Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving Mini Feast

I have plans to spend an early Christmas with my son and his family in SoCal, but Thanksgiving was going to be spent alone in Texas.  So making menu plans for a nice dinner here at home with a good friend was the perfect way to spend the holiday.

We put our heads together and came up with a meal that played to each other's strengths in the kitchen.  She agreed to bring a couple of side dishes and dessert; I agreed to roast the turkey, make my mom's cranberry relish recipe, and have the wine ready to pour.

This very nice floral arrangement showed up on my doorstep the day before Thanksgiving.  And in the mail, a gorgeous hand-made Thanksgiving card....both from my friend who will be joining me this holiday.

The ingredients for cranberry relish.

Fresh cranberries, chopped, chopped walnuts, lemon zest (reconstituted from dried).
All added to prepared Jello (one small pkge orange, one small pkge cherry flavor)

The turkey, still in its wrapper, but defrosted....a 15 lb'er.

The turkey is rubbed with olive oil, a large, quartered white onion and an apple in its otherwise empty body cavity, and it's ready to go into the oven.

The turkey came out perfect and the house smells wonderful!

Roasted to perfection! Juices recovered and strained, ready to make gravy

Part of turkey, carved Food Network pro chef-style
The side dishes: green beans almondine, sausage dressing, curried sweet potatoes

Everything on the table.  Let's eat!

In the back: cranberry relish (on the left), interesting dressing made from corn bread,
biscuits, bread with sausage, mushrooms, apples.
Green beans Almondine (left) and curried sweet potatoes (right)
rolls, gravy, carved turkey meat

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Return to Tulsa to Run the Route 66 Half Marathon

Tulsa and her iconic Route 66!  A stretch of this storied highway runs right through the downtown.

There is a really great marathon event in the city, commemorating this iconic U.S. highway, and it began 10 years ago.  The race organizers are making the 10th anniversary running of this race particularly special this year.

It was back in 2012 that I first ran this race, an event that was notable in that I had inspired and encouraged a friend to train for and to run his very first half marathon that year in Tulsa.  But this year definitely called for a repeat running of this race.  Special race swag to commemorate the anniversary, special treatment for those of us who are members of the Half Fanatics and Marathon Maniacs clubs.

I registered, booked my hotel room at the same hotel as last time and when Friday before race day rolled around, I got on the road early to beat the morning commuter traffic in Houston.

Entrance to the expo at the Cox Business Center
The drive to Tulsa was pleasant, as I drove on highways instead of the interstate, and I arrived at the hotel in Tulsa mid-afternoon, got checked in, and then walked over to Cox Communications Center to visit the expo and get my race packet.  I picked up my race bibs for both the 5k and the half marathon, collected my very nice 10th anniversary jacket, my 5k shirt, and then found the Maniacs booth to collect my special wrist band which will gain me access to the VIP tent pre- and post-race and my special Half Fanatics version of the finisher medal.

Packet pickup area, with no lines. Reports from others who went early or later in the day
said that this area was crammed with people waiting in line.  Timing is everything,
and I've learned that from the Chevron Houston Marathon expo.

Then I headed back to the hotel, ordered room service dinner and crashed after a very long day, one that started at 4:30 in the morning.

The next morning it took some serious self-motivation to get out of bed, get dressed, and get out the door to run the 5k race.  I could hear those 35 mph winds howling around the hotel, and the sub-freezing temps were a huge deterrent and I had half a mind to just blow off this morning's race.

Finally, at the very last minute, I convinced myself that I should do it and hauled myself out of bed, quickly pulled on my running clothes, which I'd thankfully laid out the night before, and rushed to the elevator. The elevator door opened and I stepped inside to join another woman close to my age, clearly another race participant.

As we exited the elevator, I asked her if she minded my walking with her to the start line a mile away.  In the end, we stayed together for the entire 5k race and I very much enjoyed having her company.  It was very cold and extremely windy, but misery loves company and we pressed through it, sometimes laughing at how the winds were knocking us around.

My 5k finisher medal.

