Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Useful Tips at a Price

A few days before the fast & near deadly Half Marathon I did last month, I went to a running clinic run out of UCSF.

They actually gave me some great advice that helped me run much faster. Specifically, they explained the need to take in a gatorade and electrolyte snacks in a steady flow during longer events. The rough formula was 8 oz of gatorade spread out over the span of 6 miles or 60 minutes. Otherwise, take in a single shotblok for each mile you run, with water to wash it down.

In retrospect, the advice on staying fueled up was what allowed me to stay fresh throughout most of the run.

The other advice they gave, though, was a bit embarassing.

They gave me a 23 page printout explaining everything that was wrong with me biomechanically and the exercises I needed to do to address my problems. According to them I;

- Have no lower back and abdomen strength to speak of;
- No strength in my butt muscles (interpreted another way, I have no ass);

This all leads to an odd circular swinging of my thighs which wastes energy. They also seemed surprised that I had no lower back problems given that (according to them) I have no ass and no back muscles.

Interestingly, they didn't think much about this whole heel strike vs. forefoot strike debate. To them it seemed a bit of distraction.

Was I naive to trust in a great book.

Friday, November 6, 2009

An Unexpected High and a F*&*-ing Awful Low

Last Sunday I ran my second-ever half-marathon, the US Half Marathon here in San Francisco.

It went a A LOT better than I thought it would. The weather was perfect. The course was incredibly beautiful. Having ridden across the Golden Gate Bridge so many times by bicycle, I never had the chance to really appreciate the view. Running across the bridge behind a few thousand other runners, the clear skies above, the dense fog directly below, the mists shrouding the city, it was a great moment.

And speaking of the few thousand other runners, I forgot just how much of a difference it makes being able to draft behind a huge group of runners. The first seven miles even with the hills were easy.

Somewhere just past mile seven I checked my GPS. I was running much faster than I expected and didn't feel fatigued at all. My last half marathon I had just missed getting in under 2 hours. Looking at my splits and my time at mile seven, I decided to go for it. I decided to see if I could get in under 2 hours.

So I floored it.

The last six miles were perfect for making up the time. It was downhill from the bridge then nothing but flat terrain along Crissy Field. When I checked my splits, my minutes per mile kept dropping until the very end. I was able to come in just under the two hour mark.

That was the the unexpected high of the day.

The f@#@-ing awful low happened later that evening.

I had read that immediately after a long hard endurance workout your immune system is basically wrecked. You should rest, pound fluids and carbs, and not do anything too strenuous.

I didn't consider a major clean-up of our closets to be a strenuous workout. Nor did I consider hauling several large loads of old junk down several blocks to the charity donation store to be anything too challenging. Lastly, I thought the three beers I drank in the early evening constituted a form of carbohydrate reloading. After all, the Hash House Harriers have been doing that for decades!

Sometime around 1:00 AM I woke with a burning feeling in my gut. No biggee I thought, take some maalox, go back to bed.

Then 3:00 AM rolled around.

The gut no longer burned. Instead, it felt like a dagger was being shoved in there, and twisted left and right.

More maalox.

5:00 AM rolls around, one more round of maalox. No luck.

At 6:00 AM, I conclude its food poisoning. That stinky Dutch cheese and spicy dried Italian sausage I ate as a snack probably were too much for me. I call in sick. I also discover I have a fever.

12 Noon. Had some pepto, it helps a little, I go back to bed.

3:00 PM. The twisting dagger returns and gets me good. The pepto didn't help. Fever is even worse.

4:00 PM. M and I head to the emergency room to see if this is something more serious.

The doctor does some initial checks, tells me I might have an appendicitis. I start flipping out. I have images in my head of my belly being cut open, hands diving in, and parts being snipped off.

I get subjected to six hours of blood tests and cat scans. They inject me with a buttload of saline, morphine, and God knows what.

Sometime after 9 PM the doctor comes by.

Doctor: I have good news, you don't have an appendicitis. But you do have kidney infection.

They released me and gave me a prescription for some drugs that can probably kill my organs as well any bacteria crawling around inside of me.

A kidney infection -- how the hell did I get a kidney infection?

The usual warning signs weren't there. No burning or bloody pee. No infections to my bladder or urinary tract. And on top of that 24 hours before I was in tip top shape.

Unless of course it was the Half Marathon that did it to me....

In the span of 24 hours I put in a personal best athletic performance, and suffered through one my the worst illnesses ever.

Is it true then -- could running actually be bad for you?

I'm Back

I haven't written anything in two months. But a lot happened. And there is no way I can do it in chronological order.

The next several entries won't be in the order they actually happened. Please bear with me.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The First Sausage of the Year

I brought out the sausage maker for the first time in 2009.

Our friends G&S were having their housewarming party. Their grill is on the small side, so grilled oysters (my original plan) wasn't such a good idea. So I decided to do sausage.

This time, however, I decided to use a different approach. My sausage maker comes with three extruders -- a thin one that is good for breakfast sausages, a medium size one that I usually use and seems to be standard size for sausages I see at supermarkets, and a large size one that I had never worked with. The large size one always seemed a bit --- big.

Unfortunately, some of my previous experiences using the medium size extruder had been traumatic. The sausage casing slipped on really easily, but was too big for the meat. Lots of air pockets. Lots of wrinkled sausages. Also -- too much sausage. Nobody could consume 4 feet of medium sized sausage -- it was too much all at once.

So I decided this time, to use the large bore. The overall length of the master sausage was shorter, but it was much shorter, and a much more robust tube of meat.

The compare the pictures below to the shots from the last time I wrote about sausages on this blog.

From Storehouse

From Storehouse

Notice the size difference?

As I brought them to the grill, one of our friends said,

"Now that's a sausage that'll make a girl proud!"

As I brought the cooked sausages to the table, nobody dared try to eat one on their own. I had to slice them into smaller pieces. Even the small pieces were more than a mouthful for a lot of people.

Long John Holmes

Ron Jeremy

Dirk Diggler

Pencil XXXX's

Follow Up

M did a search online, found out how much the fighters got paid that night.

Gina Carano $125K
Cris Cyborg $25K

I really hope Cyborg, since she's now the world champ in her division, finally gets a decent paycheck.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Shame on You San Jose, Shame on Your Strikeforce

Last Saturday M, J, K, and I, went to see the Strikeforce MMA fight down in San Jose between Cris Cyborg AKA Cris Santos and Gina Carano -- formerly of American Gladiators.

It was shameful the way that San Jose treated Cyborg. I could understand if Gina Carano was local. But she wasn't. The boos that came from the audience when Cris Cyborg walked in, and even after she won, it was wrong. Cyborg was unquestionably a better fighter. She was also -- unlike any number of trash talking and swaggering fighters in UFC (think Brock Leznar or Michael Bisping) -- very sportsmanlike. She deserved a lot more respect from the crowd than she received.

At the end of the day, the San Jose fans booed Cyborg because she wasn't a hot girly girl like Gina Carano is.

Which brings me to my next issue.

In the lead up to the fight, Strikeforce and the media focused on this whole idea that Gina Carano was the "face" of female MMA.

Face is right -- she's gorgeous.

But I got a bad feeling that Carano was probably being used by Strikeforce to help boost ratings and help market female MMA.

You ask what I mean, think of the following.

- Unlike, say Olympic Tae Kwo Do or Karate or professional boxing, there isn't a firmly established female MMA league within the big professional MMA organizations. MMA hasn't been around long enough to create a female league at a grass roots level.

- Most MMA fans are still guys, and you have to appeal to the guys in order to boost interest in women's MMA.

- If you have to appeal to the male audience, which one is more likely to attract attention -- a gorgeous women without a blemish on her face, or a girl who is really tough and looks like she spent her youth street fighting?

Carano went into the fight with an 8-0 record. Cyborg was 7-1. I strongly suspect Carano's eight previous fights were with women that her managers and the Strikeforce managers knew were going to be easy fight. Cyborg on the other hand was probably fighting a much tougher crew of women -- and probably practiced by fighting guys who were in the same weight class to toughen her up.

Seeing Carano cry at the end of the match, I felt sorry for her and angry at Strikeforce fight organizers. In the end, they set this poor girl up, and used her, to market their newest product.

Shame on you, Strikeforce. Shame on you.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Maybe She's Got a Few More Miles Left in Her...

Since my crash I've had to spend a lot of time searching the web researching whether or not I'd have to get rid of my bike -- a 20 year old Specialized Allez Epic, one of the 1st generation Carbon Fiber bikes.

Its interesting going out on the web and seeing the universe of Carbon Fiber lovers and Carbon Fiber Haters. To give you a flavor of the Carbon Haters (far more vocal than the Carbon Fiber lovers) check out the following;

Its fascinating. How an inert material can generate so much hatred is something that a cultural studies Phd could spend decades writing about.

