Fossilized Tree Sap

Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why. -K. Vonnegut

Waxing Nostalgic

I’ve been invited to give a talk at the International Women’s Association of Graz this week, and in putting together the presentation slides, I’ve come across some favorite old photos from my days as a marine researcher in Monterey, California.

Each morning would begin with a bicycle commute, pedaled down the hill to the beach and along the seaside trail. At Cannery Row, I’d stop briefly to pick up a coffee, then pedal another 300 meters down the path to my lab at the marine station.

My day officially began with the first sip of coffee, made all the more enjoyable by this view from my “office.”

Bird Rock

(For the record, I did actually get real work done.)

[image by me]

Zwiebelkuchen

When the crispness of the coming equinox creeps into the air and the leaves begin to turn, local Winzers (vintners) brew up their annual batches of Sturm. If you live in Europe and haven’t already sampled this delightful hallmark of the fall harvest, I strongly encourage you to do so, and if you’re wondering how to pair this unique wine with a meal, let me suggest Zwiebelkuchen (onion tart).

Actually, I can’t take credit for this suggestion. Zwiebelkuchen is the traditional dish served with Sturm, and frankly, it’s no wonder:  Sturm’s fruity bright acidity provides the perfect punctuation to each bite of rich, salty Zwiebelkuchen.

While a recipe search will reveal countless variations on the theme, I tend to shy away from overly-complicated recipes given our limited array of kitchen gadgetry (last year’s Thanksgiving notwithstanding). Here is an easy version of this melty miracle of savory, calories-be-damned satisfaction from my friend Betsey. If you want to try Zwiebelkuchen but don’t have Sturm where you are, the dish pairs nicely with any fresh, unoaked white wine with high acidity (try a Chablis or Sauvignon Blanc).

Just remember: if you toast with Sturm, the proper toast isn’t the usual Prost, but rather, Mahlzeit!

Zwiebelkuchen

Zwiebelkuchen

- one roll of pre-made puff pastry (Blätterteig), thawed

- 4-6 medium white onions, chopped*

- about a cup of chopped pancetta (roughly two heaping handfuls)

- 2 eggs

- about 1/4 cup of heavy cream or crème fraiche

- about 3 cups (450g) gouda cheese, grated

- about a TBSP caraway seeds  (optional)

*The only sure-fire way I know to avoid tears while chopping 6 onions is to wear a pair of swim goggles — works like a charm. If you don’t have swim goggles, the next best thing is to light a candle next to the chopping block. It helps take the edge off, but you’ll probably still get a sniffle or two.

Preheat oven to 200C (375F).

Add oil and onions to a cold sauté pan, turn heat up to medium-low and sauté until onions are just translucent, but not too soft and definitely not browned. Remove from heat and set aside.

Roll out your dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and arrange cooked onions, then pancetta evenly over the dough.

In a separate bowl, whip together eggs and cream until light and frothy. Pour the mixture evenly over onions, pancetta and dough.

Sprinkle the grated gouda evenly over the top and place tart in the oven.  Bake until cheese turns golden and pastry is cooked, about 25 – 30 minutes. Keep a close eye on the tart for the last ten minutes to be sure it doesn’t burn.

Remove from oven, allow to cool briefly, then cut into squares. Serve warm with Sturm.

Mahlzeit!

{images by me}

Sturmzeit!

The chalkboard sign outside the bakery downstairs usually reads Herzlich Willkommen (heartfelt welcome), but more recently it changed to Herbstlich Willkommen (a little play on words meaning autumnal welcome). It’s tough to mope too much about the end of summer, when every street corner café reminds you just how much there is to celebrate about Autumn.

Kürbis und Sturm

Around these parts, Autumn means Sturmzeit (Sturm time). A young wine in its first stages of fermentation, Sturm literally translates to storm, a concise but descriptive name referring to the clouded appearance of this fizzy fall refreshment.  Essentially freshly fermented must (juice of pressed grapes), Sturm has a characteristic tangy fruit flavor and soft effervescence. Suspended yeast particles give rise to Sturm’s “stormy” opacity, and ongoing fermentation naturally produces carbonation for a velvety soft mouth-feel and bright acidity — an intensely pleasing counterpoint to the fruity-sweet must. Once this vintner’s brew reaches an alcohol content of 4%, it can officially be sold as Sturm, but beware! Depending on how long the Sturm has fermented, the alcohol content may be as high as 10% and still taste deceptively sweet.

