Category Archives: Tips

In a Pickle

I get inspired by food in various ways. Sometimes travel will inspire my path of meals and recipes, like my recent trip back to Santa Fe. A visit to a local farmer’s market is always great for inspiration, with their abundance of fresh and healthy ingredients. Other times I will find inspiration online, through a plethora of food sites, blogs and recipes.

growing fresh vegetables in your garden taste great!

Red Jalapeños simply have spent more time in the sun than their green amigos.

But what inspires me most often, is what I already have on hand. Whether that be in the pantry, the fridge or in my own front yard, I try and maintain a fair amount of food staples at the ready. The ability to have choices allows for a more creative kitchen and table. Usually I will sit down over the weekend and ‘guestimate’ what we may have for meals the rest of the week. Depending on the season and weather, that will have the biggest influence on what get’s cookin’.

For example, if it’s 90 degrees outside (and therefore at least 80 degrees inside), the last thing I want to do is turn on my oven. A braise? No way. Casserole? Uh uh. And please, I love salads, but I usually don’t feel satisfied making an entire dinner out of one. And if you have kids in the house, you pretty much know this will never fly. A stove top or outdoor grill is always a good solution.

The New Mexican image for Peppers

Creative Pepper Placement is Phun!

But back to the inspiration part. Last week I was putzing in my very modest garden, the last couple weeks of summer coming to an end, the produce following suit. The remainder of our ‘bounty’ was limited to a few bits of arugula, and some jalapeño peppers. I grew jalapeños this year because it is one of the few peppers that I can actually grow with some success here along the Central Coast.

With all past attempts at cultivating bell peppers, poblanos and various other types of caspius here, it’s just not hot enough for an extended season to get those babies to bust out. They start with the proper growth, blossoms and hearty stocks, then the peppers start to come in, and…

They just never get any bigger. Like they just got tired and gave up. So I gave up too. But jalapeños like it here. And I like them, so it’s been a good match.

However, my use of these little guys hasn’t really been all that, well, here’s the word again: inspiring. They fought so hard just to make themselves big and strong in my little garden, and all I was doing was dicing them up in guacamole. Or slicing a few in a quesadilla. Quite frankly, I think they were a little hurt. Yes, I have a strange relationship with food, I know this. I honestly believe food has a soul, especially food that is grown from the earth, with sun, water and nourishment. Vegetables have souls; yes. Yes, they do.

Last month when I went back to Santa Fe, one of my girlfriends brought over a jar of homemade bread and butter pickles, which she made from my recipe (which I can’t find right now, but I’ll make a post of it later, I promise). Basically, it’s vinegar, pickling spice, sugar, some oil and not much else. Kirby cucumbers are sliced in nice size chunks, the vinegar and spices are brought to a boil, then the chunks of cucumbers are packed tightly in a few mason jars, and the hot liquid goes inside for the ride. After a few days, you have sweet, tangy pickles.

Well, kirby cucumber season is long gone, but I’ve got some cute little jalapeños that might like a vinegar bath, so I gave it a shot. Since I had only a meager pound of peppers (which would hopefully be pickled perfectly), I threw in some carrots and onions too. If I had some fresh cauliflower laying around, I would have put some of those florets in the mix as well.

The recipe came together in about 15 minutes. And no, I didn’t bother with the whole canning process because honestly, for 2 jars of the stuff, I figured the sheer amount of acid from the vinegar and the refrigeration would ward off any spoilage for a couple of months.

I tasted the recipe after a couple days in the fridge. Meh. I was disappointed. Not much flavor from the pickling spice came through; the vinegar was really overpowering and hadn’t mellowed like I had hoped. Boo. I promptly placed the jar back in the cooler and forgot about it until today.

What a difference a week makes. Wow.

I was rummaging through the icebox this afternoon, trying to throw a quick lunch together while watching some football, when I spotted the jars. I knew I had some whole wheat tortillas and some good queso fresco in house, so I whipped up a batch of quesadillas.

I simply took out a few of the peppers, some carrots and onions, diced them all up and threw them into the tortillas with the cheese. As they seared in the pan, I dug my fingers back into the jar, plucked out a pepper and tasted.

The vinegar had mellowed as I had hoped. It now blended with the pickling spices to create an earthy yet bold hit. The heat from the jalapeños were serious, and they had spread their joy to the carrots and onions. This was a hit!

pickling spice, vinegar and love

You can throw this recipe together while drinking beer and watching football. Score!