More importantly, despite 20+ years of use at all levels, carbon fiber is still a love/hate type of material in cycling.

The wackiest thing occurred today, after bringing my carbon fiber Specialized Allez Epic of unknown age (20 years +/- years) checked out. While going through the various mechanical issues that he fixed, the mechanic and I discussed some of the issues with my frame. While there was some definite wear and tear on the frame from my usage of Michelin 700 X 25 MM tires (too wide, rubbing up against the chainstay), the frame itself was still relatively strong. As far as he was concerned, this frame still had a few years left in it (that makes three bike shops in a row).

The mechanic discussed possible flexing in the bottom bracket when I cranked it. This would be reflected in chain rubbing against the front derailleur when mashing big gears.

I replied that I hadn't had that problem with this, that my only experience with this was on a triple butted steel Miyata frame that I was riding when I was 17 years old. I might have been a stronger and more aggressive rider back then.

He also mentioned -- and this was VERY INTERESTING -- this type of old carbon fiber was not "butted." It was the same thickness throughout the length of the tubes. Modern carbon fiber frames are double/triple butted the way aluminum and steel frames are -- meaning steel/aluminum is thinned out at different sections of the frame tube in order to save weight. As such, this old school Carbon Fiber was in a way safer than contemporary Carbon Fiber. Modern Carbon Fiber frames are thinned out at various sections in order to keep it light.

This kind of dovetailed with a contradiction with first generation carbon fiber frames of this kind that I had been reading about. Catastrophic failures of carbon fiber frames do happen even with modern carbon fiber. But these first generation Carbon Fiber frames (unintentionally) give you a forewarning. Historically they weaken at their joints. But when they weaken there, you can feel and hear it. There will be cracking, there will be squeeking, and when you do things to stress the frame (shove your foot against the bottom bracket, press down on the brake hoods to stress the headtube) you will hear noise.

So maybe -- despite her advanced age, her ancient technology -- this old beast that I'm riding is actually not that dangerous to ride on. Granted -- this frame (somewhere around 4 lbs) is now considered heavy (modern carbon fiber comes in around 2 lbs).

But she still gives a sweet ride.....

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dark Lager -- Underdog

During the past 8 months I've had multiple liaisons with an underappreciated niche beer -- the Dark Lager. NO, not a porter. Not a Stout. A Dark Lager.

If you want to know what I'm talking about, these guys are the representative examples;

Shiner Bohemian Black Lager

Negro Modelo

Asahi Korunama

Kostritzer Schwarzbier

The Dark Lager is an underappreciated beer here in America. Don't get me wrong, if I wanted a dark beer, I could get one very easily. Here in Cali, porters and stouts are a dime a dozen. Guiness -- that's practically Budweiser out here due to the plethora of stouts & porters.

But Dark Lager -- she's a harder beast to find. Dark as a porter, but not quite as hoppy. A lager, but richer than her sisters but just as smooth. She's a niche brew. But damn does she go down smooth.

I personally find it frustrating that here in California, the self-proclaimed wonderland of homebrew and craftbrew, that we have no local Dark Lager. I also, when guzzling Shiner's Bohemian Black, find myself increasingly torn by the State of Texas. How can a state that produced George W. Bush also produce such a wonderful Dark Lager.

Lastly, I lament the fact that so few domestic craft brewers recognize the beauty at its grasp. In my drinking excursions, the only American craft brewer I've come across that made a good Dark Lager was Spoetzl Brewery in Texas, the guys behind Shiner Bock (bless their heart). If I wanted to get others I'd have to;

A. Get Kostritzer, an original German I guess.
B. Get Negro Modelo, and underappreciated Mexican Dark Lager.
C. Asahi Kurunama. It maybe tasty, and Japanese. But it is still EVIL. Asahi is to Japan what Coors/Busch are to America.

Can't the American West Coast embrace the Germanic/Czech/Slovak brewing culture? Can California brewers for once take a step back from their Triple/Quadruple/Quituple/Terabyte Pale Ales? Must every beer on this side of the United States be a hop bomb that can take out a small city?

Alas -- so long as Spoetzl/Kostritzer/Modelo/Asahi still produce a Black Lager, I will drink it with a smile in anticipation of the day that California embraces the Germanic school of beer brewing.

Thus Far....

Its been a week since I bought the Vibram Five Fingers. Thus far I've only had one comment about my shoes. This evening while shopping at Whole Foods I had a lady come up to me and say, "Those are some gnarly shoes!" I went on to discuss with her why I bought them. She revealed that she had horrible hip problems that prevented her from even doing long distance walking.

Maybe a convert?


These shoes by themselves are not a miracle cure for all things. But they are a good entry into the world of barefoot walking. The shoes have made me much more aware of how big a difference going barefoot can be. For example, when walking upstairs to our apartment while wearing shoes, my left knee (the one that had runners knee) flares up. BUT, when I walk barefoot, I don't feel any pain at all. The Vibram Five Fingers are somewhere in between.

Also, I have to admit, I like the feel of the pavement and cracks below my feet. I can't walk at high speed like I used to. I did one heel to toe foot plant on concrete -- it was not pleasant.

I've also started running with shorter steps (in running shoes of course) in order to land in the middle of the foot instead on the heel. Its not faster, but there is a definite difference in how my body reacts. Its hell on the calves, but its much easier on the rest of the joints. Also, the calves seem to adapt better to the workout than the knees, hips, and quads.

For example, the other day I did 4 miles around Lake Merritt in Oakland. Lake Merritt is a pain in the ass -- literally. For reasons that neither I nor others who run around the lake can explain, running the trail around there is painful on the joints. I've been doing it for 4 years, up till this week my joints would always ache after running around it. But the other day when I ran around it, focusing on landing mid-foot instead of on the heels, and odd thing happened. My calves got trashed while running. But the next day -- no pain in my knees, quads, or hips. My calves weren't even sore. They had recovered within 24 hours.

The lesson therefore is that my entire way of walking and running for the past 30+ years has been a recipe for pain and discomfort. I had always taken for granted that stretching my legs out really far in front and landing on my heel (both when walking and running) was my natural gait. While I don't think I'll be using the Vibram Five Fingers to run on SF concrete, I think I will start focusing on shorter steps, higher cadence, and see where it takes me.

If I'm slower, so be it. At this stage of life, being able to keep running long distances for another decade or two will make me happy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My Weird New Shoes

Just finished reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.

For anyone who loves to run, or used to love running but got sidetracked by injuries, YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK.

It basically takes much of the conventional wisdom regarding running shoes, aging, and running injuries, and throws it out the window. It also explains, to some degree, why ultra-marathoners can run the crazy miles they do without hurting themselves. Lastly, it pushes the idea of running barefoot as both a training tool and a general way of doing all long distance running.

But I digress, after reading the book, it inspired me to buy these bad boys.

From Storehouse

Its the Vibram Five Finger shoe. According to one of the ultra-runners in the book, the Infamous Barefoot Ted, it can give you some of the benefits of barefoot running without the dangers (broken glass, cut feet, etc.).

A running store owner in the East Bay had mentioned these very briefly to me earlier in the year. He mentioned in passing that these shoes were the only things he knew of that could fix flat feet and restore arches -- but he didn't go on about why, nor did he try to sell them to me.

After reading the book and doing some additional research on the web I decided to give them a try. My legs and feet are not holding up as well as they used to. At this point I would try almost anything that would strengthen my feet, restore my arches, and reduce injuries to my joints.

I bought them at a store in Oakland, and walked out the door with them to the BART Station, then back home to the City. It was interesting. I did get a few stares. As I sat on the BART platform waiting for the train, reading the final chapters of the McDougal book, a woman who was dressed to kill in stiletoes stopped and looked at my feet. My shoes might have been a bit much for her.

In total I've only spent an hour walking around in the shoes. My observations so far;

-Despite the thin bottoms, I didn't feel nearly as much of an impact when I walked around on hard surfaces with them.

-I could, though, tell the differences between different surfaces. Shifting from the concrete sidewalks onto the stone surfaces at the BART stations, you could feel a difference.

-You do feel the changes in the pavement -- cracks in the pavement, the safety padding on the BART platform, steel tracks for the cablecars -- but its subtle. Its not as sharp as you would think it would be.

-I love the way these things feel on my feet!

I'll have a more detailed verdict a few weeks I think. The plan for now is to get used to walking around in these things outside the office, then start using them for short runs.

That will be the point where things get harder and potentially more painful.

