Crossing the Finish Line

29 09 2009

When I was in high school, I was the kid that never passed the Presidential Fitness Test. I could never run that damn mile. I would start off strongly. Feeling good about myself. Imagining the wind blowing through my hair. Then about half way through the first quarter-mile lap, my legs would start burning, I’d start wheezing, and I would slow down quickly, eventually arriving at a walk and remaining there until the end. Running, and any other exercise, just wasn’t for me, and I had the extra poundage to show for it.

My self-esteem was extremely lacking for various reasons, and I really, truly believed that I wasn’t physically capable of doing anything athletic. So, I cowered on the sidelines during P.E., and I occasionally skipped the class — something I would never dream of doing for an academic subject.

In the 11th grade, I was short 1/2 a credit of P.E. Not 100% sure how that happened, but I ended up having to take a semester of P.E. in my junior year. By then people are usually done with the physical part of their education, so the only people in my class were jocks. And by jocks, I mean the entire football team. I remember the first class. I have never been more afraid of anything in my life. Here were people I spent my whole life avoiding, because I just knew my nerdy, fat self would be the target of swirlies, noogies, and many other things I hoped to do without. And I was stuck in a small room with them for an hour a day, five days a week.

Well, the universe was looking out for me, it seems. I can’t even remember my teacher’s name over 20 years later, but I will always remember him as a saint. We spent the entire semester in the weight room lifting weights. The room looked like what I would imagine a Gold’s Gym on Venice Beach would look like — intimidating, overwhelming, scary. I wanted to hide, but my teacher saw something in me. He encouraged me. He taught me how to use all the machines. He showed me that I was actually very strong. He piled on the weights, and even though I was still a fatty, by the end of the semester I could actually lift as much weight as some of the guys.

And here I am today, a weight-lifting fanatic.

Not really. But this teacher did have a big impact on my life. He planted the seeds of something in me. Somewhere deep inside the murky mess of my consciousness was a small belief that maybe I was capable of something more.

Fast forward years later. I am 30. I have long since lost the extra weight, but I am still carrying the emotional weight of thinking myself incapable. That is when I discover the Couch to 5K program. The idea is that if you can walk, you can learn to run a 5k race. Gradually, every day, you swap out a few seconds of running for your walking until you are actually running more than you walk. I was doubtful, but 3 months later there I was at the starting line of a race.

I finished that race, but in a sense I didn’t cross the finish line. In my mind I was still someone who couldn’t pass the Presidential Fitness Test. I kept running though. In fact, I kept running for so long that 3 years later I had added enough running to my walking to complete 2 full marathons and 2 half marathons with a smattering of 10-milers and 10ks thrown in there. And, wouldn’t you know it, I still didn’t believe in myself. Deep inside I knew that physical goals really are mind over matter (completing a marathon really is a mental exercise), but I was still a loser. So what gives?

I don’t know. But, I will say that something changed last night. I am fat once again, but this time I have a beautiful baby to show for it. For the past 8 months I’ve been working out nearly every day and cutting calories to lose the baby weight, and I’m slowly getting there. I’ve mostly avoided running though. I mean, I’ve gone for two runs with Azita in the jog stroller, but it wasn’t until last night that something clicked.

The crisp, autumn air had a whiff of winter in it. I saw my first red-tinged tree of the season. Azita was bundled in the stroller and actually enjoying it. As I started running, my legs started to feel lighter and lighter. I didn’t want to stop. I felt like I could run forever and never get tired. Azita, Roger and me all out for a run. It was a happy moment, and I have never felt so content. I still have a good 20 pounds of baby weight to burn off, but I’m sitting here the next day feeling as light as a cloud, daydreaming of my next run.

It took a few decades, but it seems that I have finally crossed that finish line.



27 09 2009

It’s Sunday night. The sun is slipping down behind the trees, leaving behind a lavender and orange wake. The crickets and tree frogs have started chirping, and a slight breeze tickles the leaves on the giant oaks as it sweeps the crisp night-time air through my open window. I’m sitting on the couch with a sleeping baby on my lap. Her little belly rises and falls slowly. Her mouth is relaxed into a little, crooked pout. Her impossibly long lashes brush her cheeks. The tv is off. There is no music. Just the quiet and chirping and breeze and the occasional car rushing down the street in front of our home — a symphony by John Cage. I could get addicted to this idyllic world, but somewhere in my chest is a hard pit that rises up to tighten my throat. It ruins this moment. In only 12 hours I’ll be driving to daycare, ready to leave my baby with someone else. And suddenly the noise comes crashing down into my head and my life seems like an impossible situation.

Sloppy Kisses

25 09 2009

One of my favorite things to play with Azita lately is “I’m going to kiss you.” Basically I threaten her with kisses. “I’m going to kiss you cheek. I’m going to do it. I swear. Here I come.” Then I give her a giant kiss on her cheek. Or her belly or her chin or head or foot…And then the best part. She giggles hysterically and tries to kiss me back. Except she doesn’t really know how to pucker her lips yet, so she does her very own version of a kiss. She smiles widely and slobbers on my cheek. It’s a sloppy mess, and I love it.

