2014 Boston Marathon – Boston Strong, Boston Stronger

One of many winners in the 2014 Boston Marathon – Niki with the 2 most important men in her life – her Dad and fiancé, Tim who never let her lose her way.

finish line with 2 important men

I don’t have any recipe today, just a heartfelt post of appreciation and love to my daughter, Niki for her amazing accomplishment of completing the 118th Boston Marathon April 21st.

For those of you not familiar with this historic race, it is a grueling 26.2 mile (42.2 kilometer) course that winds through 8 Massachusetts towns. Yes, people RUN this (heck, I can’t drive 26 miles without getting all kinked up).  The course is considered one of the most difficult due to a series of hills in Newton, most notably Heartbreak Hill which is between the 20 and 21 mile mark, just as most runners are hitting the wall and their muscle glycogen stores are depleted. As a running coach once said, “If a hill has a name, you know it’s going to be a tough one”.

Difficult as the course is, there is beauty in this race thanks to the overwhelming sense of community along the entire course with spectators high 5-ing and cheering on every participant – the elite runners,  the wheelchair racers, and many, like my daughter who run for charity.

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When my daughter was a young teenager, our lives went sideways when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  I know at that age, that it affected her deeply, especially the uncertainty of not knowing how the disease would progress.  I had to reassure her that we would get through it.  I was incredibly honored when she chose to run the marathon in my honor by raising almost $6,000 in donations for research for this serious and unpredictable disease.  We both thank all of the supportive and generous friends, family and strangers who donated to this cause so that better treatments and possible cures may save other families from the anguish brought on by this disease.

Most of you remember the horror of last year’s marathon when bombs went off at the finish line in Boston, killing 3 innocent bystanders and seriously injuring many others. I still feel the chill of that day knowing that my husband, niece, and sister-in-law were somewhere near the finish line but not being able to communicate with them to find out if they were safe.  Although everyone was nervous and concerned this year with everyone’s safety, it was reassuring to know that security was tight – snipers were stationed on the roofs of downtown buildings days before the race and police and National Guard were stationed along the route.  Last year’s tragedy did not stop more than 1 million spectators from cheering on the runners.  If anything, I think it brought more people out to show that 2 sick losers could not diminish this event.

Race day conditions were perfect for the early, elite runners but as the day wore on, you could tell that the heat was seriously affecting the runners with a later start.  I am amazed at the courage and stamina of EVERY runner, no matter their finish time. For those who trained in the area this year, it was an incredibly brutal winter to prepare for this event.  Most of our winter temperatures were below zero with frigid, gusting winds that made it hard to breath, never mind run and breath.

After my husband dropped Niki off in Hopkinton at the start line, we headed into Boston to station ourselves at strategic spots along the course.  I don’t think I’ve seen my husband so emotional – near tears as he said that he hoped she would be all right.  I know everyone was on edge and I was worried too since she’d had some knee problems in her training but there was never any doubt in my mind that this girl would finish what she started out to do.

From the age of 9 years old, Niki had trained as a competitive figure skater.  We would leave in early morning darkness to drive to the rink for practice.  After a full day of school, I would pick her up for 2-3 more hours of practice after school.  Many people don’t understand the athleticism, stamina, and strength required for a figure skater to rise to the senior levels because good skaters make it look effortless.  Most people don’t see the blistered and bleeding feet when they take their skates off or sit with them in the emergency room when they split their chin open when face meets ice (multiple times).  And many skaters don’t have the opportunity to work with a world renown Olympic level coach who does not allow you to give up.  If you fall, you get up and keep going because there are no do-overs in skating and the tears have to wait for the ride home.

So was I worried about her safety?  Yes.  Was I worried that she wouldn’t finish?  Never.  Sure enough, the knee that had been bothering her before the race went out before mile 5, yet when my husband and her fiancé saw her at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill, she was still running and smiling and when I saw her at the top of Heartbreak Hill at mile 21, well that smile was still there.  But it was my turn to cry when she got to me, stopped for a hug and said “Mom this is for you”.

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I know that for Niki, this marathon was not about setting a speed record.  It was about love and caring and doing something to help others.  It was also one of very few times in any of her athletic endeavors that she actually had people cheering her on every step of the way.  Figure skating can be a very beautiful sport but the dark side of it is the fact that as you step on that ice, for every person cheering you, an equal number are waiting, hoping that you fall on your ass.  Although you may skate for a club, you are not on a team where everyone contributes, helping each other out.  When your music starts playing you are on your own and every mistake is owned only by you.  Yes, running a marathon is a solo endeavor and the elite runners are definitely in it to win and beat records but for most runners, it is a chance to go out and prove to yourself that you can finish the race.  In Niki’s case, she was running as part of the MS Team but her friend and training coach stayed with her every step of the way even though her knee slowed them down.  Neither of them had any problem stopping at the top of Heartbreak Hill for a photo op with me.

