Sunday, February 27, 2011

Confessions About My Mise en Place

I can dream, can't I?

One of my favorite new TV shows is Worst Cooks in America on the Food Network. If you didn’t think you were a decent cook, watch this show and re-think your skill-sets. Until this show, I never realized that a grown woman wouldn’t know that you have to put oil in a skillet to fry chicken.

One of the first things the novices need to learn about is Mise en Place (MEEZ-ahn-plahs) which, when translated from the French Culinary schools, simply means, "Everything in its place," but it’s actually more like the Boy Scouts of America motto, "Always be Prepared," because it isn't just about where to store the cutlery and putting your spices in alphabetical order, it's making sure every ingredient in a recipe is measured accurately and all pots, pans,  stoves and ovens are ready to go before you're ready to cook.

After a disastrous attempt at making a lemon meringue pie in college where I suddenly realized mid-way through the recipe that I had no confectioner's sugar and had to sprint up the street to the local convenience store while convincing my roommate to, "just keep stirring," the molten filling, my mise en place in the kitchen is always spot on. You won't catch me without an ingredient, hunting down the mandoline, or facing whole onions needing to be diced at the last minute. I'd like to thank my Mom for her obsessive viewing of Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, and Graham Kerr for all of the kitchen lessons I learned growing up.

Triathletes are well-known for their organizational skills. With such a time-consuming profession/hobby/obsession, it's important to have everything in its place to avoid losing training time looking for equipment. There are many coaches that tell you to fix your post-workout meal before you head off to your training session so when you return home, you don't run into the kitchen, carb-empty and dropping blood sugar, and just grab the first thing you see on a shelf or in the fridge and inhale it.

I don't have such a coach. I only have the experience of a bad lemon meringue pie and a year on the grill at a sub shop to remind me that things such as mise en place are drilled into chefs for a reason: bad things happen when you don't plan ahead.

So when I spend 15 minutes walking around my apartment searching for a hat that I left in the car or go looking for my ID that's buried in one of those gym bags in the corner and put on three layers of clothing before realizing my heart rate monitor is still on the dresser, I think about needing a better plan. Perhaps it is only natural that when I finally finish my workout, get home and I realize that I have no post-workout meal planned and I inhale the first thing that I see on the shelf (who bought those cheesy poofs??) that I understand that I have to start organizing things more diligently or bad things are going to keep happening.

Abysmal mise en place is the reason I forget my water bottles on the counter before I drive 10 miles to the start of my bike ride... and the reason I don't even realize it until a mile into the ride. Reaching down to an empty water bottle cage for a drink is no fun.That mistake led me to stop at a snack stand at the beach on a 90 degree day. I dropped two sweaty bucks for a cone of shaved ice... lemon flavored, of course.

So perhaps this post will help people understand why I became concerned about my training routine 9 months prior to the Hotter n' Hell Hundred. There are too many aspects to this that can't wait to be addressed in June or July (or August!). There are too many bad things that can happen if I don't get my routine together as soon as possible.

 I would've explained this to them in person but I can't find my cell phone to call them.
Thursday, February 17, 2011

And Now, For Something Completely Different

Over the past few weeks, I've been crunching numbers, trying to find the best way to upgrade my Fuji Monterey to ensure that I had a safe and comfortable ride this year. Just when I thought I had it figured out, I was hit with the "temporarily sold out" sign on the wheelset I had budgeted for and a notice that they would re-stock in mid-January.

While waiting for mid-January, I was hit with some very unpleasant news regarding my car. My car is a '96 Grand Caravan and while it is old in car years, it only broke the 6-figure mileage marker last year and was still going along with only mild annoyances that needed attention. Unfortunately, a January trip to get the oil changed revealed that more work now needed done than was worth putting into it and so I started researching new cars.

In the meantime, the New England weather was being its own annoying self one day. It warmed up enough to give us a drenching rain and flooded the streets. The sewers were backed up with mountains of snow so there were puddles, puddles, everywhere. Puddles broke the asphalt and the asphalt opened up a tremendous number of potholes. After a day of rain and potholes, all of this rain then froze back into a skating rink over-night.

I woke up to go to work only to find my car stuck six inches into the ice and sporting a flat tire. This is a time when husbands/significant others with vehicles come in very handy. I stole my hubby's car to get to work and he spent the morning multi-tasking between trying to free my car, call AAA, and getting approval to work from home. He does this because he believes, "this is what husbands do." Hey, I'm not going to argue the point today.

The following day was spent with me going to a local repair franchise to buy two new tires. They were kind enough to point out that not only did I need to have repairs made that I already knew about, I also had a (get this) CRACKED axle.

