The Hungry Diner in Walpole, NH

My family is on an ongoing quest to find great burgers.

We were originally inspired by Shake Shack in NYC, where we shared a single, revelatory burger, eaten standing on the sidewalk on a cold February afternoon. It exploded with beef-salt-cheese umami, and we passed it around until it was gone much too soon.

For a while, Brattle Burger in our hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont, was a decent stand-in for our Shake Shack needs. And the fries at Brattle Burger were far superior. But then... they closed.

Recently we headed north to the Hungry Diner, about 20 minutes away in Walpole, New Hampshire, to try out their burgers.


The Hungry Diner takes farm-to-table very seriously, being founded and owned by a farming couple in the Walpole area. All of the beef, pork, chicken, turkey and eggs served at the diner come from their farm. Produce is also sourced locally as much as possible. The owners both happened to be there on the Friday night we stopped by, so we got to chat a little bit. 

Inside, the diner is a lovely, bright space with blond reclaimed wood and plenty of tables. You order at the counter and go find a seat, then your food is brought to you when ready.

There's also outdoor seating for nice weather, so we picked a picnic table. Cornhole toss and swingsets add to the family-friendly atmosphere.



I am obsessed with pickled foods right now, so had to order the "Pickle Jar" appetizer. This is a rotating assortment of seasonal pickled veggies & fruits. Look, we got pickled GRAPES! There was also that big jalapeno, red onions, beans, and cauliflower in the jar. Fabulous starter to get your digestive juices flowing.




As a teetotaller lately I got a botanical soda--yummy with a unique sweet-bitter taste. My partner's flight of craft beers is behind. The diner has 16 beers on tap.


Now to the burger. IT WAS DELICIOUS. It's 100% local beef, as mentioned, served with pickles, onions, special sauce, lettuce, and friiiiieeeees. The bun was also delightful, with nice substance but not bready. The burger, cheese & sauce made for that rich taste-bomb that I look for in a burger, with just the right balance of cooling pickle and lettuce. I definitely recommend this burger (I ordered the Hungry Burger, $15). They also have Lil Hungry Burgers for kids, that come with a juice box and local milk Soft Serve ice cream. These got thumbs-ups from our younger diners.

My partner ordered a Three Little Pigs, which is a pork burger with bacon and bacon-jam (all local). The ecstatic look on his face while eating told me this is also an excellent choice.

If for some reason you don't want a burger, The Hungry Diner serves mac & cheese, fish & chips (with fish from Maine), a chickenwich, pork or fish tacos, and Korean BBQ Beef Salad with housemade kimchi. I'll add that locally grown food, made from scratch with love and care, is not cheap--but it is SO worth it for a tasty, low-key outing. If you're ever near Walpole, check it out!

Cape Cod Vacation 2018

I once wrote on this blog that we had become the type of New England family that vacations regularly in Maine. We tried various summer spots, including Wells, Old Orchard Beach, and further north near Bath. 

But 3 years ago we switched to New England's OTHER favorite holiday destination: Cape Cod. A family member has access to a roomy house there and we all descend upon it for a week. Here are some snapshots of our time there this year.



"Cape Cod State Flag" framed postcard in the bathroom



Nautical needlepoint in our bedroom



I had my very first Buffalo Cauliflower (this being Cauliflower with Buffalo sauce on it, similar to the famous chicken wings).




I had my required lobster roll—this one is from Arnold's Lobster & Clam Bar in Eastham. If you get a kid's meal there it is served on a frisbee.



Like last year, we hauled our bikes with us and biked part of the Cape Cod Rail Trail (CCRT).



We picked up the CCRT at Nickerson State Park in the town of Brewster, and took it east toward Orleans.


Brewster-Orleans line. It's very dry and pine-y in this area.



We stopped at the Hot Chocolate Sparrow for lunch, then pushed onto get a bit further than we did last year.