I can think of many great ways to serve this condiment. Throw some in a bowl the next time you make an antipasti platter. Tuck a few of these spicy treats in a panini before your grill it. Top your favorite burger or roast beef sandwich with a scattering of these delectable delights. Nachos? Oh yes. Jazz up a cheese pizza. Sprinkle some into your next batch of soup just before serving. One taste of these heavenly spiced bombs will hopefully convince you to ignore those jars of green grey, soggy ‘pickled peppers’ that have been camping on a shelf in your local grocery store for the last 18 months. Ick. Really.

Spicy vegetables are yummy

Jalapeños & Vegetables? Meet Acid & Spice. Get cozy.

These babies will make you sweat. They will make you smile. And when they are gone, they will make you sad.

The recipe below will make 2 pints of pickled vegetables. You can double this recipe if desired. And feel free to play with this recipe. Add some cauliflower, sweet peppers and baby corn to the mix. Get inspired. That’s the funnest way to cook!

Pickled Jalapeños and Vegetables makes 2 pints.

Ingredients:

  • Approximately 2 dozen jalapeños
  • 1 cup vinegar (5% acidity)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1- 1/2 tablespoons pickling spices
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut in large chunks
  • 1/2 onion, sliced thinly

Directions:

  • Puncture each jalapeño with a toothpick or skewer, 3 or 4 times. Pack the peppers, carrots, onions and any other vegetables you may be using tightly in pint size mason jars.
  • Bring the remaining ingredients to a boil over high heat. Stir to combine well. Remove from heat and carefully pour hot liquid evenly into jars, to about 1/2-inch from the top of the jar. Seal with lids and screw tops tightly. (At this point, if you wish to make a larger batch and extend the shelf life, you can process them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Click here for canning tips).
  • After mixture has cooled, place jars in refrigerator, and keep chilled. The mixture will be ready to eat in about 5-7 days. Mixture will keep refrigerated, up to two months.

Christmas in September.

No, I’m not talking about the holiday itself. I’m talking about the reference to red and green chiles in New Mexican cuisine.

When dining in New Mexico, one can order a number of dishes prepared with red or green chile sauce, such as enchiladas, stuffed sopapillas, burritos, etc. If you wish to get both green and red chile sauce, you simply order ‘Christmas’. And since I’m still undecided which chile I prefer, I usually order my dishes this way. I get the best of both worlds.

New Mexico Red Chile

This is where the love starts.
Just don't breathe in too deeply.

I was lucky to make a quick visit to Santa Fe a couple of weeks ago, just in time for Hatch green chile season which I blogged about here. But red chile gets its due now.

When I first moved to Santa Fe over 20 years ago, I got a job working the ‘front of the house’ at the Ore House on the Plaza. This is where I met my husband. He was the cute bartender I gazed upon as I came into the bar seeking employment. I told my friend Maggie right then and there, “I’m going to marry him.”

And I did.

key ingredients for perfect pesto

KISS - Keep it simple, stupid. Stupid is me, not you.
Just so we're clear. Duh.

I also met some of the best people around. Many are still dear close friends, even though some of us have moved around, moved back, moved to other countries. We still have solid ties and relationships that allow us all to hook up. Once we get together, it’s like no time has passed. We pick up where we left off. There are never odd moments of uncertainty. There is trust. Love. Respect.

The Ore House will always hold a special place in my heart. Even the friends who have come and gone from our lives are revered and remembered.

ready to blend

Have I mentioned how much I love K&K for the Cuisinart? Again...gracias.

As is the Ore House’s Red Chile Piñon Pesto. This signature recipe was developed by the original chef of the Ore House, and despite my insider contacts, no one has the recipe. For years, this was not an issue, as anyone could wander on up the white staircase to the second floor of the restaurant and simply purchase large mason jars of the adored pesto to take home and enjoy for many, many meals.

But alas, some good things come to an end. After over two decades of success, the Ore House on the Plaza will close its doors. In an attempt to gain a surplus of pesto bliss, my amigo Cristòbal made a run out to the restaurant recently and discovered that our beloved pesto is no longer available. Not on the menu, not in jars.

¡Que lastima! When Chris broke the news to me, I nearly wept. Honestly. People who are ‘in the know’ about this pesto will verify its magic. There is something medicinal about it. You eat it, you sweat. Your tongue begs you to stop, begs you for more. Slather it on a burger, and I swear you’ll never eat a burger any other way (unless it’s already covered in green chile. Then you are forgiven). Combine it with butter and add to seared shrimp or scallops? Died and gone to chile heaven, my friends. You’re just a better person after eating it.