With the point of a finger, my $300 tire purchase escalated into a $700 emergency repair. Obviously, given the severity of the damage, this could have had far worse consequences than me sitting in a auto-repair waiting room, calling those 1-800 numbers on the backs of my credit cards to see how I was going to finance this. At the same time, I saw my bike re-building plans evaporate with a swipe of the card. What's in my wallet? Not much anymore.

Believe it or not, this story has a happy ending. You see, I work part-time at a gym. This gym has early morning spin classes which entices the cyclists who, like me, have no interest in tempting these New England roads with their precious steeds. After all, you just read what it did to my car so you can easily see that those bicycles have very little chance of faring any better. This is fun for me as I am not only an avid spinner, I get to talk with like-minded people while at my job. When I worked in a cubicle, it was, "why is this fun for you?"

One cyclist in particular was talking about how he wanted to do a century ride and how he had this old, old bicycle that he wanted to sell so he could get something new and improved. Well, my Fuji could be this bike's grandmother, so I told him that I might be interested in his ride. He brought it in and talked a little about it.
It can't weigh more than 15 pounds. I picked up my 15-pound kettlebell and then picked up his bike and the kettlebell was heavier.

A week later, he sold me his 2000 KHS Flite 500. For information's sake, it has Shimano 105 STI shifters and brakes and a 9-speed cassette with a Tiagra crankset. The OEM wheelset is Rolf Vectors and he upgraded to Hutchinson Topspeed tires. The frame is Reynolds 520 Chrome-moly so I can still keep it real with steel.
Before I made an offer, I took it to a bike shop where I was told a tune-up and a new chain were all that were needed to get this bike in great working order. A triathlete coach who teaches swimming at the gym said not to pay over $400 for it. I took the bike shop's advice and offered him $250 at which point he said he was only looking for something for the wheels and would settle for $200.

Wait - did this guy just talk me down?? Okay, but I won't go any lower than $200!

Suffice it to say that he is now my favorite gym member. He did mention that I should seriously consider changing out the seat. A quick 2 mile test on a 40 degree day proved his warning to be accurate. That Forte' seat could be arrested for assault. If anyone has had any positive experiences with ladies seats for endurance/tri rides, I'd love to hear from you.

Here's a catalog picture of my new ride. The new tires have red stripes as well.

I can still ride the Fuji until the rock salt has disappeared from the roads and then donate it to a wonderful organization in Providence, RI called Recycle-A-Bike.

Lil' darlin'. I feel that ice is slowing melting....
Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Testing - One, Two, Three

Every time I turn around, we seem to get significant snowfall. Here again today, another 6-inches is hitting the ground and I just got word from my boss that the gym is delaying opening until 8AM tomorrow morning. I usually open at 5:15 but there are indications that the parking lots won't be clear and the roads won't be safe to travel until mid-morning.

Where to put all of this snow is a serious concern. Roofs are starting to collapse and a snowbank just isn't a normal snowbank anymore.

From the picture I took outside the hotel parking lot where my gym is, you can see not only how tough it is to shovel this snow out, but you might also get a better idea of the concern I have as a cyclist on the roads right now and why I have taken my workouts indoors for awhile.

Climb every mountain... oh, never mind.

I haven't completely given up on my dream goal of an earlier start to riding and to that end, used a recent blizzard to test out my new thermals. Shoveling snow in full attire, I'm now leaning towards not using the balaclava at all. I think it might be overkill and it certainly doesn't lend itself to great vision. The fashion statement it makes is beyond sublime.

I did buy a pair of Wigwam arm warmers and a thin pair of wool ski socks. The wool socks I was wearing fit into a pair of trail running shoes that I wore during a test walk but the thickness wasn't very comfortable and I thought it best to go thinner for longer bike rides.

I also just found a great web site for those that are looking for winter cycling options. It's IceBike. The site actually looks a little outdated (the "latest" news is that the Alaska Ultra Sport is now accepting entries for the 2006 race - get on it, guys) but there are apparel reviews and good tips for dressing for the weather.

One real nugget I found was a link to a little web shop called Foxwear. The reviews for their cold weather apparel are encouraging and the service is supposed to be personalized.There's a good chance I'm going to spring for a pair of their tights as my polypropylene will do well enough on the bike but might be a little too heavy for road running.

In the meantime, I work out indoors and wait. While waiting in line at the bank yesterday, I noticed the radio was playing the Beach Boys' hit, "Kokomo." I nearly started sobbing and/or singing, either of which would have probably have led to me being taken into custody. This weather is beating all of us down.