Tag Archives: cycling

Year in Review: 2017

Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr! З Новим Роком!

I haven’t written a “year in review” since the end of 2014, but this year I felt the desire to do so as 2017 becomes 2018. While there are plenty of awful things that happened globally in 2017 – politically, environmentally, etc. – I would like to focus on the more personal positives in this post.

Running and fitness in 2017:

On the way to a 5-mile PB at the Perivale 5, Dec 2017. Photo credit: Bespoke Photos.

  • Distance run: Strava tells me that in 2017 I ran 973.1km =  604.66mi. This is about 39 more miles than in 2016, so I’ll take that as a slight improvement.
  • The first half of the running year wasn’t great, as I had a really nasty virus over the Christmas holidays so had a slow return to fitness in early 2017. I had a brief return to the track in the summer before developing some plantar fasciitis. Since then, I’ve focused on building up my fitness base with tempo work and longer runs. That has seemed to work, as in fall/winter I ran my fastest 10k since 2015 and a 5-mile PR/PB!
  • In 2017 I discovered how much I love trail running/racing. Now that I have invested in trail shoes, I hope to do more trail running in 2018. I ran in Trent Park for the first time and loved it.
  • Racing (running):
  • Distance cycled: 2,760.3km = 1,715.17mi of commuting to/from work in London. About 200km/124mi more than in 2016.

Favorite books read in 2017:

  • In 2017 I read about 21 books. I didn’t love everything I read but here are some books that have stuck with me after finishing them:
  • Tracy Chevalier, At the Edge of the Orchard. I’ve loved Chevalier’s writing ever since reading Girl with a Pearl Earring as a teenager. Chevalier also happens to be an Oberlin graduate and I was fortunate to see her speak when I was in college. At the Edge of the Orchard is a historical novel of migration to the American West during the Gold Rush in the 1840s and ’50s. The human characters are interesting but much of the novel is actually about trees: apple orchards and then California’s redwoods and giant sequoias. It has really stuck with me and I’ve recommended it to a number of people.
    • I also read Chevalier’s newest novel, New Boy, this year. It’s a chilling retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello set on a school playground and I’d recommend it to any English teachers for their students to read alongside the original play.
  • Somehow in all my study of English literature, I had never read Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. My parents recommended it to me after reading it for their book club a couple of years ago, and I was impressed with this early detective novel. It has all the good stuff – missed messages, mistaken identities, charming villains – while remaining accessible even for those who aren’t used to reading 19th-century novels.
  • I absolutely love Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series (the first one is called The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) and this year I read the seventh and eighth books back to back. Every time I open a Russell-Holmes novel, it feels like coming home. Something about King’s writing style just sits well with me. The novels are at once historically dense, character-driven, and detailed but not slow-moving. My dad first got hooked on the series years ago, and I would recommend it to anyone who, to use Netflix-speak, enjoys “historical novels with a strong female lead”. There’s also plenty of mystery and detective work involved!
  • I loved Robin Hobb’s 4-book series, The Rain Wild Chronicles, recommended by a fellow choir singer. Hobb creates a fascinating and robust fantasy world – realist but with touches of the magic and mythical – and tells a good story.
  • Rachel Sieffert, A Boy in Winter. A poignant WWII novel set in a small Ukrainian town. Sad but beautifully written and worth reading for a slightly different perspective.
  • Darragh McKeon, All that is Solid Melts into Air. Wow was this good. A close family friend – my Belgian “aunt” – recommended it and I loved it. It’s set in Soviet Ukraine/Russia/Belarus in the late 1980s around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The shifting perspectives never felt jarring and it’s quite timely, despite being a historical novel. Highly recommended.
  • F and I finished reading Walter Moers’ Die 13 1/2 Leben des Käpt’n Blaubär, an epic fantasy-type novel that we took turns reading aloud. It helped my German a lot and was good fun! I also finished a book of short stories in German – Karen Köhler’s Wir Haben Raketen Geangelt – that were almost all depressing but I loved the writing style and it was accessible enough for me to understand most of what was going on.