On another day I fell into a low-tide reverie. I went far out to where the ankle-deep water was, amongst seaweed and mussel shells and tiny submarine snails undulating slowly in the hypnotic sparkle and lap of the water. 

I got close up to a certain beach rock that, at high tide, was mostly submerged. At low tide it is an encrusted symphony of barnacles and snails.


Closer. 


Closer still. A white peony bed, a surplice riot, a drawer of folded ladies' gloves.



Imagine the gentle swish and sigh of the water around your ankles.




Suspended world of snails and sea vegetables, always in motion.



Back on land, the sun-baked roses perfume the afternoon of summer's first full day.






For those who know Cape Cod as the land of JAWS, we also saw this startling sign on the Atlantic side (we went there to take a look around, not to swim. Good plan.) Note that the sign doesn't say great white sharks feed near Cape Cod, or on this side of Cape Cod. It says great white sharks feed AT THIS BEACH. Shudder!




Have you been to Cape Cod? Ever fallen into a reverie contemplating nature close up... and closer still?

Race Report: 7 Sisters Trail Race

I'm here to tell you about the 7 Sisters Trail Race I did last month (May 5, 2018). Last year it felt like the hardest thing I'd ever done. It took me four and a half hours to run/climb 11 miles back and forth over the Holyoke Range in Massachusetts. This year I ran it again, and cut 15 minutes off my time.

I believe that running a hilly 50k as preparation worked really well. When I was slogging up rocky pitches I would think, "At least this race won't take 7 hours. It'll be over so quickly in only 4+ hours!" I had also added several "vert" training runs up and down local mountains, and these gave me confidence during the race.

May 5 was a gorgeous day for a trail race. It was 60˚ F, breezy and clear.


The trail runs along the tops of the hills in the Holyoke Range. This is just south of East Hadley in Massachusetts.



The race started at the far Eastern point, ran up and down over 400 hills (well, see elevation for actual profile), then turned around and did the whole thing in reverse. I swear it's steeper going back. (Those two long downhills at mile 1.5 and mile 4 are now UPhills on the return.)



Now and then there were beautiful prospects of New England in the springtime.



Look at these cool rocks! This is the trail, by the way. 



An exciting landmark of the race is the Summit House, which is in Skinner State Park. The race course goes right up the steps, across the deck, and down steps on the other side to plunge downhill for about a mile to the turnaround. 


View from Summit House, Skinner State Park
So how did it go though? I felt pretty good during the whole race. Strong. Persistent. I wasn't FAST, but I was proud of my accomplishment. I didn't have to just stop and breathe like I did last year. I kept moving as much as I could. 

Around mile 9 when I was toiling up another hill, a white-haired guy caught up and said "How's it going?" I said, "Well, I decided that SLOW is better than NO." He laughed. I asked, "And how about you?" "My son has probably already finished--he was way ahead of me. I'm getting by with the mantras people tell me, including yours." Then he trotted off ahead of me.

SLOW is better than NO. One foot in front of the other. Just keep moving. 

And now I'm in search of the next hard thing. In my mind, this one has been tamed.


Parting shot—trailside object.

A visit to MASS MoCA: Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art



MASS MoCA is a treasure of post-industrial western Massachusetts. The brick factory buildings in North Adams were once a print works, then an electrical component manufacturer (1942-1985), and since 1986 they've become a complex of galleries devoted to contemporary art, some at large scale. MASS MoCA also has performing arts—Blondie will be playing this summer, for example.





How can I describe my recent visit to MASS MoCA? Let's imagine I had an undiagnosed nutrient deficiency. I harbored a deep inner lack that I was not aware needed filling. I dragged myself through my days, not knowing or caring as my life essence silently ebbed.




