the navy-air force half marathon

This was an extremely last-minute decision.

Three weeks ago, I felt like it had been forever since I last ran a race. Technically, this wasn't true - Cherry Blossom was in April; Phoenix, February - but I think I had a series of weeks (months?) there in late summer where I just felt really cooped up, stressed, and stifled for a lot of reasons.  (Bar studying being one of them. July was rough.)  I knew the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon was coming up, but by the time late August rolled around the prices were pretty high and I figured I had missed out on the opportunity to run.

But I honestly kept having this craving for a good race and everything that comes with it: the nervous thrill of the starting line, the joys of seeing all of the signs and cheering friends & family, overhearing excited conversations and muttered out-loud pace calculations, intense competition, the city in the early morning light. I really missed the unmatched feeling of that last half-mile or so, when the crowds grow thick and the finish line is in sight and the pain just kind of fades away for a brief second while you sprint to the end.  I LOVE RACES. And I thought I had missed this one - until, serendipitously, a chance at a super-discounted entry fee popped up just two & a half weeks before race day.  It was totally a sign (/answer to a prayer?), and I totally took it.

The expo was a little different - instead of a convention center, it was inside the Nationals stadium. It was very small - only a few sponsors for this race - but really fast and friendly.

I felt a special sentimentality for this race because of the military focus.  When I signed up, I got to register as a military dependent and received a little bit of special recognition on race day with many other military family members.  I thought of my dad the whole time.  Also, the very first wave belonged to a group of Wounded Warriors, and I legitimately teared up watching them line up at the start and then sprint away at the ring of the Navy bell.  So inspiring.

Obviously, I was not well-trained for this.  Though I run pretty consistently, I was only able to fit in three (not-long-enough-)long runs (6, 8, & 10) in the short time leading up to the race.  Sunday morning dawned cloudy, hot, and humid, which is a bad combination for me. I biked to the start line, but my bike ended up with something of a flat tire about two blocks away, so I ended up doing a mad awkward walk/run/pull-the-bike-along situation in order to get to my corral on time....which meant I showed up with already-exhausted quads. ha! Terrible recipe for a race.

Sure enough, it was slow. But all of my favorite ingredients were there - the crowds, the signs, the music, the sunrise, the athletes. I love DC races because the course is always pretty much the same (Hains Point, Arlington Bridge, under the Kennedy Center, up to Rock Creek Park, then back to the Mall) but there are multiple out-and-back points where the road is split and the leaders of the pack are sprinting back down the other side from you.  I love being able to see and cheer for the athletes blazing past who are almost certainly going to win or place - so inspiring. (and humbling!)

For a large portion of those thirteen miles, I just kept thinking how grateful I was to be running.  I'm so grateful for health; for a family that raised me to value strength and ability over appearance; for a husband that loves to be active as much as I do; for a body that can get out there and run thirteen miles on less-than-ideal training, no problem.  My legs definitely can't fit into size 0 jeans, but who the hell cares, because they can walk out the door and run for a damn near effortless eight miles on a random Saturday simply because I'm craving a good hard run.  I know sometimes I don't shut up about it, but I swear running is infinitely superior to any other kind of therapy. It is my one absolute guarantee for good mental health, and I'm so grateful for it.

IMG_6178.JPG

^ Cue an extremely stereotypical, embarrassing gym-mirror photo, solely because I was so grateful at that minute to be healthy and able to be in the gym.  Race on, friends.

things i've thought about this week, in no particular order

1 // One completely random/weird? benefit of living in a small, one-bedroom apartment: 
Jason decided that he wanted to buy some dryer sheets.  We stood in the aisle of our local Target for a good five minutes, testing all the different scents, before finally settling on one we both liked.  (For any interested parties: Downy Infusions Botanical Mist. who names these things?)  One day this week, when I was home and the dryer was tumbling along merrily in the afternoon quiet, I realized that in a place as small as ours, the soft scent of those dryer sheets would fill our entire apartment.  It was, unexpectedly, so nice.  It reminded me of my mom, who loves a clean house, and never truly considers a kitchen to be spotless until a candle is lit and filling the whole place with the aroma of Pumpkin Cheesecake or Mulled Cider or Sugar Cookie.

2 // One afternoon after running some errands and about to return home, I decided at the last minute to take a different freeway exit and head towards Georgetown instead.  I ended up treating myself to an entire date with myself, complete with a shopping trip & an iced herbal chai and pastry at Baked & Wired.  The weather was beautiful, Madewell was having a sale, and it was just the nicest thing.  In other words, #treatyoself.