Other highlights & achievements, in no particular order:

  • Singing Bach’s St John Passion in English with the Crouch End Festival Chorus and Bach Camerata at St John Smith’s Square in central London.
  • Visiting my close friend Hannah in Bulgaria, where she’s working as a Fulbright ETA.
  • Spending a lovely long weekend with F in Bath.
  • Family and friends descending on London for our post-wedding celebration in July. It was lovely to have a casual party in a local pub and that so many people made the effort to come from near and far.
  • Spending a week walking in the Cotswolds with F. We stayed in a little AirBnB in the village of Longborough and spent each day walking a different loop, stopping for pub lunches and enjoying our escape from big city life.
  • After three years teaching ESOL to migrant women at a charity in Tower Hamlets, I got a new job at a charity in Hackney. I’m still teaching ESOL mainly in Tower Hamlets but also learning about and sharpening my skills in project management and partnerships. It was hard to leave my old team – a close-knit group of amazing women – but it was the right move to make and I’m enjoying my new role. It’s also interesting to see how two charities in the same sector operate quite differently.

Cotswolds walking

I’m not big on resolutions but my main intention for 2018 is, as usual, to find a healthy balance between work, exercise, time with F, and other things. We hope to travel a bit more this year and I’d like to build up my running mileage to 10-mile or even half marathon fitness.

In some blog-related reflecting, here is a listicle of of my top posts via views in 2017:

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2018

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A New Favorite (& possibly the BEST) Pancake Recipe

A few months ago, NYT Cooking started making interactive “how to cook” features on its website. The first one was on pancakes, which as you know hold a special place in my heart. Although I consider myself quite an experienced pancakemaker, it was useful and interesting to read the NYT Cooking feature and delve into the details. I shared the feature with F, who suggested I try my hand at Alison Roman’s base recipe for “perfect buttermilk pancakes.” So I did.

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Then I made them again the next weekend.

And the next weekend.

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That’s right — we have discovered possibly the best pancake recipe ever. And I am not exaggerating. These buttermilk beauties are the perfect blend of crispy edges (don’t shy away from a bit of sugar in the batter, Roman suggests) and fluffy, creamy interior. I usually sub in some cornmeal and have used various combinations of buttermilk, yogurt, and/or whole milk for the liquid — they turn out great every time.

Perfect Buttermilk Pancakes (slightly adapted from Alison Roman at NYT Cooking; makes enough for 3-4 people)

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups plain/all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1.5 tsp baking soda
  • 1.25 tsp salt (a bit less if not using kosher salt)
  • 2.5 cups buttermilk OR 1.25 cups plain yogurt + 1.25 cups whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • Neutral oil for cooking (I use sunflower oil)

Procedure

  1. Heat a large non-stick skillet (or griddle) over medium heat.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Add the buttermilk and eggs to the dry ingredients, then pour in the melted butter. Gently whisk everything together until all ingredients are combined. Don’t over-mix — it’s okay if there are a few lumps.
  4. Add some oil to the skillet. Ladle 1/3-1/2 cup of batter into the skillet and repeat if your skillet/griddle is large enough for more than one pancake (but don’t overcrowd them).
  5. Cook the pancake(s) on one side until bubbles start rising to the surface (2-4 minutes). Flip the pancake(s) and cook for another minute or 2.
  6. Serve the pancakes hot from the skillet or keep them warm in the oven (300F/150C) until ready to serve.

Enjoy!


Race Recap: VeloPark Team Relay Duathlon

The event: VeloPark Team Relay Duathlon

The task: each person of a 4-member team (all women, all men, or 2 of each) must run 2 miles, bike 6 miles, and run 1 mile before handing off their ankle chip to the next team member. Winners are determined by aggregate times.

The background: F is an avid cyclist and I’m more of a runner, so I thought it would be something fun we could do together. He and I formed a “mixed team” along with my fellow Heathside runner J and Hampstead Tri Club member N. As the weekend approached, I admit that I started to regret signing up for a race the morning after a chorus concert, but in the end I’m really glad we did it.

The recap: A group of us met in the not-quite-light morning to cycle down to the VeloPark, a 1-mile paved, outdoor loop in East London’s Lee Valley Olympic Park complex. Upon arrival, team captain J checked us in and handed out our colored, numbered, letter-coded stickers: we had to race in order of registration, which meant J went first, followed by me, F, and N. One sticker on the bike’s seat post, one on the front of the helmet, and bibs pinned on front and back of your shirt.

Once we settled our bikes in bay 11, we rushed over for the race briefing: run on the left, cycle on the right, pass on the right, no drafting. The competition looked stiff, as most people showed up with snazzy bikes and tri bars. I felt a bit silly with my Canyon “fitness bike” with a rack, but I’m much more familiar with its handling and shifting than my road bike so am glad I stuck with my gut feeling to ride it. Plus, F and I decided we were out to have fun, not to crush everyone in sight (although of course, the competitive instinct kicks in once you’re out on the course).

