Chicago Lakefront

Chicago.

I didn’t see your Bean. Or your Museum of Contemporary Art, unless running by it every morning and afternoon counts. I never got on the “L” or made it inside the Museum of Natural History. I took photos of Soldier Field, but only because I thought other people might be interested in them. I did stand in line for about 5 minutes at the Shedd Aquarium before deciding the line was too long.

But, Chicago, I still loved you even without partaking in your famous charms, because I was surprised at every turn.

I marveled at your miles of Lakefront Trail that I ran on at least twice a day, in both freezing weather, and Caribbean-worthy sunshine. I pretended I was looking out towards a vast, uncharted world while I ran, because my brain couldn’t quite wrap itself around the idea that I was running next to a lake when it seemed bigger, and bluer, than the Pacific near where I live.

I accidentally ran in a couple of 10K races, getting caught up in complete strangers cheering for me on my morning runs. I can’t resist an audience.

I traipsed through your busy streets like a woman possessed, hunting down the perfect brisket sandwich at 11 City Diner, and when asked what kind of cheese I wanted, ended up with unexpectedly delicious, gooey cheese fries. Who knew?

I scarfed down roast chicken with buttery potatoes, followed by a piece of spinach and feta pie, at Miller’s Pub. I was dubious of a crowd that seemed to believe Cubs hats went well with dinner, but the food made me ignore my mother’s voice that told me no good could come from a meal served simultaneously with a baseball game. For once, Mom didn’t know best (but please don’t tell her).

I ate a fantastic filet of beef, served with a spinach and broccoli rabe dish that I plan to plagiarize as soon as I get home. I hope your famous Chop House doesn’t mind. It was too good not to copy and share.

I drank more coffee than is healthy for a woman my age, but couldn’t resist another each time I went for a stroll through one of your many beautiful parks right by our hotel. It seemed like the thing to do since I was missing the crucial Chicago walking accessories – a dog and an artfully twisted scarf. I needed something to make me look like a local.

I also had my fair share of wine because the lounge bar of the Palmer House Hotel practically begged me to sit back in one it’s comfy chairs and sip on something that diminished the jitters I got from all the coffee. Even here, indoors, scarves and dogs were abundant.

I know I should care more about the “important” parts of your city: the planetarium, the symphony, the phenomenal shopping. I know people will say that I should have gone to Navy Pier (other than on a run), and that I was a nitwit to miss a visit to Wrigley Field.  But running through your city, seeing everything on foot, was plenty stimulating. And when I’d gotten my fill of miles, there was always more coffee, banana cream pie and your famous pizza that needed to be tried. Someone had to do it.

Chicago, I’m going to miss you.

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It’s no secret to most of you that at the top of the list of reasons of “Why I Run” is For The Food. I felt like that phrase needed to be capitalized just so we are on the same page about it. Capitals seem to do that, don’t you think? Anyway, this declaration also applies to why I race. Plain, and simple, I like to travel. Not the flying, museum-visiting, long-distance driving parts, but the “Have you ever tried Wisconsin Cheese Curds? (or Belgian Beer Stew?; or Korean Bulkogi?; or real Polish Sausage?) part. When you leave your home, and everything you are used to and comfortable with, you are expected to eat like you are on Death Row. That’s part of your pact with the Universe, I think.

A few weeks ago, we flew to South Carolina for a race. On the drive from Charleston, where we landed, to the race venue in Florence, we decided that life would lose all meaning if we didn’t eat some South Carolina barbecue. Maybe it was the feeling of being in Deep East Texas like where I went to undergraduate, with trees, and trees, and more trees, and where barbecue joints are more prolific than coffee shops, that prompted this compulsion. Or maybe it was just a hankering (a word that came to mind the minute we heard our first South Carolinian accent). Nostalgia is a great begetter of food cravings.

A quick perusal of UrbanSpoon told us a trip to McCabe’s in Manning was in order – 4.5 stars and “down home cooking”. Yee Haw! (Do they say that in South Carolina, or just Texas and Oklahoma? I get all my Southern colloquialisms all mixed up and geographically dislodged.) We got off the highway and meandered around Manning for awhile, managing to get lost in a town with five streets. Turns out, the restaurant was pretty close to where we exited the highway, but we had gotten distracted by the real-life orange-jumpsuited chain gang we saw picking up litter right in front of what turned out to be our desired destination. Most of the “criminals” appeared to be sullen teenage boys with lots of piercings, and a couple of women who looked like they should have known better. The only thing that told us this group wasn’t some sort of selfless “Adopt-A-Highway” contingent were the three sheriff’s deputies keeping a semi-menacing eye on the day-glo group. I don’t know if this was for show, or not, but it would have sure kept me from running off into the woods Harrison Ford-Fugitive style.

When we finally made it into McCabe’s, we were heartily greeted by a what appeared to be a family – Dad, Mom, Brother, Sister – standing behind a buffet full of Southern Wonders: hush puppies, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, hash, collard greens, green beans, potato salad and coleslaw. There wasn’t any traditional barbecue to be had, but I wasn’t complaining. Los Angeles is not known for it’s Southern fare. I needed a down home transfusion, I realized, and I needed it bad. And did I mention that it was “All You Can Eat!”? Halleluia!