The Control Experiment

Did a follow up to the simple pork rib recipe. Wanted to see if I could replicate the same results using beef ribs I purchased from Cala market -- a far cry from the boutique Niman Ranch meat I got from the smaller corner store.

The recipe was basically the same;

Half a rack of beef ribs
garlic rubbed on the ribs
dried rosemary

Broiled it on both sides to give it color and flavor, then wrapped it up in tinfoil, and left it alone for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Results are below;

From Storehouse

The results -- mixed.

The good;

-Very juicy.
-Lots of meat flavor, the limited spice and herbs didn't smother the meat

The problem -- it wasn't nearly as tender as the pork ribs from the night before. Two things might be going on.

One, as I said before, these aren't premium ribs like the Niman Ranch ones I had the other night. The lack of tenderness may reflect this.

Two, beef ribs might just be harder to work with then pork ribs.

If it is the former, then my simple rib technique is only really applicable to premium ribs. If it is the later, then maybe I just need to cook beef ribs for longer -- maybe a full hour. This would still be less than the 2 hour marathon bbq recipes I keep on coming across.

Will follow up.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Simple Rib Recipe

Tonight I discovered something.

All those recipes for making ribs, especially BBQ'd ones, that emphasized;

- Complex spice mixtures & marinades;
- Hours of low heat to make meat tender;

It was ALL A LIE!!!

All those baroque preparations involving exotic multi-colored sauces with secret spice recipes, the debates about various types of fuel (mesquite vs. gas), the enormous smokers, none of that is necessary unless you are insistent on (to paraphrase Anthony Bourdain) forcing the meat into submission.

I made a pork ribs this evening for dinner. It was a VERY simple recipe that I threw together. But it turned out to be the most tender batch of ribs I ever made, and far quicker than all my previous attempts. The basics were as follows;

Half a rack of Niman Ranch pork spareribs
Two cloves of garlic
A handful of fresh sage
Salt & pepper to taste

I rubbed the garlic and sage all over the ribs. Sprinkled salt and pepper on them. Plopped into the broiler just long enough to brown both sides, switched onto oven mode, and roasted them at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

BUT, I DID ONE VERY IMPORTANT THING, I wrapped the rack of ribs in tinfoil before putting them back into the oven. The meat already had the searing from the broiling, from here I wanted to wrap them in foil and sweat the meat.

A half hour later, I pulled them out of the oven. The results are below.

From Storehouse

From Storehouse

In the picture above you see a rib furthest to the right where the bone is sticking out more than the others. My hand accidently bumped into it, knocking the bone off the meat. After only at most 45 minutes of cooking the meat was falling off the bone.

It might have just been because I used high quality pork, but the ribs needed very little spicing up. Sage, garlic, salt, and pepper, was all these ribs needed. Smothering it into a reddish sweet/sour/salty/spicy mixture for several hours, or even just for the 30 minutes it was sitting in the oven, would have done nothing to improve them.

I wrote months back that Texas BBQ was overrated. After tonight I think ALL AMERICAN BBQ is over-rated. What BBQ preparations do to meat is excessive and unnecessary. It's like taking Ingrid Bergman and making her get a boob job, liposuction, and botox. If the meat is good to begin with, there is no need to smother it.

Back in the Saddle Again

Went out on the bike for the first time in two weeks this weekend. A short 20 miler in the city on Saturday, and a 40 miler in Marin the next day. I was able to squeeze three ball busting hills into the urban 20 miler -- up Arguello from the Presidio, up Lincoln Boulevard from 25th Avenue down to Crissy Field, then back up from Crissy Field up Lincoln Boulevard back to the Richmond District. For the Marin ride (for safety reasons) I didn't go down the Sausalito Lateral Road, took the zig zap access road to the left after getting off GG Bridge, and went along Conzelman Road to Sausalito. Then I headed up Camino Alto, and looped back over on part of Paradise Loop.

A couple observations.

1. My bike has actually held up despite the crash. None of the squeeking and cracking that I was warned to check up on. Just in case, after the first day, I stopped, sat both butt cheeks on my top tube, pressed the sole of my foot into the bottom bracket, no noise.

2. Despite the lay off from the injuries, and not riding consistently during the past 7 months, the hills in Marin really aren't much harder than they have ever been.

3. Even before my smackdown I was getting cautious on downhills and flats. I have lost something in terms of both aggressiveness, situational awareness, and reflexes. This reflects the fact I hadn't been out on the road for awhile. I haven't lost that much in terms of overall fitness, but cycling isn't a pure brute endurance sport. You do have to pay attention to the road, and if you ride aggressively, the need for bike handling skills and situational awareness goes up significantly.

The next few weeks won't just be an exercise in building up my endurance for the events ahead. It will be an exercise in getting a feel for the road again.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Blog

I've started a new blog on something completely different.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wow, Chinese Medicine Actually Works!

M and I discussed our mutual body aches and pains. A friend of hers referred her to an acupuncture specialist in SF J-Town. Given our mutual conditions, it seemed like a good time to go check it out.

Despite being of Chinese ethnicity, I had never gone to a Chinese medicine specialist, even when I was in Taiwan. In fact, I don't think any of my relatives have. Chinese medicine was one of those things that (even for Chinese people) seemed mystical -- great potential to help you, but also a great potential to hurt you. The emphasis was always on two things;

- Only use it for stuff that is just hanging on you, problems that linger for months if not years, that Western medicine can't handle.

- Only use a practitioner whom a good number of your friends and associates can vouch for.

Technically, the J-town practitioner fit the bill. I also added a sprained wrist the day before to my list of ailments, so I was more than ready to have someone provide some help for my aching joints.

It was, to say the least, very interesting. The Chinese Medicine Doctor had almost as many forms as a doctor at my HMO -- including all of the usual CYA forms.

After a general check of my pulse and my tongue, the practitioner asked the following;

- Your pulse shows stress & pain, is that the case? (I'm always stressed, and my joints are in much pain).
- Do you have chest congestion. (No.) OK, don't worry about.
- Your pulse shows that the stress is attacking your stomach & spleen, do you have problems there? (No.) Don't worry about it, then.

The Chinese Medicine Doctor then had me lie down on the bed, and inserted needles in my shoulder, elbows, wrist, and knees. I could feel the needles just break my skin, but they didn't hurt at all. The needles were connected to electrodes that sent a low voltage electric pulse into my muscles. Some areas (my chest and shoulders) got a bigger pulse of electricity. Others (my wrist) the electric pulse was barely noticeable.

On one level, it seems a little wacky, needles and electricity. Then I remembered what a colleague of mine told me about how professional athletes get low level electrical surges as part of their physical therapy from injuries and general muscle strain. The only difference was that my Chinese Medicine Doctor was using needles instead of whatever overprice electrode that an NFL doctor uses.

The Doctor also used an odd suction device on my back. I couldn't see it, but I could definitely feel it. I think it was the moxubustion thing I had read about, how you drop a match into a glass cup, it sucks air, creating a vacuum that is ideal for sucking large chunks of skin into the glass cup. She ran the suction glass cup up and down my back. It hurt a bit. I could feel a good hunk of my skin going into the cup, and the cup running up, down, left, and right, across my back.

The result.

It wasn't 100% recovery, but it was a definite improvement. In detail;

My Wrist;

It still hurts, but the the range of motion is much improved. Moving it up and down and left and right doesn't hurt as much as it did this morning. I'm thinking maybe the electrical therapy brought down some of the swelling on the inside of my wrist that was making it hard to move it around.

My Shoulder;

In the back of the shoulder, a lot of the fatigue had gone. Also, related to the shoulder injury, it didn't hurt nearly as much to move my head left and right. The muscle pain along my neck and spine was gone. The muscles that connect my shoulder to the center of my chest still feel a little painful and stiff. But about half of the stiffness and discomfort that I had on my left shoulder has (for now at least) gone.

Maybe the ultimate validation, the Doctor left a few bandages with short needles embedded in them planted against a few pressure points around my shoulder, and a thick gauze bandage around my wrist. She told me to keep them on for the next few days, try not to let them get loosened up by showers and bathing.

She did not recommend a follow up visit. She didn't see the need.

Overconfidence in her abilities, maybe.

Or maybe she was honest, and not out to squeeze a buck out of me.

Maybe there are a few honest quacks out there.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bike & Body Update


One week has passed, got my bike back and did a follow up with the orthopedist.

First, my body.

According to my orthopedist my shoulder isn't that badly damaged, just soft tissue. No broken bones or anything torn. According to her, shoulder injuries tend to hurt a great deal even when there is only minor damage. She recommended some stretching exercises, avoid any kind of power workouts on the upper body (lifting, calisthenics, even swimming) for 2-3 weeks, then ease back into them slowly (do girl push ups first, then man push-ups if my shoulder doesn't hurt too much).