And let's say that the museum was a copious buffet of rich, nourishing, delicious food. In this metaphor, I came away from MASS MoCA with my face smeared in triple chocolate cake, my hands sticky with marmalade, my clothes stained by grilled meats rubbed with exotic spices, and my belly full of crisp greens & lemony dressing, stinky soft cheeses, a single yet exquisite daikon radish slice, crisp falafel with 5-alarm hot sauce, small-batch lactofermented pickles, all sluiced down with Lipton iced tea made from powder—the beverage of my childhood. I came away feeling deeply fulfilled, bodily intrigued, and even a little jealous that I had been missing this multi-sensory feast so close to home.


Each exhibit gets its own brochure



















It had been a long time since I'd visited a proper museum. I experienced several realizations.






One of these realizations is that art depends on each person's unique interaction with the work. The quirks and interests and experiences that make up your self merge with the artist's expression to become the "art." It is important to be there and to experience it in person.... which is why it's hard to write a blog post about it. It reminds me of the perfume reviews that I sometimes watch on Youtube. You can hear about the notes of the scent and how much the reviewer likes it, but without the scent IN YOUR NOSE it's just an empty nod to the reality.


Cosmic Latte, Spencer Finch






























Another realization I had is that contemporary art is SO COOL. It made me think, it made me uncomfortable, it made me happy, it made me feel alive.
































It gave me new obsessions, like the artists Liz Glynn and Sam McKinniss, who I am now stalking on social and print media. Liz Glynn has some talks about her work on youtube, and is coming to MASS MoCA in person in August—I want to go! Sam McKinniss writes reviews in ArtForum—this one on Grant Wood is so good.































Sam McKinniss portrait of Lana del Rey, part of "The Lure of the Dark" exhibition




A view of Liz Glynn's 30,000 square foot installation called "The Archaeology of Another Possible Future." I LOVED THIS. We visited it twice.































Detail—this is an "analog cave" about smell. Each ceramic vessel contains a scent.































Detail of Liz Glynn installation, positioned near shipping containers envisioning global economy in transition

There was an interactive music exhibit. The late Gunnar Schonbeck was a remarkable music professor at Bennington College who essentially believed that any object can be an instrument, and anyone can pick up and play. The exhibit dedicated to his work contained instruments he and his students made from wood, boxes, metal and plastic pipes and tubes, barrels, racks, air-pumps, and lots more. It was hands-on so created a wonderful musical racket depending on how many people were in the room at a time.



No photos allowed in the James Turrell exhibition "Into the Light." He explores the nature of light and the limited yet flexible abilities of the human eye. Light-room installations played with perspective, dark, and the light spectrum in a confusing, illuminating way.Go to MASS MoCA if you can!! I still can't believe it's so close to my home (about an hour's drive).

Race Report: Runamuck 50k, Pomfret VT


My 50k day dawned bright and snowy. There had been an April storm the day before, and as I drove north to Pomfret, Vermont, every branch and twig was delicately outlined with snow.

A 50k is 31 miles long, and it's the shortest typical ultramarathon distance. (Technically anything over 26.2 miles could be an ultramarathon, but events often seem to be 50k, 50 miles, 100k, or 100 miles.) Here is where I note that I have run the distance before, twice, as part of the Hamsterwheel 6-hour race both in 2015 and 2016. But I wanted a real 50k to my name, so I chose the Runamuck 50k so I could get it done early in the season.

Runamuck start-finish is at the Suicide Six ski area


The first silver lining of my race came right away, when the Race Director suggested I get started about an hour early, along with two other runners who were there and ready to go. I was grateful to not have to wait for many minutes in the snowy parking lot. The RD noted our bib numbers and the time (7:13 am), and we were off.

There seemed to be about 4 inches of snow once we turned off the paved road and onto the back roads where we'd spend most of our running time. The roads had not been plowed, so we ran in vehicle tracks when they were there, and ran in others' footprints when there were no tracks yet. (A few more runners had started even earlier than we did.)