Weiss Sturm

In Styria, the most common types of Sturm are weiss (white), rot (red) and Schilcher. The pearly translucent Weiss Sturm (pictured above) hits the palate with tart apple and mellows into ripe pear.  The deep berry-red Rot Sturm strikes a delectably balanced yin-and-yang of tangy fresh raspberry and sweet blueberry.

Schilcher Sturm is another beast entirely. Schilcher wine is pressed exclusively from the Wildbacher grape, a varietal native to — and grown only in — western Styria. The Schilcher region produces Schilcher wein (a dry rosé of sparkling clarity and brilliant orange-blush coloring), Schilcher sekt (a sparkling wine) and of course the shocking Barbie-pink Schilcher Sturm, which sparkles over the palate with kiwi-citrus and rhubarb and finishes with a hint of wheatgrass.

Schilcher Sturm

The rapid fermentation process means Sturm cannot be stored for long, nor can it be stored in an airtight container without exploding. Bottled Sturm is therefore sold with a loose-fitting, perforated foil cap, a detail which David and I learned the hard way when we bought a bottle of Sturm that subsequently overturned in the back of the car as we drove home. Rookie move.

Sturm is only available concurrent with the fall harvest in September and October, and due to its volatility and short life-span, also difficult to transport over long distances. As such, Sturm has historically been a seasonal specialty unique to wine-growing regions.

These days the chalkboard menus of every neighborhood Buschenschank, café, Weinstube and sidewalk stand invite passersby to sip a glass of Sturm and savor this taste of autumn. And why not?

Why not relish this delectable but fleeting experience?

Mahlzeit!

Bauernmarkt

Welcome back to what I should probably refer to as my Off-Season Blog. The race season leaves little time for blog posts; hence the dry spell. But I’m back and hope to post more regularly this fall and winter. I also recently started a column (“Anywhere Road”) over at Triple Crankset, and if you’re interested, you can check it out here.

We live about three blocks from the Opera House, which is a magnificent building. We’ve been to the opera twice since moving here.  Zauberflöte was in German before we knew much more than how to say guten-Tag-meine-Name-ist, and La Bohème was in Italian with German subtitles. We enjoyed the music.

More relevant to daily life is what lies a few steps beyond the Opera house: the Bauernmarkt (farmer’s market) at Kaiser Josef Platz. It. Is. Awesome.

This farmer’s market probably doesn’t differ much from others in the area, or really from the spirit of any farmer’s market anywhere. People from all over bring home-grown veggies (wedgies!), herbs, flowers, and fruits. They bake breads and sweets and ferment just about anything (including pine cones) into all manner of paint-peeling-gut-warming libations, hand-labeled in slender glass bottles with corks.

What makes this bauernmarkt special is that I’m not from Austria, so some of what is commonplace at this market looks tantalizingly exotic to me.  Chopped meats in jello, fresh Spätzle, white Kren, Knödel, Lärcherl, Käferbohnen, Schafkäse… it’s a whole new culinary world every week, and it continues to change with the seasons.

Today, I was inspired by the elegant, orange-fluted Eierschwammerl (chanterelles). They grow like crazy in these parts. A friend of ours lives up in the mountains and picks them on hikes for fun. When restaurants run out, they send someone with a flashlight and a basket out the back door and into the woods to pick more. I got an excellent price on a huge bunch of these babies and will cook them up with a little salt and butter.

Eierschwammerl

Note the bits of moss and pine needles — straight from the woods to our kitchen.

I don’t visit this market nearly as often as I would like, so to motivate more of these delightful trips, I’m going to do a weekly Bauernmarkt post. I’ll snap some pics from each weekly trip to the market and do a post about some of the fun offerings to be found there.

Today I found these festive, autumn beauties — red, orange and yellow carrots. So schön ist Herbst!