 

heartbreak hill done

Do these three look like they’ve just run 21 miles?

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And when she finished at mile 26.2, yes – the smile was even bigger if that was possible.  Alexa, her friend and training partner and John, owner of Beantown Bootcamp could not have been more of a motivating force every step of the way.

finish line with trainer

Niki, I love you <this> much – thank you for being you….love Mom

And for some smiles, this is a link to some of the many signs that people make for the runners.  Who says people from Bawston don’t have a sense of humor?

http://www.buzzfeed.com/mrloganrhoades/the-42-best-signs-from-the-boston-marathon

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas Trees and Camels

I thought I had Christmas under control and was just starting to wrap presents last Monday when my daughter totally confused me with a phone call saying she and her boyfriend Tim would see me the next night.  “Why?  I thought you guys were coming over Christmas Eve.”  Funny thing… Tuesday night was Christmas Eve, and Christmas was Wednesday – not Friday as I’d been thinking.  Whoa…better crank things up a notch.

Niki, Diane & Tim on TUESDAY - Christmas Eve

Niki, Diane & Tim on TUESDAY – Christmas Eve

And in my haste, I completely forgot to tell you about our Christmas tree in my last post.  We’ve been buying Christmas trees every year from a young man in town who started his tree business when he was in high school.  Yes, he was a teenager when he negotiated leasing a farm field along Rt. 62 which runs through our little town in Massachusetts.  He drove to Maine to buy his trees and now, in his 8th year of business is going strong.  I’m sure his parents are incredibly proud of Ryan’s entrepreneurial skills but I wish I had been there when he came home with a camel.

Ryan loves animals and has a barn full of them but he had the idea that a camel would be a great addition to the Christmas tree business – so he bought a camel.

Now, when I was a kid I used to bring all kinds of animals home – dogs, cats, birds with broken wings and once a baby skunk.  But I never brought home a camel and I think my parents would have drawn the line there.  I give a lot of credit to his parents, Ann and Rob who took it in stride and added Joshua, the camel  to the menagerie.  Joshua has become a legend in town and, now out of town as a local television program picked up the story of Joshua and Ryan’s now expanding business of grass fed meats under his own label.

I hope you all enjoyed Christmas on Wednesday and wish you all a very joyous New Year.
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BOSTON

I didn’t post last week because I was in the midst of a sewing project that was giving me conniption fits.  Last week that project was important to me, this week, it’s not so important.

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This week’s post was going to be a vegetarian wild mushroom/onion ragu that I made for my husband’s niece for after she finished the Boston Marathon.  This was Chrissie’s third and anticipated last Boston run after taking a bye last year due to the extreme heat wave we had.  She flew to Connecticut from Washington, D.C. to her mother’s and they drove here Sunday morning then headed into Boston to pick up her number and tracking chip.  Let me say now that my family is safe.

After dropping Chrissie off at the race start in Hopkinton, John and his sister took their usual spot along the route to wait for her to go by.  People lined the streets as they do every year holding signs, wearing bright clothes so their runner can spot them in the massive crowds.  It’s a fun day, a happy, cheerful day and all runners get support every step of the way – the wheelchair racers, the National Guardsmen running with 80 lb. packs, the elite, the 2nd wave, and almost 600 runners in the 65 and older category.  Everyone gets cheers because it’s an event where just qualifying to run for 26 miles is an achievement to be proud of.  Everyone deserves their moment of glory because they earned it.

After Chrissie ran by, my husband sent me a text at 2:50 to say that they were heading for the train to meet her at the finish line. But thinking of the crowds in years past at the finish line, they decided to get off one stop before which was a longer walk but was fortuitous because it put them one street away at 3:50 when the explosions turned a joyful day into a gut wrenching mass of confusion.  Chrissie had finished the race but doubled back heading back toward the finish line to get her backpack from the bus when the blasts ripped through the area in front of her.  Clouds of black smoke billowed down the street and people were now running, pushing her away from the blast area.

Horror and confusion doesn’t adequately express the feeling in your gut when something like this happens and you do not know where your family is or what their status is. At 4:05 a text finally came through from my husband – “we are all right”.  Calls had been shut down but some texts were eventually getting through although service was obviously on overload.  You cannot believe the frustration of not being able to communicate immediately and directly though when reports were coming through of other bombs potentially being in the area. You just want to scream loud enough for them to hear … “get further away from the area, keep moving away”.

I just wanted everyone back home, safe.  But all public transportation was in lock down and everyone was trying to grab the available cabs. Really good people are out there though.  A kind stranger in a van pulled over for John, Mary, and Chrissie and got them out of the city so they could get to the car and finally come home.  Thank you ma’am…I don’t know your name but I know you are a good person.

