May has seemed long, hasn’t it?
This is traditionally the time of year I feel least inspired. I have little to say (as you may have noticed). I’m not thinking about anything particularly interesting. I’m just going about my business, doing my thing.
The flowers are in full force here, crab apple blossoms outshining those cherry blossoms you all talk about, in my opinion. The lilacs have filled the air with the sweet smell of nectar. I stop and smell them every chance I get. It has been rainy and cool quite a lot. May can be that way. We’re hanging on, like we do, for these transition months to be over. The cold winter was followed by a cold spring and we all feel a little defeated. At least I get to go to Aruba for ten days in the fall.
I ran my first trail race since 2006, when I was running cross-country in college. The second half of the course was brutal. Trail running is tougher than road running. It just is. Don’t try to argue with me on this one. I forgot my Garmin watch and had no idea how fast I was going. I knew I had gone out too fast and I knew I was finishing really slowly. I finished 4th in my age group, only missing 3rd by 45 seconds (and the age groups were broken up 1-29 instead of 20-29 like they usually are, in which case I would have taken 3rd). I didn’t run a particularly great race but I was proud of myself for running a reasonable race. Racing a 10k might be my least favorite distance, turns out. I’m glad to be without a race for a little bit to settle into regular running without pressure. Then I’ll think about my next race.
I spent Memorial Day weekend in Portland and it was great to be back. I visited a bunch of new, really awesome spots. The food and drink scene there continues to grow and improve, if that’s even possible. It only made me miss the culinary scene more.
The dandy wine I started is chugging along in the ceramic crock. Within three weeks it should be in bottles. It will be a while, perhaps a whole year, before I’m able to crack it open. Sometimes the wait is worth it. I may also try to make rose wine this summer with petals from a rugosa bush. I’ll be sure to show you pictures of the bright pink wine if I do.
I’m checking off a lot on the to do list these days, and wondering about myself as a writer. I owe a friend a letter that I think I’ll write next to the ocean. That’s a good place for me.
Making Dandelion Wine
The hardest thing about leaving Portland has been the distance between me and all those great restaurants. Sometimes when I walk home from work I imagine where I would eat dinner if I still lived in Portland. And then I imagine what I would write about if I were to review it after. And then I get home and whine a little bit about not having sushi anywhere near me, and how hard that makes life.
A few weeks ago, when 60 degrees still felt like 80, I was in Portland for a night with my mom. I asked her where she wanted to go to dinner and she picked a place that is always always always at the very top of my list: Pai Men Miyake.
It’s a treat to be able to get good ramen in Portland, let alone the State of Maine. I have never once been disappointed with the food at Pai Men Miyake. Ever.* I always order one of two ramens (shojin or tokyo abura) and they are always consistent and taste exactly the same as the last time I ordered it. The flavor is bold and salty and the broth is hot and the noodles are cooked to perfection. The pickled ginger is a nice, tangy touch to the whole mix.
The appetizers do not disappoint either. I’m obsessed with the brussel sprouts. I always share them when I go, but I secretly don’t want to, I want them all to myself. I have a friend who fessed up to sipping the last little bit of liquid from the bottom of the bowl and refraining from licking it clean. There are three places in town where you can get really great review-worthy brussel sprouts (Boda, Green Elephant, and Pai Men Miyake), and Pai Men is the best of that bunch. Heck, go there and order a bowl for your entree. Who am I to judge?** I also recommend the gyoza. It will be difficult to share these too, so order the sprouts too and at least be glad there’s more to go around.
There are a few downsides to Pai Men. In the winter it is impossibly steamy and moist inside (some might call it cozy and comforting on a frigid winter day?). They seem to have replaced their ventilation system and remedied this to some extent. The window still fogs up, but the air inside is better (once I went there and my dining mate was seated under a pipe that was dripping…). The other issue is that you leave that place with the smell of fresh cooked ramen in every fiber of your clothes, over every hair on your head, and in every pore in your skin. You literally are assaulted with the smell of ramen. Some people might be into this. I am sensitive to smells and it bothers me. This past visit though the smell was gone from my jacket within 24 hours, so perhaps the improved ventilation made a difference, and I sat right next to the action.