Jar O Love

If you're lucky, you have one (or two) of these in your fridge.

Just knowing I have a jar or two in my fridge just makes me sleep better at night. I know, it’s really absurd, but there you have it. So I knew I had to find a way to keep me and my familia in the red, with the red. I’ve been playing around with the ingredients – chile, cheeses, oil, and nuts for a while now.

And I think I’ve got it.

Now, I am not going to be as selfish and elusive as the original masters. Oh no. I think great food should be enjoyed, not hoarded. I gladly share my recipe with all of you, and encourage the Red Chile Piñon Pesto diehards to give it a try. All of the ingredients can be found easily in your own home towns and cities. Except perhaps, for the red chile pods. But that’s okay, because I can hook you up, my compadres. Just email me and I will be happy to send you some of the good stuff. Soon, you too can be putting up jars of ‘liquid gold’.

And, if for any reason you just don’t have it in you to whip up a batch, you can always wait until Christmas. The actual holiday this time. I think I may be making up a shwack for gifts. Just stay on my good side, and all good tidings will come.

Red Chile Piñon Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound dried New Mexican red chile pods
  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 2 cups grated parmesan and romano cheeses (about 6 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or 1/2 teaspoon regular salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Directions:

  • Spread dried chile pods on a large baking sheet and heat in a 300 degree oven for 3 minutes. Remove stems, but do not seed.
  • Combine all ingredients in food processor, except for oil and salt. Add 1 cup of the oil, and then pulse to combine. Slow stream the additional oil as needed to form a chunky ‘pesto-like’ mixture. Taste for seasoning, and add up to 1 teaspoon of salt as needed. The cheeses are naturally salty, so you want to be careful with this. I did find that despite the cheese, a teaspoon of kosher salt was helpful. Be careful if you are using regular table salt. If you are, perhaps half is fine.
  • Store pesto in a mason jar (preferred), or covered container and refrigerate. Mixture will keep for several months. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

So Many Recipes. So Little Time.

As Dirk and I embark on our first camping trip of the season, I must leave you, dear readers for 5 days. It’s probably for the best. I doubt we have internet access where we are headed, and the whole point of getting away with car, camp gear and dog is pretty obvious.

But, before I leave tomorrow morning, I want to leave you with a recipe for a dish we are taking with. (The other recipes, which I have prepared and documented, will have to wait until I return next week to hit the internet.)

Although the emphasis is on camping this week, the recipes can all be made and enjoyed in your home kitchen, as they have been prepared in my little, meager 4’x8′ cooking space. Even since I have lived on my own, and cooked in various kitchens for a living, (most of them small), I rather find a tighter, smaller fit, well, a proper fit.

This is not to say that when I am privy to cooking in family and friend’s larger, spacious and very well equipped kitchen’s I don’t find myself yearning for that, because honestly? I do. I dream about those lovely spaces. Constantly. But for now, this is my reality, and I will deal with what is.

Speaking of spaces, ours is about to grow, profoundly. The outdoor living area in our campsite will be grand enough to view the clear, dark skies which only highlight the stars as they shine close to our tent. The flames of our campfire will jump and dance with great strength and colors, warming us through. The tales we tell throughout the night may even grow themselves, as the wine and song fill our ever expanding hearts and souls.

So, it is only proper that our nights of camping call for big, grand food. I have adapted a very favorite dish of ours to embrace the rich, deep colors and feelings of the great outdoors.

Bison? Why, Yes.

Nothing like a good pot of chile while camping.

I love campfire chili, not to be confused with New Mexican, or Mexican chile. This is chili and beans. Tex Mex, I guess is probably a better comparison. This trip I prepared this dish with Bison, a hearty, grand red meat. Despite its lean calories and iron rich nutrition, the well rounded flavor and richness of the meat stands up to the red wine and cocoa (!) I add to the dish. The result? A bowl of beans and meat that while lean, is robust, round, rich and perfect with a good glass of Zinfandel and a roaring fire.

Throw another log on the fire. There is more wine to finish.

Bison Chili

I rarely eat red meat these days, but when I do, I want it to be worth it. This dish fits the bill. I have always been a fan of more meat than beans ratio when I make chili, so I use 2 pounds in this recipe. If you prefer, you could cut back to just 1 pound, and I am sure it would still be rockin’.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 pounds ground bison (or any meat you like, ground sirloin, turkey, etc.)
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
  • 2 – 14.5 cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 – 14.5 canned beans, your choice (black, pinto, red, etc), drained
  • 1 cup red wine

Simmering on the stove

This looks good, right?

