like art.

We are all so different, which makes us all the same:  I embrace the fear and anxiety that comes with the struggle of trying to communicate with someone who does not speak English.  I realize that if I do not think too much, or over-analyze what I am trying to accomplish, the opportunities for communication are endless.  And, more often than not, I am reminded that a smile and a calm demeanor have the same affect on human beings of any culture, in any language.

Gastro Delights:  Food, food, food, oh food.  How I love you.  The more I grow as a vegetarian, the more I am intrigued by new flavors, where food comes from, how it is prepared, and the ceremony of eating a meal.  Language enthusiasts say that you can’t really understand a culture until you speak the language – I say you can’t understand a culture until you master its spice palette.

Escape from the Routine:  Most of my international adventures have been in the context of business travel.  While I do long for a true non-work-related adventure, I enjoy the opportunity to get completely out of a routine to see what challenges and new perspectives await.

I’m overdue for an international adventure.  My plan …

Destination Thailand.


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Uneeda (Veggie) Burger

A friend of mine is working on a website that is dedicated to reviews of veggie burgers around Seattle.  He even has a pretty creative name for the project – SeattleVeggieBurgers.  Once he masters the technical details of the site design, hosting, and development, this blog post that you are now reading will not only plug his site, it will be adopted as valuable SVB content.

Veggie Burger Review:  The Nameless #8

A view of Uneeda Burger from the outside patio.

One of my favorite things to discover in Seattle is a veggie-friendly place to eat.  A creative burger joint, I believe, is one of the best kept vegetarian secrets – provided the said burger joint can put a veggie patty on any burger on the menu.  Burger joints are, for just reason, marketed to meat lovers, but non-extreme, free-loving vegetarians can enjoy them too.  And when the place is unique (but not hipster), rugged (but not divey), in the ‘hood (but not sketchy), and serves beer and fried-food sides (e.g. 1” thick onion rings!!), it is nothing short of a celebrated discovery.  Add to all that the fact that it was a rare Seattle summer night where we could actually enjoy eating outside on their picnic tables, and I was famished after an agonizing workout, and one of Uneeda’s patron that night was the most adorable puppy in the world, Uneeda Burgerleft a very positive impression on me.

Crimini Mushrooms, Porcini & Truffle Salt, Shallots, and Gruyere

Now … about the food.  It was great.  Solid.  Not the best, but better than average.  I was impressed with the creative menu, with burger topping options such as watercress, tempura lemons (?), and truffled shoestring potatoes.  Most of the sandwiches had a silly little name.  I, however, chose the nameless #8 – with crimini mushrooms, porcini & black truffle salt, shallots, and gruyere cheese.  It was also topped with a rich aioli, which marinated each bite with a subtle velvety truffle scent.  The bun was another highlight; it was fresh and soft, and held the sandwich together without too much sloppiness (which says a lot for the bun’s utility with me at the helm).  Least impressive was the veggie patty itself.  Although it appeared to be house-made, it was a bit bland, made from mixed beans, I’m guessing.  Despite the blahness of the patty, it played a decent supporting role in the meal – it did not mush, flake, or fall apart, and was small enough to leave plenty of room for the sandwich’s other delectable dressings.

Overall, I’m pretty excited to go back to Uneeda Burger – to try another burger creation, of course, but especially to learn what tempura lemons are.

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Career Core Values

As far back as I can remember, I have tackled work with intensity.  Good or bad, it has been an area of my life that carries a heavy weight in my overall contentment.  If work is good, life is good; If I am meeting my career goals, I am a success in life; If I have an interesting job, than I am an interesting person.  While a lot of 5-yr-old girls play “house,” I vividly recall playing “office.”  I would place a stack of important-looking papers on my desk, carefully organizing them in a slightly rustled state, accompanied by a notebook, a pen & pencil holder, and a “coffee” mug.  I even took coffee breaks, filling my mug with hot water and taking slow, meaningful sips in the kitchen as I pondered the difficult task that I left unattended at my desk.

A couple years ago I started exploring the possibility that the correlation between my work and my personal life (or my validity as a human being) may not be so direct. I considered that, perhaps the state of each of these could be mutually exclusive.  Is that possible? It was a novel concept to me.  Applying a method with which I explore many difficult questions, I made a list.  I separated my passions and my skills.  This exercise turned my world upside-down because it revealed very little overlap between the two, which I interpreted to mean that my work was basically meaningless.

I had lunch with a friend this week who challenged me to summarize the core driving principle of my career into a single sentence.  This is very different than stating your job description or a career goal. The idea was to acknowledge the main core belief that drives my work.  Through this lunchtime conversation, here’s what I discovered …

At the foundation of my career ambition is curiosity, and a desire to understand a problem.  My work is filled with energy when I have the opportunity to ask questions – to dive into a challenge, duress, or discomfort of a customer, put my biases aside, and see the world from another perspective.  I enjoy the humility in this process.  In fact, in my early days of product management, one statement resonated with me more than any other – Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant.