Shortly after 8:30am, the first runners were off! The course looked undulating, and I was glad I’d be running a couple of laps before cycling to get a feel for the curves and hills. J and G looked strong coming through the first lap. I downed a banana shortly after J got on the bike, knowing I had about half an hour before my turn.

The sun came out partway through J’s leg, which helped me warm up while skipping in place in the transition box. Before I knew it, J was coming in from her second run and putting the chip around my ankle. Off I went to run two 1-mile laps of the course. Use the downhills, I reminded myself as I leaned into the first descent. I was pleased with a first mile just over 7:00 and tried to keep up the pace for the second lap. It felt hard, but I managed to pass a few runners on the second lap and shouted encouragement to Heathsiders D and S, both already on their bike legs.

As I finished the second run lap, F and J were in our transition box to hand me my helmet, glasses, and bike — great team support — to send me off for 6 laps. One advantage of cycling in my running shoes was that I could run my bike to the mount line much more easily than those in cycling shoes with cleats. It felt good to be cycling after a hard two miles of running, although I did have 6 laps ahead of me. Use the downhills, I again told myself. Once I figured out how to negotiate the tricky corners and the long hill, I settled into a pretty steady pace of about 3:25/mile (lap). It helped to pick out riders ahead of me to try and pass — which I did. F and J shouted encouragement each time I went by the transition zone, and the marshals were equally encouraging.

I finished the 6-mile bike leg in about 20:45 and handed off my bike, helmet, and glasses to my teammates. Just one lap to run. Come on! Wow, running after cycling is hard…it felt like I was running through tar for most of the lap, but I somehow managed a respectable 7:14 mile before whipping off my chip and giving it to F.

The results: After J and me, F and N both had strong races, each of them making up a lot of time on their bike legs (16:48 & 17:59, respectively and including the bike-to-run transition) for our team. N’s fast running also helped, and surprisingly our mixed team, “Heels and Wheels,” came 3rd out of 14! None of us were expecting that, and it just goes to show that if you turn up you never know what might happen.

My overall official time was 43:09 with official splits as follows: Mile 1 Run 7:06; Mile 2 Run + Transition 7:36; Mile 1 Cycle 3:24.9; Mile 2 Cycle 3:23.4; Mile 3 Cycle 3:27; Mile 4 Cycle 3:25.7; Mile 5 Cycle 3:22.1; Mile 6 Cycle + Transition 3:53.8; 1 Mile Run + Chip Handover 7:29.1. My bike splits were faster than I anticipated, with a total of 20:56.9 for the 6 miles plus transition, and I’m pleased with my three miles of running just over 7:00/mile pace.

There was great camaraderie and team spirit among us North London clubs: there were all-Heathside ladies’ and mens’ teams alongside our mixed-club mixed team. The ladies team came second in their category and the men also had a strong race.

The team relay duathlon was my first multi-sport event, and while it did not make me any keener to do a triathlon, I could see myself doing more run-bike-runs in the future. The distance was short and sweet — manageable without having to do major training in either discipline, and painful but over quickly.

Next up: two cross country races in November. Stay tuned for the next race report!

———

Year in Review: 2014

Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr! З Новим Роком!

I can hardly believe it’s already 2015, can you? 2014 was quite a year, I hardly know how to sum it up. For brevity’s sake, let’s go with some good ol’ bullet points.

2014 by the numbers:

  • blog posts published: 92 or so
  • books read: too many to count — some for fun and lots for my MA course
  • miles run: 549 (quite a lot less than last year, due to hip/knee issues)
  • miles cycled: 2,028.65 (mostly commuting in London, but a decent amount of road cycling in the first half of the year)
  • courses completed: 2 (1 MA in English & 1 DELTA course)
  • countries been in: England, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Germany, USA
  • weddings attended: 2

Looking back on my intentions for 2014, I more or less achieved most of them, although things like improving my German and staying in better touch with friends and family could always be worked on. My main intention for 2015 is to find a healthy balance between work, exercise, time with F, and my other hobbies like cooking. That comes with some sub-intentions, like building up my running mileage and speed without getting injured.

