Salomon Trail 20 Review

September 29, 2016

It’s been a long while since I’ve done a review of any sorts, and that’s probably some combination of laziness and wanting to do in-depth reviews with lots of pretty pictures and whatnot. But I figure there may be some useful value to just sharing thoughts on products I use on a regular basis, not worrying too much about getting into nitty gritty tech specs, but just with the hopes of making your next purchase a little bit more informed.

Since moving from the suburbs to roughly 5 miles bikeable distance to Boston, I’ve been biking to work almost daily on my GT Grade. In fact, as of the time I started drafting this post, I think I took the subway 3 times into work as opposed to riding. It’s been a really wonderful change to my daily commute, certainly coming from upwards of 75 minutes by car from our suburban home, and I look forward to it on a daily basis.

Of course, one challenge when bike commuting is how to transport your clothes needed for work. Luckily, I work in an office with a pretty casual dress code, i.e. no dress code, when we don’t have clients, so my daily officewear is jeans, a button down, and sneakers. Since I started riding into work, I’ve left a pair of sneakers in the office, cutting down on the things I need to transport. I also am able to leave my U-Lock and cable locked to the bike rack in our office building. For the rest of what I need, I use the Salomon Trail 20 backpack.

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In this bag, I can comfortably fit a pair of jeans, shirt, and foundation garments (socks too!). Although I generally don’t take my lock with me, I can also fit the U-lock and cable when needed. I would not say it’s appropriate for a suit, but it’s fine otherwise. I think it’d also be tight if you bring shoes with you on a daily basis, but, again, not a concern of mine. For what it’s worth, Salomon states the pack’s volume is 20 l. and 1220 ci.

To keep the pack secure as you bomb through urban streets, the pack has both a chest and waist strap, both of which I find keep the pack exactly where I want it to be. I don’t experience any kind of slipping around, whether when “sprinting” or climbing. The waist strap has two pockets, a zipped one on the left, and a mesh open pocket on the right side. The zip pocket comfortably fits my wallet and keys. Each side of the pack also has deep mesh pockets, which I often use to hold my phone in case I need to access it quickly for, you know, directions. Definitely not for selfies. I never take selfies when riding.

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OK, this ONE time I stopped and took a selfie, but that was purely to illustrate the backpack for this post. Except that I took it a couple weeks before starting this post. And before I decided to write this post. Also, I take a lot of selfies while riding.

So, there you have it, if you’re looking for a streamlined pack for bike commuting, I’d recommend checking out the Salomon Trail 20!

I am an Ironman: Ironman Mt. Tremblant Recap

September 22, 2016

I think, deep down, I always knew that some day I’d want to do an Ironman. Even after swearing off marathons, I couldn’t help but have this itch in the back of my mind that I could not scratch, even with a half Ironman and other races. Unable to shake the feeling that I needed to take my shot at this pinnacle of race distances, I signed up for Ironman Mt. Tremblant. I picked IMMT in large part because of my lifelong obsession with Canada, particularly the French-speaking part and because I had heard nothing but wonderful things about every aspect of the race, including the beautiful venue where it is hosted.

Training for IMMT is really it’s own separate big post, so I’m going to stick to the race weekend itself. The way Ironman races are typically set up (I think), you pick up all your materials on Friday, rack your bike and drop off your race bags on Saturday, and race Sunday. We drove up from Boston on Thursday night to Burlington, VT to break up the drive, then up to MT on Friday morning. On the way, we stopped at a grocery store on Rt. 117 that was at least a quarter filled with Ironman racers (notable for their IM paraphernalia, visors, and compression socks. We picked up what I’d need for dinner Saturday night and breakfast Sunday morning before headed to MT itself.

Pre-Race

Mont Tremblant is a ski resort that also does summer activities like a roller luge and apparently lots of hiking. The village is a collection of shops and restaurants all done up to look like a classic European ski village. It even has not one, but two gondolas you can take for some spectacular views!

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Of course, while waiting in line for registration, I took the chance to take a selfie in the village with my Heartbreak Hill Running Company t-shirt.

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Registration itself was a well-oiled machine as the very friendly volunteers, which would be a theme for the weekend, shuttled you from station to station, one of which was a weighing station where they took your pre-race weight (more on that later) before finally getting to the part where you got your much-vaunted Ironman backpack containing your race bags.

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The one major hiccup I had during registration was entirely self-inflicted, and entirely in my own brain. As we walked through the village, it was impossible not to notice the many athletes wearing their previous Ironman gear, looking tremendously fit, and wheeling around their superbikes with carbon race wheels. In a moment of panic, I felt extremely overwhelmed, underprepared, and intimidated, more so than I ever have for any other race. But, I shared my feelings with Rebecca, she said all the right things, and the moment passed.

Taking a friend’s advice, after finishing up with registration and checking into our condo (Les Manoirs, which I’d highly recommend), I headed down to Lac Tremblant to get in a pre-race swim and see what the water conditions were like. Getting into the water and taking an easy swim helped me relax and feel a little bit more in the groove leading up to the race. The water was a pretty perfect temperature for a full-sleeve wetsuit and was fairly clear, though you couldn’t see the bottom once you were away from shore, which was just fine by me.

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I had some intentions of doing a course pre-ride on Saturday, but wound up spending the better part of the morning and early afternoon getting my race bags ready, which included making a batch of Skratch Labs rice cakes, before taking my bike down to transition. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, Ironman races differ from a normal triathlon in that you aren’t allowed to have anything with your bike in transition, including your helmet, so you pack up one bag with everything you need for your bike leg, one with the same for the run, and two bags with anything you will want halfway through the bike and run i.e. your “special needs bags.” It’s kind of a pain to get all the bags to check-in, but it’s also helpful to know that you are packing everything in one place and know it’s all accounted for. Of course, this also led to pre-race mistake #1, packing my tri shorts in my bike because, you know, it was what I was going to wear on the bike. Thankfully, I had my jammerz that I wore for my pre-race swim, which would do the trick for the swim leg in a pinch.