Afterward, we went to the hotel restaurant and had breakfast together.   It was a nice morning and I was so glad that I talked myself into doing this little 5k race, since I'd initially decided to blow it off because of the cold winds and in fact had even posted on Facebook that I planned to just stay in bed and not do it.  So glad that I didn't.

5k race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

I'd scouted a cupcake bakery the day before, so after getting cleaned up I headed out to get a cappuccino at a really nice Creperie cafe, then walked the few blocks to the bakery and picked up three totally decadent cupcakes to save for post-race the next day.

Don't these look good?!  Chocolate fudge, salted caramel, coconut.

On my way to getting my cappuccino, I stopped to get a photo of the crew setting up the start line for the marathon the next day...

Setting up the start line, corner of 7th and Main Streets

One of my running clubs had a big group dinner planned for Saturday night at Spaghetti Warehouse, but I really wasn't up to walking over there - a mile away - in the cold and wind, so went downstairs to the hotel restaurant and immediately spotted my 5k running partner sitting at the bar, eating alone.  I asked if I could join her and we had a pleasant dinner together.

When I got back to my room, I laid out my running clothes for the next morning.  It took some hemming and hawing and weather forecast checking to finally decide on what to wear.  It was going to be in the high 20's at the start but would be warming up quickly to the high 40's by the time I crossed the finish line.  Always a dilemma when the temps vary so greatly over the course of the morning.  In the end, I felt satisfied with my choice of capris, long sleeved shirt, Half Fanatic singlet over the the shirt, gloves, cap with ear warmer band over it, and a potentially discard-able jacket over it all.

Race day morning was indeed very cold...28 degrees and holding.  I ate my usual breakfast of Cheerios and banana in my room and waited until the very last minute to get dressed and leave the hotel for the start line which was just a couple of blocks away.  The cold air took my breath away and I very quickly realized how worthless my cheap Walmart throwaway jacket really was in this cold.  But it was better than nothing.  It seemed to take forever for our corral to be released.  Finally....more than 25 minutes after the initial gun went off, our corral was turned loose onto the race course.

I jogged along for the first few miles, passing many folks, since I had started near the back of the last corral.  But as the course began to get hilly, I slowed down to a walk on the uphills.  The sun was warming things up nicely but I still didn't feel warm enough to remove the jacket or the gloves.

The course has been changed up a bit since I ran it in 2012.  The start and the first mile or two were the same, but the course began to depart radically from before as it turned into some very nice neighborhoods.  It ran through the same beautiful private school campus, where students held signs warning us of the eight speed bumps, each sign indicating "speed bump #X" and at the last speed bump, cheerfully letting us know it was the last one.  Fun stuff!

The biggest departure from the previous experience was the section along the river.  The route no longer took us down a long straightaway heading south, then turning us around and heading us back up that same long straightaway.  Instead, it now puts us onto that road heading north for about a mile then sends us back into some very hilly neighborhood roads.   Much more scenic and less boring, but those hills!
The half marathon race route in red, data from my Garmin GPS watch.
Mile 12 was on the iconic Route 66, as we ran partway across a bridge, turned around, and then headed into the downtown, running beneath a really cool "Highway 66" arch and past a really gorgeous life-size bronze statue of horse and carriage meeting a motorcar.  Beautiful!

From Google Street View: bronze statuary and the arch over Route 66.

Finally, we were on the last mile of the course, the same stretch of road we ran the day before in the 5k race.  I crossed the finish line, collected my medal, had my photo taken, and then somehow managed to miss the finisher food as I exited the runner's finisher area and went in search of the Maniacs VIP tent to exchange my medal for the special Half Fanatic medal.  The line here in the VIP area was enormous!
Near the finish line....logo photo op!

Crossing the finish line


As I stood there debating whether standing in this line to exchange my medal was worth it or not, a friend and her husband came over to me to say hi and give hugs and congratulations. They let me know that this long line was mostly folks claiming their checked bags.  They suggested I go up to the front of the line and find the table where the medals were being exchanged.  Sure enough.  The bag check claim process was really holding up the line.  As one gal waited to get her checked bag, I stepped in front of her at the next table and claimed my special Half Fanatics medal.

Special Half Fanatics finisher medal for the half marathon.