After one plate of “sampling” food, I got down to business with my favorites: fried chicken, green beans and hush puppies. And then I stole a piece of Tim’s fried chicken and the rest of his hush puppies. I left him to his green beans because I figured he needed his vegetables. I’m generous that way.

When we were full as ticks, we waddled our way back to the car and continued on to Florence, spending the last hour of the drive reminiscing about our early years of marriage when we lived in a tiny West Texas town, population 1003. When we married, I still had two years left of law school, but Tim had graduated and already had a job waiting for him three hours away. We decided to move to the speck of town halfway between and drive back and forth. Every morning, I’d turn north and he, south, heading for the places we needed to go to get stuff done. But each night, we’d come back to that middle place, our tiny, asbestos shingled house right next to the big cotton field, grateful we’d survived another tornado scare or a flock of wild turkeys. Truly. It was a harrowing drive each day.

But despite the white-knuckle drives, each night we mooned over each other, and whatever was being served at one of the five Mom and Pop diners in the tiny town. Young, culinarily clueless, and blinded by love and stout constitutions, we happily gobbled up all the comfort food offered to us – yes, fried chicken, hush puppies, macaroni and cheese, green beans and collard greens. Funny how the food of our honeymoon years still entices us enough to leave the highway, brave a chain gang, and risk the admonition of our mid-life cardiologists.

Maple Cashew Cauliflower

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Okay, this isn’t really a Southern dish, but I consider any vegetable that is sweetened to count – we love to sweeten things up. Almost every night of the week (yes, I know it’s weird and probably not so great for us), I roast some sort of veg to bridge the gap between when my kids get home and when I have dinner on the table. I suck at timing things perfectly, and they suck at letting me know when they will be home. We’re even.

To switch things up a bit, I’m always adding things to the vegetables. This combination was one of the more successful ones.

1 head cauliflower

a big glug of olive oil

Kosher salt

a small glug of pure maple syrup

3/4 cup of salted cashews

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice/chop the cauliflower. Toss with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 25 minutes, re-tossing at least once. Remove from oven and pour on the maple syrup, mixing well. Return to oven and roast for another 5 minutes. Remove and add the cashews.

Yee haw!

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Beyond Limits 50 Mile Race Report (by his mother, of course)

March 31, 2014

*Warning: Sappy, braggy post below. He is my baby, even if he is 17. Please bear with me. When my son, Grant, said he wanted to run a 50 miler just to see if he could do it, my response was, “Maybe you should at least run a marathon first.” And I thought that was […]

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A Post That Would Make Jacques Cousteau AND Jacques Pepin Cringe

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When I was somewhere around four years old, I learned how to swim. I’m not sure if it came before learning to read, or after, but it had a very similar effect on me. Suddenly, everything in my narrow view looked different, like I had fallen into Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole. There was a […]

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Being Well-Adjusted Is Overrated. Or So I’ve Heard.

March 25, 2014

I’ve run a lot since the New Year, trying to work out what the hell I wanted to do with my running. I even raced (unsuccessfully). Then I took my son to run (successfully) his first marathon. And next weekend, he will attempt his first 50 miler. So while I am still Sybil-ish in my […]

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Hill Training for Lazy People With OCD – Do This

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I’m back to full-time training after my holiday break (i.e., calendar period characterized by over-consumption of gooey, sugary, yummy carb-laden items, Chardonnay, and things often described as “party food”).  What this means is that I am once again running a lot, spending too much time on Ultrarunning.com’s calendar looking for races that meet my criteria […]

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A Schnauzer Made Me Do It: Running the PCT at Big Bear (Or, Clearly I Lack Good Judgment)

January 12, 2014

When my kids announced they wanted to go skiing up at Big Bear this weekend, rather than check out the snow conditions, I immediately got online to check out running routes. Falling on my butt while skiing? No. Falling on my face while running? Bring it. So, yesterday morning saw us winding our way up […]

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Christmas Report: What Did You Expect? No Costumes? As if.

January 9, 2014

Well, what would a trip for me be if I didn’t leave my laptop somewhere? I know none of you are surprised. In fact, I’m betting that many of you suspected it when I hadn’t posted for awhile. Or maybe you just thought I’d gone on another non-running/cake eating/coffee drinking bender. Alas, no. There was […]

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Giving Thanks: Alcohol, A Full Set of Teeth, and a Coffee Addiction (not necessarily in that order)

December 21, 2013

Yesterday, we drove 13 hours from Los Angeles to El Paso. The Christmas holiday has officially begun! Woop! During the drive, I had plenty of time to reflect (while holding the steering wheel in a death grip trying to avoid haboobs and later, massive rain/snow storms. I swear, California hordes all the good weather, and […]

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Getting Fat For a Goal: Every Husband’s Dream

December 18, 2013

Conversation with Hubz: Me:  So, after a lot of thought, I think I know what I’m going to do next. Hubz:  A lot of thought? It’s only been two days. Me:  Okay, after some thought, I think I know what I’m going to do next. Hubz:  Oooooookay, let’s hear it. Me:  Try to sound a […]

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