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lift, swim, eat, repeat

January 22nd, 2014 | 2 Comments »

It’s frigid outside, again, although nowhere near as cold as it was a week ago. In the pool room of the Y, the sun is making the water sparkle, when it’s able to peek out from the whirling dervishes of snow kicked up by the intense Northerly winds. The snow devils block the two story high windows, but even on this deeply cold day, the warmth in the pool is welcome. I slip in to the water and feel the shock of the cold over my entire body, shivering a little as I push off from the wall.

I’m sore this morning, as our Body Pump class has started a new release, changing the sequences and challenging our muscles all over again. This happens every six weeks, and I equally anticipate it, and dread it. And I love it. And hate it. Change is hard, and this physical change that I’ve been putting myself through for the last 14 months has forced me out of my comfort zone more times than I ever expected. Some mornings, just stretching, and rolling out of bed elicits groans and tender first steps. Going up and down stairs can hurt for the first treads after a good leg workout, and those first strokes in the pool, like today, felt tough, but freeing. Swimming takes the hurt out of muscles torn and battered, challenged through lifting, forced into re-building and growth. But the first 100 yards or so can almost bring tears to my eyes as the soreness abates, the tendons and ligaments stretch and recover. I swim to make it better, then, the next day I lift the bar, clip on the plates and tear myself up all over again.

I’ve always been active, but in previous years, most of that activity was in warmer months, saving my nordic ski habit for Winter. As much as I love the skinny skis, it wasn’t enough, and I knew I needed more; more weight training as I age to help ward off osteoporosis and keep good skeletal health. More cardio to keep my lungs healthy, in a family with history of asthma. And more movement to keep me from languishing through a Winter, sinking in to a soft chair, one eye on the calendar, waiting for Spring, for my bike to come down from the rafters in the garage so I can spin the tires once more. Starting was difficult, keeping at it to make it a habit was even more difficult, but one day I awoke and felt excitement at the thought of another Body Pump class, in realizing it was a swim day and anticipating how good I would feel when it was all over. The rewards were reinforced even further when clothing began to loosen, my shoulders strengthened and those bike rides didn’t feel so strenuous any longer. In 14 months, I haven’t lost a single pound, but everything looks different, and pants that were snug before I started can now be pulled over my hips without even being unbuttoned.

I love this article … stop a moment and go read it, as I think you’ll find it fascinating, too. I was a skeptic, and at one point would have scoffed at the information, but now, I’m a believer, and a convert and gladly head to the YMCA six days a week for one more Body Pump class, or to slip through the water, admiring the sparkling sunbeams on the pool floor as I swim. All the aches, the hurt and fatigue, the sore muscles and mind-numbing but uplifting after-burn combines to motivate me every day, to be better, and stronger.

Soups and hearty warm stews are a constant these days. Nowhere in your kitchen repertoire can you find a dish that is so versatile and so accepting of the varied means to an end. Minestrone is designed to take in the leftovers lurking in the fridge, the odds and ends of vegetables that don’t have a place otherwise, to steep together, to create something that fills you up after a cold day has taken the last of your coping skills away, or a good workout has drained your energy. I love that a good soup or stew tastes better in subsequent days, that the flavors meld and deepen, almost, like continual exercise does with our bodies, becoming something else altogether.

Perfect Minestrone

1 large onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 celery stalks, with leaves, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced (adjust to taste, I am a garlic lover)
2 small zucchini, peeled and diced
1/2# fresh green beans, cut to 1/2″ pieces
1 bunch fresh kale, rough stems removed and chopped (sub chard, collards, or spinach)
1 32-oz container Pomi* Tomatoes (use equivalent of your choice)
1/4 c. quinoa (optional, but I like the heft and nutrition it adds)
1/4 c. fresh chopped parsley and oregano (basil and thyme are also good)
Parm-Reggiano shavings

In a large stockpot, heat a small amount of oil and add the onions. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are opaque. Add the carrots, celery and green beans and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to brown a little, maybe 10-15 minutes. Moderate the heat to prevent them from scorching.

Add the garlic and a pinch of kosher salt. Stir to incorporate and cook for a few minutes until it’s wonderfully fragrant. Add the  zucchini and the tomatoes and a quart of broth or water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender enough to pierce with a fork, but not completely soft.

Add the kale, the pasta and the quinoa, if using. Depending on what pasta shape you use, cook until the pasta is al dente. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper. Make sure the pasta is cooked, but also remember that it will continue to absorb liquid as the soup sits.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with a sprinkling of the fresh herbs and some shavings of cheese. Serve with a good bread, if desired.

*- Pomi Tomatoes are a packaged brand of tomatoes available in most grocers. The container is aseptic, with no BPA and the taste is phenomenal, fresh and clean. It’s one of my favorite brands of canned tomatoes on the market.

NOTE: The original version of this recipe called for pasta, as most Minestrone soups do. I subbed in quinoa for a GF option but you can use any small pasta shape of your choice if you wish. The photo shows Orzo pasta.

