Race Recap: Women Run the ROC 5k

The first thing I do when I know I’ll be be visiting my parents in Rochester is to see if the local Fleet Feet running store is putting on any road races during the time I’ll be there. This year, a race coincided with my last day in Rochester: the second annual (?) Women Run the ROC 5k. Yes, an all-women’s race — with one man who was lottery-picked to run with the ladies. That sounded like the perfect thing to round off a week with my family and to see where my fitness is after six months of low running volume and inconsistent speedwork (sorry, Jacob & Kabir — I’ll try to get back to the track soon!). 

Women running the ROC! (Photo courtesy of Fleet Feet Sports Rochester)

Women running the ROC! (Photo courtesy of Fleet Feet Sports Rochester)

The day dawned cool after a dramatic nighttime thunderstorm. I thought the storm would’ve cleared the air, but when I stepped out of the car at Frontier Field it was anything but cleared. Hello, 85% humidity! At least the air temperature was only 70F/21C, which made pushing through the humidity less painful than it might have been.

I knew from looking at last year’s results for this race that I had a good chance at being in the top 10 (this being cozy Rochester, there are not as many super fast runners as in London, where I generally rank somewhere in the middle of the pack and my club). I thought I might be able to manage a PB if I had a really good run but I also knew that would be a tough goal, since my running and speedwork volumes have been low. Nonetheless, I lined up near the front of the starting line in order to put myself in a good position and to try to let the faster women pull me along.

At 8:30am on the nose, we were off down Morrie Silver Way. I found myself among the “lead pack” (can you even call it that in a 5k?) and even got to be a front runner for a hot minute as we went up and over the High Falls bridge. Probably the only time that’ll ever happen! The one man running was up in front, too, and he said that we were under 7:00/mile pace going over the bridge. Great, I thought. Just try to keep this up. But I must’ve lost some momentum because about six or seven women pulled in front of me, while I maintained pace with a younger (I think high school) runner whose coach (dad?) was egging her on from the sidewalk. I went through the first mile in a slightly disappointing 7:10 — you have to pick it up, Tamm, you could still make it under 22:00.

The course took an interesting, windy route through downtown Rochester: up St. Paul Street, around to Liberty Pole Way, then a slight downhill on Main Street back to Plymouth for the homestretch and wind-around to the finish (that extra bit at the end, up to the parking lot and back down, was sneaky!). Though there were a few gradual ups and downs, it was essentially a flat course — especially compared to north London.

My second mile was a bit quicker than my first, about 7:05, but by then I was already starting to struggle a little to maintain my form and pace. Let the downhill carry you along, I thought, before seeing a couple women ahead of me who I was slightly gaining on. You can catch them, just stay steady and pick them off. I passed one woman right before turning onto Plymouth. Come on, only four minutes to go. Then I saw a woman in a purple tank top walking — it looked like she’d gotten a cramp. But just as I passed her, she started running again and breezed by me. That’s okay, just catch that other woman who also looks like she has a cramp. No problem. Then the purple tank to woman had to drop to a walk again. Just keep running and you can pass her. Don’t walk. You can finish! It won’t be a PB but it’s effing humid out here so that’s okay.

Finishing (photo courtesy of Fleet Feet Sports Rochester)

Finishing (photo courtesy of Fleet Feet Sports Rochester)

The last couple tenths of a mile were brutal, but I managed a small kick to bring it home in 22:00 flat (average pace: 7:06/mile, 4:24/km) for the 5km/3.1mi course. And I ended up placing 4th overall! (Remember, this was an all-women’s race, and this is Rochester, not London. But still.) The woman in 3rd beat me by a substantial 24 seconds, and the woman who won it ran 20:45. So not a super fast field overall, but I was pleased to be up in the rankings and 2nd in my age group (if you count the overall winner). I was a bit bummed not to have broken 22:00 — this was 42 seconds off my PB — but given my lack of speed training it’s pretty solid. I’m starting to enjoy the shorter races again, too, so maybe I’ll make it a goal to try to lower my 5k time and PB again. Better get back to the track!

Have you ever run an all-women’s (or all-men’s) race? What did you think of it?

