Monday, October 12, 2015

The Face

It started out as a little thing. While looking in the mirror about six months ago, I noticed a shiny little bump in the middle of my forehead. "Oh, great," I thought. "I am 34 years old and still breaking out."

After dealing with more than 20 years of pimples, I knew not to try to pop the sucker. It would make it bigger, redder, and last a hell of a lot longer. And since it didn't have an active white head (which I think is pretty much the grossest thing ever), I decided to just let it alone. It would heal on its own and I had a really good foundation to camouflage it.

But it didn't go away. It just stayed there. Covering it up became part of my regular makeup routine. And on the days I didn't wear makeup I just didn't worry about it.

After a while though, the bump began to worry me. I stated making mental notes to call my dermatologist--and of course I immediately forgot these mental notes. I eventually got my act together and called and made an appointment, especially since I had another mole I also wanted to get checked out. About six months after first noticing it, I was finally getting my mystery nodule checked out.

My dermatologist entered the room, glanced at my forehead, and said, "oh, yeah, that's a basel cell. I'm about 99% sure. It's not a big deal, it's not life-threatening, but you will need to have some surgery." She gave me the basics of the procedure, gave me a brochure, and a referral to a skin cancer surgery center.

I was familiar with basel cell carcinoma through my job reviewing medical disability claims for the VA. It's the most common form of cancer and is very rarely life-threatening. The tumors, which usually present as a new mole or shiny bump, don't metastasize, but the cancer will continue to grow and the tumor will get bigger if it is not removed. So my bump needed to come off. I started calling it my unicorn horn.

I read about BCC and the procedure (called Mohs micrographic surgery) and pretty much figured it would be no big deal. There might be some stitches, but if the amount of skin that needed to be removed was small enough I might not even need that. I was nervous, and a bit concerned about the pain, but I figured I could handle it. To put it another way, I was optimistic.

Boy, was I unprepared. Mentally, I mean. The way the surgery works is you go back in the room and after a topical anesthetic, the doctor removes the bump. It then goes to an on site lab and they try to find a good margin of distance between the cancer cells and the healthy cells. Best case scenario: they get the desired margin on the first try and then you might not even require stitches.

This is not what happened in my case.

I had to get cut twice before the doctor was happy with the results. Apparently I had "roots of the cancer spreading into my hairline." Great. Not only was the cutting part awful, but then I had to get stitched up. I had to get extra doses of anesthetic (probably because I am a ginger) and was awake for every cut, tug, pull, and stitch that went into my forehead. I'll spare you the gory details (too late?) but it was kind of traumatic and way worse than I expected. I left the doctor's office with a huge bandage on my forehead and a forced smile on my face.

Recovery was hard too. There was a lot more pain that I expected and I had to leave the large bandage on for 24 hours, at which point it could come off leaving a water proof under-bandage which was still pretty big. That would remain on for a week and the doctor would remove it at my week follow-up appointment. That one went off without a hitch, and I had some small butterfly bandages for the next few days. After that I was bandage free, but would have to deal with my scar.

I've never considered myself a vain person. Of course I care about the way I look--and of course I have major body issues (I spent the first 30 years of my life as a fat girl, so yeah). But for the most part I think I have a fairly realistic idea of how I look and don't spend too much time worried about whether I am pretty or whether the face I present to the world is attractive enough.

But having someone cut into my face and having to look at a 2 inch scar on my forehead for the rest of my life has hit me really hard.

There was almost a sort of mourning period for my former face. It wasn't flawless and I actually had some tiny scars from childhood incidents, but I've never had anything like this before. It's large, obvious, and raised above the skin level. Think of the cliche Frankenstein-type scar, and you're not too far off. Though my stitches (which will dissolve) are thankfully flesh colored and not black.

Because the forehead has to support the weight of the face, the doctor had to raise the scar; otherwise, it would pull open as the skin dropped down. The surgeon said that it would look like "taffy." Gross. He also had to put a sizable dent into my forehead. This is actually some stitches under the skin holding up the muscles of the forehead until they are used to supporting the extra weight of the scar tissue. So not only do I have a raised scar, I also have a dent. Swell.