 

KATE’S NOTES: A good Minestrone is designed to use up vegetable odds and ends. While these make for a delicious soup, use whatever you have available to make your Minestrone unique, and to use up what’s in your refrigerator.

call of the wild

January 24th, 2012 | Comments Off

January 23rd, yesterday, I strapped on my cross-country skis for the first time this winter.

This Winter, waiting for snow cover deep enough to kick through has nearly killed me in anticipation, especially given that last year I was out almost every week between late November to well through March. Every snowfall that came our way found me holding my breath, anxiously awaiting the perfect amount that never came.

Certain activities are just part of who I am. Cooking, for one. But this, the strapping on of tiny thin skis, grasping the little poles and facing an open path of fresh snow, wind in the trees and clouds scuttling overhead is also a part of me that goes back to moments in childhood that seared to my brain like fire. I don’t even know how old I was the first time I put on the skinny skis. But I was a kid, and our school class went to a golf course one winter day, lush with a endless expanse of unbroken snow and we all were given those skis, the long poles and funny shoes and we set out over the empty golf course, where it clicked within me.

And in repeated winters, over growing years, those endless snows spread out in front of me as I faced them, tall poles in hand, face to the wind. Then at some point, they just stopped. But the call within me never left and finally several winters ago, I urged Mike to get ski packages and join me on the trails. It was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

Because the first time  I headed along a trail, pushing every muscle from shoulder to ankle over the snow, I felt that thrill again. I felt the flood of oxygen to every working muscle. I felt the quiet cold air and saw those dancing clouds. I felt alive again, working with muscles that still held the perfect memory of how this was done, even though it had to be more than 20 years since we’d moved in this way. I marveled at a body that remembered, when I had nearly forgotten; marveled at muscles that snapped into recall, pulling memory from some long ago moment in time. And I wondered why I’d stopped.

There is a tiny little park near our house; hardly a spot on a map but it’s flat, and just large enough to make for a perfect workout. I carve a trail around the perimeter, and go four, five six, sometimes eight laps or more around that park. It’s enough to make my lungs pump fiercely. It’s enough to drench me in sweat. It’s plenty, and it’s close and it’s 45 minutes to an hour of intense cardio work. If I can do this a few times a week, it’s all I could ever ask for from Winter.

The snow flies, and I hear the siren call from the trails. Yesterday was that call, and barely a half hour after I was home from work, I faced that empty park, with a wicked cold Easterly wind on my back and stepped in to my skinny skis. The first path over the snow cuts my trail, and every lap gets easier as I go. My lungs engage, my muscles warm, the wind doesn’t seem so bitter and Winter doesn’t seem all that long anymore. It’s just me and the snow.

It’s Just Write Tuesday, Version 19.0.

sunday

October 11th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

The glory days of Fall, Indian Summer in it’s finest moments is fading fast like the last car of a train bound far away, and it speaks with an urgency “Go out there! Enjoy this!” because we know soon enough, this too will feel like an afterthought.

I’m wearing a tank top and it’s October 9th and I think that this feeling is something I wish to burn in my memory to carry around in January, and again in those late and dark days of March where winter feels interminable and the thought of Spring is like a dream you can’t quite recall. It’s dusty and hot and I love it but the dryness tugs at my throat as the dirt rises against my wheels.

The continual thrum of rubber on the road is sometimes the only noise I hear, that is, until I hit the patch of leaves and crunch my way through. No patch sounds the same, feels the same or even looks alike; these piles of Autumn’s detritus. I could kick them, or run my bike tire over like today and every sound speaks of Fall, but is completely new. I could ride forever on a day like today, all halcyon and copper, flashes of yellow, red and gold whipping past me and the wind on my face. The road is pretty quiet, cars gone elsewhere to enjoy the sunshine and I ride alone, without loneliness. I can’t ever feel lonely outdoors. It’s alive and it’s vibrant and it’s stoic in it’s stand against the seasons, rarely faltering or shrinking back from the blazing heat nor the snow and rain. It’s admirable, really. We could take lots of notes from the stalwart life of a mighty Cottonwood.

My plan is working as the hum of my bike and clicking of the changing gears begins to churn the mass from my mind. I can let go of days, events, time and stress by letting loose in nature, and with each gear change, it’s like clicking open different parts of my skull to allow it all to pour out, freeing me to think straight again. I need to get myself out and away, putting behind me the Instagram days where I filter over the picture of my reality, making it softer, cleaner, or giving it a whole different feel in order to make it tolerable. It’s my coping mechanism when the world begins to disappoint and crush. But my favorite world, the one that never lets me down, is among the trees and leaves, on the waters edge watching a hundred geese make their smooth landings, the wind tickling the hair on my arms.

Ten miles have passed, nearly without effort and I am making my way home. I’m tired, sweaty now and a bit off kilter from this purge of last weeks life. It was a big week, with a lot of amazing happenings and even when it’s gone and over, there is still a residue behind, that little bit that requires some extra scraping to remove. I’m worn, feeling empty, but I’m elated too, ready for another go at it. The wind feels cold almost, against the sweat under my helmet. I stretch, feeling every muscle sing with the energy I’ve just poured through my limbs. I dream of the hot shower, clean clothes and relaxing afternoon ahead.

Visit The Extraordinary Ordinary for more of this week’s Just Write series.