Santa Cruz, California

I had been home for 2 weeks without going somewhere more than 30 miles away and I was beginning to itch, so I went to see my friend J.S. in the Bay Area. Instead of driving, I took the Megabus, which has new, comfortable, reliable buses to San Francisco (and Sacramento) starting at $1 each way. The trip took 4.5 hours, one hour longer than driving, but it was totally worth it as I could relax, listen to music, and read a book. Upon my arrival we went to the Japanese restaurant B-Dama where I had a sea bass with a delicate sake lees sauce. Then off to a cheesecake place for dessert.

The next day we drove to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, the oldest state park in California, but on the way we stopped at a Persian restaurant in Saratoga to grab a sandwich and some baklava. I love going to the Bay Area to see all the diversity. In Reno I am probably the only foreigner for miles.

The hike to Berry Creek Falls and back took 4.5 hours. We started at the Skyline to the Sea trail to the waterfall and took the Sunset trail back. Definitely the way to do it since most of the time it was an easy downhill. The map says this is supposed to be a strenuous hike, but I think even my mom could do this one. Besides the obvious tall redwood trees, the best part of the trail are the little yellow banana slugs. So cute.

After our hike we had some wine at Soif in Santa Cruz. I tasted a couple of their organic wines and had some manchego cheese and membrillo (quince paste), which reminded J.S. and I of the time we spent in Spain.

The next morning was raining in Santa Cruz. A couple of weeks ago my yoga instructor asked the class who didn’t like rain: I was the only one who raised the hand. She then said we have no control of the rain, so the only thing we could do is love it or hate it. In Santa Cruz I decided to love it. The fog and the mist lent a whimsical feel to the town and I felt relaxed and inspired. It was a welcoming break from the hot weather and non-stop days I had been experiencing in Reno. Speaking of Reno, I took the bus back and felt so hippiesh. There is something about taking a trip on a bus or a train with a backpack that just yells freedom. It helped that I was reading The Quiet American which also reminded me of all my free-spirited adventures in Vietnam.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

Mori Point

Mori Point on our way to San Francisco

Ps.: I forgot to mention one more thing – the Lobster Roll from Sam’s Chowder House. It is one of the Top 5 Sandwiches reviewed by the Today Show. Just toasted bread, lots of lobster, and melted butter. No mayo!

Certainly in my Top 5 sandwiches too

Certainly in my Top 5 sandwiches too

Bacalhau – Fresh Cod Fish with Vegetables

This is a twist on a family recipe. Bacalhau is a traditional Portuguese dish served on special occasions like Easter and Christmas, but it’s made with salted dried cod-fish, which I don’t really like. My mom taught me last year to use fresh cod fish instead, and it turned out better than the original recipe. This last week I had K.T. over to try it since this is a gluten free dish with organic vegetables. I think it passed the test, but next time I will add less olive oil so the fish is not floating in it – the recipe below has been adjusted.

A taste of home. Only better.

A taste of home. Only better.

Bacalhau – Fresh Cod Fish with Vegetables

First Part:

  • 1 lb. fresh cod
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ onion (chopped)
  • 3 cloves garlic (minced)
  • ½ bunch cilantro (chopped)
  • 3 green onions (chopped)
  • ¼ cup olive oil

Put all ingredients together in a dish and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator.

Second Part:

  • 2 bell peppers (of different colors – sliced)
  • 2 tomatoes (sliced)
  • 2 potatoes (sliced)
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs (sliced)
  • ½ can green olives (pitted)
  • ¼ cup olive oil

Put all ingredients in the dish with the cod fish, cover with foil, and bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. Serve with rice, more olive oil, and vinho verde.

Calories: 350 calories per serving (without the rice, wine and extra olive oil). This recipe makes 4 servings.

My first Half-Marathon

Wow, six months before I had done my first official 5k, and now I had just signed up for a half marathon! I had to go all out for it so I picked the Las Vegas Rock and Roll Half Marathon on 12/02/12. Besides being the most expensive race in the country, it is on the Las Vegas strip at night. I don’t even care how much money it cost me as long as I don’t have to wake up early for a race!