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Living Abroad & Perspectives on the US

This week has brought some interesting perspective on life and living abroad. I’ve been back in the US for my grandmother’s 80th birthday party/family reunion and a brief visit to my parents (and also some quiet time to work on my MA dissertation). It was fantastic to see all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins in California for the birthday party — I’m really glad I went. It has also been nice to be in Rochester and not have any official household duties — of course I help out, but visiting the parents is different from living with F like a “real” adult; here, I can be a bit like a kid again, albeit a grown one.

almost the entire family on my mom's side, gathered in Ventura, CA for my grandma's 80th birthday. Photo credit: Nancy R.

almost the entire family on my mom’s side (missing a couple cousins and partners), gathered in Ventura, CA for my grandma’s 80th birthday. Photo credit: Nancy R.

I lived at home for two months last summer, but that felt normal as I had only been in the UK for six months beforehand and was still on the heels of transitioning from Peace Corps/Ukraine life. Peace Corps was so different that returning to the western world was an adjustment in and of itself — it didn’t matter where I was, and there were so many changes that I had to take each one as it came.

But this year, I’ve become settled in my UK life and haven’t been back to the US for almost a year. Being “home” has felt different, in part because I’m here for a vacation-y 10 days rather than a long period of “living” time. Here are some things that have struck me about the US after living in the UK/Europe for a year and a half (of course, the following things seem extreme because I live in London, a city of 8 million, and am comparing it to Rochester, a much smaller city of 300,000. But I think I’d feel some of these differences no matter where in the US I was):

  • Open space. Americans often take for granted how much space this country has. On the flight from London to LA, my British seat-mate and I marveled at the hugeness of the land, particularly in the southwestern US, and at how much of it is uninhabited (and uninhabitable. And beautiful).
so much space!

so much space!

somewhere in the Southwest

somewhere in the Southwest

  • Traffic and driving. Okay, so LA has crazy freeway traffic, but the Rochester streets are so peaceful! My dad and I were driving to Panera the other morning for breakfast (and endless coffee refills, yes!) and I remarked on how quiet the streets were. My dad replied, “Oh, I was just thinking it was pretty busy.” That’s perspective for you! It comes from living in London, where traffic is dense no matter the time of day. In a similar vein, driving has felt really easy here after cycling in London, where I have to be hyper-aware on the bike so as not to be run over by aggressive drivers. Cruising around in a car here feels quite calm in comparison.
  • People and friendliness. Maybe I’m becoming more like a reserved European, but Americans are so friendly and open…sometimes overly so, it seems to me. I’m happy to strike up the odd amiable chat, and do it regularly in London with our fruiterer shopkeepers. But many people here seem a little too in-your-face-potentially-forced friendly. It’s fine, and I do appreciate the openness, but it’s funny to come at it now from another perspective — if anything, it reflects how living abroad has changed me. I will say that it’s refreshing to go into a store here and be able to ask an employee about what I’m looking for, because I know that they will provide good customer service and help me find what I need. In the UK and other parts of Europe it sometimes feels like people are mildly annoyed when you enter their shop…but I sort of like that, too — or at least am used to it by now!
  • Short distances. Again, this is me comparing two cities of vastly different sizes and areas. But still, it is so easy and quick to get around Rochester. In London I have to plan and map out where and when I want to go somewhere, taking into account the time and money and clothing I’ll need. Here, pretty much everything is a 5-20 minute drive away. I could get used to that again…

Oh, the cross-cultural life is always fun and interesting! I wouldn’t have it any other way — it has opened my eyes to how different people live and how different societies function, and has brought me a hefty dose of perspective along the way. I love it.

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Summer “Issues”: Dissertation!

Apologies for the massive delay in MA updates. Last time I checked in, we’d finished courses and were writing essays and an exam. That all went pretty smoothly for me (though  nothing’s been marked yet so who really knows?) — the take-home exam was actually kind of enjoyable, as I’d prepared my texts in advance and just had to write close readings without worrying about bringing in secondary sources (some people did use criticism but it was optional so I chose not to for such short essays).