Delayed Nesting?

22 09 2009

I have to say that I am not a big fan of cleaning. There are some parts that I like, namely vacuuming and bleaching bathroom surfaces until they are completely devoid of germs and any color (I like a sterile, white bathroom. Wonder what Freud would say about that?). Mostly though, I generally postpone housework as long as possible in the hopes that someone else (read “Roger”) will take care of it. When I was pregnant, I kept waiting for that nesting phase to kick in, and it never did. Not with respects to our home, at least. It kind of did with my job — I spent the entire night before my last-minute c-section clearing out my work inbox, responding to all messages, and setting up auto-responses for anything that could possibly automatically respond to people. In the past couple weeks, however, almost 9 months after I gave birth I appear to have finally started nesting. I am suddenly consumed with cleaning and organizing. I am obsessed. Wasn’t this supposed to happen when I was actually still pregnant? Yet another sign that I really am not quite right in the head.

The 100 Years Hoard

21 09 2009

Every morning, Roger and I turn News Channel 8 on the tv while we are getting ready. We can usually catch the weather, the major headlines for the day and some inane entertainment news by the time we’re all cleaned up, dressed up, and coffeed up (except for Azita, of course. She has at least one more year before she can start drinking that sweet, sweet elixir). It seems that the same 5 or 6 companies, special interest groups, etc. have a monopoly on advertising during that hour, because we see the same commercials over and over — the chimney sweep company, the window replacement company, Bob McDonnell for Governor (ick — not for me), and whoever is lobbying for using natural gas.

I actually find all of the above commercials annoying, but most of them I can ignore. All of them except for the natural gas commercial. The crux of the commercial is that a recent study shows that the U.S. has a large enough supply of natural gas to accommodate 100 years of our energy needs should we continue to use natural gas at the current rate, so we shouldn’t seek alternative sources of energy and switch to natural gas instead. Wow! 100 years of energy just sitting right there for us to use. Why aren’t we doing something about this? It’s amazing, right?

WRONG. For the sake of argument, let’s say that we actually do continue to use natural gas at the same rate we are currently using it. This of course ignores the fact that the U.S. gets about the same percentage of its energy from coal as it does from natural gas, so switching from coal to natural gas for some energy needs would obviously deplete the supply much faster than in 100 years.

My real issue with this commercial and everyone else who throws this statistic around is that really, what is 100 years? I’ve had members of my family live longer than that. To solve a problem for 100 years is really only solving that problem for 100 years, and that is incredibly short-sighted as far as I’m concerned. I’d like to think that I’m going to live a long time, but I’m probably not going to still be alive in 100 years. I’d like to think that Azita is going to live even longer, but even she may not be alive in 100 years (although I sincerely hope she is). But, what about Azita’s children or their children? I mean, heck, even if Azita doesn’t have any children, what about the rest of humanity?

In my opinion, this is what is “wrong with the world today.” Short-sightedness. Yes, here is something that could solve a problem for the span of my life, but my life is just a blip in history. The reason we have a crisis in the first place is because our parents and parent’s parents and so on did not think about the consequences of their actions. I’ve always liked to think that my generation was maybe more enlightened. After all, my classmates and I started both the environmental club AND the Amnesty International club in high school. That means something, right? Then again, my generation (and the ones that came after and before for that matter) believe that bigger is better when it comes to cars, tvs, and just about anything else that uses power.

I guess what I’m saying is that I hope that we can all think for a minute beyond the next 100 years and consider that small sacrifices today could make this world not just a better, but at the very least a liveable, place for those that follow us. It is the right thing to do after all.

Update: I kid you not, but this morning a new natural gas commercial was shown in addition to the one I’ve seen about a million times. This new one had the same talk track, but there was a written statement at the end that said something like “Using natural gas will make solar and wind power more possible.” Note that even though that statement is in quotes, it is quoted from memory and therefore in no way meant to be an exact quote. If that statement is indeed true, then I think I might change my opinion. However, they provided no substantiating proof for that statement, so the truth remains to be seen. I will be researching this though and probably commenting some more. And, my mind still hasn’t changed about short-sightedness being a problem of immense proportions in this great country.

Vegetarian Deliciousness to Come

21 09 2009

I’ve received lots of intriguing requests for vegetarian versions of different meat-based foods. One recipe — chili — has been tackled already. Hope you find time to try it out. While it seems like a lot of ingredients, I’d like to think that many of them are already in your pantry, and don’t be fooled by the length of the post. My chili is actually a very fast dish to prepare. You really do all the work up front, and that only takes 20 minutes. I timed it.