I want to take a break from my whining and give a shout-out to my surgeon. The folks over at the Skin Cancer Surgery Center (offices in Fairfax and Bethesda) were fantastic. Very professional, kind, and skilled. Aside from the long waiting time, I have no complaints.

The good news is in about a year this will all all fade and I will have a "barely visible" line in my forehead that should essentially disappear into a normal crease. The bad news is, it's going to take a year to get to that point.

So here I am, trying to adjust to my new face. It's a shock and kind of sad to look into the mirror now. I'm a bit ashamed to admit that to the world--remember when I said I had never considered myself a vain person?I think I might have to readjust how I think about that too. I know objectively that soon the scar will fade and most people will never know it is there. I also know objectively that the surgery needed to be done; better to have a manageable amount of pain now and nip this problem in the bud. But I also know that subjectively I am still mourning my former face.

Remember to wear your sunscreen, ok? Because you really don't want to go through this. But I am still very grateful that it wasn't worse and I will have a full recovery. I am luckier than most.

And now, the pictures! If you don't like seeing pictures of scars (or my face, I guess) feel free to skip this part. Nothing is very gross, but hey, just giving the warning.

Big post-surgery bandage and sad face. 

Water-proof bandage (I had this one for a week).

Removal of all bandages in the doctor's office. Check out the dent!

Two weeks post-surgery. Still pretty red. The scar is shiny since I use Vaseline to avoid scabbing. Oh, and the headphones in all these pics are because I took them while working. 

My awesome friend Sarah sent me some fun bandages--these ones are called Oopsie Dasiy!

And here we are today: 3 weeks post-surgery. Still a raised scar and a dent, but the redness has gone done and the stitches have dissolved. So for the next 6 months or so, this is my face.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Welcome back to your life, Maggie


Remember me?

You know, Maggie. The owner of this blog. You can't have forgotten about me already.

Yes, I know it's been 8 months since I updated. But after all the years we spent together I would have thought you wouldn't forget me that easily.

Think of all the good times we had; all the trips we took, all the delicious food we ate (and cooked), all the adventures we had together. I know that if think really hard, you'll remember.

Yay, there we are! Annnnnnnnnd, we're back!

So you probably wondered what happened to me all those months ago. No, I didn't fall off the face of the earth, get kidnapped by Gypsies (Romani? Travelers? whatever), or forget that I had a blog. I was in what I like to call The Bad Place.

The Bad Place is where I spent every day wondering if I would need to take Mom to the hospital because she was so sick from her chemotherapy treatments. The Bad Place is when I had to basically move back home to care for her and make sure she was eating. The Bad Place is when I would spend every evening I was by myself crying and hugging my stuffed toy beagle because I was so sad all the time. And The Bad Place is where I broke out in hives because I had so much anxiety.

That's all I am going to say about that. Because this post isn't about some "Oh, woe is me, my life was so hard" type of discussion. This post is about how happy I am now, and how all the awfulness, and time, and stress, and pain was worth it. Because my Mom is a cancer survivor who has fought her way out of the darkness and is getting back to her life. And so am I.  Sure, she's minus a few lymph nodes, but hey, nobody's perfect.

Basically since New Years 2015, things have made a complete turn around. Every day Mom gets stronger; she's back to working in her office one day a week and can just about work full days at home. She walks almost every day (with a little not so gentle nudging from yours truly) and can eat almost anything she wants again. She will always have a dry throat and has to be careful about getting sick (no lymph nodes, remember?), but other than that she's well on the road to full recovery.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the incredible outpouring of help, love, and support from all of my friends, Mom's friends, and our family. When I say we couldn't have done it without you all, I mean it. We could not. have done it. without you. Full stop.

And as for me, well it seems like everything is going right. Of course that means I've got my eye on the sky waiting for the Acme safe to fall on me, but I am just enjoying it while it lasts. Work is going well (I just got asked to mentor a new attorney), family is all happy and healthy, and I've been dating someone wonderful since January.