That was almost three months ago (!), and at that time I still didn’t have any ideas for my dissertation. Actually, writing about Mrs. Dalloway for one of my coursework essays made me really want to work on Woolf and trauma, but that quickly went out the window when I became overwhelmed by how much has already been written on Woolf (and trauma, in texts like Atonement and The Bluest Eye). I also wanted something more “relevant,” at least to me and my current life and experiences. So after some conversations and advice from my family, I turned toward cultural displacement/assimilation and spent a few weeks bumbling around on JSTOR by plugging word combinations into the search bars (“trauma,” “integration,” “culture shock,” “assimilation,” to name a few). Luckily, one mindless JSTOR session turned up an essay on Dave Eggers’s 2006 novel, What Is the What.

research in Senate House Library

research in Senate House Library

BINGO! I’d read What Is the What – and loved it — right before the Peace Corps and had forgotten how it deals with many of the issues of cultural integration, education, and international development that interest me. It was also a good choice because only four scholarly articles have been published on it, which leaves me room to form my own argument about it and not struggle to come up with something that hasn’t already been written on a hundred times.

Fast forward to now: I’ve re-read What Is the What twice; read lots of criticism and some theory on immigration, post-colonial novels, and storytelling traditions (to name a few); met with my supervisor twice (he’s great); and started drafting. It’s a bit overwhelming, as there’s a lot of material to juggle and an argument to work out and it’s all due on 1 September. But overall it’s going well and I am happy with my text and topic choice. I can’t tell you much because it hasn’t been marked (let alone written!), but it’s roughly about storytelling and voice and the immigrant experience, with some Toni Morrison thrown in for good measure.

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At the Royal Opera House: Puccini’s “La bohème”

For my birthday this year, F surprised me with tickets to see Puccini’s La bohème at the Royal Opera House in London. (He’s the best.) This July at the ROH, John Copley directs seven performances of his iconic production of La bohème – set in 19th-century Paris – that is 40 years old this year. The staging is quite magical, thanks in part to great sets designed by Julia Trevelyan Oman. There are a few different casts for this revival; we saw the first one, featuring Ermonela Jaho as Mimi and Charles Castronovo as Rodolfo.

Entering the Royal Opera House, located in one corner of London’s Covent Garden, feels like entering a different world. Not an elite one, as you may think, but an old-fashioned one where people mingle with drinks and time slows down for a little while. The theatre itself may have something to do with that: dating from the late 19th-century, it’s sea of red velvet and gold ornament, complete with candelabras around the edges that you can imagine once held real candles.

inside the Royal Opera House

inside the Royal Opera House

The opera itself was great. Having seen a couple of Puccini operas in the past (Turandot at the Met and Madame Butterfly at the Kyiv Opera in Ukraine), I knew what to expect in terms of continuous music and general tragedy. I was particularly looking forward to La bohème because the musical Rent – based on Puccini’s opera — is one of my favorites. The ROH did not disappoint. Cornelius Meister led the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a lush, Romantic rendition of the score and despite a few points when the orchestra overpowered the tenors, I hardly noticed the orchestra at all (which I think is how it should be in opera). Though the large ensemble scenes — particularly Act II — are somewhat hard to follow in La bohème, the arias are gorgeous.

In terms of the singing, Ermonela Jaho as Mimi stole the show. I’d never heard of her and was at first a little disappointed not to be seeing one of the bigger names (Anna Netrebko and Angela Gheorghiu will appear in the role for subsequent performances), but now I can confidently say that I didn’t miss the big names one bit. Jaho has lovely tone and an exquisite pianissimo on her high notes — her Si, mi chiamano Mimi gave me chills. She was believable as the shy seamstress and played the tragic heroine without melodrama. Castronovo (Rodolfo) had a lovely tenor and paired well with Jaho, though his swelling climaxes were often drowned out by the orchestra (not sure if that was because of where we were sitting or a genuine orchestra-voice balance issue). The other vocal standout was Jongmin Park as Colline, whose ‘overcoat aria’ in Act IV was beautiful and moving. Simona Mihai played a fine Musetta and the other supporting singers were strong.