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Don’t put the shorts in the bag! Put the helmet in the bag!

Pre-race dinner Saturday night was my go-to meal of couscous, cherry tomatoes, and chicken sausage. In bed around 9:45 p.m. after watching some Olympic track.

Race Day

4 a.m. should never exist, but it does on Ironman race day. I dragged myself out of bed, started the coffeemaker, and made myself a toasted bagel with toasted everything bagel with peanut butter and honey. Not much later, Rebecca also got up so she could come down with me to transition and grab my bike pump from me when I was done topping off my tires. I’d been warned not to rely on someone else having a pump to borrow, which turned out to be excellent advice as my pump wound up being the one passed around. Of course, I couldn’t go without pre-race mistake #2, not realizing my helmet should have gone in my bike bag. This meant that I was one few morons wandering around transition with my helmet on, but was able to drop it off in my bike bag before heading to the water.

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Swim

First, if you’re doing this race in the future, you should know that it is a LONG walk from transition to the water, so plan ahead. And, despite the many excellent logistical details for the race, one of the few shortcomings also caused me the greatest stress of the day, namely the lack of port-a-potties. There were far too few set up at the swim area, which meant I couldn’t really enjoy neat touches like the fighter jet flyover, because I was too worried about having a chance to “go” before racing. When I finally was able to quickly get into my wetsuit and head to the water, I passed my good friend, Alett, who gave me a quick pre-race pep talk, telling me not to think about anything else besides the swim while I was in the water. I had quite the anxious few moments as my wave was literally getting ready to start and I was still behind the barrier with no way to get through the crowds to get into it. I wound up hopping the fence in my wetsuit, which I’ve never done before and hope to never have to do again. Despite the rushing and confusion, I made it into the pack a few moments before my wave started.

The start of any swim leg is chaotic, but this one felt especially so. I tried to find some feet to follow and draft off of while fending off the many elbows surrounding me and people crawling up my legs. I actually felt very smooth in the water, just trying to keep up a steady rhythm that felt comfortable without over-exerting and getting caught up in the churning. Now, here’s where I make my really, really dumb admission for race mistake #3: I thought the swim course was two laps. Yes, I had looked at the course map, and, yes, I knew that there were 13 buoys out before a turn to a straight stretch before a right turn back to shore, but for some reason I thought the map showed a run across the beach before starting lap 2. But, around buoy 7 it occurred to me that, maybe, the swim was actually one loop, which I’d prefer in any event. I checked my Garmin and confirmed that had to be the case. Sigh.

Around the first turn, the water started to get really choppy as we swam parallel to the shore. I was glad that I had practiced breathing to one side so I could switch up where I was breathing based on the waves, and not force myself to breathe into a swell. I was not much a fan of up and down movement with the waves brought on by the impending storm, but just kept on swimming…until I ran into a boat. A moored boat. You find yourself asking, what was a boat doing on the course? But then I’d be forced to admit it really was fairly off the course, I just happened to be swimming fairly off the course. I managed to shake off the head-to-hull contact and finish off the swim feeling fairly strong, if not a bit off kilter from the waves.

I hit the carpet on the beach and started to make the long journey to T1. I saw Rebecca and Alett along the way, informing them of my boat mishap, trying to keep the whole experience light and fun. Be forewarned, it is a long way to the change tent, so pace yourself!

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Official Swim Time: 1:29:28

Bike

The moment I got dressed for the bike in the change tent was basically the last time my kit was dry, as it soon began to rain, and did not stop…like, ever. In some ways, this wasn’t such a bad thing, if it was going to rain at all, because otherwise I have a feeling it would have been very sticky and humid when it stopped. It was just easier to accept I had a good number of hours ahead of me in the saddle in the rain and make peace with it.

The bike course sets out from the village for a roughly 45 mile total out and back.

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Everything to the left of the green dot is the initial out and back of each of the two laps you complete. As you can see from the elevation map below, this section contains some long flats with some good descents/ascents in the mix.

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There is only one segment of this portion of the course that I would in any way consider technical, and that comes soon after you start on a long-ish downhill on a portion of the road that is marked as single-file only. That said, it’s not a technical descent, it just felt nerve wracking to me because I didn’t want to go fast down it and had the stress of people coming up behind me and passing when they shouldn’t have. Otherwise, the road surface is superb, you’re riding on a highway after all, and there’s plenty of great scenery, assuming that you can see it through the rain. I was able to stay in aero for a good portion of this stretch, which helped keep my MPH up, and felt completely comfortable just trying to keep up a steady rhythm on the pedals on the flats and spin up the hills.

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As you can see, the rain was fairly intense, and this picture doesn’t capture any particularly heavy moment. To be honest though, it wasn’t all that bad riding through the rain other than on the descents, which became that much scarier on wet roads, at least for someone like me. I’m not sure if it had any affect on specators that might otherwise be on the course, but you do a short out and back stretch through a town and the roads were lined with people, which was a nice distraction.

Of course, you can’t do IMMT without hearing about the fabled Chemin Duplessis, which was the focus of every pre-race discussion about proper gearing for the race. This leg of the race is what I call the “back half” of the course, even though it, of course, didn’t account for half the lap, it just felt that way. Here’s the elevation.