3 // I've been helping our local sister missionaries teach a French-speaking investigator about our church, playing the very minor role of translator as they share with him the fundamentals of our gospel.  It's been a little stressful as I stumble over vocabulary that I haven't used in years: la prêtrise (priesthood), l'expiation (the Atonement), la vie préterrestre (premortal life).  The last time I was saying those words on a regular basis, I was living in Brussels and frequently going on "splits" with the sister missionaries there - basically, joining them as they attended teaching appointments throughout the city and talked with people everywhere: on the metro, in grocery stores, on street corners.

It's made me think a lot about those sisters and how totally intimidating they were to me: it seemed like they had absolutely no fear about walking right up to a complete stranger and greeting them, in a foreign language, with a bright smile.  I watched, usually standing nervously off to the side, as they were time and time again ignored or brushed off, and I never got used to it.  How were they able to so easily and gracefully handle rejection?  Lately I've been feeling much less like those fearless women and much more like Aaron Burr in Hamilton: keeping my cards (thoughts, opinions, emotions, beliefs) close to my chest and wary of vocally giving life to them one way or the other.  Maybe it's time to change that - to be a little more like these sister missionaries.
Fearless.  Sans peur.

4 // I finally got around to attempting a fougasse loaf (100% inspired by our meal in Belfast this past March).  It was definitely just a first try - albeit a pretty tasty one - and I'm hoping to experiment with many more variations.  During the process, however, I was surprised to discover that my favorite part had suddenly become: ......kneading the dough.

(^Post-mix-ins (gruyère, fresh rosemary, red onion) and pre-transfer for baking. yum.)

This is unusual for me because I am not a patient person by any stretch of the imagination.  (My parents, husband, and various friends can allllll attest to this fact.)  But if there's anything good cooking requires, it's patience: patience as your poolish starter rests overnight before you can actually form the dough for homemade bread; patience as you take the time to blanch vegetables before roasting them; patience as you chill and then re-chill pie dough as you construct the crust, because you just can't let that butter start to melt; patience as you stir and stir and stir a risotto, waiting for the rice to soak up all of the flavor of that broth.  Years ago, all of these additional little steps would have irritated me.  But lately, I've been really relishing those extra, slow tasks - like taking the time to knead by hand.  Patience guarantees you better, more lovely, more delicious results. 

It's a good life lesson, I think.

last weekend, in maine

We spent Labor Day weekend in Maine and it was perfect for many many reasons: the cool weather, the beautiful scenery, our jackpot Airbnb accommodations, just being able to hang out together when we've both been so busy - I'm sad it's over so quickly.

We made a quick stop in New Haven for lunch on the way up, because apparently I'm incapable of going through that part of Connecticut without returning to campus (this is probably 60% nostalgia and 40% because of the food).  So far I've introduced Jason to my all-time favorite restaurant as well as legendary New Haven pizza, but this time I was craving a giant salad and freshly-baked roll from Claire's, which is this darling vegetarian spot that's been operating on campus since 1975.  I love it with all of my heart and soul, though that may have something to do with their famous Lithuanian coffee cake.

It would have been impossible to find a better Airbnb than we did.  We stayed on an organic farm roughly in between Portland and Acadia National Park, in a separate guesthouse designed by the lovely couple that has worked the farm for the past 20 years.  I cannot rave enough about them.  The guesthouse was so pretty and full of quintessential touches, and our host had prepared the house for our arrival by stocking the kitchen with an array of fresh, organic supplies straight from their farm: heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers, giant sprigs of basil, homemade organic yogurt, a huge carton of blueberries, peaches from their peach tree, homemade red currant jam.  There was also a freshly-baked loaf of bread from a local bakery down the highway, Vermont cheddar cheese, and farm-fresh eggs from "two farms up the way."  I about died.  We ate (er, breakfasted) like kings.

And on our first morning there, they gave us a tour of their beautiful property.  J & I kept saying over and over again how this is a retirement dream for sure - a giant plot of land, lots of gardening and work to do, beautiful scenery, so close to the ocean.  It was amazing.

^Can you believe those onions?!

On the drive out to Acadia and based on our host's recommendation, we stopped in the little seaside town of Camden for their annual Windjammer Festival.  (Windjammers were the grandest of merchant sailing ships in the nineteenth/twentieth centuries.  Who knew?! - that is to say, I certainly did not.)