I had studied the course elevation profile, so I knew there was going to be a big ole hill every 10 kilometers or so. My preferred ultramarathon method is to walk up hills and run down them (as well as running anything close to flat). I hardly noticed the first hill, as I was chatting away with my fellow runners. One was a serial marathoner/ultramarathoner who had flown in from California the day before and slept in his rental car in the race parking lot. He planned to drive to Rhode Island as soon as he was done, to sleep in his car again and run a marathon the next day.

My other companion was a 71-year old Endurance Society member who told me stories of the 10-day 888k event that the group puts on every year, as well as their other insanely difficult events. We figured out that we'd been in the same race two years before, the West River Trail Run, and that we'd cross paths again in early May at the 7 Sisters Trail Race, 2018 edition.

Eventually though, we each settled into different paces, and from there I ran alone.



Around mile 11 I passed an unmanned aid station: a table loaded with fruit, sandwiches, candy, and water, like a nutrient-dense Easter buffet had appeared by the road. I began hill #2 after that, and the frontrunners who had started the race around 8:15 am finally caught up and passed me. I was passed for the rest of the day, and sometimes felt like telling runners, "Don't worry! I'm already an hour behind you!"

The first half marathon of the race (13ish miles) was very pleasant. I felt fine, it was sunny, the sky was a brilliant blue, Vermont was idyllic, and the mid-30s temperature made for perfect running weather. But at the beginning of the third big hill, my stomach felt a little off. (Confession: I made a classic race-day error and tried a new energy chew flavor. I stopped eating them as soon as I figured out they weren't sitting well.) I again slowed to a walk and concentrated on eating a fruit & nut bar to get some real food. This hill was very steep and seemed to last forever, but by the time I got to the top my stomach felt solid again and didn't bother me the rest of the way.

I was now around mile 19-20 and the course had an out-and-back section where I got to see a lot of other runners as we passed each other. As I got closer to the turnaround point the returning runners kindly pointed out where it was (at the top of a small hill, naturally). Next the course went down hill again, and I discovered my knees no longer appreciated any speed on a downward grade. I experienced sharp knee aches, but only if I was running—walking downhill was fine. So now my hill plan consisted of walking both up hills and down hills, which felt very slow.

The last big uphill was winding but not super-steep. I got out my iPod and walked and walked. And when I got to the top, I walked and walked down the other side. At this point the route connected back up to the first section of the course, so the last 7 miles or so of the race I was retracing my steps back to the starting point. The main thing I noticed about this section was that it seemed MUCH longer than it had been hours before. I had not even noticed 2-3 miles of flat, extremely boring pavement at the beginning of the race, and these became the last thing I had to tackle before I could claim my 50k finish. I'm proud to say that I did run most of the way, resorting to tricks like not looking at my watch until it beeped to indicate I'd gone another mile, or counting my steps from 1 to 28 over and over and over again (I call this "moon counting" and I've done it for years, I don't know why), or assigning myself to run to a certain landmark before I took a small walk-break. This section lasted approximately 300 years.

The second silver lining came at the end of the race, thanks to GPS being somewhat inaccurate. I think it has something to do with the frequency of the satellite communication, or maybe it's tree cover, but my GPS watch was showing about a mile less than the actual course length. (This is not uncommon, especially in trail running.) So when I thought I had another long boring mile to slog through... it turned out that the finish was around the very next corner. YAY!! It took me just over 7 hours.

Final thoughts:

Many point out that the main part of any race is the training you do beforehand. One particular long run that I did on February 25 turned out to be the perfect training experience for my actual 50k. I journaled about it that day: "Today's run was supposed to be 16 miles but I only got in 13—and it took me 3 hours. It was literally a slog with rain, unplowed roads (I ran in vehicle tracks), and feeling very very unmotivated. I decided some runs are for speed, or vert [elevation], or strength, or time, and some runs are just putting up with SHIT for hours on end, because race day will have a level of shit at some point. I walked up a hill for about 1.5 miles at one point just because I was mad at the road I'd already run. I just had to keep moving. I refused to give up, but I hated where I was running. So if my 50k has me taking 3 hours to run a half marathon... or even less distance... that will be OK. That's what I practiced today."