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So, as you can see, no joke. I did my best to heed every piece of advice I’d gotten about hill climbing on this part and spin up the inclines in the saddle, rather than red lining my heart rate and trashing my quads by standing. For the most part, I was pretty successful in this and actually felt reasonably comfortable ascending, even as my average MPH slipped down and down. The more nerve-racking aspect of this section of the course actually came after the turn-around on the steep descents in the rain. I am not the most confident descender on the best of days in the best of conditions, so I was particularly nervous on these downhills in the pouring rain. On the steepest section, there was a race official (I later learned it was the Race Director himself) on the side of the road urging riders to slow down. He pointed at me and said “that’s the speed I want everyone going!” Of course, I was basically gripping my brakes at the time, just trying to stay under control. Further down the road, I saw why he was out there, as 3 riders were being treated after an apparent bad crash. Though they ended up in the ICU, word is they were all recovering. I also had to contend with a crash right in front of me as a woman tried to make it to the side of the road to an aid station, but wasn’t able to unclip from her pedals and fell over in front of me, causing me to have to swerve quickly and avoid not just other riders in my direction, but those coming at me as well.

After stopping to reload my fuel at the halfway point with my Special Needs bag, I carried on for loop 2.

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Fast forward to around mile 100 where my knees, the subject of a great deal of pre-race stress, really started to protest, to the point where I could barely turn my pedals over without pain. Of course it didn’t help, mentally, knowing that the hardest part of the course still lay before me. At this point I started to repeat the mantra that would carry me through the rest of the bike leg and its sharp hills, to wit, “THERE IS NO PAIN, RIDE UP THE FUCKING HILL!” Granted, it was a bit on the self-flagellating side, but it was exactly what I needed. I abandoned spinning up the hills, literally trying to minimize the number of times I had to spin the crank, and actually ended up passing people strongly, despite the pain. I even got some nice comments from fellow riders.

Finally, after completing the “back half” again, I rolled into transition, knowing that a marathon lay before me.

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Official Bike Time: 6:43:54

Run

At last, the run leg was upon me! I headed into the transition tent, excited about the prospect of changing into some dry clothes. Originally, I had planned on changing into running shorts from my tri shorts, but decided that: 1. I was just going to get new shorts wet again, and 2. the risk of chafing, given the rain, was less with the tri shorts than running shorts with a liner. I saw Rebecca as I made my way in to change and warned her that my knees were killing me, which might result in a very slow run, so she shouldn’t be worried if she saw a slow pace while tracking me. I also saw her leaving the tent, apparently in a really good mood before running a marathon after 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles biking.

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Again showing the kind of triathlete I am, i.e. not a very prepared one, I had very little idea of what to expect from the run course in terms of elevation. I knew there were no significant climbs to speak of and that, generally, the harder hills came as you finished each of the two laps.

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And so, blithely ignorant, I set off at what I hoped was an easy pace that would keep my heart rate low and, contrary to most every other race I’ve done, I succeeded, at least for the first half of the race. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that my knees didn’t hurt at all while running, apparently the running motion is different enough from pedaling to make the difference.

The run course itself is mostly a two lane route, one coming, one going that starts through the town, then turns onto a rail trail before a turn-around, then back and on to a couple detours, including one along a gorgeous lake on a crushed gravel path, before heading back through the town and into the village where you either take a right fork back for your second lap, or a left to the finish.

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Second lap lake path.

The nice thing about the two lane set-up is that, at least for a large part of the run, and depending on the time of day, you’ve almost always got someone around you, either running in your direction or the opposite way, which helps when the mind starts to wander.

Somewhere around mile 10 or so, I became convinced that I was going to finish the race well within the cut-off time. I know I should have been convinced long before this, but I really didn’t want to get ahead of myself or take anything for granted. Of course, as you can see from the chart below, this is where the wheels began to come off.

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By the time I back to the village, I knew the second lap was going to be a struggle as I could barely bring myself to take in any of the fuel I had in my Special Needs bag, including the Sour Patch Kids treat I had put in the bag as a pick-me-up. I did my best to ignore the hoopla of the village as wicked fast people were coming in for their finishes, took the right fork, and headed back out onto the course, seeing Rebecca again shortly after starting the second lap.

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I’m really not sure what’s going on in the above picture, other than I think I’m starting to hurt but also trying to not show it to the cameraman.

I started walking soon after starting lap 2, and that would be my main method of forward progress for the remainder of the race. It wasn’t so much the fact that I was tired or hurting, which I was, but not terribly, but that my stomach was in full-on revolt with lots of fun cramping and vomiting. I wasn’t able to take in any fuel other than some water periodically, and even that I’d lose soon thereafter (sorry for the bodily functions, but you’re reading an Ironman race report). I would try to run for as long as a stretch as I could, sometimes half a kilometer, sometimes as much as 2 kilometers, but mostly I just tried to make relentless forward progress. If nothing else, the walking gave me some time to interact with other racers and all of the wonderful volunteers on the course. The pace chart below gives a fair idea of how I yo-yoed in pace.

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Despite my best efforts, I was unable to avoid doing That Thing that I do with my hands in every single race picture of me.

As I neared 2 kilometers to go in the race, the sky was dark and the temperatures were dropping, though still comfortable. It wasn’t much of an acceleration, but I did my best to make myself run, however slow, for the rest of the course. I’ve never finished a marathon running, at least anything beyond the last 10 yards of the race, and really wanted to be able to do so for the Ironman.

Approaching the village, I was hit by the volume of music playing and screaming fans, not to mention the streaming lights. It was a party, and it helped propel me on.

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I have never experienced a finish like Mt. Tremblant, including Boston. The finish chute you run through for about 100 yards or so is fairly narrow and is lined with fans 4-5 deep, all urging you onward. Despite the pandemonium, I spied my friend Alett, a nice little surprise. At last, I approached the line and heard a slight variation of his famous words from Mike Reilly informing me that I was, in fact, an Ironman.

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Official Run Time: 5:03:27

Official Ironman Time: 13:42:19

Post-Race

After crossing the line, I was greeted by a volunteer who would essentially be my escort through the finishing zone. He put his arms around my shoulder and guided me from station to station, first getting my finisher’s medal and then to get some water, etc. We chatted in French about Boston and hockey before he handed me off to Rebecca with a smile. At this point I was in pretty rough shape, feeling quite nauseous with awful stomach cramping. I couldn’t decide if I needed a medic or not, knowing it was probably pretty normal to feel terrible after 140.6 miles, so Rebecca took charge and decided I should at least get checked out, but not before surprise gifting me with the official finisher’s jacket!