As for the road rash -- it heals slowly. Learning to love the Tegaderm clear bandages. Kind of cool being able to look down into my road rash and see how it changes every hour and every day.

Was warned by several people to avoid the swimming pools or open water. Horrible risk of infections due to open wounds -- and vice versa.

Thinking about it -- if any of the lifeguards at the YMCA or the city pools saw the road rash on my elbow, they'd probably freak out and tell me to get out of the pool.

Started running again as a substitute. The shoulder didn't like it at first, but I got used to the discomfort. Ran for an hour last night, shoulder didn't bother me. Other parts of my legs did, unfortunately.

Now for the bike.

To my pleasant surprise there is no frame damage. Two different bike shops did a visual inspection of the bike. They couldn't find any cracks on the exterior of the frame. The mechanics at the first shop also told me, based on the damage to the right brake hood, saddle, and right pedals, that those parts plus the handlebar seemed to have taken the brunt of the damage (as well as my front wheel of course). I was also told by the guys at the second shop that the kind of stone age carbon fiber bike I use (a 1st generation Specialized Allez Epic with aluminum lugs) fails at the lugs, not in the main body. There were no signs of lug failure or damage -- at least for now. I was told to be on the lookout for odd squeaks and cracking sounds. If I start hearing that -- then I got issues.

The wheels, however, do have issues. They did what they could with the front wheel. It has a permanent hop in it, which probably reflects the fact that the wheel is both old and damaged -- no amount of truing will help a rim that's been banged up. The rear wheel is getting old and needs to be trued up for safety reasons.

So for now at least the worst case scenarios have been avoided.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Spaghetti Bolognese is very flexible...

M and I had an itch for pasta yesterday. So we decided to make some homemade pasta and a Spaghetti Bolognese -- or in simple plain English spaghetti and meat sauce.

After reading about a Medici-era Bolognese recipe in Bill Buford's Heat, and eating the pasta ragu at Antica Trattoria at Union & Polk Street, I wanted to make a meat sauce that was different from what I ate back NJ growing up. The meat sauces I'd eaten as a kid was very meaty, but very sweet from added sugar, and very tangy from the tomatoes they used. It was also heavier than a brick. All those very strong ingredients (fatty meat, white sugar, big tangy tomatoes), created a sauce that was at times overwhelming.

The sauce at Antica Trattoria was a little more like a brown meat gravy with lots of herbs -- which made it much lighter tasting and flavorful than you would expect. The Medici-era Bolognese cited in Heat had cardammon and cinnamon in it.

Doing some research in my Saveur Cooks Italian cookbook, I noticed two different sets of meat sauce recipes. One was very simple, used with a pumpkin gnocci. The other more complex, used in a spinach lasagna. The following is a hybrid of the two.

One onion
Three stalks of celery
4 cloves of garlic
1/4 lb of ground chuck
1/4 lb of ground pork
1 can of tomato paste
14 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 cup of red wine
bay leaves
salt & pepper to taste

Fundamental to all Bolognese recipes is meat, tomatoes, and onions. From there, there is plenty of room for experimentation. In my case, the glass of red wine imparted a sweetness and richness to the sauce that took away much of the tartness of the tomatoes. It was very different from the meat sauces I grew up with back in NJ. It paired well with M's homemade pasta -- which had a kind of chewiness that mated well with the texture of the sauce.

Using this as a base recipe, I can make future versions of it with cardamon/cinammon to give it a slight sweetness (a la the Medici recipe), but also add either bacon or pancetta in the beginning (to give saltiness & smokiness).


Had a nasty fall this weekend on my bike. Went on a training ride on saturday with J. Wasn't paying attention, bike went out from under me, tumbled, next thing I knew, I was sitting up, scraped up, and bleeding. I checked myself, no broken bones, and I couldn't detect any sign of head injury. My bike though, was a bit beaten up. Two spokes pulled out the front rim, handlebar knocked off center.

To be on the safe side, I drove myself to the hospital, and subjected myself to almost six hours of waiting at ER. Even though I didn't break any bones, my left shoulder was killing me. I didn't have the usual signs of head trauma (dizziness, nausea, fainting, vomiting) but the left side of my head did hurt a bit. I also had road rash all over me.

After all the waiting, a CAT scan to verify that my head was OK, and a shoulder x-ray, I was let go. I came out of the crash with a sprained left shoulder, a bruise covering over half the surface of my scalp, road rash stretching from the back of my left shoulder down to my elbow, patches of road rash on my left butt cheek, both knees, and the insides of both my arms.

The last time I fell this hard, when I was 19, I ended up breaking my collarbone, destroying my front wheel, and twisting up my metal frame. This time I'm much more scratched up in terms of road rash, but have come out of it without any broken bones, and (thus far) my bike looks repairable.

So I'm sidelined for now. I'm committed to the MS Ride, so I'll have to get back on the bike again after it gets repaired. But I think I will probably slow it down a bit in terms of intensity & speed, the exception being going up hills. I essentially crashed because I wasn't paying enough attention at a moment when due to speed & road conditions I should have had both hands on the handlebar.

So for at least a few weeks after I get back on the bike, I think I'm going to take it a bit slow.

Friday, July 17, 2009

I am not worthy....


Read on and drool....

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why Oyster Liquor Is Like Bacon

Continuing with the Mark Kurlansky inspired fetish...

The cold & the fog, as well as the discussions of turn of the century New York oyster culture, gave me a craving for oyster stew. The experience of making oyster stew this evening became a lesson in how even if you screw up a recipe, oyster liquor (the flavorful juices that surround oysters in their shell and in packaging) will still make it really tasty.

I followed a recipe that broke down like this.

1/2 cup of butter
1 cup of celery
3 tablespoons of shallots
1 quart of half & half
2 12 oz jars of oysters
salt, pepper, cayenne pepper to taste

To avoid excessive calories I replaced the half & half with whole milk.

Big mistake. The milk curdled. The stew ended up looking kind of nasty, as you can see below;

From Storehouse

Even though it looked nasty, the taste was spot on. The oysters and oyster liquor gave the stew a wonderful salty briny flavor. Combined with the butter, shallots, and celery, it all came together into a rich and satisfying broth.

If I do this recipe again I might not bother with any of the dairy products, just use a clear broth and good quality root vegetables and herbs.

This gets back to the point of the post, oyster liquor is like bacon. Whatever you mix it with, it comes out great.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

OK, now I have a goal

Signed up a few weeks back for Ms Waves to Wine.

The past two weekends I've finally begun to start training seriously for this.

Today while riding with my buddy J on the East Bay waterfront trail I rediscovered what I loved most about cycling -- speed and rhythm.

I also rediscovered what its like to have every muscle from my ass to my heels either stiff or aching.

The price tag of having a goal to work for.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mark Kurlansky -- YOU ROCK!

As I mentioned in my last post, I broke, I gave into my oyster cravings this evening.

After my Krav workout, I decided to head to the local seafood joint, Hyde Street Seafood.

I was alone this evening. M was out for the evening. Its my birthday tommorow -- after a rough year, I think I deserve to splurge a little on some gluttony.

I initially just ordered an Anchor Steam and a half dozen of the Chef Creek (British Columbia), Steamboat (Washington State), and another breed of oyster that began with Q and U (QuXXXXXXXX). The Chef Creek and and Steamboat were wonderful, briny, but also creamy and rich. The third one that I can't name was briny, but not creamy.

I chatted briefly with one of the waitstaff. He described his own personal bias towards the smaller oysters, briny being preferable to creamy. Unfortunately he added the same twist that many wine snobs like to use -- "people who really know oysters...."

To each their own.

I ordered another Anchor Steam [Anchor goes great with seafood]. Then ordered a dozen of the Chef's Creek and Steamboat. I was in creamy oyster heaven.

I chatted some more with the barmaid/waitress and another waiter there. Had a wonderful discussion about the word of oyster eating, cited the Kurlansky book. We discussed the odd thing of Kumamoto oysters becoming an Oregon & Washington State product, and how the temperature of the water affects the flavor of the oyster. I also mentioned Kurlansky's shtick about how NY City used to be the center of the universe for oysters. The waiter I talked to wasn't surprised -- he had many wonderful East Coast oysters.

Discussion drifted onto the crab world -- the East Coast blue crab versus the West Coast dungeness. Definitely strong preferences for either crab. The waiter, reflecting terroir cited his love of the dungeness. The barmaid/waitress cited the sweet and tender delicacy of the East Coast blue. I love them both.

I had the best of both worlds that night. Great oysters, and great conversation with people who are passionate about their food.

Mark Kurlansky, Thank you!