As part of my training, I subscribed to the magazine Women’s Running and started to follow a training plan from one of their issues. The half-marathon plan seemed too easy, with long runs of only 7 or 8 miles, so I decided to follow their full marathon plan up to the point where it got to 13 miles. I was training 3 or 4 times a week, increasing my mileage carefully, and doing yoga twice a week for cross-training. Everything was going really well and a run didn’t even seem like a workout anymore unless it was longer than 6 miles. Most of the times I would run in Reno, either at Iddlewild with M.H. or near my house, but sometimes I would go to Carson and jog with J.W. who was also signed up for the Las Vegas Half. After I reached 13 miles a couple of times, I was very confident and started to slow down.

Two days before the race, the days were getting too short and I went to a gym to run on a treadmill after the sun went down, something I hadn’t done in over a year. After mile 3, my right hip began to hurt so I stopped. I thought, “Hmm, a quick 3 mile jog can’t do any damage”. The next day, I could barely move my leg. My hip flexor was in excruciating pain and I had to lift my right leg with my arms to get up or get in or out of the car. I drove to Las Vegas like this, but I was in denial, pretending nothing was wrong.

The day of the race my leg was a little better, but I still had limited movement. I had gotten all the way there and nothing would stop me now. I ate tons of pizza and off I went. The race course begins at the Luxor and goes thru the strip, then to Freemont strip until it reaches a ghetto part of Vegas and turns around to finish near The Mirage. It’s a fun course with bands along the way and tons of people cheering for you. Over 20,000 people run this half-marathon, but I thought the race was very organized and everything just flowed. I ended up running my first half-marathon in 2h30m21s (11:29 min/mile). Crossing the finishing line was exhilarating and my runner’s high lasted all night long. I couldn’t stop eating, talking, or smiling.

My leg got worse again the next day, but by that time I didn’t care anymore. I went to the doctor’s and even to the chiropractor for months. I wouldn’t be able to run again for another 8 weeks. No problem at all: I had done something I never thought possible, and I didn’t mind the forced rest. Plus, my injury gave me an excuse to go to yoga every single day.

I totally understand why half-marathons are the fastest growing races in the US. It is very challenging, but not impossible, time-consuming yet fun. A marathon is too long and difficult to train for and a 10k most of the time doesn’t even require training or feel like a work-out. I can’t wait to do a half-marathon again, but it’s so difficult to find a race at night…

Hiking in Reno/Tahoe

This past spring I joined a hiking group because I wanted to learn about new hikes in the area. I had done Mt. Tallac and Mt. Rose a few times before, but those trails were the only ones I was familiar with and I needed something new. My sense of direction, or lack thereof, prevented me from going on my own, and although I had joined a Meet Up hiking group before, I never went because I didn’t have the motivation to wake up early on a weekend. That’s until I saw an e-mail from Achieve Fitness. For $250, a leader would show us a new hiking trail every week, for 12 weeks. Money I didn’t want to lose: I had found my motivation.

As expected, the best hikes were in Tahoe, not Reno. Most of them were good training for the Yosemite trip I’ll do next week, but probably the only one I would do again and again would be Christopher’s Loop because of the easy to follow path and the nice views of Sand Harbor.

Rancho San Rafael: easy hike right in downtown Reno.

Hunter Creek: ends at a waterfall, but hike itself is very blah.

Jones Creek: near my house, lots of switchbacks, which is good for training, but I feel I would get lost easily on my own.

Peavine: right in Reno, very challenging steep terrain. Not worth it for the view.

Loch Leven Lake: off Hwy 80, beautiful set of lakes but very difficult to find the trail. I would never do it on my own, especially because someone from our group fell on the slick granite and had to be evacuated by helicopter.

Christopher’s Loop: beautiful scenic loop, but long with lots of bikers up to Twin Lakes. Trail was covered in snow in May.

Tahoe Rim Trail from Tahoe City to Brockway Point: uneventful since it doesn’t lead to a peak but with beautiful views along the way. Just turn around when you get bored.

Granite Chief: trail starts at Squaw Valley. Nice, but we didn’t make it to the peak because of the snow. I might try again in the fall. It was my birthday hike and the wildflowers were beautiful.

Mt. Tallac through Lake Gilmore: one of my all-time favorite hikes, so I went on my own and took Slick to Lake Gilmore. The trail to the top was still covered in snow mid-June.

Spooner to Marlette Lake: good short hike, but always too many mosquitoes. They have a trail for bikers and a trail for hikers, so it is a nice one for dogs to be off leash.

5-minute Swiss Chard with Parmesan

My organic basket from last week also had swiss chard. I remember hating it as a child (or even as an adult) and I waited a whole week until I finally decided to cook it. I didn’t even invite anyone else for dinner that night because I was sure no one in the world was crazy enough to like swiss chard.