Directions:

In large sauce pan or dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, celery, garlic and bell peppers; saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Add chile powder, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, tomato paste and worcestershire sauce. Stir to combine and cook out slightly, about 5 minutes. Add ground meat. Turn up heat to medium high and saute all ingredients until meat is cooked through. Drain any fat, if necessary.

Add wine and diced tomatoes. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes.

Yumba

Now, it looks and smells even better, after a couple hours.

Remove lid, add beans and continue to cook over low simmer, without lid for an additional 30 minutes. Taste, and season as necessary.

At this point, the chili can be cooled, then refrigerated for up to 3 days. It can also be frozen, up to 2 months.

This dish will get better with time, so if you must eat this the day you prepare it and you have leftovers, they will taste even more epic a day or two later!

Feeds a campfire crowd of 8 to 10. If you cut this recipe in half, you will feed a normal household of 4 with little or nothing to spare.

Earth Day Recycling Project

In honor of this lovely day, I offer a recipe which serves many purposes at the moment over here at Casa Reynolds:

  1. We are going camping this weekend, and I wanted to pack some granola for breakfasts, snacking and a possible impromptu berry crisp which may come together during an afternoon at the campsite.
  2. The granola at the stores are typically loaded with sugar and processed oils. They also tend to be stingy on the fruit and nuts, while costing a small fortune. Seriously! I have issues with paying $6.00 and up for rolled oats and additives.
  3. I cleaned out my pantry today, and found various bags of nuts, dried fruits and coconut used for previous baking adventures this year and wanted to get rid of recycle them into a new and improved product.
  4. I thought homemade granola would be another great endeavor for me to take on, since I always have so much free time before going on vacation.

*Insert dripping sarcasm here*

So without further ado, I offer you this:

Hug a Tree and Eat Some Granola on Earth Day Cereal

This recipe is very flexible, so use what you have on hand. If all you have are cashews (why anyone would have cashews laying around in their cupboards for longer than 2 days is beyond me, but whatev,) then use them. If you don’t have coconut, you can leave it out. And, the raisins can easily be dried blueberries, cherries, currants or any other dried fruit. Remember: one of the goals to this recipe is to reuse and recycle. Or, as I like to say, “consolidate and eliminate.” Now get cooking!

Save a tree. Clean out your pantry. Really.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 cup cashews, or other nuts (I had walnuts and pecans, so that’s what I used)
  • 1 cup shredded sweet coconut
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons oil (I used olive oil, because that’s all I had – you could use canola or any other vegetable oil)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup raisins or any other dried fruit such as currants, dried blueberries, dried strawberries or dried cherries
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon mace (optional)
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed meal (optional) Again, don’t go and buy this if you don’t already have it in house. Yes, I do have ground flax seed meal in my fridge all the time, I’m freaky like that.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • In a large bowl, combing the oats, nuts, coconut, brown sugar, dried fruit and flaxseed meal.*
  • In a measuring cup or small bowl, stir together maple syrup, oil, spices and salt. Pour over oat mixture and pour onto 1 large sheet pan, spreading evenly.
  • Bake in oven for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to achieve an even color, and to cook through.
  • Remove from oven and let cool.

The raisins were a bit dry, but nothing that bourbon, *I mean* milk on your cereal can't cure.

*Note to readers: After making this recipe, I would not add the dried fruit to the wet cereal mixture before baking. Rather, I would stir in the dried fruit once the cereal has baked in the oven for 30 minutes. The raisins seem a bit dried (duh, I know they are dry already, but they seemed to be even more dried and slightly burnt, due to the naturally high sugar content, I suppose.) Still, all in all; success.

Granola can be stored in a large (hopefully recycled) container in a cool, dark cupboard or pantry for 1 month. This made a huge amount of granola, I would say the equivalent of 2 ($7.00) boxes of cereal, for a fraction of the cost. And better ingredients.

Another Earth Day goal met and achieved!

Camping? Cooking? Yes!!!

Vacation options are lurking over here at the Casa Reynolds, and one of our favorite things to do is camp. We are definitely NOT talking about hiking in, hiking out camping. Car camping is more our style, although I really think (perhaps, hope is a better word), I can eventually convince my better half to try extreme camping at some point. We shall see.

The Boys in the Forest

Dirk and Shadow were born to be wild. In the forest.

Next weekend we are heading north for our first camping trip of the season, to our beloved area of Big Sur. We are going to take Shadow, the trusty wing puppy for his first camping adventure. I have no doubt he will love it. He loves road trips. As soon as we start packing anything, he knows we are going somewhere, longer than a few hours and insists on getting in the back of the car. Unless we relent, he is a pill.  This is regardless whether he comes with, or he goes to his own camp. As long as he is in the car, he knows an adventure awaits.