In fact, I can't imagine ever being as happy as I am right now. So that's something, right? I am sure it won't last forever, but like Mom said--you gotta have the bad times so you learn to appreciate the good ones.

And I intend to appreciate the hell out of it.

And just to prove that things weren't all bad (and aren't bad now).....

 Me and Selvi at a wedding this past weekend.

Visiting my nephews in February 2015. This pretty much sums up the relationship I have with James.

 Another wedding with my fella.

 Trip to New York City in December to see the Rockettes!

Mom and Aunt Kim happy at Christmas!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Wait, I only get to pick 10??

You've probably noticed  a recent trend on Facebook these days of people posting lists of 10 books that have influenced their lives and then nominating certain friends to make their own lists. I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone tagged me, and it was my friend Sarah from my work book club who got me a couple days ago.

There's a couple rules associated with this. "Don't take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They do not have to be the "right" books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way."

Pish, rules are for losers. If I want to over think something (and I always want to over think things) I'm going to go ahead and do it. So why make a simple list in a status update when I can instead write lots and lots of words about one of my favorite topics? Books, that is. So in a loose chronological order, here are 10 books that have affected me and are pretty much responsible for the current course of my life.

1.  The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room by Stan and Jan Berenstain

2.  Kristy's Great Idea (The Babysitters Club #1) by Ann M. Martin

3.  From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L Konigsburg

4.  D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths by Ingri d'Aulaire and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire

5.  The Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Dragonlance Chronicles #1) by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman

6.  The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time #1) by Robert Jordan

7.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter #1) by J.K. Rowling

8.  Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

9.  World War Z by Max Brooks

10.  Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

1.  The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room.: The first books I remember actively and independently reading were The Berenstain Bear books. I loved the pictures, the stories, the lessons, and how all the characters (including the parents) weren't perfect and often messed up. Sister Bear could be an insufferable know-it-all, Brother Bear acted like a jerk to his little sister, Papa Bear couldn't stay away from the treats...even the mom had some issues (and obviously questionable fashion sense). The Messy Room was always my favorite...mostly because I loved seeing how they organized everything at the end in different labeled containers. I guess it was the beginning of my OCD.

2.  Kristy's Great Idea: Oh, god, the Babysitters Club. It was my gateway drug to Scholastic books. Every month I would get myself to the bookstore for the latest book in the series and I even ordered a bunch from the forms in the back of the books. When that box from Scholastic arrived in the mail it was like Christmas Day. And after I outgrew the Babysitters Club...Sweet Valley High was right there waiting for me.

3.  From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: This book hit so many of my tween fantasy buttons. Kids run away from their boring suburban existence and live in a MUSEUM. And! Solve a mystery about a beautiful statute, basically saving the day. But saving the day because of their smarts. Guess how they were able to make money? By taking baths in the museum fountain and scooping up all the change people threw in the water. Of course, this was back when a cup of coffee was like 10 cents, but still. How cool is that??

4.  D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths: I went through a HUGE Greek myth phase around middle school. I wanted to read every Greek myth I could get my hands on and this book was my favorite. The stories were well told and the pictures were awesome. Nowadays we have Myths Retold, but circa 1992? This book was my jam. In fact, it's still sitting on my bookshelf (I actually own physical copies of all these books listed here, in the editions pictured).

5.  Dragons of Autumn Twilight: Talk about your gateway drugs...this was my first real fantasy book. We're talking dragons, wizards, elves, dwarves, all your basic Dungeons and Dragons style fantasy elements are in this book. And I loved it. I remember the guy who lent it to me in 8th grade literally saying, "this book will change your life" and me stroking the cover reverently in response. You would think it was the freaking holy grail or something. But you know what? He was right. It did change my life; I loved it and have been a solid fantasy nerd ever since. 