Thank goodness for that crappy run back in February, because when race day came, with all the snow and hill walking, it was something I'd already grappled with and conquered. That frozen, nasty run came to mind several times during the race, and I felt confident that because I'd gotten through that day, I could certainly get through a much nicer day.

Also, the 50k is not my final goal for this training cycle. I consider it a training run for the upcoming 7 Sisters Trail Race in a few weeks. For all of the climbing and descending that I did over 31 miles—about 3400 feet of elevation—the 7 Sisters will be even more climbing over just 12 miles. When that day comes on May 5... I'll be ready to hearken back to my snowy, steady day on the back roads of Pomfret, Vermont. PREVAILING.

A big Vermont thank you to the race organizers and volunteers--the local vibe of the Runamuck is delightful, and the course was gorgeous and serious. I loved the snow and could not have asked for a better first 50k experience.

My knees were fine, by the way. They never hurt again after I stopped trying to run downhill. I experienced sore calves and quads for a few days after the race, and was super hungry for about a week. Now I've switched over to trail running with lots of vertical, to fine-tune for the 7 Sisters. I'll let you know how it goes! Goal A: Beat last year's time of ~4:30:00!

A Year of Turning Inward

This year of 2017 has been interesting. I've made changes in how I live my life, and am very much "settling down." A direct result of this inward work is that I don't blog that often--I just haven't felt like sharing, or haven't felt like writing because that's what I do every day at work. But I do want to check in and mark the turning of the year, and recap a little bit of what 2017 has held. I'd love to hear from you too, whether in the comments here or in person!

I quit a lot of things.

 

I quit using Facebook. I still check occasionally for postings in groups that I'm a member of, but I no longer post on my page or read through my feed.

I quit coloring my hair. (Well, I quit asking my stylist to color it.) I want to see what my hair really looks like. Turns out it is brown with a touch of gray (kind of suits me anyway).

I quit drinking alcohol. This is a long story, but the short version is that drinking was making me feel bad about myself. I'd been struggling for several years with a deep-seated urge to stop, but it was harder than I imagined. I finally figured out the tools I needed to make it happen for longer than about a week. I quit on July 31, 2017.

I quit wearing contact lenses. (I still wear them to run, but then I take them out again.) I have a cute pair of purpley-pink glasses that go much better with who I think I am.

I quit going to therapy. This just happened a few weeks ago. Having a therapist was helpful for a time, but I'm looking forward to trying other things in 2018.

I quit subscribing to makeup kits. I love them, but I don't need all the stuff.

I also tried some new things.


I went on my first retreat. Wilder was all the things I love--writing, running, and eating good food, plus exciting challenges like meeting a personal hero (Lauren Fleshman!!!), making new friends (I am shy and seem to be getting more shy), sharing my writing out loud, and yoga. So so cool.

I visited Vancouver Island for the first time! Being half Canadian and having family living there, it was really ABOUT TIME.

I took up nail art as a hobby. Oddly, this has been a nice substitute for a glass of wine--it's calming and pointless.

I moved out of my office at work. This just happened recently, but I love changing things up sometimes and rewiring my brain as a result. I now sit with a small group of people in a bright, open spot and can actually see outside from my desk.

I tried yoga. After meeting Erin Taylor at Wilder, a yoga instructor who specializes in yoga for runners, I subscribed to her online site Jasyoga and I'm trying to keep up with it when I can. Next goal: attend a real-live class where I live.

I'm trying out Writer's Oasis. Another jewel from Wilder was working with Jennifer Louden, a marvelous writing teacher. But she's much more, offering coaching and tools for self-discovery through a weekly call and a lively website that I've been sampling for the month of December (thanks to Jen's generous offer to anyone who wanted to try it out!). So far the calls alone have been incredibly helpful and inviting, both for writing and for working on my inner self, which is something I want to do more in 2018.