If you’ve been to Pai Men you know what I’m talking about; this place is a gem. If you haven’t been there go tonight. If Portland is on your vacation list this summer hit this place up, even if it’s hot out.
*I knew two people who got food poisoning there in the same weekend (thank goodness I don’t order meat at restaurants!), and it never stopped one of them from going back over and over again. I am not sure about the second person, but I have a hunch she still frequents it. You might cringe, but there seems like no better compliment, right?!
**I’d be sitting there across the room all jealous.
The same sunday that I found myself down at the end of a muddy dirt road to paint Ukrainian easter eggs, I had my first taste of dandelion wine.
I had been talking about making dandelion wine all winter and by mid-April I knew that in a month I would be searching for a spot to pick those yellow flowers from their bitter underparts. What’s curious is that now, looking back on it, I don’t know what got me on a dandelion wine kick in the first place, because I certainly hadn’t tried it before. Somewhere along the line it seemed like an easy way to try some new fermenting and come up with a unique alcoholic product to share with those who share their brewed bounty with me.
At just about the time I finished my egg (three hours later) it was time for snacks and I got the offer for some dandelion wine. I looked up from my finishing touches. What?! Yes please! This was the moment I would taste what it was all about. Our lovely hostess handed me a tasting glass from the Guggenheim (how appropriate given our evening activity) and I tried my first sip.
It wasn’t bitter at all. In fact, it was sweet, much like mead. It also had a slight dryness to it that gave it a distinct wine appeal. I fully enjoyed it and was further committed to making my own.
I left my easter egg to join the others in the kitchen and share in the treats. After talking more about making dandelion wine our host pulled out her cookbook and told me to copy the recipe. I felt like I had hit the jackpot. Here was the recipe to the wine I was drinking. I wouldn’t have to guess at the best recipe I would find on the internet; I knew this one would work, or, could work, as is always the case with brewing and fermentation.
I snapped photos with my phone (I also got a recipe for blackberry wine which is so short and to the point it takes up less than half a page) and had another glass of wine.
When we left that evening, the rain still urging the mud up around the tires of the car, I had two holidays treasures I would keep for years to come: a pysanka and the recipe for dandelion wine.
Today I’m grateful for:
- The most gorgeous weather. It’s Friday and the sun is out and I’m wearing the first dress of the season (sans tights!) and there are baby leaves on all the trees and lilac buds that will burst in a week or so. Shop doors are left open with drape-y dresses swaying in the breeze. The air smells fresh and the ocean is always there, just down at the bottom of the hill.
- A good week. I got to stomp around the woods on a 42 acre parcel of land that sits way up high and has views of the mountains and the ocean. I was at a brewery at 11am on a weekday. I got to see a beautiful redone wooden sailboat and hear about the process. I found the perfect place to pick dandelions for dandelion wine. All of this at work. I love the variety.
- The women in my life. Tomorrow I get to see most of my very best girlfriends (from all over the country!), some family members, and some family friends. These are all women I admire and adore, and I get to see them all together, all at once. That’s pretty special. Who cares if it rains!
- How relaxed life is. Something happened when I moved. It was like the tectonic plates shifted into place, the earth sighed, and life was a lot less complicated. Things are simpler here, and it suits me.
- The screen door. My new place has a screen door. How lovely to leave the door open and let the warm spring breeze fill my living space. It gets a little nicer every day.
- Silliness and humor. These things make almost everything ok.
What are you grateful for today?
Excerpts from directions I typed up for friends today:
The driveway is the first right after the second farm pond.
If the road changes from dirt to paved you’ve gone too far.
There is a sign posted to a tree (unless it got taken down).
Drive until you see two farm ponds.
Catharsis: the purification and purgation of emotions—especially pity and fear—through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration.