6.  The Eye of the World: And then we come to Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. The Eye of the World was gifted to me at Christmas by my stepmother, probably around 1994. By New Years I had devoured it and the next two in the series. I spent the next....oh, say 18 years reading this series. Jordan died before he finished, but Brandon Sanderson took up the reins and crafted a brilliant ending (basically achieving the impossible). Despite a loss of momentum in the later books as the characters and subplots moved further and farther away from one another, this fantasy series has been a HUGE part of life. The release of the last book was kind of a big deal for me.

7:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: I got on the Harry Potter train kind of late. I was already in college (I think the Christmas of my freshman year in 1998) when I read the first three books. I remember the son of my William and Mary Women's Chorus director (Jamie B. shout out!) went as Harry for Halloween that year, and while his costume was adorable...I had no idea what the hell he was supposed to be. A wizard? With glasses? And a weird scar who chased after a gold ball called the snitch? Um, ok. Sure. Sounds kind of lame.

Look, I'm not right all the time, ok? Of course once I read the books I was instantly hooked, am now a superfan, and have many fond Harry Potter-related memories. Like when I worked the release party of the 5th book at the college bookstore in law school. Or when I took off one day studying for the bar to binge-read the 6th book. And how a group of friends and I drove down to Richmond for the midnight release of Deathly Hallows....and I stayed up until 4 in the morning reading. Harry, man. What can you really say?

8.  Neverwhere: It was a rainy day in St. Andrews, Scotland. I was studying abroad the Spring semester of my junior year in 2001, and needed to kill some time. So I popped into the Waterstones bookshop on Market Street. I was browsing through the Fantasy/Sci-Fi shelves...and came across this book. I had never heard of Neil Gaiman before and didn't have any real experience with urban fantasy.

It is now my #1 favorite book of all time and Mr. Gaiman is my favorite author. The first time I met him, I took my original copy of Neverwhere (from that rainy Scottish day) and had him sign the inside cover. Sometimes life is really good, you guys.

9.  I didn't expect for World War Z to be amazing. I expected to be funny, a joke, something to read on the Metro while on the way to work. Instead it BLEW MY MIND. This book is brilliant. All the different stories, the different points of view, the way it moves around the world...amazing. As soon as people hear zombies they tend to tune out, but this book is the real deal. If you can't get past the zombie aspect, just think of it as any global viral pandemic. It will affect you.

As for the's a solid zombie flick. It doesn't have anything to do with the book, but it's an entertaining film.

10. Fangirl: Here we are at the most recent book on the list. I read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell last year (or, to be precise, I listened to the audiobook) and was immediately bewitched. The main character, who is herself obsessed with a fantasy book series, felt so real to me I just couldn't. stop. listening. I could sit here and go on and on with my glowing review of the book, but that's probably boring. So I'll just say that it is one of my favorite books of all time, I now read anything by Rainbow Rowell, and I can't remember the last time I related so immediately to a fictional person. Read it. Seriously. 

So there we are! 10 books that impacted my life in some way. I swear I didn't put too much thought into compiling the list--all I had to do was walk over to my bookshelves and let the memories pour over me. These books are like members of my family. I mean, it's probably pretty obvious how important they are to me, considering I can pretty much remember the exact circumstances I first found them. Or should I say, the exact circumstances where they first found me. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Match Made in Heaven

Ever heard of Farmers, Fishers, and Bakers? It's a restaurant on the Georgetown Waterfront known for fresh ingredients and that "farm to table" style that has become a major trend in the DC food scene the past few years.

I have unfortunately not been able to try it out yet, but I am on the email listserv for the restaurant group and got word a few months ago about a special "beer and food wine pairing dinner" they were offering. It sounded intriguing, but at around $75 a seemed a bit steep. But I sent the link to some friends of mine to see if they were interested in checking it out.

*enter Jon, Lis, and Scott, stage right*

I can't remember who came up with the suggestion, but after some discussion there was a general feeling of "hey, we can do better than that." So rather than blow a lot of money one a night out, we decided to make our own beer and food pairing and have a night in.

The menu planning was key. It turns out you can find a bunch of tools online to help you prepare a beer and food night. We decided to go with five courses and many MANY types of beers. If you're going to do something, do it right.