Overall, I really enjoyed my first outing to the Royal Opera House (and who knows when the next one will be? Holy ticket prices!). Copley’s La bohème production is fantastic and magical, and the ROH delivers a great experience (though I do agree with the Guardian reviewer that it could do without the second interval). If you can get tickets, go.

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Recipe: Scandinavian Almond Cake

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Holy moly is this cake good. It’s moist (F said “mega-moist!”), buttery, not too dense, and just sweet enough. Cardamom adds a pleasing depth of flavor. It gets half a point for health, too, because there’s no flour — just ground almonds. I’d been wanting to make an almond cake for a while, and my birthday provided a good excuse to get in touch with my Scandinavian roots and make this delectable cake. I cut mine into squares and passed it around the office at work — it sure disappeared quickly! Guess I better make another one…

Scandinavian Almond Cake (adapted from Outside Oslo; makes 8 generous wedges or 12-16 squares)

Ingredients

  • 115g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 250g (~2.5 cups) ground almonds
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 175C (350F) and grease a springform cake pan.
  • In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the almonds, baking powder, cardamom, and salt.
  • Fold the dry into the wet ingredients and stir until combined.
  • Spread the batter (it will be quite thick) into the cake pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown and an inserted knife comes out clean. Let cool and sprinkle powdered sugar over the top.

Enjoy!

Afternoon Tea at Tea & Tattle

Emma was in London this week and, knowing she is a tea-and-scone lover like me, I made a reservation for us to have afternoon tea at Tea & Tattle in Bloomsbury, right across from the British Museum (which a friend of mine has brilliantly re-named the “Spoils of Empire Museum”).

The experience at Tea & Tattle was delightful. The bright basement tearoom is cozy yet uncluttered, with funky paintings on the walls. We got a great deal on “Traditional Tea for Two”, which allowed each of us to choose one sandwich, one tea, a jam flavor for the scones, and one cake. They even threw in a refreshing, unsweetened lemonade for free. We both had the “smoked salmon, creme fraiche with cucumber and lemon” sandwich – you can choose from four kinds of bread and yes, they will appear crustless and cut into triangles. Cute.

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Next came the scones, halved and spread with clotted cream and jam. We each got a different jam so we could share: the raspberry and vanilla jam was lovely, and the damson (plum) jam had pleasing spiced notes. On the cake front, I had a moist and nutty carrot cake and Emma had a pretty Victoria sponge — top marks for both.

scone with raspberry & vanilla jam

scone with raspberry & vanilla jam

Funnily enough, we both thought that the tea itself was the most disappointing part of the experience: my Earl Grey was too weak and Emma’s English Breakfast was too strong. But the service and pace more than made up for it. We told them all our choices at the beginning, and then they brought each “course” as we finished the one before. We did not feel rushed and lingered chatting long after we’d finished our cake, never feeling like they wanted to get rid of us. The amount of food was also perfect — I didn’t leave feeling overstuffed or still hungry.

Victoria sponge & carrot cake

Victoria sponge & carrot cake

Overall, I’d definitely recommend popping into Tea & Tattle, whether it’s for a full afternoon tea or just for tea and a scone. It’s a great place to escape the bustle of London and catch up with a friend who you haven’t seen in a while. Complete the afternoon by strolling through the Spoils of Empire British Museum afterwards.

Recipe: Socca with Zucchini, Tomatoes & Shaved Parmesan

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I’ve been wanting to make socca for a while but had no chickpea flour (aka gram flour) in the house until I made these spinach and potato patties a few weeks ago. Left with an open Wednesday evening and plenty of gram four, I had no more excuses and turned to Cookie and Kate for guidance on how to make it.

socca-as-pizza

socca-as-pizza

Socca is a sort of crepe/pancake/flatbread hybrid, baked and/or broiled in a skillet in the oven. It is really easy to make and, after you’ve let the batter sit for an hour, cooks quickly. Though socca is traditionally enjoyed plain or sprinkled with a few herbs, I topped my first attempt with zucchini, tomatoes, and shaved parmesan to make a light and healthy pizza-like dish — great for a quick weeknight dinner. But it was so good that I made it again the next night, this time leaving it plain enjoying some sautéed veggies on the side. Feel free to try your own topping variations (let me know what you come up with!) or just enjoy the socca plain — you won’t be disappointed.