The first cut of the med staff sat me down and asked some questions before taking an instant read of my blood sugar, which was low. I tried taking in some chocolate milk, but was barely able to take a few sips. They decided to bring me inside to the larger medical area, if for no other reason than to get out of all the commotion of the finish area, which I think they believed would help. They loaded me into a golf cart, which took me inside, where I was put into a wheelchair and taken to intake. The med staff weighed me, determining I’d lost 8 pounds over the course of the race, which apparently is not unusual. They had me lay down on a reclining cot and sip some hot chicken broth for a while until I eventually started to feel better.

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Eventually, I felt well enough to leave and meet back up with Rebecca, who let me hang out on some steps in the village while she got us some take out pizza.

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We picked up my bags and bike and, thankfully, were able to take the shuttle bus back up to the condo, where Rebecca had a variety of beers that she’d previously bought waiting for me! We debated going back down to the line but, when I reminded her that our friend had said we absolutely had to go see the midnight finish, we got off our butts and made our way back down. I couldn’t help myself and got some poutine in the village, managing roughly four gravy, cheesy bites before having my fill. The midnight finish itself was everything it’s cracked up to be. It was tremendously inspiring to see those athletes giving everything they had to be official Ironmen and I am very happy we went to see it. It’s not to be missed.

Prologue

While I thought I’d sleep forever the next day, I barely made it past 6 a.m. Despite feeling fairly good, at least my muscles, after the race, my knees were absolutely awful and I could barely manage stairs. Once I got walking I was OK, but standing up was the worst. We went and had a great breakfast before going to the expo for swag. When we got there, I was sorely disappointed to find that the one thing I really wanted, the race mug, was all sold out, which I should have known would be the case. However, Rebecca came to the rescue, spotting a mug containing stickers on a random table, grabbing it, dumping the stickers, and triumphantly presenting it to me.

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As you can kind of see, I also managed to get the last men’s bike jersey in my size at the expo along with a running cap Rebecca also found. All in all it wound up being a great haul. Afterwards, we took the gondola up the ski mountain and took in the beautiful views.

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And of course took an ussie.

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Plus, I managed to find my favorite, or at least most nostalgic, Canadian beer, Alexander Keith’s IPA!

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At 4000+ words and a month after the race itself, it’s probably time to bring this post to a conclusion. In conclusion, Ironman Mt. Tremblant was an absolutely incredible, fulfilling, challenging, humbling experience that I would highly recommend to anyone looking to take on the Ironman distance. One more huge thank you to Rebecca for everything she did both during training and the race (and after).

I think I can safely say that I am done with the Ironman distance…unless I change my mind.

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Jawbone Up 2 #ExpertGear Review

March 21, 2016

One of the perks of working in a running store part-time is the chance to learn about a variety of great brands and products through a site called Experticity (and then have the chance to purchase those products at a discount). OK, that’s a big perk of working in a running store. Pro pricing is a wonderful thing but, aside from the personal benefits I get from it, it also allows industry pros to train with a wider variety of products, which in turn helps them provide better advice to customers.

Through my relationship with Experticity, I now have the opportunity to review products, beginning with the Jawbone Up 2 fitness tracker! Until now, I’ve never hopped on the fitness tracker bandwagon, figuring I stay relatively active as a triathlete. Still, the health implications of sitting at a desk all day go beyond not getting exercise during the day and it always helps to have a reminder to get up and move every now and then. But I figured I’d get even more useful information from the sleep tracking, which would give me a better idea of just how much of a sleep deficit I have. No part of me believed I was getting enough sleep before tracking it.

Now, you’ll have to bear with me as, in the interest of efficiency, I did my unboxing while on the trainer while watching results from Super Tuesday 2. That’s right, I’m a multi-tasking triathlete politics geek. NBD.

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What you’ll get in the package is the tracker, a charger, and “instructions.”

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Now for those instructions.

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So, get the app. Plug your tracker into a computer. Got it. Now, when I was able to actually do this, it was an exceedingly simple process. If you have a modicum of familiarity with apps, you will be able to set up the Up 2. As I recall, there’s no pairing to fumble through, no passwords etc. But, my quibble with the process would be that you need to plug the tracker into a computer to do the initial set-up, which seems to be an “antiquated” requirement. On the subject of connecting to a computer/charging, you may have noticed the charger looks a little funny, with no obvious clips to attach to the charger. Turns out, it’s magnetic! Neat!

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You can also see how you actually put the tracker on here. There is a metal clasp that attaches via hook to another piece, which you can move up and down the rubber band to adjust the fit. When you set the app up, there is a video that shows you exactly how to properly put the tracker on. Of course, I’m one of those guys who figures I can figure stuff out on my own – instructions are for sissies, and so ended up putting it on like this.

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I’m a moron, which is plain to see here. After watching the instructional video I was able to do it the right way, which is actually quite easy to do.

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Much better, right? And here’s how it looks on the wrist.

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The tracker itself is thin, light and comfortable, meaning I hardly notice it’s on during the day and never am bothered wearing it at night. Personally, I don’t see it as a drawback that the Up 2 lacks a display as it makes it more business-appropriate for daily wear.

On The Wrist

As for functionality, as mentioned, the Up 2 tracks steps and sleep. That’s it. And, really, given that I have GPS watches for keeping track of my swim/bike/running, as well as giving me smart notifications, that’s all I need from a fitness tracker. When you sync the Up 2 using the UP app, you’ll see a progress chart showing your steps for the day and your sleep for the previous night, both of which you can then dive down deeper into for more stats, as shown below.