In some blog-related reflecting, here are two listicles of my top posts — via views and via my opinion — from 2014:

The 10 most popular posts in 2014 (your favorites?):

My 10 favorite posts/moments in 2014 (in no particular order):

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2015

Recipe: Peach Breakfast Crisp

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A free long weekend (yay for the August Bank Holiday!) put me in the mood to try some new recipes. As you’ve already seen, on Saturday I made these stuffed flatbreads, which did indeed fuel F and me well for cycling the next morning. For post-cycling brunch on Sunday, I turned to the incredible smitten kitchen cookbook for inspiration. The result was this peach breakfast crisp, which I adapted from Deb’s apricot breakfast crisp — as she points out, any stone fruit (or berry, I imagine) would work well.

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This crisp is just right: tender, juicy peaches contrast beautifully with a crispy, nutty, not-too-sweet topping. Great with a dollop or two of plain yogurt. (F agrees!) As a bonus, the crisp comes together quickly — you can have it on the table in less than 45 minutes. Enjoy it for breakfast or brunch, like we did, or serve it as a light dessert. I’m definitely making this again, though I might have to double the recipe next time so it sticks around longer than one afternoon!

Peach Breakfast Crisp (adapted from smitten kitchen; serves 2-4)

Ingredients

  • Fruit filling:
    • 4 peaches, pitted & chopped into chunks (feel free to use other stone fruit or berry of choice)
    • 1.5 tbsp granulated sugar
    • 1 tbsp plain/all-purpose flour
    • to taste: grated nutmeg
  • Crisp topping:
    • 65g (4-5 tbsp) unsalted butter
    • 60-65g (~1/3 cup) granulated sugar
    • 45g (~1/2 cup) oats
    • 30g (~1/4 cup) plain/all-purpose flour
    • 35g (~1/4 cup) whole wheat flour
    • pinch of salt
    • 3 tbsp sliced almonds
    • optional: 1 tbsp wheat germ

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
  • In a small baking dish, stir together the chopped peaches with the sugar, flour, and nutmeg.
  • In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar, oats, flours, salt, almonds, and wheat germ.
  • Scoop/sprinkle the topping over the fruit, the bake for 30 minutes or until the topping is golden-brown and the fruit is bubbling. Serve warm or cold with yogurt.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Zucchini Bread

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Happy to be back in the home London kitchen, Sunday put me in the mood to work with food. I had been planning to make granola and pizza dough, but then I remembered seeing frugal feeding’s recipe for “courgette loaf cake” — aka zucchini bread. As it is zucchini season and we happened to have a couple in the fridge, I thought the bread would make a delicious post-run treat and that F would enjoy it after returning from a very long cycle. (For the record, he did enjoy it — so much so that we devoured half the loaf between the two of us on Sunday alone.) I was also surprised at myself for not already having a go-to zucchini bread recipe (though I do have these tasty zucchini bread pancakes) so had to remedy that quickly!

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This quick bread is packed with zucchini, well-spiced, and not too sweet. Lemon zest — which I was initially skeptical about — adds a nice, zesty brightness to the flavor, and I subbed in some whole wheat flour for a semblance of health. The result is a moist, filling, delicious loaf, great on its own or warm with butter.

Zucchini Bread (adapted from frugal feeding; makes 1 loaf)

Ingredients

  • 200g plain/all-purpose flour
  • 100g whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • pinch of salt
  • 325g zucchini, grated (~1.5 medium zucchinis)
  • 125g brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 150mL sunflower oil (or other neutral oil)
  • optional: 50g (~1/2 cup) pecans or walnuts

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 180C (160C if using a convection oven). Grease a loaf pan.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda & powder, spices, lemon zest, and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the zucchini, brown sugar, eggs, and oil.
  • Pour the wet into the dry mixture and stir to combine. Stir in the nuts, if using.
  • Scrape the batter (it will be thick) into the loaf pan and bake for 60-70 minutes or until an inserted knife comes out clean. (You may have to cover the loaf with foil partway through baking, so the top doesn’t burn.)

Enjoy!

Recipe: Spicy Sweet Potato Fries

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These sweet potato “fries” are a variation on my usual roasted root vegetables. It’s the spice mix that makes these deserving of their own recipe. The sweet potato fries went well with F’s homemade hamburgers for a post-Sunday-cycling lunch. They are a little bit spicy, a little bit earthy, and just salty enough. I call them “fries” for their shape — they did not actually become crispy, as I tossed them with olive oil and baked them in the oven. Next time I might roll the raw sweet potato sticks in a little bit of cornmeal to see if that helps them stay firmer.