I looked up online an easy recipe and came upon something called a 3-minute swiss chard. Patience is not a virtue I possess so this recipe sounded great. It even had a little blurb about how this vegetable is a super food like spinach, rich in nutrients like vitamins and antioxidants, and blah, blah, blah… I’m sure I’ll hate it anyway.

Besides waiting for the water the boil, this recipe was pretty simple and used ingredients I always have at home. Actually, of course, I didn’t have everything: no olives or feta cheese that day, but then I just added what I had in the fridge – onion and parmesan cheese. Wow, I’m starting to make my own recipes now!

Surprise, surprise: this dish was one of the tastiest things I had in a while! So glad I hadn’t invited anyone over. I ate the whole thing in one seating.

My new favorite vegetable: Swiss Chard

My new favorite vegetable: Swiss Chard

5-minute Swiss Chard with Parmesan Cheese

  • 1 bunch of swiss chard (chopped, but without thick parts of the stem)
  • 3 cloves of garlic (minced)
  • ½ medium red onion (chopped)
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • 3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Boil lots of water in a pot. Once it’s at a rapid boil, add the swiss chard. Do not cover. After 3 minutes, drain the water with a colander.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the onion for about a minute until it’s translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds. Add the boiled swiss chard and sauté everything for a minute.

Stir in lime juice and parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Calories: 400, but this recipe should serve 2 people.

My first 10k race

And so I kept running… even when I was in Cambodia.

Running path in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Running path in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Well, I did take July of 2012 off because it is just impossible to run in India with all that cow poop on the street, but when I came back, I jumped right into it and signed up for my first 10k. I had just bought a house and there was a race coming up in my brand new neighborhood that actually went right past my street. I thought it would be a great way to celebrate my new life and invite some friends for a pre-house warming party after the race. I wasn’t just going to be tired and smelly by myself though: I made them sign up for the race as well! S.L and B.S. did the 5k, I did the 10k with J.W., and M.H. did the half-marathon.

Of course I arrived only 2 minutes before the race started, but I made it on time. The first and the last miles were a little difficult because they were uphill, but everything in between was a blast. I was in the middle of the pack and after a while I got separated from the group and got a little lost. It was a small race and the signs were lacking on directions. I waited a couple of minutes for someone to pass me and then I just followed that person. If it wasn’t for that, I could’ve finished the race even faster than my 1h06m13s (10:40/mile).

With S.L. and B.S. before the race

With S.L. and B.S. before the race

With J.W. and Slick after the race

With J.W. and Slick after the race

After, everybody came to my new home for breakfast: mimosas and banana-nut muffins. I guess morning races are not so bad after all.

Skydiving in Sacramento, California

For my 29th birthday I went skydiving in Sacramento. Yay! Of course the freefall was super thrilling, but my favorite part was when the parachute opened and we just peacefully glided. It was so quiet and beautiful!

It’s crazy to think I jumped out of a perfectly functioning airplane 12,000 feet above ground. The first couple of minutes are very loud and windy, but you’re so excited you don’t have time to feel anything, not even fear or cold. Then you just float for about 8 minutes until you reach the ground. I want to do it again, but don’t worry Mom, it was very expensive so I think I’ll pass.

Gluten-free Mint Chocolate Cake with Frosting

This past Easter, when I went to Boston, I had a gluten free chocolate cake that tasted awesome. First of all, I don’t even like chocolate cakes because they are dry and don’t even taste like chocolate. I prefer brownies… But this one was just like an oversized Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookie and I just couldn’t believe the main ingredient was black beans!

The lady who had made it got the recipe from this Healthy Indulgences website. It took me a couple of times to make a good one. For the first one I used Splenda. Argh. Horrible aftertaste. Then for the second time I decided I didn’t need to be that healthy. I have a few friends who are gluten free, so it is always good to have a dessert they will be able to enjoy. When I made it for my birthday, it turned out so good there wasn’t even a piece left. It is just a really nice moist minty cake with no hint of black beans whatsoever.

Who knew black beans could make a tasty dessert?

Who knew black beans could make a tasty dessert?

Gluten-free Mint Chocolate Cake

  • 1 can of unseasoned black beans (15 oz)
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons mint extract (actually I probably put more as the little bottle fell in. Oops)
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 and ¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 9” cake pan with olive oil or grease it with butter. Dust cocoa all over inside the pan, tapping evenly to distribute.