I experienced a good deal of satisfaction coming to this conclusion about my core career value.  I feel a new sense of control over my career options, and the power to make choices from an authentic place, rather than from hard and heartless facts like my degree, my experience, and my skills.  As I think back to that 5-yr-old girl (often nick-named “Contrary Cortney”) who played “office,” she probably held this same core value.  In fact, she wore a red t-shirt that said Question Authority– from which I can only conclude that she had a reputation for being a curious young lady.

Why do you do what you do?  What are the driving core values in your life’s work?

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Something Happened on Race Day

I rocked a 70.3.  That’s what happened on race day.

The short version…

I completed my first Half Iron triathlon this weekend in Lake Chelan, WA.  And I accomplished my goal – I finished injury-free and strong, sprinting (well, at least in my mind it felt like a sprint) to the finish line.  My race highlights:

  1. Seizing “my moment” by passing several competitors in the lake.  This was accompanied by a silent thanks to Mom and Dad who forced me into swim class when I was 5 years old.
  2. Playing bike tag with Judy, a new friend I made on the course.  I passed her on the climbs and she took over on the the downhill.  It went this way from miles 4 through 33.
  3. Screaming “Hellooooooo Sunshine” at the top of my lungs, riding through a tunnel at 39.2 mi/hr. after leaving the rain behind.
  4. Seeing the bright smiles and hearing the cheers of my friends (Josh, Matthew, Stacey, Ramona, Joan, Aron) as I made my way onto the run course.
  5. The 8-yr-old boys at the running support stations, who were frantic to find me electrolyte pills after I politely declined their water.  I simply needed something more powerful.
  6. The blanket of humility that covered me as each person who I passed on the swim caught up with me – and far exceeded in overtaking me – after, oh, about mile 5 on the run.
  7. Singing to myself the two lines in “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” that I actually know the words to over and over and over and over and over and over and over…………
  8. Finishing.  I know this is trite, but it is a tremendous feeling.  And the cherry on top was my man hugging my sweat-drenched, rancid being, and reviving my numbness with a feast of Vitamin Water, Snickers, and Tom’s Jalepeno potato chips.
SWIM BIKE RUN FINISH
The longer version…

One year ago … I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon (.9 mi. swim, 26 mi. bike, 6 mi. run) in Chelan, WA.  I finished in a decent time and was pleased with the overall experience.  I watched the Half Iron men and women cross the finish line and declared that anyone who did a 70.3 (1.2 mi. swim + 56 mi. bike + 13.2 mi. run = 70.3)  was extreme.  That is, more extreme than I imagined I could be.  I was excited and inspired by triathlon, but content to focus on improving my Olympic time.

Five months ago … it was time to register for the 2011 ChelanMan and I was antsy to put my hat in the ring for a second year.  But when I went to the website to register, the “Half Iron” button was so darn close to the “Olympic” button, that I thought, “Olympic? Half Iron?  What’s the difference?  So the race is a little longer.  It’s not a big deal.  I can do it.  Lots of people do it.”  So there you have it, that’s how I got myself into this predicament.

Four months ago … I started telling my friends and family that I was going to do a Half Iron race in July in Lake Chelan, WA.  As soon as I say something out loud – especially to the people I love – there is no backing down.  I was locked in.  I started a fairly intense training program (a modified version of this one http://www.trinewbies.com/tno_trainingprograms/tno_HIM.asp).  Most people thought I was over-training.  I was.  But looking back on it now, I am very glad that I did.  I would not have changed a thing about those early training days.  They set a strong base for, what I learned to be, an intense physical challenge.  Come race day, I had few concerns about my physical abilities.  All of my jitters were about my nutrition – my ability to remain hydrated and cramp-free for 6+ hours of swimming, biking, and running.

Yesterday … 7:05am, I began my first Half Iron triathlon.  About five minutes into it, I was reveling in my mad swim skills.  I was basically kicking ass.  Feeling strong, healthy, skilled, and motivated to take on the race course.  I maintained this feeling through nearly the entire 56 mile bike ride.  I made friends on the course, I sang to myself, I followed my strict “sipping scheduling” of four gulps of water/Accelerade every 15 minutes, I stayed true to my diet of Sports Beans, Clif Roks, and Luna bars.  I actually was thinking that I was getting stronger every mile.  I made it calmly through my T2 (transition from bike to run), passed my cheering posse on the way out to the course, and then proceeded to fall apart at the seams.  Thanks to my fellow competitors, the race volunteers, my friends, and my own will, I managed to pull it together and finish respectably.

I just have one more thing to say about finishing this race.  No matter what kind of shape you are in, how strong your legs are, or how much you love to run, I don’t care what anyone says – running 13.2 miles after completing a 56 mile bike course (with 3,300 feet of total climbing) is not a menial feat.  This can only be accomplished with tenacity, strength, planning, and support from others.


Today … I am tempted to say that anyone who wants to do the course that I just did two times (i.e. an official Ironman race, 2.4 mi. swim + 112 mi. bike + 26.2 mi. run) is a masochist of the darkest kind.  But I have learned what happens when I hang out in my cushy glass house, devilishly fingering a a handful of stones.

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