Spicy Sweet Potato Fries

Ingredients

  • 2 sweet potatoes, cut into wedges or matchsticks
  • couple of glugs olive oil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1.25 tsp cumin, ground
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1.5 tsp sea salt

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  • Combine the olive oil and spices in a large mixing bowl.
  • Cut the potatoes, toss them in the spice-oil, then spread them on the baking sheet in one layer.
  • Bake for 20-30 minutes or until soft, turning once.

Enjoy!

Year in Review: 2013

Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr / Guten Rutsch! З Новим Роком!

2013 was a year full of changes and new experiences for me, like moving to a new country/city, getting an English teaching certificate, and starting an MA program (back to university after three years out). My German improved — and my Ukrainian waned. I also joined an amazing running club in my area of London and was able to spend much of the summer at home in the States with my family and F. Overall, 2013 was a really good year. Here are some more fun statistics summing up the year:

2013 by the numbers:

  • blog posts published: 155
  • books read: 19 for fun, plus >30 for my MA (including some short stories/poetry/essays)
  • visitors hosted in London: ~19
  • miles run: 931.89 (76.71 miles less than in 2012, but I cycled and swam more in 2013 so overall probably racked up more mileage)
  • qualifications received: 1 Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
  • countries been in: England, Belgium, Germany, USA
  • memories made: too many to count

Are you satisfied with your 2013?

Looking back, I am satisfied to have achieved most of my intentions for 2013: learning my way around London, living frugally, cycle-commuting, “me” time, exercise time, healthy eating, starting an MA program, and staying in touch with people . I didn’t take advantage of as many free/inexpensive opportunities as I could have, but we did visit quite a few of London’s free museums and markets with visitors.

Here is my non-exhaustive list of intentions for 2014, in no particular order:

  • Successfully complete my MA degree
  • Expand my skill set in teaching/tutoring, writing, and editing work
  • Keep improving my German
  • Stay healthy and fit:
    • Run a half marathon or two and take part in as many running club events as I can
    • Get more comfortable with road cycling by riding or spinning consistently
  • Keep exploring London via free/inexpensive activities
  • Get a job and work visa after my MA so I can stay in London
  • Stay in better touch with friends/family in all parts of the world (make better use of Skype, WhatsApp, etc.)

What are your intentions for 2014?

News Roundup: Mid-November 2013

It’s November. That means many cold, gray, rainy days. But lots of interesting reading has helped keep me warm when it’s miserable outside. This month’s News Roundup includes some juicy stuff related to Ukraine (my country of Peace Corps service), classical music and success, the importance of libraries, sex and healthcare, and cycling. Read on, follow the links for the full articles, and leave a comment with your thoughts.

Ukraine & Eastern Europe

  • A few weeks ago, the New York Times Travel section featured a lovely piece, “Lviv’s, and a Family’s, Stories in Architecture.”  L’viv, the unofficial capital of western Ukraine, has a fascinating history, having been variously controlled and inhabited by different ethnic and religious groups. The article does a wonderful job of reading L’viv’s history through its architecture, as evidenced by this excerpt (it really is a beautiful city and worth visiting):

A short walk through the city’s historic center would take me past buildings that reflect contributions of its Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, Armenian and German communities, all of which had roots going back to the late Middle Ages. I saw churches from the many different denominations that shaped this city’s skyline: a squat Armenian cathedral from the 14th century with a jumble of intersecting roofs; a huge 17th-century Baroque church built by the Jesuits and modeled on the Church of the Gesù in Rome; Ukrainian Orthodox three-dome churches.

  • Here’s another interesting article on L’viv, from Germany’s Die Zeit, “Flucht vor dem Kopfsteinpflaster” (“Escape from the cobblestones”). Apparently L’viv has proclaimed itself the cycling capital of Ukraine. The author discovers that’s not saying much, but there is one man who has a dream to create over 250km of bike lanes in Ukraine by 2020. Having been to L’viv a few times, I can say they have a long way to go, but it’s not impossible to try and make cycling in the city more popular. Good for them.
  • Speaking of Ukraine, the first Sunday in October was Teachers’ Day, for which Ukrainian schools go all-out. I’ve written before about my experiences of Teachers’ Day in Ukraine. The Oxford University Press blog also has a nice article about it, “Celebrating World Teachers’ Day,” that talks about the importance of teachers and teaching literacy.
  • “Comparing The United States to Ukraine” is a fascinating look at the two countries; the former of which I am a native, the latter where I spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Ukrainians used to ask me, “what you do like better, Ukraine or the US?” — this comparison really shows the plusses and minuses for both countries; in many ways they’re hard to compare. (Thanks to fellow Sniatyns’kyy Rayon PCV Sarah for bringing this to my attention.)
  • “The Russia Left Behind” is a moving look at the slow decline of small Russian villages along the road from St. Petersburg to Moscow. It’s also a great piece of multimedia journalism, with videos, slide shows, and maps as you travel the route along with the authors.
  • This BuzzFeed list, “17 Bizarre Foods Every Russian Grew Up With,” is great because I know many of the foods from Ukraine. The only food I’m not familiar with is #13 (kishka). My favorites are #15 (vinaigrette) and #2 (“fur coat” salad, which actually grows on you despite how weird it sounds). Salo (#7) and kholodets (#6): not so much!

