Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Treadmill Fantasy

I hate treadmills. Not with the simple hate of someone who just doesn't want to exercise, but with the hate you have for an enemy that you know is out to get you.

But I use them. I use them because you can't always use the other machines. And once you've gotten dressed and grabbed your iPod and have gotten mentally prepared for a good hour of sweating, it's like you're letting yourself down to just drive home, eat a bowl of cereal and watch Seinfeld.

But I know that if I let my guard down for one moment, it's going to get me. My feet, usually uncommonly steady even while walking in heels over the unpaved street I have to cross every day while trotting across campus, I just know my feet in their big sneakers are going to trip over themselves. Or that the machine is going to all of a sudden speed up while I'm on it. And then, God forbid, I will wipe out, and because I didn't clip the little red thingy to my shirt, the rubber track will ka-thunk, ka-thunk against my face as I lay there, half-splayed on the carpet, "Goodbye to You" by Michelle Branch playing softly from the earbuds of my iPod.

I think I was scarred by watching someone go through this very thing during my early days of joining a gym (without the Michelle Branch and melodrama). And God love her, she got back up and on the machine, only to trip a second time, then slink off in utter shame never to be seen again, probably to drown her sorrows with Gatorade.

Which is why I typically have a deathgrip on those things. I try to play it cool, like I just want to make sure I can check my heart rate by keeping my hands centered on the metal sensors, but having to continually wipe my sweaty palms against my shirt is a little bit of a giveaway. I keep my focus on the placement of my feet, but try really hard not to actually stare at my feet, which you know will only have the opposite effect and cause you to fall. Mind you, this is all with the machine set at a brisk walk, because I don't dare run.

Although today, for the first time, I actually had the urge to run. I don't know if it was the smell of the sweat that kept wafting past but I just wanted to go and go and not stop.

I wish I could say that I did let go of my fear and ran my heart out. Instead, I thought up an elaborate plan of coming to the gym at 6 a.m. on a Saturday so I could try without an audience, and had a weird fantasy about the guy next to me sensing my fear, grabbing my hand and helping me defeat the treadmill (he seemed pretty into the female mind...he was reading a Charlayne Harris novel after all as he also walked on his treadmill, dignified and at a brisk pace, next to me). But instead, I jumped off, almost running into the elliptical behind me, gathered up my dignity and went downstairs to run on the track. Running on actual ground is kind of retro, but as I rounded the last lap with who else but Michelle Branch to close me out, my feet going ka-thunk, ka-thunk against the rubberized ground, I felt pretty vindicated. And looked darn good doing it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

OK, So Now What?

I never make New Year's resolutions, so that's not what I'm calling this. But, this year, I did decide to try to work even harder on building my freelance writing business. So I spent a weekend reading My So-Called Freelance Life by Michelle Goodman. You'd think after that I'd be energized and ready to go. But honestly, I'm scared. Scared of trying, then failing, finding out that I'm actually a horrible writer and people have just been being nice to me all these years. My brain completely seized up and I found myself sitting in front of the computer, unable to even will one good idea down onto paper.

During this staredown with my computer screen, I happened to click onto a blog post by writer Nikki Loftin, detailing what she does to get unstuck. The final analysis? Just do SOMETHING. Another one of my Christmas money gifts to myself was a subscription to mediabistro.com, so after forcing myself to read a few articles, then heading to the local bookstore to leaf through magazines for inspiration, I'm happy to report that the pump is primed. Faltering in my non-New Year's resolution just 14 days into the new year isn't great odds by far, but at least I've reminded myself that if I take just one step, the next one is so much easier.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

They Call It TATER Salad (Lee Brothers Style)

If there's one thing that's important growing up in the South, that's potato salad. Forget about sweet tea or fried chicken or anything else. It's the almighty tater, and how it's dressed for the occasion, that is a hotly debated topic. The wrong or badly made potato salad can ruin a picnic on the sunniest day of the year and get in-laws into a standoff.

Everyone has their own favorite recipe and special fixins. Do you add mustard or not? Onions? Slivers of ham? Chopped hard-boiled eggs? Dill pickles? Special spices? And most everyone's potato salad recipe is proudly proclaimed "the best" of them all.

Despite being Chinese, my father and his brothers and sisters (having been raised in the South) were firm believers in this as well. "Our" potato salad eschewed mustard, and had a flavorful but simple mix of onions and celery, diced small, combined with hard-boiled eggs and potatoes, dressed lightly in mayo and salt and pepper. The onion gave it heat and spice, the celery added crunch, and the rest was just a creamy heavenly mouthful.

My first attempt at making it was an absolute failure. My family is one of those who don't have measured recipes, and in my 12 year old confidence, I added this and that, mimicking my Aunt Dot who was our family's potato salad connoisseur. "Too many onions," my father growled after one bite, never one to mince words. I tasted, and he was right...the salad was just overcome with the heat of the onion and was almost inedible.

Fast forward some 20 years, and my recipe has been perfected...the right balance of onion, celery, dill pickles (my father would NOT approve), eggs and taters. So who messes with perfection? Since I have a bad habit of clipping almost every recipe in the weekly food section (and even the recipes in the coupon clipper), I would have to own up that it's me. The recipe that tempted me is in the Lee Brothers' new cookbook, Simple Fresh Southern (what a great title!) and the recipe is Green Goddess Potato Salad, another simple recipe that smothers hunks of freshly boiled taters in that rich, tangy herb-green dressing. My tweaked version (leaving out the white wine vinegar, which I didn't have, and with a few other small edits) is below. My husband, who is another die-hard potato salad lover and devoted to the dill pickle version, was crazy about it. "But next time, let's add eggs," he said. Perfect recipe, version 2.

Green Goddess Potato Salad (adapted from the Lee Brothers)

About six medium potatoes (enough to make four healthy servings--roughly 1.5 to 2 pounds?)
1/2 cup mayo (Hellmans)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions (green and white parts)
Teaspoon of dried tarragon
Juice of 1 small lime
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped hard-boiled eggs (optional)

Peel and cut potatoes into 1 inch chunks. Bring to boil (you can boil eggs at the same time if you're using them), add a couple teaspoons or so of salt, and boil for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. While potatoes are boiling, combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl for the dressing.

Drain the potatoes, and peel and chop the eggs. Add to the dressing and mix to combine. Let cool in fridge, and add salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Photo credit: oprah.com

Surprise, Surprise

I LOVE surprises. Unfortunately, my husband is the worst at surprises. Or, maybe I'm the worst at being surprised. Either way, I usually know when he has something planned. "What size do you wear again?" he'll ask oh so casually, or just before a big occasion like an anniversary, he'll say, "I'm going to go up to Atlanta for the day...no reason." (I think it's his tone that puts my senses on high alert).

But lately he's figured out the best way to surprise me is by saying nothing at all. A few weeks ago, we'd had a tough day workwise and while dashing to the grocery store to pick up some last minute ingredients for dinner, he'd surprised me by walking into the kitchen with a bunch of pink and yellow roses held aloft. But the best and most recent surprise was my Christmas gift, a book I'd been coveting at the bookstore (we'd been shopping for books for him when I spied it so I didn't really feel right about buying something for me), and had filed away as something to get for myself sometime but had forgotten. The book, My So Called Freelance Life, by Michelle Goodman is a terrific resource for folks like me who are trying to figure out fitting freelancing into everyday life. I've already tapped into a few links she's mentioned and am coming up with my baby steps plan to growing my little freelance business. And I'm planning to let myself be surprised by what happens.