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Please don’t judge me for my inactivity today, so far all I’ve done is taken a train from Boston to NYC.

The best thing I can say about the Up 2 is that, seemingly, it works. I’ve never actually taken a hard look at my sleep stats, but I like that it tells me light and heavy sleep, which seems to line up with what I experience at night. If nothing else, it reinforces that I need to get more sleep. As far as cons about the Up 2, I wish that it was fully waterproof so I could swim with it, but it is resistant enough so that you can shower with it and not have to take it off. I do find that it can be a bit of a pain to take on and off, but also don’t have to do that all that often.

All in all, the Up 2 is a worthy option to consider if you are looking for a slim, simple, stylish fitness tracker!

Cauliflower Steaks with Olive Relish and Tomato Sauce

December 17, 2015

Webster’s Dictionary defines “steak” as:

  1. 1a :  a slice of meat cut from a fleshy part of a beef carcassb :  a similar slice of a specified meat other than beef <ham steak>c :  a cross-section slice of a large fish <swordfish steak>

  2. 2:  ground beef prepared for cooking or for serving in the manner of a steak <hamburger steak>

As a lifelong meat-eater, I’ve always found it a little silly to call a thick cut of a vegetable a “steak,” but in my recent veggie-curious incarnation, I think I can finally get on board with adding “a substantive slice of vegetable, vaguely resembling the shape and size of a beef steak” to the definition.  With this newfound acceptance of nomenclature, I set off to make my first “cauliflower steak.”

For this dish, I principally relied on a recipe found on Epicurious.com, which itself was a Bon Appetit dish.  Not being a fan of black olives, I substituted green pitted olives and, being a huge fan of capers, I added capers.  Also, we don’t do sun-dried tomatoes, so we nixed those.  That would make the revised ingredient list as follows:

 

  • 1 large head of cauliflower
  • 1/2 cup pitted oil-packed green olives, finely chopped
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 plum tomatoes, cored, quartered

Because colors on the plate are fun, I decided to go with purple cauliflower instead of the plain old white version.  As near as I can tell, it tastes just like the white stuff.

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See?  Isn’t it pretty?  I won’t go through the detailed steps of the recipe, not that it’s all that detailed, but rather hit on some of the high points in it.  I just tore off the leaves from the stem of the cauliflower rather than trying to trim them.  Be careful when you are cutting the stem to make sure the core stays intact to make sure you have a cohesive slice.  I found I ended up with a lot more florets breaking off than the recipe perhaps anticipated, but it just made for more in the relish and I roasted a few of the bigger ones as well.

The relish is super-easy and quick to throw together and was probably my favorite part of the dish.  I think it would make a great topping for other dishes as well, perhaps swordfish or tuna.  The capers and green olives play very nicely together with the other ingredients and make for a great salty, herby, acidic topper.  Here’s the final product.

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To cut the steaks, I started in the middle of the head, as the recipe suggested, and literally just cut slices of cauliflower, it’s pretty straight-forward I’d say.  I then gave them a quick “sear” in the cast-iron pan before putting them in the oven to roast.  One thing I neglected to do was add some more olive oil to the pan after flipping the cauliflower, which I definitely should have done.  Still, they came out pretty well, I think.

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I transferred the cauliflower to a baking sheet and set to work on plum tomatoes and garlic.  Now, here was an example of my issue with fully reading recipes closely before working on them.  I had thought that all I did was cook the tomatoes and garlic in the pan before blending them, not realizing I was supposed to roast them after.  Luckily, I had prepped both while the cauliflower was searing and had enough time to brown them and get them in the oven to match up with the timing for roasting the cauliflower so everything would be done at the same time.

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With everything out of the oven, all that was left to do was make the tomato sauce.  The recipe calls for using a blender, which I’m sure would work fine, but we have a mini food processor among our kitchen toys, which got the job done nicely.

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From roasted ingredients…

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To tomato sauce.  Next time, I’d double the recipe for the sauce.  It was very good, but didn’t make all that much.

Just to make the meal a bit heartier, we did it with couscous.  Smear some tomato sauce on the cauliflower, top it with relish, and you’re good to go!

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Happy eating!

 

 

Chana Italiana

November 29, 2015

A couple weeks ago, R made a great chickpea dish based on a Smitten Kitchen recipe called Chana Masala.  It came out very well and made for a hearty, vegetarian dinner.  Tonight, I decided to try mixing it up, having done several Indian-inspired dishes lately, while using the original dish as an inspiration.  Instead of Indian, I went with an Italian-type theme to the dish.

I started off with two medium-sized onions coupled with 3 cloves of garlic, all diced, which I put in a cast iron skillet containing hot olive oil.

Onions

I let the mixture cook down, softening the onions, before adding an herb mix containing the herbs pictured below.  You’ll have to use your best judgment when it comes to cooking down the onions, as well as your own personal tastes.  Some like their onion to have a bit of crunch, others like them very soft.  It’s your dinner, eat your onions how you like them.

Herbs

How did I pick the herbs I did?  I looked in my spice cupboard and picked out green things I thought would work well together.  How much of these herbs did I add to the onions?  This much.

Herbed Onions

I’m not trying to be difficult here, but rather to show that, yeah, recipes are great and they can provide some really good inspiration for cooking, but don’t feel limited by them.  Add things that sound good, take out things you don’t like.  The more you do it, the more confident you’ll feel experimenting.  When it comes to the kitchen, you do you.

After letting the onions cook with the herbs for a couple minutes, I added a full 15 oz can of diced tomatoes, along with the tomato liquid in the can and 2/3 of a cup of water, using the liquid to deglaze the pan i.e. scrape up any stuck bits.  I then added a can of drained, rinsed, cooked chickpeas (“chana”) along with a solid helping of aged balsamic vinegar and some sprigs of fresh thyme.  Next step?   Let it all simmer for roughly 10 minutes.