Music

  • “21 of the best insults in classical music” is just a good piece of fun — I found most of these completely hilarious.
  • In more serious music news, “Is Music the Key to Success?” is a great piece from the NY Times. The author cites a bunch of famous and successful people who studied music at some point in their lives. Having studied a bit of music myself, I can agree about “[T]he qualities…high achievers say music has sharpened: collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideasMusic may not make you a genius, or rich, or even a better person. But it helps train you to think differently, to process different points of view — and most important, to take pleasure in listening.”

Humanities

  • And the humanities debate continues…This month, the NY Times featured a set of letters from education professionals around the country on the “Role of Humanities, in School and Life.” I was pleased to see that the President of my alma mater (Oberlin College), Marvin Krislov, contributed a letter in which he said:

I have seen how studying English, history, art and languages gives our students entree into cultures and callings. By connecting diverse ideas and themes across academic disciplines, humanities students learn to better reason and analyze, and to communicate their knowledge, creativity and ideas.

[W]e have an obligation to read for pleasure…If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.

We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. […]

We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. […]

We have an obligation to use the language. To push ourselves: to find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean. We must not to attempt to freeze language…we should use it as a living thing, that flows, that borrows words, that allows meanings and pronunciations to change with time.

Sex & Healthcare

  • Here’s a fascinating Guardian article on “Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?” The author cites some alarming statistics and notes that, “Marriage has become a minefield of unattractive choices. Japanese men have become less career-driven, and less solvent, as lifetime job security has waned. Japanese women have become more independent and ambitious. Yet conservative attitudes in the home and workplace persist. Japan’s punishing corporate world makes it almost impossible for women to combine a career and family, while children are unaffordable unless both parents work. Cohabiting or unmarried parenthood is still unusual, dogged by…disapproval.” The entire article is worth reading.
  • Along similar lines, also from The Guardian: “Why young women are going off the pill and onto contraception voodoo.” This is so scary! Please, ladies (and gents), use real, scientifically-proven birth control. No, the pull-out method is not a reliable form of contraception. I leave you with a somewhat stocking excerpt:

[M]ore than half of the unintended pregnancies in the US occur among the 10.7% of women who use no contraceptive method at all…This finding comes only a few months after a study carried out by…Dr Annie Dude at Duke University. Dr Dude’s findings revealed that 31% of young women in America aged between 15 and 24 had relied on the pull-out method at least once. Unsurprisingly, these women were 7.5% more likely to rely on emergency contraception than others and…of those who relied on the pull-out method, 21% had become pregnant. Apparently, these women had never heard the old joke: you know what you call a couple who use the rhythm and pull-out methods? Parents.

  • In the US, the “Obamacare” debate and issues continue. I don’t know why so many people need convincing that it is important for everyone to have healthcare access. Nicholas Kristof, in “This is Why We Need Obamacare,” says it better than I can: “While some Americans get superb care, tens of millions without insurance get marginal care. That’s one reason life expectancy is relatively low in America, and child mortality is twice as high as in some European countries. Now that’s a scandal.”

Cycling

[T]here is something undeniably screwy about a justice system that makes it de facto legal to kill people, even when it is clearly your fault, as long you’re driving a car and the victim is on a bike and you’re not obviously drunk and don’t flee the scene. When two cars crash, everybody agrees that one of the two drivers may well be to blame; cops consider it their job to gather evidence toward that determination. But when a car hits a bike, it’s like there’s a collective cultural impulse to say, “Oh, well, accidents happen.” If your 13-year-old daughter bikes to school tomorrow inside a freshly painted bike lane, and a driver runs a stop sign and kills her and then says to the cop, “Gee, I so totally did not mean to do that,” that will most likely be good enough.

Recipe: Baked Apple-Buckwheat Pancake

Sunday brunch. More pancakes. Of course!