Socca with Zucchini, Tomatoes & Shaved Parmesan (adapted from Cookie and Kate; makes 2 generous servings)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (120g) chickpea/gram flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 zucchini, julienned
  • 1-2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • to taste: parmesan or other hard cheese, shaved

Procedure

  • One hour before you want to bake the socca, whisk together the gram flour, water, 2 tbsp olive oil, garlic, and sea salt. Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour.
  • After one hour (or more), turn your oven’s broiler on and move the oven rack up to 8 inches underneath. Put a large skillet in the oven to preheat.
  • When the oven/skillet have finished heating, take the skillet out (use oven mitts!) and swirl 1 tbsp of the olive oil in it. Pour in the socca batter and pop it in the oven for 5-8 minutes or until the edges start to brown.
  • Remove the skillet from the oven. Move the rack back to the middle of the oven, switch back to normal heating, and turn the temperature down to 215C.
  • Pour the last 1 tbsp olive oil over the socca and arrange the tomatoes, zucchini, and parmesan on top. Bake for 8-10 minutes. (Note: if you don’t want to top the socca with anything, bake it for 10 minutes at 225C, then broil it for 2 minutes or until it begins blistering.)

Enjoy!

Recipe: Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I realized recently that I didn’t actually have a classic chocolate chip cookie recipe on the blog – gasp! (The closest I’ve gotten is these chocolate chunk cookie bars.) A birthday weekend and Germany vs. USA World Cup match seemed like the perfect time to fill in this shocking gap in my dessert repertoire. So I went into a baking frenzy the night before my birthday and whipped up these fluffy-yet-moist chocolate chip cookies as well as a Scandinavian almond cake (recipe forthcoming). These big cookies are thick while remaining chewy, and the flavor is just what you would hope for — no frills, just a really good cookie that does not even pretend to be healthy (sometimes you need that! Especially on birthdays). They come together quickly (chilling is optional but will prevent them from spreading and becoming thin) and are great just out of the oven.

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Chez CateyLou; makes 10 large cookies)

Ingredients

  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cold eggs, lightly beaten in a small bowl
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1.5 cups chocolate chips (I used dark but feel free to use milk)
  • optional: 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Procedure

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • In another bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium for about one minute or until it comes together into one clump. Add the sugars and beat for another minute or two, until the sugars are well-combined with the butter. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until all the ingredients are combined.
  • With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour and mix until it is barely incorporated.
  • Gently fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts (if using).
  • Line a tray or plate with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 10 clumps, form them loosely into balls, and place them on the tray.
  • Chill the dough balls for 30-60 minutes.
  • Bake the cookies: Preheat the oven to 175C (35oC) and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  • Place five of the dough clumps on the cookie sheet and bake for 16-20 minutes, until the cookies are just becoming golden brown on the edges and tops. Let cool for 5 minutes on the sheet before removing and baking the second batch.

Enjoy!

Xeraco & Valencia, Spain

A few weeks ago F and I ventured to southeastern Spain for some R&R in the midst of an already-busy summer. We had been invited to S&I’s wedding — hence the location — so decided to make a proper vacation out of it. The vacationness was enhanced by the fact that we stayed in a beautiful flat on Xeraco (say “Sheráko”) Playa that overlooked the beach. Xeraco is a town about 60km south of Valencia; we spent most of our time on the flat’s terrace, reading and enjoying the sea breezes. We dipped in the water when it was hot (watch out for jellyfish — I got stung in the warm Mediterranean) and walked on the beach’s soft sand in the cooler evenings.

The day before the wedding, we took the train an hour into Valencia to explore the old city center. It is beautiful, with lots of Arabic/Gothic/Moorish architecture dating from the 15th century or so. It was really warm — 34C — the day we were there, so we strolled slowly around the city center, through the cute winding streets and into the beautiful cathedral and a couple of galleries. We particularly enjoyed walking through the huge indoor Mercado Central (central market) while gazing at the huge jamón hocks, colorful vegetables, and super fresh seafood.