Drain and rinse beans in a strainer or colander. Place beans, 3 of the eggs, vanilla, mint, and salt into blender. Blend on high until beans are completely liquefied.

Beat butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add 2 eggs, beating for a minute after each addition.

Pour bean batter into egg/butter/sugar mixture and mix them all together.

Whisk together cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder. Slowly add this to the main mixture. Beat the batter until smooth. (First, make sure the cocoa is all incorporated into the batter otherwise you’ll have the powder all over your face like I did).

Scrape batter into pan and smooth the top. Grip pan firmly by the edges and rap it on the counter a few times to pop any air bubbles.

Bake for 45 minutes (well, in high altitude it took one hour…) Cake is done when the top is rounded and firm to the touch. After 10 minutes, take the cake from the pan and let it cool. Cover it with plastic wrap and leave it in the refrigerator for 8 hours.

This recipe makes just one layer.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons half and half or coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of sea salt

Cream the butter until fluffy. Stir sugar into butter with a spatula, then beat until smooth. Slowly blend in the cocoa powder, vanilla, and sea salt. Makes enough to frost the one layer of the chocolate cake recipe.

Calories: 450 per slice for both cake and frosting. Makes 8 slices.

I need to go make one NOW!

I need to go make one NOW!

My first official 5k race

Alright, here’s the story of my first official 5k. In 2012 I made two New Year’s resolutions: go to yoga at least 8 times a month and run a total of at least 26.2 miles a month. I am glad to inform you that not only I met my goals, but I’ve exceeded them totaling 101 yoga classes throughout the year (average of 8.4/month) and 448 miles (average of 37.3 miles/month).

It did take me 6 months to try another race again. Throughout that period I discovered new places to run in Carson City (the park by the river) while still driving to Reno to go to my favorite spot at Iddlewild Park. Slick was a great motivator for my 3-4 miles runs and once I reached the 10k mark (6.2 miles), I knew I was ready to try a 5k again.


Slick by the running path in Carson City


River by Iddlewild Park in Reno

River by Iddlewild Park in Reno

I chose the 5th Annual Rock-N-River Race in Reno on May 6th, 2012 which begins under the Reno Arch downtown and runs through Iddlewild Park. Perfect! My brother’s girlfriend went there to hold my stuff and cheer me up and it actually made it very special to have sort of a family member there for me. At the end of the race I also saw two friends who had run the 10k and the half-marathon; it was fun to share my excitement with them as well. Since I had been running over 3 miles for a while, the race was relatively easy. I completed my run in 30 minutes 53 seconds, which is less than a 10 min/mile. For me, that’s pretty good since all I wanted to do is complete the race. The sense of accomplishment inspired me to keep running. The more you run, the easier it gets (as long as you don’t get an injury along the way.) However, I’m still not a morning person, so I never signed up for a 5k race ever again.

My brother's girlfriend V.F. and I after my first official 5k in Reno

My brother’s girlfriend V.F. and I after my first official 5k in Reno

My friend J.W. who ran the 10k that same day. We finished almost at the same time even though his race was longer.

My friend J.W. who ran the 10k that same day. We finished almost at the same time even though his race was longer.

Houston, Texas

I wasn’t going to write about my trip to Houston because I went there to go to a baby shower, not to go sightseeing, but I think some of it does pertain to this blog as it relates to running. My new thing is to run a few miles in every big city I travel to. I’m not being very consistent though… I did jog in San Francisco, but not in Portland, etc. Well, in Houston I was determined to go for a quick jog so my friend’s husband dropped me off at Memorial Park. It’s one of the largest urban parks in the country, and I felt at home sharing that spaced with so many joggers, although it was no Central Park. After ½ mile I saw some dogs in kennels and I stopped by thinking it was an adoption fair from the Humane Society. Instead, it was a “run, jog, or walk a dog” day from Friends for Life, a No Kill Shelter. Once a month they have the “Running 4 Home” program at Memorial Park where anyone can take the shelter dogs for some exercise. I just had to do it. I picked a dog that looked like my Slick, signed some paperwork and left my expensive sunglasses as collateral. The pup was a little old and overweight and could not run, but I was more than happy to walk/jog with her. What a great idea! It just made my day (although the high tea baby shower I went to later was pretty awesome too).

Baby Shower in Houston

Baby Shower in Houston