My plan was to head back to the hotel, drop off the medal and possibly the jacket and then head back out to get another 3 miles in.  When I got there, I took a quick look at my smartphone and saw there was a message for me from a fellow runner, reminding me to be sure to collect my pint glass for doing the 5k/half marathon combo. Well, shoot!  I didn't know about that!  So, instead of getting 3 miles in while still in running clothes, I quickly showered, put on street clothes but also my running shoes, and headed back to the finish line, more than a mile away.  I got my pint glass, also got my finisher results since the line was now completely gone, and then claimed my free beer and sat there enjoying the live band music and sipping my beer. It was a beautiful day all around! And boom! I got my extra miles in just by walking back to the finish area!

Finisher area with live bands - Guthrie Park
Photo taken before I'd exchanged the finisher medal
for the special Half Fanatics finisher medal.

I am so glad I chose to do this race again.  The 10th anniversary 5k event shirt, the special 10th anniversary jacket, the really nice Half Fanatics finisher medal, the commemorative pint much nice swag to bring home with me.

Special 10th year finishers jacket

My swag "haul" from the weekend. Half marathon medal, 5k medal,
10th anniversary finisher jacket, commemorative pint glass given to
those of us who ran two races on race weekend.  Not shown is the
10th anniversary 5k race shirt.

Back at the hotel, a mid-afternoon steak dinner seemed about right, then to my room to enjoy those cupcakes! Tomorrow I'll get up fairly early and get on the road toward home, my goal to be in my own driveway by 3:30 PM, ahead of the evening rush hour traffic in Houston.

Next on my calendar....Thanksgiving!  A friend is coming over and we'll combine our culinary efforts and have a nice dinner.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Back to My Roots....Back to Monterey!

I love this place!  Love the coastline, of course, but also love the lifestyle and the weather.  I lived here as a child, saw my son get married here and, if I could afford it, I'd live here again.

In 2004 I came to Monterey to visit my son and his then-new girlfriend and to run the Big Sur Half Marathon with him. In some ways it seems like that was only yesterday, but against the accurate and real yardstick of time, it really was a long time ago.  The race was smaller back then, not as sophisticated as it is today and not with all of the "production" value that is part of today's race experience.

Ever since I did that race in 2004 I've wanted to come back and run it again.  So when race registration opened up last spring I signed up and then made my flight plans into San Jose, reserved a rental car, and booked my hotel room at the very nice Monterey Bay Lodge, the same hotel we stayed at when in town for my son's wedding 10 years ago.  Perfect location, within walking distance of everything: downtown, race packet pick-up, race start and finish lines and, most important, Starbucks.

Finisher medal from 2004 half long ago in so many ways that
aren't counted by mere years.
When I booked my trip to Monterey to run this year's Big Sur Half Marathon, I had the thought that perhaps my son and his family would like to come up from San Diego to join me, to enjoy once again the places they experienced together as a young couple, before kids came along. My son was unable to get away but my daughter-in-law Christina jumped at the chance to spend a "girls weekend" in Monterey.

Waiting for Christina to arrive at Monterey Regional Airport.
A very nice restaurant with outdoor deck seating overlooking runway
and Monterey Bay in the background.
I arrived in San Jose - the flight was actually 1/2 hour early - and got on the road in my rental car, heading south on the 101 toward Monterey Peninsula.  I arrived at the little Monterey regional airport early, but discovered that they had a really nice restaurant inside the terminal, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the runway and the bay, and a very nice menu.  It was a nice way to spend my time while waiting for Christina's plane to arrive.

We drove the few short miles to the hotel, checked in, and then immediately headed on foot to the race expo, held at the Monterey Conference Center.

I picked up my race bib and had a delightful conversation with the volunteer who was amazed that I'd come all the way from Texas; she was even more amazed to learn that I'd lived here before, as had Christina.  And then we headed into the expo area to claim my race shirt and swag bag and to shop the surprisingly large number of vendors.  