The market made us hungry, so we found our way back to a cute little square and sat outside in the shade at Bar & Kitchen/Mercat de Tapineria. There we enjoyed a light lunch, with the highlight being a delicious beet and tofu gazpacho: cool, refreshing, and a little bit sweet-sour.

Well-fortified, we made our way across the center to the Valencia Fine Arts Museum (Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia), which had free entry. It was nice to spend an hour or so inside during the hottest part of the day, and we discovered a remarkable artist whom neither of us had ever heard of: Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) was from Valencia but traveled a lot around Europe and won many art prizes for his portrait paintings. Upon his death, he bequeathed most of his works to the Fine Arts Museum in Valencia (which may explain why few have heard of him). His portraits, mostly of regular Spanish people, are remarkably realistic and impressionistic – just beautiful.

Sorolla’s “Academic study from life” (1887)

The museum pretty much concluded our Valencia visit. After resting in some gardens, we made our way back through the city center and took the train back to peaceful Xeraco. We spent another day relaxing until the 9pm-4am (!) Spanish wedding, which was beautiful and a lot of fun (congratulations, S&I!).

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Birthday Wisdom 2014

Another year gone by…this one has certainly flown. My 26th year (yes, I turn 26 today but — as my dad has pointed out — it’s actually a celebration of living through my 26th year) has been a busy one and filled with new experiences and people.

the most recent picture of me (taken last week by Sarah)

the most recent picture of me (taken last week by Sarah)

Over the past year I’ve settled into my London life with F; having more “productive” things to do has helped. Gosh, how to begin without dissolving into lists? I’ll try to hit on the highlights and leave you with my family’s traditional Birthday Wisdom at the end.

The big event in my 26th year has been working on my MA in English here in London. It has been challenging to re-enter academia after three years out of formal education, but after the first term I started feeling more comfortable and have met and begun socializing with some great people from my program. It has also been great to work two part-time jobs in different areas of EFL/ESOL teaching/tutoring — I’ve built my own skills and have worked with some really inspiring people. That has led me to realize that — at least for the foreseeable future — I would rather teach English as a language (as opposed to literature). In the athletics arena, I’ve run twelve races over my 26th year. Half of those were cross-country, another fun new experience for me. All those races probably caused me to get injured, though, and I am slowly working my way back to peak running form while enjoying more swimming and cycling. I’ve also joined an incredible chorus and love having a musical outlet again.

All in all, it has been a busy and eventful year — I’ve been challenged mentally, physically, musically, and socially, and feel that I have grown in all of those areas while integrating further into my little corner of London and starting to feel like part of the Crouch End-area community. My Birthday Wisdom this year comes from the always-inspiring (and recently-deceased) Maya Angelou, who has said:

“You only are free when you realize you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all.”

I wish you all another year of challenging yourself and belonging in all places.

Recipe: Rhabarberkuchen mit Quarkcreme und Streuseln (Rhubarb Cake)

Let me just say that the Germans know how to do cake. They unapologetically make moist, delicious creations and don’t shy away from using lots of butter and sugar. Once in a while, I am totally okay with that. F had been telling me about his Rhabarbarkuchen (rhubarb cake) for ages; finally, in the height of the season a month or so ago, we bought some rhubarb, stocked up on Quark, and spent an evening making the cake.

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Ohmygoodness is this a good cake (see first two sentences, above). A moist and flavorful revelation in my mouth. There’s a cake layer, a pudding-like layer (that’s the Quarkcreme part), lots of rhubarb, and a sweet-buttery-crunchy streusel topping. Just wow. This cake is totally worth the effort it takes to whip up three different layers. Be patient while it bakes and you’ll be rewarded. It’s great as an afternoon snack with coffee or tea and is also totally okay to eat for breakfast or brunch — just add a dollop of yogurt.

on goes the streusel

on goes the streusel

Rhabarberkuchen mit Quarkcreme und Streuseln (Rhubarb Cake) (adapted/translated from Chefkoch.de; makes a huge sheet cake, enough to feed a small army)