We spent some time exploring Portland, where we especially fell in love with the Eastern Promenade - such a cool part of the city with beautiful views and historic touches. We also did a lot of Zillow-ing of the huge, gorgeous houses that overlook the water, and fantasizing about retirement dreams.  I wanted to eat all of our meals sitting right there on those lawns overlooking the harbor.

Acadia National Park was a dream.  We didn't allot a ton of time to it because we knew the Park would be thronging with tourists (and we were correct).  But we drove the Park Loop Road and it was well worth the little bit of extra traffic.

And, of course, we spent a lot of time doing very Maine things, like antiquing (I swear that state has to have the highest per capita concentration of antique shops in the nation) and hunting down the best lobster rolls we could find.

Our verdict: never, ever, ever waste your money or time standing in line for Red's.  HOWEVER, you should absolutely take whatever detours necessary to track down the Ocean Roll food truck, which offers the tastiest, freshest lobster rolls imaginable.  Also, if you're a seafood lover like me, I would be remiss if I didn't share that I definitely ate the best fish chowder of my life at the Lompoc in Bar Harbor.  I'm still thinking about it.  (Though, full disclosure, they also served us a giant chèvre-and-honey appetizer, so I was in love and biased from the beginning.)

And, of course, there were a lot of lighthouses.

So pretty, right?!  Maine is truly a special kind of paradise.  We can't wait to go back for a longer amount of time.  Like, as soon as we can figure out a way to not have to work. ha!

taco bout a party!

Today, a brief post dedicated to my (1) love of throwing parties and (2) belief that when good friends move away, it's important to celebrate them with as much food and decorations and friends as possible. Our friends Haylie & Ross are moving, which is a huge loss for DC and a huge gain for Texas.  Haylie has sat across from me for countless hours in numerous coffeeshops all over this city, and she's the kind of good, solid, rare friend that can talk you through tricky situations with healthy doses of both reality and empathy.  We will dearly miss them and are already dreaming about spending a long weekend in Austin sometime next year.

Haylie & I put together a little going-away party and invited basically our entire congregation.  Another lovely friend willingly opened up her beautiful home for hosting purposes, which was so kind of her because there is literally no way I could have fit 60+ people into our one-bedroom apartment.  Haylie came up with the brilliant cactus theme, which allowed for lots of southwest-y touches, and we provided a taco bar, plenty of chips & salsa, and on-theme desserts.

Honestly, though, how did people plan themed parties before Pinterest?

We spent an afternoon crafting lots of tassel garlands (cheap and probably the easiest DIY craft ever) and ordered a few packs of inexpensive paper fans.  The banner was simply a packet of shiny gold letters from Paper Source (oh, how we love thee, Paper Source).  Other miscellaneous goodies were courtesy of Target's party section or things we already had around our apartments.

Jason has made that red salsa ^ for two or three different parties now, and it's gained a hilarious kind of fame among friends - someone christened it "Arizona Blaze" and now it's an expected dish whenever we host/attend something where chips & salsa make an appearance.  The funny thing is that it's just Ree Drummond's recipe - nothing fancy or groundbreaking. (Like, we're talking canned tomatoes, friends.)  But it's so good!  And everything just goes into the Vitamix or food processor, which is so convenient and easy.

I also made tomatillo salsa (cue fight with a jalapeño, which I always lose - I think my skin is super sensitive to those or something) -- and a giant bowl of my aunt Brook's cowboy caviar, which was 100% gone well before the party was actually over.  It is fresh and tasty and always, always, always a big hit.  Here's the (so-easy-it's-kind-of-boring) recipe*:

In a large bowl, combine:
- 1 can shoepeg corn, drained
- 1 can black-eyed peas, drained
- 1 chopped tomato
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 1 small bunch green onion, chopped
- 2 avocados, chopped
- 1 tsp cumin
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- salt & pepper, to taste
*I doubled this for the party, though I just added enough vinegar & olive oil to coat and flavor the ingredients (not 1/2 cup each - I don't like it super liquidy), and also added extra avocado because I love avocado with the fire of a thousand suns. (name that movie!)

I get all my best party recipes from my aunts.