I HATE YOU Mark Kurlansky!

Recently I started reading Mark Kurlansky's "Big Oyster: History on a Half Shell."

I had read Kurlansky's first world history via food book "Cod" many years back. The Goddamn "Cod" book gave me ferocious cravings for canned and preserved fish. All the recipes involving salt cod and various cod organs were downright destructive.

That being said, it was a wonderful book.

"Big Oyster" had the same effect as "Cod." Midway through the book, Kurlansky starts putting in oyster recipes and anecdotes about oyster eating in 17th and 18th century New York. Over the past two days I tried to suppress my oyster eating urges. I tried to visualize the most excessive of the ancient oyster recipes -- such as stuffing a whole chicken with 100+ raw oysters then baking the monster.

No use. I broke this evening. Read the next post.....

Monday, June 22, 2009

Demographics & Fitness

About two weeks back I did an open water swim at Aquatic Park, my first in 8 months. It was not that easy. I was out of practice, and had lost a lot of my swimming endurance. It was still wonderful though. Lining up with a bunch of other wetsuit swimmers beforehand, the sun, the surf, there is nothing comparable.

Anyways, before I digress too far....

After being away for so many months, and spending the past 4 months mostly at a combined CrossFit and Krav Maga school, the thing that hit me most was the age difference between the two groups. Open water swimming and triathlon related workouts tend to be dominated by 30 something and 40 something types like myself. There were multiple people in our crew at Aquatic Park that had either gray hairs in their beards or their hair, but still swam beautifully.

Krav Maga/Crossfit on the other hand seems to be dominated by the 20-somethings. After Climb California I checked out the age info on my fellow team members -- I was the 2nd oldest member of our crew.

The question arises of where does all of this leave me. Open water swims, triathlons, thats were I came from. I'm now several years older than I was when I first started that stuff, now I'm diving into a fitness craze dominated by people up to a decade younger than I am.

This doesn't make it any easier to take a hook punch to the jaw.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Kansai is the Heart & Soul of Japanese Cuisine

Had the pleasure of finally visiting Kansai with M earlier this month, specifically Osaka and Nara. My first visit ever to Japan was to Kyoto in 1998, so in a way this was a homecoming. It was also a homecoming of sorts for M as well. Her family is from Osaka originally, and they are still fans of the Hanshin Tigers (think Boston Red Sox but Japanese).

But back to the subject of my post...

This trip hit home the fact that while Tokyo might be the center of Modern Japanese culture, Kansai is the real home of Japanese cuisine. And when I mean Japanese cuisine I mean both the high and the low, the super refined Kaiseki and the street food that Japanese salaryman survive on. Anyone visiting Japan, seeking to experience the full range and depth of Japanese cuisine needs to go to Kansai, eating and drinking their way through Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, and (if possible) Kobe. In theory, you can experience the high Japanese cuisine and the low Japanese street food culture in Tokyo. But its just not the same. Its like eating Chicago deep dish pizza in Manhattan.

While in Nara we stayed at a beautiful old hotel that looked like it was frozen in the 1930's. Beautiful old woodwork. No ambient music playing in the background. The hotel bar served a few beers, tons of whiskey and imported liquors, but no mojitos or cosmos. The hotel provided a very nice Kaiseki dinner menu, some of which you can see below.

From Japanese Porn (food)

From Japanese Porn (food)

From Japanese Porn (food)

Very dainty, very nice, extremely refined in terms of taste & texture.

We then hit Osaka. M and I did a kuiadore, to eat and drink to excess the way Osaka people do it. I can spend several paragraphs boring you with the details, but the pictures below probably capture it all the best. Imagine each of these dishes with a soy sauce bottle size bottle of Japanese beer. You get the picture.

From Japanese Porn (food)

From Japanese Porn (food)

On a side note, the stuff you see just above is a kind of deep fried meat & seafood on a stick. Eating this stuff is subject to certain rules as you see below;

From Japanese Porn (food)

The raw egg on curry rice you see below was our brunch meal the next day. It was damn good....

From Japanese Porn (food)

Our dessert was takoyaki. Not the healthiest way of eating.

From Japanese Porn (food)

Anthony Bourdain's episode in Japan does a decent job of explaining that the origins of Osaka's eating culture are rooted in discriminatory laws dating back to Tokugawa era Japan. Specifically, the laws forbade merchants from spending their money on big houses and large parcels of land in order to prevent them from showing off their money, from challenging the merchants from using their money to challenge the power and authority of the Samurai. Instead, merchants spent their money on food and drink, leading to a rich and diverse food culture developing as a result of the patronage of the merchant class.

Frankly, I think the merchants got the better deal. Eating and drinking my way across Kansai, I appreciated their legacy.

Monday, May 25, 2009

I Climbed California Part Two

On the way back from a group ride in the East Bay, I decided to do something I've feared doing.

I rode a bike up from the Embarcadero up to the top the California Street hill.

I had run up California Street multiple times for training. Bike riding up the hill was something I always avoided. My logic has been that if it sucks ass running up the hill, it will be even worse cycling up it. I also feared that the two block section leading up to Stockton Street and heading up to Powell Street would be too steep for me, that I would stall mid-way up and fall sideways to the laughter of all the tourists.

Well I didn't stall, but it wasn't easy.

I was able to stay in the saddle from Kearny Street to Grant Street. Just as I passed Grant I came across a gaggle of tourists on the side of the road. I saw a lady among them pointing a digital camera at me. Without thinking I said to them,

"How ya doin'"

I was greeted with cheers and fist pumping. Great to have people cheering me on when I'm doing something really stupid.

As expected, the sections leading up to Stockton and Powell were harder. Had to get out of the saddle for two blocks. It was bad, but I knew it would be bad, so it really wasn't so hard. By the time I passed Powell Street, I was sitting back in the saddle.

After climbing California Street, maybe the Seven Hells Ride isn't so insurmountable now...

The California School of Whisky

Was introduced yesterday to something that could make history -- or become a footnote in the culinary history of California.

I did the tour & tasting at Hangar One yesterday.

While there the distiller/tour guide discussed the single malt whiskey they are working on. They are using the same techniques that would be used to make a single malt Scotch.

But there's a catch -- you can't call it Scotch because this isn't Scotland. The Bay Area also has very different environmental conditions -- which affects how long the whisky needs to age as well as how it will taste when its done.

So what it is it then?

My theory is that if these guys are at the early stages of what could become a California style of whiskey. What they are doing at Hangar One isn't that different from what the Canadians and Japanese were doing in the 19th century, and what was happening in the backwoods of Kentucky in the 1700's. If the Hangar One guys succeed, and if other distillers in the area copy them, decades from now there will be a California style whisky that is as well known as California wine and craft beer.

The whisky that Hangar One had a distinct taste. Its not as cloyingly sweet as a scotch, and it doesn't have the bite of bourbon. It is very remiscent of Japanese whisky in terms of being smooth and drinkable.

I feel like I was present at the conception.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Identity, Culture, and Bruce Lee

I recently finished watching History Channel's "How Bruce Lee Changed the World."

If you get past the overwrought commentary it has a legitimate point about how Bruce Lee became a very influential cultural icon.

The thing that struck me personally is just how contradictory his role in Chinese culture is.

Chinese people are more than willing to embrace Bruce Lee as a cultural icon, as the strong Chinese man who stuck it to Whitey. He's probably the greatest pop culture hero of Modern Chinese Romanticsm.

But the way he lived his life, approached martial arts, and embraced ideas from outside his culture -- was something very hard for Chinese people to handle. To be frank, any Chinese today taking his approach to life would get the stink-eye from other Chinese people.

Take his martial arts.

Its not a big deal now, but his teaching of kung fu to Westerners was something very much frowned upon by other kung fu instructors. He got into nasty fights with other veteran Chinese martial artists because of this.

Then there was Jeet Kun Do.

It's recognized now as a martial art, and taught in Hong Kong. But while it has a lot of Chinese techniques in it, its loaded with techniques from Western and other Asian martial arts.

Granted, the history of martial arts is loaded with artists who broke with tradition, creating new styles with techniques borrowed from elsewhere.

But here's the catch -- in the heavily loaded world of modern Chinese culture and modern Chinese identity politics, what Lee did was heretical. He was essentially acknowledging that centuries old Chinese martial arts traditions were inadequate, and that the fighting styles of the evil barbarians (Westerners & Japanese people), lesser Asians (the Koreans, the Thai), actually had something to offer.

That Chinese cultural superiority complex still seems to affect how Chinese people approach Jeet Kun Do (JKD). Relatives and other Chinese people I've known who have studied the martial arts generally don't think much of JKD. JKD is viewed with a kind of contempt, acknowledged as possibly being useful and effective, but crude, and unrefined. It seems that if a Chinese kid wanted to learn a Chinese martial art, he'll be directed to the Shaolin animal styles, various styles of taijiquan, or Wushu. But never JKD.