Ingredients

  • 1.3kg (4-6 stalks) rhubarb, cut into 2cm/1in chunks
  • Quarkcreme/Pudding layer:
    • 500g low-fat quark (try Greek yogurt if you can’t find quark in your supermarket)
    • 300g whipping cream
    • 1.5 packs vanilla instant pudding powder
    • zest of 1 lemon
    • 75g sugar (granulated or caster)
  • Streusel:
    • 125g sugar
    • 150g not-super-cold-but-firmer-than-room-temperature butter, cut into small cubes
    • 200g white flour
  • Cake layer:
    • 250g white flour
    • 2 tsp baking powder
    • 200g sugar
    • 200g butter
    • 4 eggs

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 150C.
  • Wash and cut the rhubarb into 2cm/1in chunks. Set aside.
  • Make the Quarkcreme: Put all the necessary ingredients (see above) in a large bowl and whisk or beat with an electric mixer to combine.
  • Make the streusel: In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and sugar together. Work in the butter with your hands or a pastry cutter, until everything is well-combined and only a little crumbly.
  • Make the cake batter: In a large bowl, whisk the baking powder and flour together. Add the sugar and butter and beat with an electric mixer until evenly distributed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. The batter will be thick and almost more like dough.
  • Assemble cake: Press the batter/dough into the bottom of a large sheet pan. Spread the Quarkcreme evenly on top. Distribute the rhubarb pieces evenly over the top, then sprinkle the streusel over everything.
  • Bake the cake for 45-55 minutes or until the streusel turns golden and the Quarkcreme seems set (you may have to cover it with foil partway through). Let cool for an hour or two before serving.

Guten Appetit!

Singing in Southwark Cathedral & Waltham Abbey

It has been a busy few months in the Crouch End Festival Chorus (CEFC) world. After singing big choral-orchestral works at the Barbican in March, we’ve been rehearsing hard for a completely different style of concert: 75 minutes of (mostly sacred) Renaissance-y a cappella music. This week we performed the same program (in a different order) twice, in London’s gorgeous Southwark Cathedral and in historical Waltham Abbey in Essex. On the program:

  • Three motets by Anton Bruckner (1824-1896): Locus isteOs justi, and Ave Maria. You may look at Bruckner’s dates — or be familiar with his symphonies — and ask, “Renaissance-y, really?” Oh yes. These three motets are unaccompanied, three- or four-part wonders of expressive harmony and modulation. I had been familiar with the motets from my “Music of the Romantic Era” musicology course at Oberlin (thanks, CMcG!) and always wanted to sing them. When our conductor, David, added them to the program partway through our rehearsal schedule, I was thrilled. If some of the modulations in Os justi don’t give you chills, I don’t know what will…
  • …except maybe the final cadence of Ralph Vaughan Williams‘ (1872-1958) Mass in G minor. Yes, another Romantic/modern-era composer writing a piece that sounds much older than it is, using Dorian and Mixolydian modes as well as plainsong-like passages in addition to “normal,” non-modal keys (thanks, program notes). This mass is written for two choirs and four soloists (which David turned into a semi-chorus), which means that at some points, 12 different parts are singing. It is a more challenging piece than it seems at first reading — lots of tricky rhythms and time signature shifts. And though it sounds older, there are moments of characteristic Vaughan Williams harmonic progressions that will draw you back into the 20th century.
  • Annunciation and Song for Athene by John Tavener (1944-2013). Written in the Orthodox tradition (Tavener converted in 1977), each piece uses a semi-chorus to great effect and each is heartbreakingly beautiful. Song for Athene is best-known for being performed and broadcast at Princess Diana’s funeral. Tavener wrote some remarkable music — David thinks he’ll become known as one of the great late 20th-century choral composers.
  • Thomas Tallis’ (c.1505-1585) 40-part Spem in aliumYes, 40 parts: eight choirs of five voices each. Though this would traditionally be sung with one person on each part — that’s how I’d seen Collegium Musicum sing it at Oberlin — CEFC is large enough that David put 2-5 people on each part. I sang in Choir 4 with three other sopranos on my part. This piece is incredible in its complexity and interwoven parts — even moreso because it dates from the 16th century. Give it a listen and let the glorious sounds wash over you. I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to sing it.
  • A world premiere of Salve Regina by Bernard Hughes (b. 1974), which was commissioned by CEFC for its 30th anniversary this year. Written in memory of a chorus member’s husband, this also requires two choirs and, like the rest of the program, it is beautiful and quite challenging. I think we pulled it off well and Bernard seemed pleased.
  • A strange arrangement of Paul Anka’s Buddy Holly song It Doesn’t Matter Anymore by Orlando Gough (b. 1953).