First course: Cheese and charcuterie platter.

We went with a variety of everything here. A quick trip to Cheesetique in Del Ray set us up well for the meats and Jon provided the cheese and crackers from another shop. Our cheeses ranged from soft to hard and from mild to flavorful: we had a Honey Goat (goat), a 3 cheddar blend, a Stilton blue cheese, and an unknown sheep's milk cheese. I forgot to write down the type of sheep's cheese when taking my notes. Deal with it. On the meat side, we went with mostly Italian meats (duh): a genoa salami, mortadella, garlic salami, and my personal favorite, prusciutto.

Jon was our beer master and carefully selected beers to go with each course, and in this case, each individual cheese. The goat was paired with a Belgian Saison, while the sheep's milk went nicely with Schlafly American Brown Ale. We needed something that could stand up to the flavorful blue cheese, and it was Stone Imperial Russian Stout (2014) to the rescue! Last (but not least) was a Stochasticity Project Grapefruit Slam IPA for the cheddar.

Honestly, the cheese, meat, and beer could have been a meal all on its own. But we still have four courses to go! As George Takei would say, "Oh, myyyyyyy."

Second course: Salad.

You might think salad is boring. You would be wrong. This one was fantastic--it was a mix of spinach and arugula with tomatoes, walnuts, and dried cranberries and topped off with a bright citrus poppyseed dressing. YUM! The beer pairing for this was also very good: a Bavarian-style German beer, a Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier.

Third Course: Spam fried rice.

Scott whipped this up for us and it was delicious. You might hear Spam and think "ew" and again, you would be wrong. Sure, it's a potted meat, but if utilized correctly, Spam can be fantastic. It's saltiness went really well in this rice dish which was itself excellently paired with an American Pilsner from Wild Wolf brewery right here in Virginia.

Fourth course: Baked (not fried!) chicken wings with kale.

Did you know that you can bake chicken wings? Did you know that they come out amazingly crispy and not greasy? WELL NOW YOU DO. And if you shake on some Old Bay seasoning like Scott did, it's like a flavor explosion. There was also buffalo sauce, but for my money, I'll take the Old Bay. Oh, and can you pass the Lickinghole Creek Four Pillars Imperial IPA, please? Thanks!

Fifth Course: Chocolate.

In a move that is a surprise to nobody, I selected a bunch of different types of chocolate for our dessert. If you're going to blow the calories, do it on something you love. Hence, chocolate. I visited a bunch of different shops in the area to seek out a selection of chocolates, some filled chocolates from Max Brenner in Bethesda, chocolate caramels from Chouquette Chocolates (also in Bethesda), a large Cadbury dairy milk bar, and a chocolate bar with maple bacon from Chuao chocolatier. You can find their bars in the fancy chocolate aisle of grocery stores and in cheese and wine shops.

On the beer side of things, Jon also brought us a selection to try with all the different chocolates. We had a couple of Belgian lambics: Lindemans Gueze Cuvee Rene and Hanssens Oude Geuze Lambic Ale. And my favorite beer of the night, Chocdale Ale from the Boulevard Brewing Company's Smokestack Series in Kansas City, Missouri.


We had made it through five courses, about 10 beers (though no promises on the math there) and were stuffed to the gills. There was nothing left to do but sit back and bask in the self-reflected glow of our own pleasure and victory.

....until next time. Though I'm not sure how we can top ourselves. Perhaps...ribs?

 Our beer and meat experts!

 The aftermath.

 And of course, Max the Beagle was on hand to catch any crumbs. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Big C

"Life is a pain in the ass. l´ll tell ya. You know? You work hard, try to provide for the family, and then, for one minute,everything´s good. Everyone´s well. Everyone´s happy. ln that one minute, you have peace."

"Pop, this isn´t that minute."             -

--While You Were Sleeping

I'm going to have to take a break from my usual coverage of food, travel adventures, parties, and other frivolous fun in the life of Maggie. Oh, and cupcakes. I unfortunately have to break from the usual cupcake coverage. 