Trail running has been cathartic for me. When my feet hit the forest floor and I disappear into the trees I begin to experience a range of emotions, all of them positive. Trail running not only has built a physical strength in me, but also an inner, spiritual strength. I feel most connected to my spirituality when I experience the natural world. Trail running is my sunday morning sermon; I am left renewed and restored and open to more possibilities.
Running has many benefits. Turns out trail running builds on those.
It’s hard to explain the way my senses come alive when I’m running. There’s the gentle ground under my feet, the absence of man-made noises, replaced instead by the peepers crescendo that peaks right around 7pm. The geese make sure to honk their hellos as they pass-by overhead on their way back north, and those that are staying on the river overnight make it clear they’d rather not be disturbed. I myself exhibit bird-like qualities when I spread my arms out like wings to help steady my descent down steep, pine-needle covered dips in the trail.
Trail running is about strength. Up and down and up and down, pumping my arms and getting my knees up high like running stadiums.
The river induces the deepest state of calm that I can only imagine is otherwise achieved through sedatives. There are places that I can’t help but stop at just to view the water and the opposite shore. It is always the same, but the repetitiveness does not diminish the beauty, greener and greener my surroundings get, louder the birds chirp, calmer the river becomes, just like myself.
This week I’m grateful for where I live, how abundantly beautiful it is, the down to earth people that live here, and how much gratitude I feel to be a part of it.
Running in the woods, next to the water, no one around, with spring and all the birds wildly coming to life around me - I struggle to articulate the feelings of peace and joy that wash over me.What are you grateful for this week?
My legs are sore and stiff. I’m tired. No, I’m exhausted. Last night I got roughly 8 hours of sleep, as I have for the past few nights. It doesn’t really make sense, except for one thing:
I’ve been running trails.
Last week I beat myself up, and I didn’t realize how much until I looked back at my workout calendar*. Last week I started trail running. Not your lazy, flat, open space kind of trails, but single track, super technical, not especially made for running kind of trails. The first time I ran this particular trail I had to come to a quick halt and stop my watch at one point because I came up on a section where the trail went between two trees and I wasn’t sure I was going to fit between them. I popped through them and kept going though. I ran for an hour and it was so different than road running, and pretty different from the trails I am used to.
The next day my legs were sore. They were achy and stiff. My stabilizing muscles were especially tender. I’m currently doing 5 and 6 mile runs a few times a week, but this was like I hadn’t run in a year and my legs weren’t familiar with running. I kind of loved it.
I had two days off and then I headed out for another run on the trail. My legs were still stiff but not sore. I didn’t mean to go out for very long but it was a beautiful night and suddenly an hour went by. I took a day off and then I ran 6.5 miles in the rain. I didn’t mean to run in the rain but some big dark clouds chased me until I was 3 miles out of town and it was what it was. Running in a spring rain might not have been the best idea when I should have been giving my legs a rest. Additionally, what I didn’t realize until I looked at my calendar was that the day before my first trail run I had done a 4.5 mile speed workout (I hadn’t done any speed workouts since the 5k I ran, so it had been a while).
Yesterday my legs weren’t stiff so I decided to go out for a light 3 mile run. It was a mistake. My regular running shoes (8 mm drop, no pronation support, regular cushioning) were wet so I wore my trail runners (4mm drop, very little cushion). My legs were stiff and unhappy for the first 3 miles. It was only the last half a mile that they started to warm up. It was the kind of run that makes you think maybe you’re not cut out to be a runner.
I have a trail race in three weeks and thank goodness I got my butt out on a trail because it would have been a tough race otherwise. I don’t think it is a particularly technical trail race, but I feel better knowing that my ankles will be stronger come race day. I haven’t raced on trails since cross-country in college, but I’m already wishing there were more trail races here in Maine.**
Today I woke up hating the world and angry at everything. I couldn’t figure out why, but then I remembered, I’m tired. So I ordered up a latte and with ten minutes the world was rosier. A runner’s gotta do what a runner’s gotta do.***
*not as dorky as it sounds, I just have an additional calendar on google that shows up with my personal calendar. It’s awesome.
**Anyone want to start one?!
***A runner with a day job (and night meetings), that is.