Even though I received a very nice long-sleeve race shirt as part of my race packet, I bought another nice long sleeve technical shirt in the official logo-wear booth.  I still have the cotton long sleeve shirt I received with my race packet back in 2004 but want to keep it clean and unfaded in case I want to include it in a race shirt quilt some day.  I also have the technical long sleeve shirt I purchased back in 2004 when I weighed 105 lb.  Today, it's too tight and I can no longer wear it.  Another reason why I wanted to buy a long sleeve shirt at this expo, one that I would wear and not care about potentially ruining it.

At the race expo....I didn't realize I was holding this flag backwards!  

Race bib pick-up room at Monterey Conference Center

We had reservations at Cafe Rustica in Carmel Valley for dinner that night.  I'd been to Carmel Valley before, riding through there on a motorcycle when I visited my son many years ago.  I remembered it being beautiful in daytime, with curvy roads and quaintness in the homes and businesses.  But it was already dark when we left the hotel and as we negotiated the curves and the traffic, Christina began to express regret at having chosen this place, feeling like it was further away than she remembered.  But it wasn't.....really.  Just seemed that way driving on difficult roads in the dark.

It was a charming little excellent choice, well away from the touristy restaurants in Carmel or Monterey.  We were immediately seated and our delightful young waiter descended on us almost immediately, taking good care of us throughout the meal.  Just as we were finishing and contemplating getting dessert, our waiter came rushing over to us all a-flutter and with dessert menus in hand.

"You need to order dessert!!" he gushed.  "You need to order dessert so that you'll still be here eating when Pierce Brosnan is seated.  He's outside with his party, waiting for this table that is right next to yours to be cleared." The waiter was absolutely quivering with excitement!

Oh, my!! Decision made!!  We each ordered our desserts and another glass of wine and then waited excitedly for the folks next to us to hurry up and leave, for their table to be cleared and cleaned, and for Pierce Brosnan and party to appear.

And then....there they were!  The tables were just inches apart, and I was no more than 10 feet away from him, both of us facing each other diagonally over the small space between our tables.  It was hard not to stare, hard to act normal in the presence of this major movie star.  But we remained calm, snuck tiny little peeks when he wasn't looking and proceeded with our desserts, in no real hurry to finish.

Christina with her creme brulee

Me with my apple caramel tart...all a ruse to delay
our departure so that we could ogle Pierce Brosnan.

Finally, we decided we could linger no longer, knowing there were others waiting for tables to open up.  So we paid the bill and stood to leave.  As I did so, my movements caught the actor's attention and he looked up at me and smiled.  I smiled back, dipping my head in a small nod of acknowledgement and he did the same.  The action spoke volumes without saying a word.  I could sense the relief in his face that he was being left alone to enjoy the company of his wife and friends and that no one was accosting him with idiotic tongue-tied blathering.  Pretty special having dinner in such close proximity to James Bond!!

The next morning we had breakfast at the very  nice restaurant next door to the hotel and then went for a drive through Monterey, Carmel, and then on to Carmel Mission.  I let Christina drive and she took me to some of her favorite coastline roads and overlooks along the way.

Carmel Misson

Carmel Mission

Very old Cedar tree in the courtyard at Carmel Mission

Altar at Carmel Mission

I wanted to return to the little restaurant in Pacific Grove, Red House Cafe, where I first met my future daughter-in-law.  She had just met my son and they'd not been dating for very long when I flew out to visit with my son while he was attending Naval Post-Grad school there in Monterey. So she pulled her phone out and called the restaurant to get our name on the seating list.  We were about 15 minutes away and timed it perfectly.  We were seated almost immediately after arriving.  It's a really cute restaurant in a beautiful old Victorian house.  The tiny little rooms of this old house make for an inviting and intimate dining experience.

I pretty much wanted to get back to the hotel so that I could rest my legs and feet, stay hydrated, and watch college football.   We took a scenic roundabout route back to the hotel, driving along the coast and Lovers Point before returning to the hotel.  But before heading to the room, we walked just a block to a cupcake shop I'd found on Google Maps.  A race is not a race if there are no cupcakes waiting at the finish.

They were as good as they look.
Christina went off for a walk along the trail that skirts the coastline while I chilled out in front of the TV for the rest of the afternoon.  We had a low-key dinner at the restaurant next to the hotel. and then retired early.  Tomorrow would be an early and long day.