Because right now there's actually real life stuff happening. And by "real life stuff," I mean the kind of stuff that completely changes the course of how you live, think, and look at the world.

Now that I have you on pins and needles I'll just spit it Mom has cancer.

I know, it sucks.

One day you're going about your life as usual, blogging about cupcakes, and then BAM. You get news that changes everything. For me, it was my Mom telling me that she had noticed a weird lump in her neck and had scheduled a biopsy. At this point, I did what most people would do. I freaked the fuck out. Kidding! I reassured myself that it was probably nothing and it was smart to get it checked out. Just in case.

I went with Mom to the biopsy and did my best to distract her with jokes and stories as I do. But in the back of my mind there was that tiny little voice that I do my best to ignore, "...what if it's something serious?"

And it turns out it was serious. I was on a work trip to West Virginia (ugh) when Mom called me with the biopsy results. I already knew it wasn't going to be good; I had emails from my friend Chris saying, "call your Mom as soon as you can" in addition to several missed calls from Mom on my cell phone. I looked at the phone before dialing it and thought, "this is the day I find out my Mom has cancer."

God, I hate being right all the time.

So, yes, the biopsy did not come back with good news. Basically, it indicated that the lump in Mom's neck was a mass on her lymph node consistent with metastasis from squamous cell carcinoma. That's skin cancer for all you science nerds out there. The next step is to figure out the primary site of the cancer. Even though it's technically skin cancer, SCC can actually occur almost anywhere in the body as epithelial cells are present all over. In cases like my Mom's, it's usually in the lungs or in some other chest or abdominal organ. But then her chest, abdominal, and pelvic CT came back normal.

This was not a good sign. If you can't locate the primary source of cancer it's known as "occult cancer." And it means that the doctors can't tailor the treatment to a specific area; they pretty much just have to zap your entire body with chemo and maybe radiation.

However, in the past week there have been positive developments. Mom had a PET scan that indicated the cancer was located in the throat. This area is very treatable and has an excellent prognosis. She is having an endoscopy later this week to confirm the location and then meeting with the oncologist later this month to figure out the next step. It's not a done deal until the endoscopy, but the PET scan/oncologist seemed pretty sure about the throat as the primary site so for now I am going to focus on the positive.

I think at this point though I am still working my way through all this. There's a long road ahead for sure and I need to focus on supporting Mom in whatever way I can. And while I have one of those feelings that everything is going to work out ok...this is all pretty scary. It makes you think thoughts like, "what would I do without my Mom?" and other terrible stuff that I am definitely not ready to handle. But thankfully I have an amazing group of friends and family who have already stepped up with love and support.

I'm trying to just focus on a "one step at a time" mode of attack. Though I know the coming weeks, months, and years are not going to be easy. But then, whoever said life was easy?

I will now return you to my usual nonsense blogging, because hey, who doesn't need a good distraction. And I will definitely keep you all updated on developments as they happen--but no news is good news as far as these things go.

And now here is a picture of my Mom with a beagle puppy. Because why not?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Off to the Races

I promise I will finish up my Belgium-related posts, but there is so much other stuff I need to post about and I keep putting it decided I would suck it up and do things a bit out of order.

Races have figured prominently in my spring and summer. Not just running races, but also horse races! Part of the reason is a new goal I have set for myself to make sure I keep up with my running: I plan to run a 5K a month for the rest of the year. That's 7 races total from when I made this solemn vow back in June.

Well, it wasn't that solemn. It was more me sitting on my couch and thinking, "how can I make sure I keep up with my running? I know! I will make myself spend a lot of money on race registration fees so I make sure I actually put in the time for training!" So not only do I get to suffer physically, my wallet will also take a hit. Awesome.

I also reached my Spring running goal of completing my first 8K! That's five miles for those of you who can't perform instant kilometer to miles conversions in your head. If you had told me three years ago that I would be able to run five miles, I would have laughed in your face, fallen out of my chair, and then laughed some more. But the joke is on me, because I totally did it!