I’m sure you’ve heard and seen many graphic, horrendous stories and photos and I cannot imagine what many people are dealing with.  The courage of so many people who helped the wounded and the quick response to get the most seriously injured to the hospitals certainly saved lives.  The heartbreak of the families of those who died in such a senseless attack makes me choke up and the multiple surgeries and recovery of the seriously injured who have painful recoveries in the months, probably years ahead.

A lot of people are asking “why”…why would someone do this.  I did, but now I’m not.  I don’t care why and when (not if), when they catch whoever did this I don’t want to hear a word from this sick creep.  I don’t want to have a look inside that snake infested mind because that person does not deserve one second of additional fame.

Boston and it’s people will move on.  No one will forget this tragic day or its victims but we will keep being who we are.  Boston’s a tough town but a beautiful town.  We might be crazy drivers and you might find our one way streets confusing, but if you get lost we’ll be happy to head you in the right direction…well maybe not if you’re a Yankees fan but everyone else.  We love our sports – Bruins, Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots – and we love our events.

Even before Monday’s Marathon I sometimes feel paranoid in large crowds but then I think of how two years ago, over one million people came into the city to celebrate the Bruin’s Stanley Cup win.  I was worried that day because Niki, a Bruin’s Ice Girl was in that parade.  The streets were packed and the roar of the crowds deafening.  She couldn’t hear when her Dad was calling to get her attention until the crowd around him started chanting until she finally spotted him.

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And I think… if we can bring over one million people together in a wide open area, without a single incident then we can do it again.  I’m thinking that this year’s 4th of July celebration will be a united show of commitment to keeping this city open to everyone to enjoy.  And to those participating and watching this weekend’s London Marathon – Boston is with you.  May you enjoy a peaceful day of accomplishment and pride.

Zuppa Toscana and the Chili Pepper Incident

Now that we’re heading into those chilly fall days, I notice that I’m not the only one thinking of soups.  This Zuppa Toscano recipe is from one of my first posts, but a definite go-to recipe for the raw, rainy days we’ve been having here in New England.  I have to give an update, or more of an explanation to this recipe since I know a lot of you like spicy dishes and although I like flavorful, I just cannot handle highly spiced food and nothing with chili peppers.  You’ll notice that I have red pepper flakes however my interpretation of 1/2 teaspoon is 6, maybe as many as 8 little flakes – but not more than that.  If you like more zing, by all means go for it.

Why my hostility toward chili peppers?  Well, it goes back to when I was about 5 years old when I went to the local farm one spring with my father to get seedlings for our garden.  He loaded up the back of the station wagon with the plants and me, setting some of the most beautiful little plants on the seat beside me with the warning “Do NOT touch those”.  Huh…who me?  Why would I want to touch something with the prettiest little shiny red fruits dangling right beside me?  They looked an awful lot like strawberries or something equally tasty.

So of course I popped one in my mouth.  And the gag reflex kicked in… really fast!  And then I started crying which made me want to rub my eyes.  Have you ever rubbed chili pepper juice in your eyes?  Funny how some childhood memories stick with you and to this day I cannot handle the tiniest whiff of a chili pepper without that back-of-the-throat gag reflex kicking in all over again.

Now my husband likes things a little spicy but we’ve resolved that with his own little shaker of red pepper flakes or side of wasabi.  But I did get a strange call from him one night while he was away for a weekend at his mother’s house.  I didn’t even get a hello!  What I got was:

“What the HELL kind of toothpaste did you buy?!!!???”
“I don’t remember, probably Colgate why?”
“No, the stuff in the smaller tube – holy m**$$##** sh*t, my mouth’s burning up and when I tried to rinse with water it got worse!”


“Oooh…let me look…yup, you grabbed my arthritis cream – don’t add water because it activates it – have a good night dear.”

Yes, he’d brushed his teeth with Capzasin – High Potency no less, which is made with capsaicin oil aka the nice juice from hot peppers.

ZUPPA TOSCANO (add red pepper or chili’s, but NOT Capzasin!)

Zuppa Toscana with fresh French bread

1 lb          Sweet Italian Sausage, remove casings
½ tsp       Red pepper flakes
½ lb         Bacon
1              White onion, large, chopped
3-4           Cloves garlic
½ Cup      White Wine
3 Cans     Chicken broth (14.5 oz)
4              Potatoes (medium size), thinly sliced
¾ Cup      Heavy cream
2 Cups     Kale, chopped using just leafy part

Using a dutch oven or deep, heavy skillet, cook Italian sausage with a few red pepper flakes over med-high heat until sausage is just cooked.  Remove to a small bowl.