The next morning, I got up, got ready, made a plan with Christina to meet me along the route, and then headed for the start line, which was very close to the hotel.  It was chilly and I wore a windbreaker, thinking I'd eventually shed it and tie it around my waist, but once I got out to the start line, I realized I really didn't need it and planned to just drop it at the hotel entrance as I ran by after the start, but there was Christina, standing out front and chatting with another spectator as the runners passed by.  Perfect!  I could do the hand-off and continue on my way.

We'd checked the race route map the night before and determined that she could park at mile 7 along the race course, run with me to the turnaround point, then run back to her start point and her car and then meet me at the finish.  It worked out perfectly!  I pulled my phone out at mile 6 to text her my location and saw that she'd texted me to let me know she was there at mile 7 waiting for me.

Heading out together from mile 7 to turnaround point at mile 8

At mile 7 where Christina was waiting for me.
It was fun having Christina join me on the route for a mile or two.  She hopped onto the course and we ran/walked together to the turnaround and then back to where she'd joined me....about 2 miles of the most spectacular portion of the route.  We hugged, she went back to the car, and I continued on.  See you at the finish line!

The miles seemed to pass by fairly quickly...why wouldn't they?!  The scenery the entire way was beyond gorgeous, as was the weather.  The race has really grown over the years, from about 2,500 participants back in 2004 when it was only in its second year, to over 8,000 today, and now with bands every 1/2 mile or so, plenty of on-course support and a really great post-race experience with ample fresh food, including pint containers of fresh raspberries (!), fresh pineapple juice, chocolate milk, and outside of the runners village a beer tent and a hot soup tent.

We'd made plans to meet near the beer tent on the Portola Plaza after the race, but as I crossed the finish line, Christina got a good photo of me and called out to me, asking me if I needed my jacket.  I continued through the finisher's chute, the photo stand, the food tent, then exited the finisher's area into Portola Plaza where I easily found her.

As planned, we headed straight past the beer tent and toward the nearby Starbuck's.  Coffee does it for me way more than does a beer after running a half marathon.  Cappuccino in hand, we walked back to the hotel.

Crossing the finish line

2015 finisher medal, designed by a local artist each year

2015 finisher medal next to my 2004 finisher medal

We both showered, snacked on cupcakes and then - too soon - it was time to take Christina to the little Monterey airport to fly back to San Diego.  By this time it was pouring down rain, so I drove up to the drop-off area, we hugged, and she hopped out and dashed into the terminal.  Suddenly the car seemed so empty.  I was going to miss her company. As I drove back to the hotel, I was thankful that the storm front that brought that rain held off until after the race was over.  There were leftovers in the min-fridge from last night's dinner, so I pulled them out and heated them up in the little microwave and then became a real slug for the rest of the day.

I'd planned to tour the Monterey Peninsula on Monday, perhaps driving 17 Mile Drive, maybe head down Highway 1 for a bit, or walk the charming streets of Carmel.  I walked downtown to the Starbucks, with the thought of then continuing on to the Aquarium, but it began spitting rain and I barely made it back to the hotel before the heavens opened up and it began to really pour.  My plans dashed, I decided to have a decadent breakfast at the hotel restaurant - dungeness crab meat piled on top of eggs Benedict - and linger over my cappuccino while I watched the rain outside.

I had a hotel room waiting for me near the San Jose Airport for Monday night, so with the really heavy rain and the need to check out of the hotel by noontime, I was at a loss for what else to do but just go ahead and drive up to San Jose.

It was a very well-located Marriott Fairfield Inn, just a mile from the airport, and with a gas station right next door where I could top off my rental car gas tank, a Starbucks where I could top off my own coffee "tank," and a Subway sandwich shop where I could buy something to put away for dinner later.  They let me check in early, I took care of my luggage and then did the Starbucks thing for a while, and then the "holding down the bed" thing for the rest of the day.  I was a little disappointed that the weather along the coast was not conducive to being a tourist but I was also tired from the race the previous day.  This was all probably a good thing.  I fly out the next morning for home.

Always hard to leave California, my native state.  It was a great little trip and doing that race again after so many years was just what I needed.

Coming up next: Another race revisited - Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa, OK.