In fact, the day of my 8K was full of races--not only did I get up and run in the Fairfax City 8K: Race FOR THE CHILDREN along with my friend Matt who was in town, I also immediately drove out to The Plains, Virginia to see the Gold Cup, or Diet Kentucky Derby.

Me and Matt ready to pwn the 8K!

I am happy to report that both races--the humans and the horses--were an amazing success. Despite the hilly course (I hate those hills), I came in right at my goal of time of under an hour for the 8K at about 55 minutes. And all the logistics went off without a hitch. My friend Rachel who lives in Manassas graciously let me stop at her place on my way to The Plains to shower and change and I arrived at the University Row event before the horses started running.

I was really impressed by University Row. The event is sponsored and organized by colleges that have a high population of alumni in the area and for the ticket price you get access to the private race area, an open bar, all day long food buffet, and games and other activities. You never really know how these kind of things are going to go--usually you end up with crowds, long lines, weak drinks, and food that runs out after the first hour. But I am happy to report that this was not the case. The whole event was classy, the food was amazing, and the layout and quality of the food and drinks was great. I was impressed. And I got to wear a hat!

No better excuse for a hat than a horse race.

Speaking of races....I found that I was having trouble keeping myself motivated for the running after my 8K. Finishing a big goal can sometimes leave you in a bit of a funk and looking for something to keep yourself going, especially in the middle of a DC summer when you remember you live in a swamp. So I came up with a new goal! From June until the end of the year, I plan to run a 5K a month.

It's not THAT difficult a proposition-after all, three miles is a regular running distance for me now, but it will allow me to focus on lowering my time and getting closer to the elusive 10 minute mile mark. I have already run my June and July races (more on the July race below) and have my August and September races booked! I haven't decided what to do for an October race yet, but you can bet it will somehow involve zombies or some other Halloween-themed monster. Remember the first rule of the zombie apocalypse: cardio.

Getting back to July, I am just coming off a week in Los Angeles visiting my brother and his family and meeting my new baby nephew, William. I figured why run a 5K in hot and humid DC when I could do it in LA, so on Friday I ran the Redondo Beach Fourth of July race! It took place on the road that runs along the ocean and OF COURSE the weather was perfect. Not only did I make a new PR (34:50), but it was even more fun since Amanda loaded my nephews, James and William, into the stroller and walked in the race. When I had finished running, I jogged back and met them along the course and we were all able to cross the finish line together. It made it all the more special since we did it as a family--though my brother (predictably) spent the morning sleeping in and missed out. Though he would probably say that we missed out. On sleep.

How do you convince a 2 year old to sit in his stroller for an hour during a race? Trail mix, of course.

Lots of running around--literally and figuratively! If anybody has any interest in joining me for a 5K in October, November, or December just let me know. It's always more fun when you have other people to share in the torture...I mean, fun!

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Eating and Drinking in Brussels, Part II

Let's get back to talking about how I ate and drank my way through Brussels! I mean, posts about new cars are all well and good, but I know y'all are only here for the food porn.

When most people think Belgian food, three things come to mind. First, waffles. Second, chocolate. And third, frites! That's french fries for all you Americans out there.

But how do you know where to get good frites? There are lots of reviews and travel sites out there telling you where to find the best frites in Brussels. Last time I was in town, I visited Fritland, a friterie right off the Grand Place and swamped with tourists. The fries were great, sure, but I wanted something...more.

So I took to the internet! It never lies, right? Almost everywhere I looked I came across one place over and over: Maison Antoine. It's a bit off the beaten path from your typical Brussels friterie--about a 30 minute walk from the touristy area of the city and 10 minutes from the EU Parliament in the Place Jourdan. Luckily for me, I was over that way on Sunday of my visit at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (more on that in a later post). Even luckier for me, there was no line! This apparently doesn't happen very often, but I just walked right up to the window and placed my order. "Bonjour, petite frites, merci!

And they were very, very good. Large hunks of potato, double-fried, and wrapped in paper. They give you an adorable little plastic fork, but you don't need it. Just reach right in grab those suckers. Despite the double-fry part, they aren't super greasy. And you really get a lot of delicious potato flavor rather than icky oil flavor.