For me personally, Lee embodies the contradictions of the Huaqiao, or overseas Chinese. To succeed, the Huaqiao learns to embrace new ideas, new ways of thinking and doing things. When he heads back to China, or just a Chinese community, Chinese people embrace him because they can take advantage of his success -- taking his money, and the knowledge and ideas he brings back with him from outside.

But Chinese people are also uncomfortable with the Huaqiao finding much of his personal value system and approach to doing things uncomfortable and alien. They'll use the Huaqiao for their own ends while trash talking them for losing their Chinese-ness.

Sounds like a raw deal to me.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I'm Getting Old I Guess...

Last week hit home the fact that I'm not as strong or as fast as I used to be.

At one of my conditioning classes my instructor/torturer made us do a Tabata of push-ups. The Tabata is a workout where you do 8 sets of a given exercise; 20 seconds of maximum reps of the exercise, 10 seconds rest, then move onto the next set. So for a Tabata of push-ups, you'd be doing the maximum number of push-ups for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, then start all over again.

The Tabata was very hard -- its to be expected. But the number of push-ups I did over eight sets wasn't much. Putting it into perspective, 11 years ago I could do more push-ups doing two back to back sets with only 2 minutes rest in between.

Maybe I've gotten weaker. Maybe I've gotten fatter.

Either case, it sucks to be getting older....

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Stinky Onion Flavored Smoothie

Got this bad boy at the local Vietnamese sandwhich shop. A durrian smoothy with tapioca pearls at the bottom.

From Drop Box

Smelled like onions, tasted like onions. Also had a strong sweet cream flavor to it as well. Wacky mix.

An acquired taste I guess.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Stupidity of Culinary Nationalism

After my negative experience with Texas BBQ I delivered my views of Texas BBQ to some associates of mine from Texas. Both of them live in California now, and both are critical of the Texas culture. One was a vegetarian for many years. The other, after spending a period of his youth in China, loves Chinese regional cuisine.

Both reacted VERY negatively to my criticism of Texas BBQ.

Their reactions kept making me think about that episode where the Texas delegation challenged the Israelis to a cookoff -- bbq vs shawarma. It also hit home the contradictions involved with Culinary Nationalism. When I speak of Culinary Nationalism I mean the tendency of people from particular regions/countries to claim their cuisine is the best in the world, all others are crap, and they have nothing to learn from other food cultures. Texas BBQ lovers picking fights with Israeli shawarma eaters, and emphasizing the superiority of the Texas BBQ over the other schools of BBQ (Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas City, etc.) embody this.

One of my associates/Texas BBQ partisans explained that the best Texas BBQ was actually from the Hill Country. This BBQ was a cultural fusion of cuts of meat that the German immigrants popularized and the spice mixtures that Mexican immigrants brought with them.

Ironic. Texas BBQ exists today because the Germans, Mexicans, and Anglos, who interacted with each other in the Hill Country were not so proud and rigid in their ideas about food that they couldn't experiment with new flavors and techniques. Yet modern Texans, with their chest thumping love of Texas BBQ, remain willfully ignorant of the broader world of grilled and roasted meats. Their dismissal of the other great meats of the world is like Hugh Hefner only allowing blonds into the Playboy mansion.

Hefner -- wisely -- never engaged in such ignorance.

On that note, from now till the day I die I will eat every grilled meat on the planet, and I will choose no favorites. Equal opportunity!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Did the Redwood Peak trail run this morning. It was a 15K trail run in the hills overlooking Oakland, sponsored by XTerra. I had done an XTerra 12K on the Dipsea trail during the summer of 2007. It was horrendously hard, but I liked the organization and experience. So I thought I would come back for more.

I had trained on the hills in the city, running up and down some of the larger hills in Pac Heights and Nob Hill area. Two of my longer training runs finished with the California mile -- uphill on California Street from the Financial District up to Grace Cathedral.

The run turned out to be beautiful, I'm glad I did it. But it wasn't easy. We had an unusually hot day in the East Bay Hills, so dehydration was a risk. They even ran out of water and gatorade at the finish. They also did a last minute change to the trail, extending the course. The final distance was somewhere around 9.5 miles.

The race began with a 1 mile relatively smooth downhill, which jacked up the speeds for everyone. Around the 4 mile mark, just after the first water stop, we finally hit the first real hill. Very nasty. Nobody among the group I was with could jog it, it was way too steep. Afterwards was a 3 mile relatively flat section along the ridgeline. Seemed easy on the surface, but it turned into the most frustrating section of the trail. It was completely exposed to the sun, so the heat beat everyone down. Also, at that point my legs no longer had any snap in them -- so I couldn't run with a long stride. It turned into a slow 3 mile long slog in high heat.

The most interesting thing about the day was that those God awful quad exercises that I had to do in the Krav/Crossfit class (squats, burpees, lunge steps), and the stairclimbing I did last month for Climb California, helped me in the last 2.5 miles. About 2 of the last 2.5 miles were a very steep uphill. It was like stairclimbing. While it was painful, it was familiar. For others it was rougher. One girl that I passed was walking uphill with her feet pointed diagonally and with her legs in a wide walking stance -- big waste of energy. She should have kept her legs close together, her feet pointed straight, everything moving straight forward.

As I passed her she said to me "This blows!" I told her to look at the bright side -- we were under the trees now, so it was very shady and cool, unlike the previous 3 miles in the sun.

As I drove home from the race, the thing that hit me was that I missed these types of events a great deal. Triathlons and the three races/events that comprise it were the sports that during the past 5 years made me feel 10 feet taller and 15 years younger. As much as I like Krav/Crossfit/TRX/etc., those workouts are just that -- workouts. They aren't sports, they don't have events or competitions associated with them. They also don't bring you outdoors. Having the wind and sun in my face -- even if I'm getting roasted or chilled, adds to the experience. I miss that feeling of being outside dealing with nature.

Now where do I go from here? I feel committed to Krav, but I miss my old sports.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why the Instructor Matters

I took my second TRX class today.

TRX is a new workout routine based on a workout some Navy SEALS put together down in San Diego using old parachute rigging. The rigging is hung from a ceiling, you grip the rigging, keep your back straight, and use your body weight as resistance in a series of calisthenics.

The first time I did it I wasn't impressed. It was only hard enough to annoy me. Not enough to truly hurt me.

This time it hurt me. The instructor this time is also the instructor who teaches my occasional CrossFit class and my Krav Maga conditioning class. While she uses a soft touch, she is still one of the toughest instructors I've ever had. Ironically, I took the TRX class this evening because my quads couldn't handle her conditioning class so close to a race day. Her workouts have left me with 8 weeks of non-stop quad and knee soreness. Murphy's Law being what it is, she took over teaching the TRX class.

For lack of a better phrase, she broke me. She was exponentionally harder than her predecessor. The section where I cracked were the ab exercises. The way they work abs in TRX is to hook your feet into the loops, which are suspended 12-18 inches off the floor. Doesn't sound like much, until you do the following;

- A sideways plank: having your feet suspended in the air a few inches off the ground exposed problems in my core strength between my front and back. Unlike sideplanks with my feet on the ground, I couldn't maintain a stable position.

- Did a tabata of bicycles where I got in a push-up position, then brought my knees up to my chest one at a time like in a bicycle sit-up. It was 8 sessions of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off. Doesn't sound hard, but as is the case with the sideways plank, being suspended off the ground exposes a ton of balance and core strength weaknesses.

Torn at this point. My quads, thankfully, didn't die. So I'll be able to run on Sunday without a hitch. Everywhere else on my body hurts like a mo-fo. I hate being reminded of how weak my core muscles are, and all the places where I need to work.

Texas BBQ Ain't All That

Way back a colleague of mine, well versed in the world of BBQ, provided some great insights on the world of BBQ. He explained that the styles of BBQ that people cite (Texas, Carolina, Kansas City) aren't really strict styles but general schools of BBQ. For example, Carolina BBQ has many sub-genres unique to different sections of the Southeastern US. The thing that binds them together is the sweet & sour sauce, and the emphasis on slow cooked pork.

The colleague also went on to diss Texas BBQ. His theory was that Texas (a major beef producer) used its dominance of the beef market to proliferate the idea that beef was the king of BBQ meats, and that the only good BBQ'd beef was Texan. He also stated that Texas BBQ wasn't nearly as delicious as Texans claimed it was.

After this week, I'd have to agree with him.