Red Carrots

Orange Carrots

Yellow Carrots

{images by me}

Extraordinary Ordinary Moments

It began as a very humdrum tram ride en route to some very humdrum errands. I let myself be lulled by the gentle motion of the old Strassenbahn and the soothing voice over the loudspeaker:

Nächste Haltestelle, Puntigam. Umsteigen zu den Linien…

We trundled through the tunnel in the waning dusk, and what would ordinarily be nothing more than a grotty old underpass for a moment became this:

Tram Tunnel At Dusk

then this…

Columns in Tunnel

And as I climbed the stairs away from the Haltestelle, I glanced back at the station and saw this:

Haltestelle at Dusk

A tram ride… who knew?

(images by me)

HTFU

The victory salute — it’s a classic pose that captures a moment of triumph; two hands in the air and a face of joy crossing the finish line. Sponsors love the victory salute. What sponsor doesn’t want to be associated with a winner? None. It’s the truth.

Nevertheless, I would like to point out another obvious truth: the victory at the finish line is preceded by countless other triumphs, most of which aren’t nearly as pretty as The Win. I’m referring to such small triumphs as motivating to train in nasty weather, or crushing a set of intervals that hurt like hell. When you get home from that nasty ride in the rain, no one is there to cheer, or to hand you flowers. When you crush those intervals that you were dreading, no one hands you a pretty white envelope of prize money.

But when you finally do get The Win, you know, more than anybody else, that those small triumphs are what makes The Win so sweet.

This is what I love about HTFU, a new athletic gear company that emphasizes the spirit of daily challenge and daily triumph; the kinds of challenges and triumphs that lead to The Win and that should not be lost in the glamor and hype of The Win.

HTFU stands for Harden The F— Up. It’s true. And, yes, you should.

This is the attitude that stops you in your tracks the moment you begin to feel sorry for yourself. I have to train in this weather? HTFU. I have to do what intervals today? HTFU. It’s simple, it’s straightforward, and it’s effective as hell.

The HTFU mantra emphasizes the process of becoming better — a better athlete, a better person. HTFU is about honing your personal integrity and inner strength, day in and day out.

Of course the folks of HTFU love The Win as much as anybody else, but their philosophy sets them apart from other athletic brands, because it embodies all of those private (but no less significant) victories that make The Win so effing sweet.

I am proud to represent this company and to be a part of the community of athletes they inspire. HTFU.

Rain Ride

(images by me)

(check out HTFU online at http://www.htfu.com)

Perspective

Eiffel Tower

Last October, David and I married each other in Paris. After five months, we’re still getting used to calling each other husband and wife.

This past weekend in Austria on a familiar powder run, snow broke away above my husband, and the ensuing avalanche swept him violently down the mountain.  Except for an injured finger and one lost ski, he emerged unscathed.

The ski patroller at the scene hugged him and said, “Today you celebrate your second birthday.”

To say February has been a dramatic month for us would be to state the obvious. In the first week, I called him from the Persian Gulf to report a broken pelvis. In the last week, he called me from the alps to report a near-death experience.

Hopefully we can call it even.

I spent some time yesterday going through our photos from Paris — not the fancy wedding ones, but the funny, silly wonderful moments we captured in our first week of marriage.  I’m posting a few here in gratitude for good memories and with hope for many more to come. Call it a study in perspective.

Saint Germain

(images by me)

(more images here)

Monday!

It’s Monday morning. I have  sunshine and blue skies in the window and my coffee in hand. This is how Mondays should be: bright, well-caffeinated and full of possibilities.

Morning Sun

(image by me)

Welcome To The Neighborhood

Using some of this extra time to play with my camera, I’ve put together a few images of our neighborhood. I captured all of the following on our street. Welcome to the neighborhood!

Mausoleum

PhotoPapers

Tor

Stadtpark

Domkirche


(images by me)

5 Minute Rule

We’ve all heard these bits of advice over and over again  in our lives — eat your vegetables, brush your teeth, wear sunscreen, do unto others, exercise and think positive!

This last life skill first came into my awareness at a relatively young age, in the form of a faded dot-matrix poster on the wall of my first-grade classroom: No Stinkin’ Thinkin’. That phrase became a mantra for us kids, and a quick verbal reprimand whenever one of us slipped up with a negative comment. At the time, avoiding the word “can’t” proved a novel concept, exciting and mysteriously powerful. I have never forgotten that poster, or the message (thanks Mr. Macaluso).