Cooked Stuff

Oh, don’t forget to season with salt as you go.  This is crucial.  The dish is ready when the chickpeas have softened to the point where you like to eat them.

All that remains is to plate the dish, then eat!

Plated Pre Cheese

Now, me being me, I couldn’t help but stir in some goat cheese and gussy it all up with some fresh parsley, because we had some, and why the heck not?

Finished Dish

I’d say the entire dish took roughly 40 minutes or so to make, perhaps not even that.  Fairly easy for a weeknight and it makes a good amount of leftovers, at least another night of serving two people.

Eat athlete food, be a better athlete!

Hannukah Gifts/Stocking Stuffers For Your Triathlete

November 20, 2015

With the weather in Boston in the 50s today, it seems crazy to think that the holiday season is nearly upon us.  I’m not even sure how I’m supposed to know it’s the holiday season when Starbucks cups are just plain red in color, devoid of any symbolism.  Still, Hannukah is a scant couple of weeks away, which I did not even realize until beginning this post, starting the night of Sunday, December 6, and Christmas is, the 25th?  It’s hard to keep track of it with it changing dates year to year!

Last year, R and I switched things up and did a gift each night of Hannukah, rather than one big gift.  I think we kept the price range under $10, allowing for some bigger gifts balanced by some smaller ones.  It made us think a bit more about what we’d get for each other and was pretty fun.  I figure the same guidelines work for stocking stuffers, but I’ll admit I’ve only ever received a stocking from my in-laws, and have never stuffed one myself.  There is truly no shortage of holiday gift guides out there for runners, cyclists, running cyclists, swimmers, triathletes, etc., but I honestly never find them all that useful, and most don’t focus on smaller gifts.  So, here’s hoping this list of gift ideas for the triathlete in your life, any of which I’d want to receive myself (hint hint R if you’re reading this) proves helpful!

1. Bike Tubes

Any cyclist will tell you that you can never have too many spare tubes around.  I’ve ended rides thinking that I was coming home on a perfectly good tube only to find the next time I went to go out that I’d somehow gotten a puncture at a late point in the ride and was in need of a tube.  Road tubes will generally be 700 (diameter) x __ (width).  Do some digging in your triathlete’s stash to see if you can get the size they use.  Otherwise, something in the low 20s will be just fine.

It’s tough to go wrong with a Continental tube.

2. CO2 Inflator and Cartridges

So, you’ve got a flat, you take out your brand new spare tube, and what do you use to inflate it?  While some roadies keep a frame pump or mini-pump on them, those pumps often can’t get a high enough PSI for a road tube, are bulky and heavy to carry (heavy in a roadie sense) and don’t work with tri bikes.  Maybe it’s not the sexiest of gifts, but it’ll help keep your triathlete rolling!

To actually use the cartridge, you need a chuck.  The chuck screws on to the cartridge and lets you actually get air out.

If you want to splurge a little, I use the Portland Design Works Shiny Object CO2 Inflator with 16G Cartridge set, which is $27.76 on Amazon.  What I like about this set is the chuck lets you regulate the flow of air into the tube, which is quite helpful when changing a tube, and the leather sleeve protects your hand from the cartridge, which gets very cold in use.

3. Socks

Good socks are the best.  Like, seriously, the best.  Some prefer short socks, some prefer long socks.  Me?  I like long socks when it comes to training, short for racing, mostly for ease of use with an ankle chip strap.  Socks have special significant, for some reason, in the cycling world, earning multiple references in the Velominati rules, and are a source of expression for riders.  Plus the good ones are super comfortable.  Personally, I prefer socks from The Athletic, based out of Portland.

4. Casquettes de Cyclisme/Cycling Caps

I first fell in love with the cycling cap from an unlikely source…

That’s right, White Men Can’t Jump.  Now, I’ll admit, these hats are rather controversial, with some very strong opinions on both sides.  I happen to love them, both on the bike and off, and have a fairly good collection going right now.  Some hats are made from technical fibers and go well under a helmet to help keep sweat out of your eyes.  They are also great for sweaty trainer rides.

There is a large variety of hats out there, some are vintage cool.

Some are groovy.

And some are just wicked awesome.

5. Fuel

Having the right fuel for training and racing is vitally important.  Especially during peak training periods, this means going through a lot of gels, chews, powders, waffles and bars.  You really cannot have enough of your favorite source of energy and these items make great small gifts.

For drink mix, I like Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix, which is sold both in 1 lb bags and singles.  The singles are great for their portability, which is especially handy for traveling for races and for taking on long rides to refuel with.

For chewy fuel, I dig Skratch Labs Fruit Drops, as documented in my review.

6. Tools

Is your triathlete a tinkerer?  Does he or she like to do maintenance on his or her own bike rather than take it into the shop every time it needs an adjustment?  If so, your triathlete might enjoy some new additions to the toolbox!  This might be the kind of thing where you might have to do some inquiry into what tools are already in hand, and what may be needed.  Your triathlete may also have a brand preference for tools.  Personally, I love the look and performance of Park Tools.  Some options to consider include:

A pedal wrench.

Three-way hex wrench.

Mini Chain Brute Chain Tool.

7. Lube

Get your mind out of the gutter.  A properly lubed bike drivetrain is a happy drivetrain.  Give your triathlete the gift of a well-lubed machine.

 

8. Custom Name Stickers

This gift was absolutely my favorite one from last Hannukah.  Most pro riders have custom name decals for their bikes, and now your triathlete can have the same.  Name stickers help set your bike apart from the rest of the field, make you feel like a pro, and give you a chance to add some self-expression to your steed.

Sticker Name

9. Swim Gear

Finally, swimming involves a surprising amount of training tools, many of which your triathlete may not have bought for him/herself, instead relying on the grody stuff at the pool.  To upgrade their gear, consider:

TYR Pull Float

Speedo Mesh Equipment Bag

TYR Kickboard

 

Should I happen upon some other neat-looking gift ideas, I’ll be sure to update this post.  Until then, happy holidays to all!