^Standard smiley photo on the left.  Photo on the right is a perfect capture of how much we love our friend's little boy. <3

We'll miss these guys so much!  Hopefully this was not the last party we'll host together, because man, it's really fun when we do.

the past few weeks, condensed

Somehow it is already almost September!  While I figure out how I feel about that, here are a few highlights from the last month(ish):

1 // J & I have been taking a ceramics class at the Art League, the same school where I studied watercolor this past spring.  It's been a good learning opportunity, given that neither of us had much experience with the wheel and were basically both starting from square one.  We usually picked up dinner before class and ate together at this pretty riverside park in Alexandria, which always made for a nice date/FHE night.  Plus it's an excuse for me to eat sweetgreen once a week, which is a terrible BUT DELICIOUS habit.

I had to miss a few classes because of the bar exam, but in my absence Jason apparently transformed into a ceramics master - he is definitely the more talented of the two of us!  I kind of think he's our teacher's favorite, too, which is cute.

2 // My adorable little sister got her mission call! (!!!!!!)  She will be serving in San Jose, Costa Rica, for 18 months and speaking Spanish.  (I am like 95% so thrilled for her and a solid 5% jealous, because I would have looooooved to have that experience.  I will always regret that the age change announcement came just a couple years too late for me but I am so so proud that she is volunteering for this amazing opportunity!)

Isn't she so cute?  She is going to charm that entire country and I cannot wait to get to hear all about it through her letters.  Hopefully we'll be able to take a quick trip back to Arizona for her farewell Sunday!

...um and also take a trip to Costa Rica at the end of her 18 months to pick her up.  Totally valid reason to visit, right?

3 // With the bar over, I have a few projects keeping me busy, but I've also been spending a lot of time at our rooftop pool.  It's a little weird to actually have time to relax and read for pleasure without feeling stressed that I should be doing something else instead!

I also invited a few friends and their toddlers over for a swim date, which was so fun.  Babies in their learn-to-swim inflatable getups = the absolute cutest thing.

4 // Earlier this spring we picked up tickets to the Phantom of the Opera.  We have both seen Phantom a few times, but obviously it never gets old, and I was pretty excited to see it again (especially at the Kennedy Center!!! gah I love that place).  

^ Seriously the prettiest venue.

BUT YOU GUYS - I know this is sacrilege after having seen it literally on Broadway, but I'm pretty sure this production was my favorite variation of Phantom I have ever seen.  It was amaaaaazing.  From the (literally!) exploding chandelier to the incredible set design (magic stairs!!!) to the slight-but-significant departures from the traditional choreography/stage directions --- I am so glad we got to see it.  By far one of my favorite experiences this year so far.

5 //  This past weekend my friend Jourden hosted a pie party and we provided the venue.  It was the first night in two weeks that it wasn't a disgusting 95 degrees with 80% humidity at 7 pm, so we relaxed up on the roof with friends and enjoyed the good company and nice weather. Everyone brought a pie, and in keeping with the late summertime season, I decided to make a strawberry & peach concoction inspired by a few different recipes.  We picked up fresh fruit from a local farmers market, because open-air markets are one of my favorite things in the world.  (This farmers market happens to be next door to our favorite movie theater which means we also caught a matinee of the new Star Trek movie which was SO GOOD but that's for another blog post back to the pie--)

The filling included the following, lightly tossed together:
- about 2 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
- about 3 1/2 cups sliced yellow peaches, skin on
- a little less than 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/3 tsp salt
- 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
- dash of ground nutmeg
- juice of 1 small lemon, freshly-squeezed

Once scooped into the pie base, I drizzled a bit of floral honey over the filling before adding the lattice crust, and before cooking I brushed on a light egg white wash and sprinkled turbinado sugar on top.

A few notes & thoughts:
- Yellow peaches are generally better for pies because they have a more intense flavor compared to lighter, more fragrant white peaches - pick those with the bright yellow-orangy insides and more darkly-colored skins. With some fruit/dishes I'd remove the skins, but for peaches and for a pie, as long as they're not too fuzzy I like keeping them on.  (Plus, then you don't have to deal with the added step of boiling + peeling.)
- If I made it again, I would (1) add a little more nutmeg and/or cinnamon (it got a bit lost amid all of the fresh fruit flavor) and (2) slice the strawberries more thickly (they would've held up better in bigger pieces).
- I'm still just not 100% sold on any one crust recipe.  This one was from the always-lovely Barefoot Contessa, and like all of her recipes, it's tasty and simple.  It also holds up really well - using chilled shortening is a fantastic idea. (You can find the recipe online, or it's in a few of her popular cookbooks, like this one.)  However, it lacks flavor justtt a little bit for me.  I like a crust that is delicious on its own!  Thus, the quest for the absolute best #1 pie crust recipe continues.