This is something I have discovered about the food in Brussels: it's not great for you, I mean this is the land that carbs built, but it's made with fresh, natural ingredients. If you got the same thing here in the States it would be full of preservatives and other crap. At least when you blow your diet in Belgium, you blow it on the best version of whatever you are eating.

Once you find the Place Jourdan, you can't miss Maison Antoine. Just look for the giant cone of frites on a post. Though finding the actual square isn't easy; apparently in Brussels they don't trouble themselves too much with street signs. It took me an extra 20 minutes to find this place just because I kept wandering down the wrong twisty turny streets.

Once you've whet your appetite with frites, the next logical things to do is get some beer! Brussels is stuffed with great bars, and one of the best is A La Morte Subite. The name translates to "at the sudden death" and according to the bar's website, derives from a dice game played by some original patrons more than 80 years ago.

But that's just the background. Morte Subite is a great classic Belgian bar. As you can see, it's full of nifty art deco details, mirrors, and wood. It's specialty is Gueuze (lambic) and Trappist beers of which it has many on tap. Drinking here you quickly get stuffed with atmosphere and well-priced and delicious beer. They apparently have food too, but we didn't have any of it. This was strickly a beer only visit as Jonathan and I were having drinks with his friend, Julie.

Looking around the bar! 

Our first order! Mine is the Mort Subite lambic white beer. It's their house specialty and it was soooo good. 

After bidding Mort Subite adieu, we took a quick walk and went to a cool Flemish place called A La Becasse. This looked exactly like how you imagine an old German beer-hall would look.

 Oh, yes, I think this will work just fine for us.

It was completely different from the previous bar we visited, but just as cool with a more "sit back and take off your lederhosen" type of vibe. Continuing my theme of trying every lambic beer in Brussels, I ordered a lambic beer flight (a "palette").

They were all so good, I couldn't pick a favorite. Or I guess I should say that my favorite was whichever one I happened to be drinking at that moment. Starting from the top and working around clockwise I had:

--Lambic Doux: "The best lambic blended with a top-fermented brown ale, matured in oak barrels (5%)." It tasted very cidery, but no where near as sweet. You still knew you were drinking beer, not alcoholic juice.

--Lambic Blanc: "The only white beer based on lambic, flavored with coriander and dried orange zest (4.5%)." Light, crisp, delicious.

--Kriek: "Slightly sweetened Timmermann's lambic beer (4%)." Cherry-flavored, but again, not overly sweet. Timmermann's is basically the way to go if you want a lambic beer that doesn't have too much sugar.

--Bourgogne des Flandres: I forgot to write down the description, but it's a Flanders-style red ale. Strongest beer-like flavor, but still not hoppy.

I think the lambic beer flight was my favorite thing that I drank on this visit! Just an all around great tour through Timmermann's lambics. Too bad these things are so ridiculously expensive here in the US.

 I swear we hadn't been drinking that much. This was just an awkward photo. I mean, I am always awkward, but you know what I mean.

Here's me and my new friend Julie. I promised her a shout out on the blog, so Julie, this one's for you! Thanks for being so awesome and hanging out with us on my last night in Brussels!

Cheers to new friends! 

And finally, I had one culinary splurge while I was in Brussels. On my first night, Jonathan and I decided to treat ourselves to a good old fashioned Belgian dinner. We visited a place we went the first time I visited (I think it now counts as a tradition), In't Spinnekopke. It may sound Greek, but the menu is pure Belgian.

I had the carbonnade, a beef stewed in beer (foreground). It's served with frites and a small salad. Jonathan had the steak with a mushroom cream sauce, also served with frites, and we pretty much agreed that it was the best sauce EVER. 

 Inside of In't Spinnekopke.

 Did I mention there are creepy puppets hanging all over the wall? I don't know what the hell that is about but it was kind of freaky. Further proof that Europeans are weird.

 Coming up next time: wanderings around Brussels with weekend markets and dinosaur bones! And then: a day in Amsterdam!