 

 

Quick Review: Speedo Air Seal Tri Goggle

November 19, 2015

I’ve recently become comfortable with the idea of calling myself a “cyclist” in addition to “runner” and “triathlete.”  To me, that means that I actually really enjoy riding my bike, even if it’s not “training.”  I’ve even done some pure bike races, with nary a transition to be found!  When it comes to swimming, however, I am still a triathlete who has to train in the pool.  I am not a “swimmer,” though I am working on that and have even found it enjoyable from time to time.  That said, I look absolutely terrible in the water.

Bad Swim

Don’t look at this too long, or your form may suffer as well.

All the same, I figured I’d share some impressions on my new goggles that I purchased during the City Sports going out of business sale, the Speedo Air Seal Tri goggle.  Of course, I’m a sucker for anything “tri-specific,” and these goggles promised to have the most comfortable eye gaskets, which is something I’ve had issues with for other goggles.  The ones I got are mirrored, helping to reduce open water sun glare, presumably.

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And, oh, what’s that?  That’s just my finisher’s backpack from Timberman, big deal.

The straps adjust in back just by pulling.  I found the system works pretty well and you don’t have clips to fiddle with on the side of your head that might dig into your temple.  I’ve not had any issues with the straps coming loose or, for that matter, leaks in the gaskets.  Similarly, no issues with fogging yet.

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As for comfort, in the couple of swims I’ve worn them for so far, the eye gaskets are as comfortable as advertised.  They feel soft against the face and create a nice seal.  No complaints there.  However, if you take a look at the picture, you’ll notice the nose bridge doesn’t look all that soft.  In fact, it’s not.  I’m not sure if it’s plastic, but it’s hard and rigid and I can definitely see the potential for it to dig into your nose if that’s the way your face is shaped.  It hasn’t been an issue for me yet, but I haven’t worn them for a truly extended swim yet.  I will update this post should it become intolerable.  All in all, I really like these goggles so far and hope they continue to perform well!

For size and comfort reference, I’d note that I like the Speedo MDR 2.4, and wore them for Timberman, though they do start to put pressure on my eyes after a while, and DO NOT like the Aqua Sphere Kayenne, which has a habit of leaking on me.

So, apparently it is possible to have a blog post under 1000 words!  Happy swimming all you swimmers, and happy training in the pool everyone else!

Spicy Cauliflower and Tofu Bowl

November 11, 2015

I’ll be honest, I’m a lot more surprised that I find myself writing a blog about how I made a dish using tofu than I was when it was mushrooms.  That’s not to say I never eat tofu, I’ll have it in a salad on rare occasions and actually kind of enjoy it in hot and sour soup.  Still, I’ve only ever cooked it once before, and that was when we had a vegetarian friend over for dinner and I grilled some up.  Last night, that all changed.

With R under the weather, I was on my own to decide what to cook which , as of late, has meant an excuse to make vegetarian dishes she wouldn’t necessarily be interested in.  I got it in my head I wanted to have buffalo chicken with, you know, something.  I figured I’d let the dish evolve based on what I found in the store.  As I walked around the produce section, I decided a brunoised carrot would play nicely and, then, why not some lacinato kale tossed in?  Oh!  This would all go well with some feta, as most buffalo things do, on top of some couscous!  But what about a protein source?  It was then I passed by the tofu…and took a leap of faith on a package of extra firm because, hey, why not?

The final ingredient list was:

  • Cauliflower
  • Lacinato kale
  • Carrot
  • Extra firm tofu
  • Feta
  • Cholula hot sauce
  • Couscous

You’ll notice I don’t list quantities of ingredients, and generally won’t in these posts.  There are a few reasons for this.  One, I am trying to get away from recipes, myself, and don’t want to get others in the habit of just following directions, rather than cooking in the moment.  Two, I find when I cook that I generally alter a recipe anyway to fit my tastes or what I want more of, so please consider the lists more of a guideline.  Third, I am wicked lazy and disinclined to write down quantities.

The cauliflower is easy to prep.  I just cut down the middle of the head I got and sliced off the florets at the top.  Done.  For the carrot, I decided to get a little fancy with a brunoise cut, basically making tiny carrot cubes.  Hopefully this series helps show how I did this.

Basically, you want to square off the edges of the carrot then slice it in half one way lengthwise, then the other.  All you have to do after that is slice your cubes!

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I added the cubed carrots to a bowl with the cauliflower, tossed the mix with Cholula, then added it to a stainless sautee pan with hot oil.

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Using a wooden spoon, I shuffled around the veggies every now and then to get an even cook and prevent sticking.  How did I know when it was done?  When I tasted a piece of cauliflower and it still had some crunch without being soggy.  I can’t say I have any better testing procedure than that, but it worked!

Next was big leap, trying the tofu.  I opened the package and sliced two pieces from the…loaf.  I then diced up the tofu, roughly the same size as the carrots, added some more oil to the pan and let that get hot, then added the tofu with some dashes of Cholula.

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I tried to achieve some texture on the tofu with the oil, but it still remained fairly squishy after cooking it, which ended up being pretty good in the end.

As for the kale, I did a rough chop of the full bunch into ribbons and added it to a non-stick pan with oil.  The kale was easier to get crispy this way, giving some crunch to the dish.

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As for the couscous?  Well, just follow the directions for the couscous.  After that, all you have to do is put it in a bowl all pretty-like!

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Easy enough, right?  I’d say this took about 35 minutes total to cook, making for a fairly quick weeknight dish.

Happy eating!

Farrotto.