I visited Dallas earlier this week. I was so excited to finally eat Texas BBQ in Texas. Random Texans I had met (predictably) sang the praises of Texas BBQ to me. I even heard a story about a bunch of Texans visiting Israel who challenged the Israelis to a food battle -- Texas BBQ vs. Shwarma. Stupid food machismo...

While in Texas I only ate two meals of BBQ. It was enough. Afterwards I had no more taste for meat, and ate seafood for the rest of the trip.

Yes, that's right, BBQ in Dallas was so bad that it drove me to eat seafood hundreds of miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico.

I ate BBQ at two different restaurants in Dallas that had 4 star yelp reviews. The common factor in all of them was that the meat was as dry as a bone. At the first place I ate a combo of beef and pork ribs, to get a comparison of how different meats react to Texas BBQ techniques. The next day I had a beef brisket.

The first case, I wrote it off as being a problem with the restaurant. I ate there at dinner, in a mostly empty restaurant. The place was probably more of a lunch spot than a dinner spot. So what I ate was probably left in the cooker for several hours too long.

With that in mind I went to my second restaurant the next day for lunch. It was a busy bbq joint with high turnover at lunch. I assumed that there would be meat fresh out of the smoker, and it would be moist and juicy. So I took a historically fat and juicy cut of meat, beef brisket, known back on the East Coast as pastrami.

See the picture below;

From Drop Box

Notice all that thick brown sauce covering the beef brisket. That's a BBQ sauce that they drench the meat in. Its the only moisture that the meat has. While it was the same cut of meat as pastrami it was radically different in flavor and texture, but not in a good way.

Oh Katz Delicatessen where art thou...

I asked for more details from my BBQ expert colleague. His theory was that Texas BBQ relies to much on smoke, essentially slow smoking the meat to the point that all the moisture disappears. In that situation, drenching the meat in an overpowering sauce is the only way to keep the meat palatable.

Thinking back to the story I heard about the Texan's challenging the Israeli's to a BBQ throw-down, I know which side I'm betting on in that fight. I'll take a shwarma over Texas BBQ ribs anyday.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

More on Why We Shouldn't Daydream About Owning a Gourmet Restaurant

When looking at he world of celebrity chefs, I can't help but notice a kind of spectrum of chefs. On one extreme side, you get very refined and very packaged. When I mean refined and packaged think;

Giada Delaurentis
Nigella Lawson
Jamie Oliver
Andrew Zimmern

They are all very clean, never curse, barely break a sweat.

Then there is the opposite extreme, the bad boys of the celebrity chef world;

Gordon Ramsay
Anthony Bourdain
Marco Pierre White

Neither of these three make any effort to hide their crassness or rough edge. In the cases of Ramsay and Bourdain, they profit from their crudeness.

There is also a third group. I like to think of these guys/girls as bad boys whom the Food Network/Travel Network sent to a finishing school, manhandled into a shell of respectability, but occasionally let slip their rough edge. They fall somewhere in the middle.

Rachele Ray (yes, I know, everyone hates her)
Bobby Flay
Mario Batali

Batali's rough side slips out in writings by food writers and other chefs who know him personally. Flay is supposedly quite abrasive.

The Bad Boys understandably irritate many foodies. As much as I love Bourdain's show and his books, I don't think I can handle a road trip with him. His sarcasm could get old very quickly. But the more refined of the celebrity chefs (Lawson, Delaurentis, Oliver), they are bad in that they give foodies this delusion that producing gourmet food is somehow not painful, or difficult, that you can run a quality restaurant without being an absolute a-hole.

The Marco Pierre Whites/Gordon Ramsay/Anthony Bourdain's remind us of just how hard this line of work is, the physical toll this line of work takes over the span of decades, and how it shouldn't be overly romanticized.

They also remind us that we shouldn't just respect the Great Chefs for their artisty, but for their grit, their perserverance, and their mental and physical toughness.

Why We Shouldn't Daydream About Running a Restaurant

I recently finished reading Bill Buford's book Heat. Also finally caught episodes of Hell's Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay. Reading Buford's descriptions of being verbally abused by Mario Batali's Sous Chef's, then watching Gordon Ramsay rip his contestants a new orifice, it made me think back to my family's old restaurant back on the East Coast.

My parents shared ownership of a Chinese restaurant with a few of my aunts and uncles. It was tough for them. Lots of fighting. Business arguments pretty soon poisoned the family relationships. When they all finally sold the place in the mid-1990's, it had the effect (over the span of a few years) of healing most of the wounds between them.

At times I thought that all the stupid fights between my parents and relatives at the restaurant were unique to their situation. Running a brown sauce Chinese restaurant in a rednecky town East Coast town wasn't easy to begin with. The narrow profit margins, the growing competition from Fujianese immigrants moving to the suburbs from New York, and having no clear chain of command, probably made it worse. Last but not least -- it was a low end Chinese restaurant, not an upscale American/Italian/French/etc. place. I and my siblings just assumed that the Chinese factor was what made it so difficult, that restaurants run by Chinese people were inherently conflict ridden.

Reading Buford and watching Ramsay hit home the fact that even successful upscale restaurants are tense nasty environments. Managers and chefs yell and fight. Stupid turf wars go on all the time. The staff on the bottom of the ladder get verbally abused. The only difference between Babbo and my mom & dad's place was that all that tension at a place like Babbo somehow (miraculously) leads to a product that people are willing to pay a lot of money for. We were not so fortunate.

At times I and some of my siblings have dreamt of opening somekind of upscale restaurant, catering business, bakery, charcuterie, bar, brewery, etc. The assumption is that it wouldn't be anything like the pressure cookers that our parents spent decades working in, that it would somehow be less tense, more artistic, and not particularly stressful because we'd be following a passion.

Buford & Ramsay remind us that where there is passion there is also a tremendous amount of pain.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I Climbed California

My Crossfit class put together a team for the 2009 Climb California event.

Fifty two stories, 1197 steps, a lot of hacking.

On paper the entire team did all the right training. We practiced together a few times on the Lyon Street steeps. Four times up 300 steps in a drop dead gorgeous neighborhood. The views and architecture softened the pain in my lungs and thighs. I also trained a little indoors. My logic was that outdoor steps aren't really the same as a twisting staircase.

Even with the training it was still VERY HARD. There was something about the air in the stairwells. It was hot and stuffy, a little dusty. Aroma's also seemed to linger. Somewhere around the 15th floor someone farted a nasty one -- and I ran right into the cloud of stink. I had a strange blood-like flavor in the back of my throat after I finished. I was going to try to jog my way up the steps, alternating every 10 stories with short sections of walking up the steps. I ended up walking up most of the way.

Still, the views from the top made worth it. These are shots from the Carnellian Room, where they issued out all the schwag to the runners.

From Drop Box

A lot of people were downing beers and bloody mary's. In retrospect, I probably should have done the same thing. A little booze (just a little) after a workout like this would have have been nice. It was worth the pain though.

From Drop Box

Now if only my knees would stop aching...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sake, The Welcome Surprise

A few weeks back I tried my sake. It was sour and kind of gross. I had written it off, and ignored it for the next few weeks. This past evening I decided I needed to empty my growler, get rid of this sour rancid liquid that I had hoped would become a Japanese rice wine.  This is what it looked like.

From Storehouse

 It really isn't that pretty looking -- resembles a urine sample with rice grains at the bottom.  But the sourness that I came across a few weeks back was gone.  While this stuff isn't nearly as refined as the sake I'd get in a store, it now actually tastes like sake, albeit a very rough version of it.

I poured out the mixture from my carboy into a mason jar.  I also squeezed the rice kernels to get the last of the sake out of them. It became quite cloudy.

From Storehouse

Looking back on it, my assuming the whole thing had become rancid was a good thing. If I had followed directions and emptied it all out at the five week mark I would have trashed the whole thing because of the sourness. The extra 2-3 weeks gave the sake time to finish fermenting and come more refined.

From here I'm not sure what I am going to do. This stuff is still a bit rough compared to what I'm used to. I have enough of it to do experimentation -- serving it cold, serving heated up, or in shot glasses with a raw oyster. Afterwards I'll get a better sense of what I can do with this stuff.

Either case, I can now say to myself, I've made sake!

From Storehouse

Monday, March 23, 2009

Finding Renewed Faith Through CrossFit

Lately I've taken some of the CrossFit classes at my Krav Maga school. At first I was very intimidated. The other conditioning classes had been very squat heavy, destroying my knees and quads. I had been warned the CrossFit class was a muscle killing experience.

The warnings were on the money. The volume of push-ups, burpees, lunge steps, sit ups, squats, etc., way exceed anything I've done in a very longtime. The instructor's also have a habit of throwing a curve ball into the workout -- like slapping a 25 lb plate on your back and then telling you to do several sets of push-ups.