That’s the music — I haven’t even told you about the venues yet. Both venues were places where CEFC had never sung, so these were exciting opportunities for us.

inside Southwark Cathedral, post-concert

inside Southwark Cathedral, post-concert

We sang the first concert at Southwark Cathedral, which sits next to Borough Market near London Bridge. Apparently Southwark is the oldest cathedral building in London, and it is beautiful, with high vaulted ceilings that made for lovely acoustics with great reverberations. I had stepped into it a few times while visiting Borough Market but it was even more incredible to sing in it.

Southwark Cathedral

Southwark Cathedral

For the second concert, we traveled outside the M25 to Essex (is it still London? That’s up for debate) and historical Waltham Abbey. Someone told me that the Abbey’s foundation dates to the 11th century and the building dates to the 12th. It is best known around the UK as the place where King Harold II is (probably) buried, after being shot in the eye at the Battle of Hastings (or something). Less than half the size of Southwark, Waltham Abbey made for a more intimate concert setting — fitting for much of the music we were singing. Its acoustics weren’t as grand, but I think Spem sounded better in the smaller space.

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Waltham Abbey

Waltham Abbey

inside Waltham Abbey

inside Waltham Abbey

In terms of how the concerts were received, I leave you with an email David received from an audience member after the Tuesday performance:

We went to see CEFC at Southwark Cathedral two nights ago. Probably the best I’ve ever heard them. 
The acoustics of the cathedral were superb and their version of the Tallis masterpiece was sublime. 
I was wishing I could get to Waltham Abbey on Saturday, but alas other commitments.
Well done, all!

Recipe: Spinach & Potato Patties

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Also called palak ki tiki, these potato patties are packed with spinach and spice. The recipe is one of Martha Rose Shulman’s “Recipes for Health” series in The New York Times. It’s a great, flavorful recipe, but Shulman makes it sound a lot easier to cook the patties than it is. I initially made my patties too thick, and the first batch turned to mush in the pan because of the thickness and lack of oil. Luckily, F was around to suggest that we re-form the mixture into thinner patties, add more gram flour, and fry them in more and hotter oil. It worked, and we ended up with perfectly crisped potato patties.

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To complete the meal, we went all-Indian and served the freshly made patties with this dal and some minty yogurt sauce. The next day, Janira and I enjoyed some of the leftovers with fried eggs (and ketchup, for me — delicious). The day after that, we mixed some into lentil soup. (Yes, we made a lot of patties.) These are versatile and healthful little fritters that I’d definitely make again.

Spinach and Potato Patties (adapted from Martha Rose Shulman; makes 6-8 servings)

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs potatoes, quartered
  • 4 cups (3/4 lb) fresh spinach, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup gram (chickpea) flour
  • sunflower oil, for frying

Procedure

  • Steam the potatoes in 1-2 inches of water until they are tender, about 15 minutes. Mash and let cool.
  • Blanch the chopped spinach briefly in boiling water. Squeeze out as much excess water as possible.
  • When the mashed potatoes are cool enough, add the spinach, cilantro, spices, and lemon juice. Mix with your hands until everything is well-combined.
  • Take clumps of the potato mixture and roll them into small balls. Roll each ball in the gram flour, then flatten it into a relatively thin patty. Chill the patties for at least 1 hour.
  • After the patties have chilled, fry them in hot oil for a few minutes on each side or until they are well-browned. Serve with a dollop of yogurt sauce.

Enjoy!