Last of all. I READ 30 BOOKS!


I track my books on Goodreads, and you can see in these yearly stats that after my son's birth in 2010, my reading took a bit of a hit. (I used to read about a book a week.) But now I'm back, baby!!



30 books makes a nice grid—here is a screenshot of all of them, from Ariel Levy's The Rules Do Not Apply that I finished last Sunday, all the way back to Tad Friend's Cheerful Money that I finished in early January 2017.

It is no coincidence that only 8 of these books are by men. In fact I have only read books by women since June. I figure that men have had their say, and I'm tired of hearing it. Let someone else talk for a change, jeez!

Memoirs: Rosie Schapp, Carrie Brownstein, Debra Gwartney, Sarah Payne Stuart, Madhur Jaffrey, Patti Smith, Moira Hodgson, Anjelica Huston, Cat Marnell, Christine Vachon, Viv Albertine, Jen Agg, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (actually her collected writings, not quite a memoir), Glennon Doyle Melton, Ariel Levy

Biographies: Margaret Wise Brown, Blanche Knopf

Women writing about their parents: A.M. Homes, Francine du Plessix Gray

Happy New Year to you!

Build-a-Bowl Chicken Noodle Soup

A brisk day in late autumn. The leaves fell and were raked away long ago. A few snowflakes have been spotted. A huge container of mittens and hats and scarves sits by the front door, waiting to be decanted into the Hat Basket for easy access all winter long. Jacket weather is gone but I still refuse to wear my winter coat... not yet.

It's a chicken noodle soup kind of day.

I realize that my cooking legacy to my children may not be teaching them in person in our home kitchen. It might instead be this blog. Here is where I record my recipes and tips and tricks. I hope the Internet is still working when my children want to look up what I wrote. (I love you, future-children!)

My main trick for this soup is to cook the noodles separately. This makes the soup less starchy overall, and helps the noodles stay more intact. To serve, I "build" the soup by spooning the hot liquid part over the cooked noodles, mixing them right in each bowl.

Ingredients:

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped or minced or crushed
2 breasts of chicken, cubed
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 box chicken broth (32 ounces)
pinches of oregano, thyme, basil and/or sage
1/2 cup frozen green peas
6 ounces egg noodles (half of a 12-ounce bag)

Directions:

1. Heat butter and olive oil together in large Dutch oven. Add onion and sauté.

 



2. Add cubed chicken and stir until mostly cooked (white) on all sides, about 5 minutes.





3. Add 1 clove of the minced garlic, and all of the celery. Stir together for another few minutes.





4. Add carrots and broth. Bring to a simmer.



5. Add herbs. Simmer for 20 minutes until carrot pieces have started to soften.

6. MEANWHILE, start heating a large pot of water for the egg noodles.

7. Add frozen peas to chicken soup. It can hold and simmer for as long as needed while the noodles are cooking.




8.  When noodle water boils, add salt and then noodles. Follow directions on package to cook (boil about 9-11 minutes).
 
9. Drain noodles in colander and toss with some olive oil to prevent sticking. Keep in colander until ready to serve (can cover with a lid).




10. Add the second garlic clove to the almost-finished soup. (This allows a fuller spectrum of garlic compounds, because the second clove will not get cooked as much.)


11. When you're ready, build each bowl by starting with a serving of noodles.




12. Ladle the soup on top and you're done!



This method lets the broth keep a consommé-like clarity, as it is not gummed up with starch from the noodles. It tastes light and veg-forward. However if you like a thicker soup, you can cook the noodles right in the soup by adding them at around Step 7 above.

This also makes great turkey soup, ideal for post-Thanksgiving. Just leave out the chicken, and instead add chunks of cooked turkey when you put in the broth.

Happy December!