Also -- that's the easy half of the class. The harder group gets stuff much more vicious.

After this evening's CrossFit workout I felt something that I hadn't felt since my earliest triathlons -- a sense of achieving something, of coming across a hard physical obstacle and defeating it. Walking out the door of the gym my quads and knees were shot to hell, but I walked out feeling happy.

Its good to have that feeling again.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bacon Incubator

During the past week I signed me and M up for an inaugural food event.

We signed up to present dishes based on bacon to the event. While the event is all about bacon, I decided to bring it one step back, to the cut of meat that bacon is derived from. Pork belly.

Not sure how this happened, but in the process of registering myself into the event, I signed us both up. I also put us in submitting a dish each.

We used this weekend as a dry run on our respective recipes. M choose something orthodox, a Nagasaki-style braised pork belly dish. Tried and true. I flirted with an Italian influenced roast pork belly; garlic, olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and thyme. A little more risky.

Dinner turned into porkfest. A crispy pork belly with crackling skin, very strong and aggressive in terms of flavor and texture. Afterwards, a pork belly braised in a broth of soy sauce and leeks, super soft, and very subtle in taste and texture. The one common denominator in both cases, the luxurious flavor of pork fat.

My dish came from a different pig and a different section of the belly. Thinner and tougher skin. More stronger flavored meat. Very salty -- too much sea salt. M's was more understated -- slightly sweet and aromatic from the use of leeks.

Our pork dishes probably reflected our respective personalities; subtle and refined versus aggressive and intense.

We'll see how it goes next week.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Seven Blocks - Two Worlds

A friend once told me how San Francisco is a tiny city, only 7 miles X 7 miles in size. It packs a great deal inside that 7 mile X 7 mile space -- the great stuff and the awful stuff. This past weekend hit that home in a big way.

On Saturday M and I decided to check out the Bhutan exhibit at the Asian Art Museum. It is not far from us, maybe a 15 minute walk. It was an amazing exhibit. Rare Buddhist art that has never left Bhutan before, sculpture art that has all but disappeared from Pakistan, India, and Tibet. Beautiful mandhala's.

Walking out of the exhibit, we both felt grateful for the fact we live in a city where we can find such amazing cultural attractions so close to home. The downside was that we had to trek through the Tenderloin to get there. After 4 years here the TL should not disturb me anymore.

But it still does.

On the way there we passed by two frazzled out junkies talking about a mutual friend who went to go get some crack. The two of them hustled away in the opposite direction, one of them insisting that they go get her afternoon fix.

The two junkies were harmless. They weren't about mug or pickpocket either of us to get money for a fix. But it still really bothers me that this museum, loaded with priceless religious artifacts from the other side of the world, unique in North America due both to its size and focus on Asian Art, is surrounded by druggies, dealers, pimps, whores, and various human filth.

I've heard from others that city leaders here in San Francisco think that having wealth & culture parked next to povery and squallor would somehow make things better for the urban poor, that they would have access to services and economic opportunities that would otherwise be denied to them.

I fail to see how great Asian art was going to get those two crackheads to go into rehab.

I love SF. But the city leaders need to get an f$@#-ing clue.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Watch U Talkin' About Willis?

Had an unusual wedding anniversary yesterday. I offered M several options as far as things to do -- ballet, jazz, the opera, the symphony. As a gag, I sent her a link to Fog City Wrestling's monthly event.

Take a guess which one she picked!

It was a good idea though. This particular edition was the debut of Todd Bridges AKA Willis from Different Strokes. Remember him?

Bridges was on a tag team for the final event of the night. He had gotten bigger and buffer from when he was a teenage star. But he had to be 100 lbs lighter than the rest of those steroid junkees that wrestle professionally.

His bout was the most theatrical of the evening. Bridges -- in proper pro wrestling style -- finished out with a bang, He betrayed his tag team partner by wacking him in the back with an aluminum briefcase.

Wonder what would happen if Gary Coleman became a pro wrestler.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Latest on the Sake

We are at the three week mark now. The instructions said I could strain it out at two weeks and start drinking it. The instructions also said that if you let it sit for two or three more weeks it will get more refined.

The fermentation has slowed down. There are not as many bubbles of gas coming out of the airlock as there were before. While the darkened glass of the growler hides things, the color of the sake changes from bottom to top. The bottom is much lighter colored, almost as if the rice became a kind of white mush. As you go up the rice is loose and floating in a cloudy liquid. Closer to the top the liquid seems clearer.

I took a taste of the stuff. There is definitely alcohol in there. But the flavor leaves a bit to be desired. It is a bit sour. The rice is very soft. At this point, it is anything but refined.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Haggis Follow - Up

Since last Sunday I've made a couple new dishes with the leftover haggis.

- Haggis shepherd's pie.
- Haggis on white rice with a light dash of soy sauce.

This really is an underrated and very flexible food. Reminiscent of spam.

I still have a 5 X 2 inch block of this stuff in the fridge. Maybe I'll wrap it up in puff pastry and make a Haggis Wellington.

A Kinsmen

After making the Haggis I feel a kind of kinship with Toddish MacWong, the man behind the events below.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Making the Haggis

This whole thing turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. I'm not done yet either -- I still got a stash of haggis meat in my freezer waiting to be stuffed.

I did some research online, found a website with multiple haggis recipes.

The recipe I went with was a mix of those recipes, but with a few alterations.

1 sheeps stomach
1 lb of liver
A sheeps kidney
A sheeps heart
1 lb of steel cut Irish oats
1 lb of fatback (salt pork)
1/2 tsp each of cayenne pepper, and allspice

The original recipes called for suet instead of fatback. I couldn't find suet at the local markets. But I could get fatback at Cala market. I guess people in SF like pork fat more than beef/lamb fat.

I got the sheeps belly from this place in the Tenderloin.

The lady who runs the place didn't seem to believe I was serious when I special ordered a sheeps belly. She was two days late -- but she delivered.

The stomach itself though was not in good condition. It was split down the middle. The instructions said to boil it for 1.5 hours to clean out any impurities. The boiling was definitely necessary --- the stomach was filthy with residue from the grass the sheep ate. But the boiling weakened the lining that held the stomach together. I could have stuffed 4 lbs of organ meats and oats into it, but it would have been impossible to seal it well enough to handle a pot of boiling water.

From Storehouse

Reminds me of the the Alien movies.

I had to find a solution. Rummaging through the web, I found that using sheeps stomach is a really old school way of making haggis. Most haggis' these days are made using a kind of sausage casing called Beef Caps. Also, reading the updated recipes, it became apparent that the stomach (the thing that weirds out so many people) doesn't really impart any kind of flavor or texture to the haggis. Its just a cooking vessel -- albeit a gross one.

Solution -- cheese cloth and red leaf lettuce. I split the meat into two portions. I laid out the red leaf lettuce onto a sheet of cheese cloth, laid the haggis stuffing onto the lettuce, and rolled it up into a tootsie roll. This one I put into a boiling pot of water. The other portion I wrapped up with cheese cloth into a big Hershey's chocolate kiss looking thing and plopped it into a steamer.

From Storehouse

From Storehouse

After two hours of cooking, the steamed candy kiss haggis wasn't that ugly. It was the one we ended up eating.

From Storehouse

From Storehouse

The tootsie roll haggis was another story. Peeling off the cheese cloth, then the overcooked redleaf lettuce, I felt like an Egyptologist peeling the wraps off a mummy.

From Storehouse

Looks are deceiving though. How it tastes is what matters.

I thought the haggis' might come out OK, but wasn't sure. M was skeptical of it at first, but when she tried it, it reminded her of a breakfast hash type of thing she used to eat at a deli/cafeteria nearby one of her old jobs. She even suggested serving it on top of rice, a kind of Scottish-Japanese fusion food. I thought it was a tad salty, but liked it more with every bite. By the time we put away the plates most of the candy kiss haggis was gone.

Looking back on it, I can understand now those stories I've heard about Scottish people getting angry and upset at having their haggis (or is it haggi?) impounded at the border by Customs. On a cold wet evening (like we had tonight) haggis & mashed potatoes are comfort food. I can very easily see taking the leftover haggis meat and using it in a shepherds pie, or putting it into a rice ball wrapped in nori.

I leave with the following;


Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftan o’ the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
You pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’need
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead

His knife see Rustic-labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reeking, rich!

Then, horn for horn they stretch an’ strive,
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive
Bethankit hums

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash
His spindle-shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bluidy flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs, an’ arms an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle

Ye pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
An’ dish them out their bill o’fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ pray’r,

Gie her a Haggis!