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The baked apple-buckwheat pancake is a different sort of pancake from the one I usually make. This apple pancake — not to be confused with my moist apple hotcakes — is mixed up in a skillet and baked in the oven until puffy and golden. The perfect thing with which to greet a gorgeous fall morning, especially after a long run or cycle.

Baked pancakes — aka “Dutch baby” or German pancake — are like a cross between a crepe and an American-style pancake. F said it’s the kind of pancake he grew up eating. We love its density and that it’s eggy and moist.

 

I adapted the following apple-buckwheat pancake from this Gourmet recipe. I added some buckwheat flour and decreased the sugar for an extra health punch; a sprinkling of cinnamon enhances the fall-like flavors. It comes together quickly and bakes for a scant 10 minutes — just enough time for you to brew another pot of coffee. Then dig into the gorgeous golden, puffy pancake. Enjoy it plain or drizzled with maple syrup and a dollop of yogurt.

Baked Apple-Buckwheat Pancake (adapted from this recipe; serves 2 generously)

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp salted butter
  • 2 small (or 1 large) apples, cored & cut into 1/4″ wedges (feel free to peel the apples, if you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used semi-skimmed)
  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/4 cup buckwheat flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • dash of cinnamon

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).
  • Put the butter in a skillet and melt over medium heat. Pour half the melted butter into a medium bowl.
  • Slice the apples and throw them into the pan with the remaining butter. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the apples start to soften, 3-5 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, combine the rest of the ingredients with the butter in the medium bowl. Blend with an immersion blender — or put in an actual blender — until smooth.
  • Pour the liquid mixture into the pan with the apples, the pop the pan in the oven and bake for 8-12 minutes, until golden brown and puffed up.

Enjoy!

Recipe: “Fluffy but Crispy” Cornmeal & Caramelized Banana Pancakes

Happy September! Can you believe how quickly the summer has flown by? My Ukrainian pupils and colleagues will be celebrating перший дзвінок (pershyy dzvinok, “first bell”) soon to start the school year…it feels a little weird not to be in Sniatyn celebrating with them.

How are you “ringing in” this month?

We kicked off September this morning with a long run for me and cycling for F. As per Sunday tradition, we refueled with pancakes. Brunch tunes (my choice) included Jeremy Denk’s recording of some Bach Partitas and Glenn Gould’s take on the “Goldberg Variations.”

 

And now to the pancakes. Instead of my usual recipe, I decided to try a new one that I’ve had on my “to make” list for a while. These eggless wonders, “fluffy but crispy” in F’s words, were adapted from Minimalist Baker’s Mini Sopapilla Pancakes. Theirs are vegan, mine are not: I used real butter and a mixture of regular (cow) milk and almond milk. You can obviously make them vegan if you want to. I used whole wheat flour and added cornmeal for some texture. The generous sprinkling of cinnamon and slightly caramelized banana slices lend the pancakes depth and they do develop wonderful, crispy edges enveloping fluffy, flavorful insides.

F suggested adding the artistically drizzled maple syrup

F suggested artistically drizzling the maple syrup for a better photo

Cornmeal & Caramelized Banana Pancakes (adapted from Minimalist Baker. Makes 6 medium pancakes)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 scant tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • dash of salt
  • 3/4 cup milk (I used semi-skimmed aka 1-2%)
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla
  • 1 banana, sliced thinly

Procedure

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (milk through vanilla).
  • Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined.
  • Put a pan over medium heat and coat the bottom of it with some oil. Slice the banana.
  • Drop a ladleful (~1/2 cup) of batter into the pan. Gently place a few banana slices on top of each pancake. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until bubbles form around the edges, then carefully flip and cook for 2-3 more minutes.
  • Serve warm with your favorite topping(s). Some suggestions: maple syrup, honey, molasses, peanut butter, yogurt, more fruit…

Enjoy!

Cycling Martha’s Vineyard

My family is fortunate enough to have a house in Woods Hole, MA, a small, scientifically-minded town just south of Falmouth in the “armpit” of Cape Cod. We spend a glorious two weeks here each August, enjoying pastries from Pie in the Sky (the best bakery I know), swimming in the ocean, lying on the beach, reading ravenously, and exercising a lot to counteract the effect of all those pastries. One of the exercise-related traditions we have is spending a day cycling around Martha’s Vineyard, which is just a 45-minute ferry ride across Vineyard Sound from Woods Hole. This year’s trip was especially memorable, as it’s my first time back on the Cape since 2010 — the Peace Corps kept me away — and the wonderful F is also with us.