Anyways, your requests will not go unanswered. The test kitchen is now open, and I plan on coming up with recipes for the following in the next couple months:

  1. Chuck Roast with Potatoes and Carrots: Note that there is no real way without an industrial food laboratory for me to make a big hunk of meat. However, I believe I can replicate some of the flavor and texture of this dish with some vegetable protein and lots of wholesome veggies and flavorful  spices.
  2. Khoresht-e Fesenjan: I had one request for a vegetarian version of a Persian dish from My Persian Kitchen. One of my favorites is Khoresht-e Fesenjan, a delicious dish that is made of ground walnuts, pomegranate syrup, and chicken (or some other type of poultry). I usually make this at home just substituting cut up Quorn cutlets for the chicken, and it tastes delicious and satisfying. However, I’m going to try to do this dish without the meat substitute. We’ll see what the test kitchen turns out. I’ll say that Khoresht-e Bademjan ties with Fesenjan as my favorite, so you’ll probably see that sometime soon as well.
  3. Red Snapper Chowder: I’m really intrigued by this request, because it’s hard to make vegetarian equivalents of seafood dishes. There aren’t that many options out there. However,¬† seaweed is food from the sea and therefore I will attempt to impart some sea flavors using a seaweed based broth. I’m excited to come up with something for this one, as it really is quite the challenge. Thanks for the suggestion, Michelle!

Spicy Chocolate Chili

19 09 2009

I’m working on a vegetarian version of a dish I actually have never heard of before — chuck roast with potatoes and carrots.¬† I know, I know, who hasn’t heard of chuck roast? Me. That’s who. But I have heard of kaleh-pacheh, and I bet most of my readers haven’t. So there. Stay tuned for a vegetarian version of that recipe (chuck roast, not kaleh-patcheh), and thanks to Holly and James for the suggestion. In the meantime, I’m tackling another recipe request from one of Roger’s friends, mostly because I have a tried and true recipe that I’ve refined over the years. Ladies and gentleman, introducing Zahra’s Spicy Chocolate Chili. You may never want chili made with dead animals again. At least, that’s what Roger says.

Zahra’s Spicy Chocolate Chili

The flavors of this chili are inspired by a mole. The recipe calls for stout beer, but you can substitute more vegetable stock for that if you object to the beer. It is just as tasty.


  • 1 large yellow onion (a Vidalia works particularly well), diced
  • 2 large carrot stalks, diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 large red (or any other color) bell peppers, diced
  • 1 serrano chili pepper, finely diced
  • 1 large (22 oz or so) can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups of frozen corn
  • 1 14.5 oz can of dark kidney beans (black beans also work really well)
  • 1 box of frozen boca burger crumbles (or 1 bag of Morningstar burger crumbles)
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 1 can of stout beer
  • Dry Spices:
    • 2 oz of unsweetened baking chocolate, grated
    • 1/4 cup chili powder
    • 1/4 cup of cumin powder
    • 1 tsp of cayenne pepper (more if you like the spice, as I do)
    • 1 tbsp of paprika
    • 3 tbsp of cocoa powder (the unsweetened kind for baking)
    • 3 tsp salt


  1. Add a couple of tablespoons to the bottom of a large poton high heat. I like to use my giant Le Creuset Dutch oven, but you can use any large soup pot.
  2. We’re going to start with a mirepoix of sorts (the ratios are a little off). Add the onion, carrots, and celery to the pot and saute until the onions are translucent and start to brown a little at the edges.
  3. Add the serrano chilis, bell pepper and garlic and saute for about 3 or 4 more minutes, until the peppers start to get a little soft. Make sure you keep the mix moving so the garlic doesn’t burn.
  4. Add the vegetarian burger crumbles and mix well. Stir until the crumbles are no longer frozen. This only takes a few minutes.
  5. Take all of the dry spices, except for the grated baking chocolate, and add to the mix. Stir well for about a minute until all of the vegetables and veggie crumbles are well-coated, then add the vegetable stock.
  6. Add the corn, beans and tomatoes and bring the chili to a boil.
  7. Once the chili mixture is boiling, add the grated baking chocolate and bring the heat down to a simmer (low-medium heat). Stir well to make sure everything is well combined.
  8. Simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring every once in a while to make sure the ingredients don’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
  9. When the mixture has gotten really thick and much of the liquid has evaporated, add the can of stout beer (or the equivalent amount of vegetable stock). Stir in the liquid and cook for an additional 15 minutes, at least.
  10. You can now eat the chili, or even better, turn the heat to the lowest setting possible and leave the chili on the stove for another hour or so. The longer you leave it, the more concentrated the flavor.

I serve this up with the following accompaniments in bowls and let everyone serve themselves directly from the pot (it makes the whole chili eating experience more rustic): 1. fresh salsa, 2. Greek yogurt, 3. grated cheddar cheese (soy cheese works well), 4. cilantro and/or flat leaf parsley, 5. tortilla chips. I also usually add some hot sauce, and often bake up some cornbread from scratch.