November 6, 2015

“I wonder if Whole Foods has any interesting mushrooms,” I found myself wondering one afternoon.  This is not a normal thought for me.  This is, in fact, a rather abnormal thought for me.  But with the wif away, it seemed like a perfect time to go absolutely wild…and try cooking mushrooms.  Although I’ve been trying to cook without recipes lately, I admit I did a little research on how to cook mushrooms because I’ve never cooked them before.  I found many recipes for “shiitake bacon,” which seemed like a relatively tasty way to cook an ingredient I’ve never been particularly fond of in the past.  I decided to make a variation of a dish I’d recently learned using farro as a base, but cooked “risotto-style.”  I picked up some kale, broccoli, the aforementioned shiitakes, carrots and goat cheese and headed home to put them all together, still without a very clear plan of how that was going to go down.

Although this is a pretty simple dish in the end, I ended up using one small saute pan, one cast-iron skillet, and one pot to get it done.  First, I filled the pot with water and set it to boiling while I chopped the broccoli into florets, tore up the kale into smaller pieces, and used a peeler to cut long ribbons of carrot (running the peeler down the length of the carrot).  In a large saute pan, I started dry toasting the farro.  Now, here’s what I meant by risotto-style farro.  Instead of cooking the farro grains in a pot of water, ladle the boiling water into the saute pan, enough to just cover the grains.  Like the arborio rice in a traditional risotto, the farro grains will gradually soak up the water.  All you have to do is stir occasionally and keep adding water until the grains are cooked.  Unlike traditional risotto, you really don’t need to constantly stir the grains, but I also would keep an eye on it.  I added a blend of curry powder and Turkish Seasoning to the water to season the grains.  Be sure to taste often to make sure your seasoning is where you want it throughout the cooking.  I don’t know of a great way to know when farro is cooked other than…it tastes cooked in terms of chewiness.  I’m certain there’s Googlable answer to this, but I’ll always go by the taste test anyway.

In the small stainless saute, I heated some olive oil then, once hot, added the sliced mushrooms along with the same seasoning I used for the farro.  It’s important to keep stirring the mushrooms because they’ll stick on you if you let them be.  My goal was to really brown the mushrooms, getting a great texture in the process.  I was going for something close to crispy when they were done.

While the mushrooms were cooking, I heated up some olive oil in the cast iron skillet, adding the broccoli first then, when they started to soften, the carrots next.  Again, I seasoned everything using the same curry and Turkish seasoning, tasting all along the way.  When the broccoli and carrots were nearing completion, I added the mushrooms in, then, finally the kale to quickly wilt.  On a whim, I removed the vegetables from the skillet then deglazed the skillet with some hard cider, scraping up all the browned bits using a wooden spoon.

All that remained was to plate it all up, at which point I stirred in a rather generous helping of goat cheese to add some creaminess (you’ll notice goat cheese appears often in my cooking) and then wolf it down!

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I hope you find some inspiration from this and make your own delicious meal!

Making Athlete Food – Eat Your Veggies Soup

November 5, 2015

Lately I’ve been inspired to try to not just clean up my diet, but make some big changes in the kinds of food I eat.  Instead of just eating more of the same kinds of salads and such I’d been eating, I’m branching out into foods I haven’t tried much before, which in turn makes me be more adventurous in my cooking.  I’ve never really talked much about my cooking in the past on this blog, but it’s really one of my favorite non-exercise-related hobbies.  In fact, I even used to have a whole separate blog for it, though that featured food that generally wouldn’t be described as “athlete food.”  But now, armed with some skills learned through a BCAE class taught by The Skinny Beet’s Katie Chudy, I’ve started cooking all sorts of things I never thought would enter my saute pan, up to and including heretofore verboten mushrooms!  A big part of this new approach to cooking has been a lack of recipes and a corresponding attempt to just go to the grocery store armed only with what I know about cooking and flavor combinations, which I’d like to think is a reasonable amount of information, and then just shop for ingredients on the fly.  All this means that I often won’t have recipes, per se, to accompany these posts, but I will try to describe the ingredients to the best of my memory and the cooking techniques used.

With that intro out of the way, here’s my Eat Your Veggies Soup!

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Above, you have all the ingredients I used to make this soup after they’d been peeled.  The ingredients are:

Kale
Parsnip
Carrot
Rutabaga
Purple sweet potato
Onion
Apple

I chopped the rutabaga, carrots, parsnip and sweet potato into roughly equal-sized chunks and the onion into wedges, then threw them all into a pot before filling a Dutch oven with water to the point where the veggies were covered.

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Looking to make a soup that really evoked the flavors of fall, I added the following spices to the water:

Ground allspice
Ground cloves
Nutmeg
Cardamom

The next step?  Simmer the pot until the veggies are all cooked through, which, to me, means they break up easily with a fork.  As the cooking continues, be sure to taste the broth every now and then and adjust your seasoning as necessary.  You may also need to add more water as it boils down.

Once the veggies have reached this point, add the kale and apples, chopped up into pieces roughly the same size of the other veggies.  I added these two ingredients right at the end because they cook very quickly.

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Let both the kale and apples soften up, then you’re ready for the last step, which is blending everything together!  I used a stick blender for this step, which makes everything pretty simple and avoids having to transfer things into a blender, then back into another container.  If you don’t have a stick blender, just scoop the concoction into a blender, blend, and remove to a different container.  However you get there, when everything is finally blended together you’ll want to taste the soup, not just for seasoning, but consistency as well.  If it’s too thick, just add some water to thin it out.  This was my final, blended result.

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Too add a touch of creaminess and tang to the soup, I finished it off with some goat cheese before serving it…to myself.

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While the soup took some time to make, most of that time is attributable to the veggies cooking.  I’d say, all told, I probably took about an hour from the time I started unpacking the groceries to the time I sat down with a bowl of soup in front of me.  Really, my only regret about the soup is its brownish color, which I’d attribute to the purple sweet potato.  Still, it tasted pretty darn delicious and made for a lot of leftovers.  If you’re looking for a comforting way to eat your veggies, give this soup a shot!