We drag ourselves out of bed at 6am in order to gather our cycling gear and grab a coffee from the aforementioned bakery before catching the 7am ferry. This gets us to Vineyard Haven just before 8am, in good time for a hearty breakfast at The Black Dog Tavern (the best restaurant on the Cape, as far as I’m concerned). I have the “George of the Jungle” pancakes (banana-walnut-chocolate chip) with an egg; F gets a meat-lovers’ omelette; my dad has some kind of scramble with tomato and guacamole; and my mom devours the “Green Monster” scramble with a single nutty pancake.

Black Dog breakfast

Black Dog breakfast

Well-fueled by 9:15am, we strap on our bike helmets, pump up our tires, and hit the road. We start by heading west out of Vineyard Haven, aiming for Menemsha and its adorable bike ferry. The Vineyard roads, despite having little to no shoulder and being somewhat busy with car traffic, are fantastically smooth and well-maintained. The drivers, too, know to look out for cyclists and so are some of the politest you’ll find. (My favorite part of this first leg was Lambert’s Cove Road, which I hadn’t ridden before; it’s smoothly paved and has some fun hills and curves.) Back on State Road, we take the righthand fork past North Tisbury onto North Road. A steep descent takes us into Menemsha and we decide to continue on to ride around Gay Head / Aquinnah. This means the bike ferry, an adorable raft that can hold four bikes and six people at a time and takes less than five minutes to cross the little channel into Menemsha Pond.

Menemsha ferry

Menemsha ferry

We ride around the point, stopping briefly for a view of the Gay Head clay cliffs before a fun descent to Philbin Beach. This is our favorite beach on the Vineyard: beautiful sand, pristine water, pretty rocks, funny shorebirds, and not crowded. My mom enjoys strolling up and down the flat shoreline; F, my dad, and I cool off in the waves and then lie on our towels to let the sun dry us off. A well-deserved rest after 20 miles (~32km) of riding.

After the break, F and I decide to take the next segment a bit faster — we, unlike D&T, have proper road bikes and no racks or panniers, which gives us an advantage in terms of speed — and agree to meet the parents at Beetlebung Corner. Thus starts a fun 10-km/6-mi section of more rolling hills — do you sense a trend? — and curvy roads in the sun. At Beetlebung Corner, in the center of Chilmark, we grit our teeth and set off up and down — but mostly up — Middle Road, the shorter and quieter but hillier option. At least the reward of making it up the biggest hill is pausing to watch the beautiful long-horned cows take turns licking each other, no doubt to scratch some itches.

At the end of Middle Road we always stop at the Field Gallery to check out the sculptures and paintings — all for sale, including some early Calder paintings — and take a breather before joining the bike path for the last 15km/9mi to Edgartown. We get on the bike path and enjoy its roller coaster-like twists and turns, ups and downs, through the forest. This segment is mentally tough for me; the path isn’t as well-maintained as the roads, and it’s hard to see the bumps and roots due to the dappled sunlight coming through the trees. (Also I fell off on this section some years ago and have a knee scar to prove it.) But we make it into Edgartown for a well-deserved break after another 20 miles (32km); this time, Mad Martha’s is our reward. We each have a PB sandwich before digging into hot fudge sundaes (peppermint and mocha chip ice cream for D, peppermint and sinful chocolate for me), a banana ferry (T), and a BLT for F.

we cycle for food

we cycle for food

We’re cutting it a bit close with our timing to catch the 5pm ferry from Vineyard Haven back to Woods Hole, but we have enough buffer to take the Beach Road route through Oak Bluffs with a 20-minute beach break for one last swim. T seems to have been revived by his banana ferry, and leads us at a good clip past the kids jumping off the bridge into the water and lines and lines of beachgoers’ cars. I also feel better after the calorie boost and take the lead for part of this segment. After the beach break, D leads us expertly through Oak Bluffs and along East Chop Drive back to Vineyard Haven, with 10 minutes to spare before the ferry!

In sum:

  • ~81km (50.33mi) in ~4 hours total riding time (including the short jaunt to/from the ferry dock and home)
  • Total elevation: 483m (1,584 feet) — the Vineyard is hilly!
  • Three long-ish breaks — good for resting saddle soreness and sore feet from a tad-too-small shoes (I’m borrowing a bike)
  • Delicious food to keep us going
  • Perfect weather: mid-70s F, sunny, no clouds, little wind
  • Great company and great cycling!
the route

the route

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