In the same skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp.  Remove bacon to dice it and drain off all but a few tablespoons of bacon fat.  Sauté onions in bacon fat until translucent, then add garlic for a few minutes.  Add wine to deglaze the pan, scrapping up bacon bits.

Add diced bacon, sausage,  and chicken broth to skillet with onions & garlic. Bring to a boil.  Add potato slices until tender (about 15-20 minutes).  Reduce heat to medium, add cream and kale for about 5 minutes.

Grilled Corn on the Cob

It’s corn season!  And there’s no better way to cook it than on the grill in the husk.

Just peel back the husk, remove the silks, then tie the husks back up at the top.  I spritz the outside with a little water then grill for about 15 minutes.  Of course tons of butter with a little salt is the only way to go.

Accident Photo

I do have to give John a break on this one after driving by the scene of the dead log.  In all fairness I figured I should post this photo I took at the “scene” and let you all decide.

Seems like I should go leave some memorial flowers at the site.  Not that I’m letting John completely off the hook mind you – I asked him after dinner if he was going to take his log for a walk.

Where in the world are you Freddie Farkel?

Better yet, where in the world is Diane?

As I’ve mentioned earlier, re-doing the kitchen has not been enough to amuse me so I tore apart a sofa with the intent of reupholstering it.  I’ve stripped off most of the fabric but want to leave one side intact so I can remember how it all goes back together.  Right now, it’s a good conversation piece if not suitable for use.  So I’ve been on a quest to find new fabric which led me to Freddie Farkel’s in Watertown, MA.  Freddie Farkel’s (real name) is a discount decorator fabric store and I was going to find it.

I know Freddie’s is in Watertown because that’s what the website says.  And I know where Watertown is (right outside Boston) because I used to live there 35 years ago.  I really shouldn’t have gone bragging on someone’s post about my great sense of direction because I think that got St. Christopher all upset, maybe even St. Anthony.  No, I do not have GPS but I did set out yesterday with my printed directions from Mapquest that said it would take me 46 minutes to get there.  I was pretty sure once I got to the Watertown Square I’d be get my bearings.

So… who changed up Watertown Square on me?  And see that jagged arrow that says “go right”?  Notice a few ‘rights”?

This being Boston, of course there’s no signs.  I knew I didn’t wanted the rightest of rights, didn’t think I wanted the next of the rights… and being in the wrong lane anyway I had to go straight.  Around here you do not ever sit in the middle of an intersection trying to figure out which way to go.

And that’s how I ended up going past Harvard…oops, that would be in Cambridge.  Used to work there, need to go west.  Oh cripes, now I’m in Arlington, used to live there too, need to go south.  Oh here I am going past Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge again, maybe I could stop by & get my blood pressure checked.  Well, Brighton’s always a nice place to visit.  Okay, already used up way more than my allotted 46 minutes!  Few more loops around visiting neighborhoods that I never want to go back to, when I saw the name of the street I was looking for.  I was hoping I was at least in the right town and sure enough, there it was FREDDIE FREAKIN’ FARKEL!!! Wrong side of the road since I came in the back way but I didn’t care.  As GPS lady would have told me “you have reached your destination”.

Excellent place too.  Absolutely every possible decorator fabric you could ask for and very helpful sales people.  So helpful that one woman was pulling samples for me to take home saying “take these & just bring them back in a few days”.  “NO!  You don’t understand I can’t come back here, I don’t even know how I got here, please don’t make me take samples”.  The nice Farkel lady gently took me over to the section of samples that they had in stock and I hit on the one that was just right.  Yeah… no yeah?  wha???? It’s not in stock?  You have to order it?  Oh please, oh please do not make me come back here.  After all my road time, plus almost 2 hours in the store perusing, I was hungry, thirsty, tired, defeated but I agreed to have them order the 20 yards I need rather than go back through any more samples.  So I guess I will maybe borrow my daughter’s GPS, ask my husband to drive me back, OR now that I kinda, sorta know where I’m going, I could maybe go back all by myself.

So what does all this have to do with recipes?  Well after that adventure, the last thing I wanted to do was cook a meal so I was ever so thankful for a great gift I had received (before my grill broke), delivered to my house:

Dinner all ready and waiting to go on the grill (now fixed btw).  What you see are 5 oz. Omaha tenderloin steaks and potatoes au gratin.  These steaks have a registration number and unconditional guarantee signed by Mr. Omaha Steak himself, Fred Simon.  Believe me, the steaks which were wrapped in bacon were fantastic and the potatoes light and delicious.  Now, since Memorial Day is this weekend which means Father’s Day is just around the corner I thought I’d also tip you to this great idea for Dad’s gift.  You can order on line and it’s delivered to your (or the lucky recipient’s) door packaged in dry ice.