Since then, however, I’ve been metaphorically bludgeoned with the concept of positive thinking. If you can believe, you can achieve! Your attitude determines your altitude! I CAN is 100 times more powerful than IQ! Et cetera. I’m willing to bet you’ve heard at least one of these.

Positive thinking has become something of a cliché, and in that regard has lost meaning. Let’s face it. Those motivational posters with the clever aphorisms and pretty pictures actually do illustrate some powerful ideas, but they are so overused and misapplied that most of us would probably roll our eyes at the sight of one. In fact, there is an entire website dedicated to mocking these things (which is hilarious – check it out here).

My point is not that positive thinking is outmoded, or cliché, or anything less than a very powerful and frankly essential mental skill. However, the concept can be misapplied even with the best of intentions. I’m referring specifically to the practice of ignoring important emotions that don’t align with the positive attitude model, e.g. anger, frustration, sadness, anxiety, or any other negative emotions.

All emotions are important, and emotional pain, while by definition unpleasant, serves much like physical pain, as a signal that something is up and requires your attention. The pain in your knee when you pedal is a good indication that you should pay attention to what’s up with your knee. Likewise, intense anxiety (or anger or disappointment or sadness) is a signal to investigate the cause, or at the very least, acknowledge it. Paying attention to these emotions can uncover patterns in your life which may be important (e.g., consistent anxiety regarding your work might mean you need to make some changes). Like pain, negative emotions serve an important purpose, and should not be ignored.

But what about positive attitude?  Positive attitude is vital and powerful, but should not be used to systematically mask genuine emotion. Why not? Because you’ll end up like What’s-Her-Face in the movie American Beauty, chanting with a positive thinking CD and crying by yourself in your car with a bad haircut. You’ve seen where that road leads, and it ain’t pretty.

If you ignore real emotion and supplant it with “positive thinking” your positivity won’t ever be genuine, and will therefore never be effective. Genuine enthusiasm is the key, and you can’t be genuine when you sweep all the crummy feelings under the rug.

The solution? I give you The 5 Minute Rule.

The following guidelines are geared specifically toward cyclists, but please feel free to extrapolate as needed.*

5 Minute Rule

Step 1: Find Some Privacy

When something really bad (frustrating/sad/stressful/etc) happens, do your best to keep it together until you have 5 minutes to yourself. Let’s say you crash in the final sprint when you would have been a sure thing for the win. Trust me, no one is going to think you’re happy about that. You do not need to throw a tantrum to prove your disappointment/anger/frustration to your teammates or anyone else. Keep it together until you have some time to yourself.

Step 2: Let ‘Er Rip

Once you have 5 minutes to yourself, let it rip. Really let those nasty emotions fly — self pity, shame, frustration, anger, whatever. Yell at the top of your lungs, punch pillows, bawl your eyes out, karate chop the couch — do what you need to do to feel those emotions as intensely as possible, but for no longer than five minutes. If you do it right, and you’re really crying hard, or really letting those pillows have it, then 5 minutes is all you’ll really need.

Step 3: Move On

When the five minutes are up, you’re done. No more feeling sorry for yourself. No more looking back. No more thinking “coulda shoulda woulda.” You collect yourself (and the pillow casualties), and you focus on what is ahead of you. If you’re injured, you focus on your healing and recovery. If it was a disappointing result, you focus on how you can earn a better result next time. Regardless, you let go of those nasty negative emotions and focus on aspects of your situation that you really do appreciate.

Don’t fake being positive, because it won’t work. You have to focus on things about which you really are glad. If it’s hard to think of something to feel good about, start small. Maybe you’re glad for ibuprofen, good weather for training, an awesome new hoodie, great teammates, a funny movie, or a really tasty burrito. What it is doesn’t matter, as long as you really do feel good about it.

Those positive emotions, even if they seem insignificant at first, will build momentum. Genuine, positive momentum. Before you know it, you won’t remember why you were feeling sorry for yourself in the first place.

Whining(image source)

Help spread the word. When someone you care about is feeling sorry for themselves, send them here.

On Twitter, remind them with #5MinuteRule.

[Thanks to @ahoulne for helping me refine this idea.]

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