At this point, we can pack, clean and cook. Hell, we could probably go back to bed for a couple hours, and he would be just fine and dandy in the back of the Volvo. We even leave the back hatch open. He won’t budge. Good boy.

On to our camping needs. Pretty easy too.

Wine and herbs are lovely

You can't pack enough of this.

We are happy to load our gear, and head out. Sounds simple. Pretty much is, but of course it requires food for thought. Or rather, thought for food.

Camping sustanence needs to be easy. You are limited with space, time and cooking equipment. And as much as I love to cook, when enjoying the great outdoors, there are more important things to focus on; like staring at the beautiful ocean, mountainside, camp fire and bottle(s) of wine. Seriously. Priorities, people.

However, since so much energy and thought goes into a trip, you should have some rocking food to go along. You are worth it.

I’ve camped enough to find through trial and error what works wonderfully and what truly is a pain in the butt. Packing enough food items that are ready to serve or need minimal prep, will help you tremendously. A few kitchen tricks can prove to be the difference between a fantastic vacation, or a lesson learned that a camp full of hungry, cold campers is not a happy campground. Indeed. And, it will allow you and your cooking buddies to concentrate on one, incredible dish that will be remembered and discussed around future campfires for a long time.

That said, with proper planning and smart cooking, one can enjoy dishes such as Whole Grilled Fish, Twice Baked Cheese Potatoes, Crispy Baked Chicken, Chile Dry Rubbed Tri Tip and more.

How about Drunkin’ Cheese Dip? Grilled Breakfast Quesadillas? Yogurt with Spring Berries and Homemade Granola?

Oh, and don’t forget the dessert! Brownies, S’More bars and Fruit Cobbler anyone?

Dinner al fresco

Eating by candlelight? I could get used to this.

This week, I will be posting some of my favorite camping food recipes. Hopefully, they will ensure you work less in your outdoor kitchen and eat better than your neighbors, (who are struggling to light their campfire in the dark right now. Maybe you should bring them a few S’more Bars for strength. Oh, and some fire sticks).

You may find yourselves eating so well in fact, that frequent camping and culinary adventures could become a regular part of your schedules, allowing you and your family to come together under the big, open skies and land we are so blessed to have privy to. And that is truly the definition of a real vacation.

01 02 20 10

I love those numbers.

After another lovely long holiday weekend day, I was surprised to find another one awaits. Here I thought all day it was the wind down to the weekend (Sunday), only to find it was actually Saturday. Score!

Today was pretty sweet. We visited our favorite Mexican restaurant, Rose’s. Conveniently located a short drive away in the ‘hood’ of Santa Barbara. Chorizo burritos, chilaquiles and smoking good salsa ensued. Perfect.

We then enjoyed one of our favorite past times, an afternoon movie. We watched Up in the Air. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I’m not sure what all the hype is about, Oscar worthy, Golden Globe sweeper, etc. I will give it kudos for being an original screenplay, and it stars George Clooney. So that said, I recommend.

A bit of window shopping up State Street, and then to the Harbor for some fresh fish to go with vegetables and sides already at the house. We picked up a light, fresh and locally caught halibut. Beautiful. I simply sauteed it with capers and wine, served with basmati rice and broccolini. Just right to offset the heavy laden cheese and sausage breakfast.

Balance people, balance.

fish and chips

See that big bone sticking out the side? Bad. Oh wait. Never mind.

Nearly halfway through the meal, I encountered a thin bone that slid down my mouth and lodged itself into my wind pipe. Yeah, not good. Not terribly bad however, as it wasn’t a thick bone and I could breathe fine. It scratched. It tried to make it’s way south as I felt it needed and wanted to do so. But it wouldn’t budge.

Damn it! Dirk looked over at me and said. “Should we go to the ER?”

Hell no! I’ve had my share of hospitals, doctors and sterile white rooms for a good long time, thank you very much.

“I’m fine,” I croaked.

Dirk kept eating. I kept trying to dislodge the damn bone. I downed several glasses of water. Nothing.

boneless? Hmmf

This looks harmless. Cuidado people.

“Maybe some rice would help,” Dirk offered. “Or bread.” Good idea.

Nothing doing. I tried to sit at the table and settle it down with positive thinking. (That, and rubbing the back of my throat with my hand. Hey, it works for animals, perhaps it would work for me).

Nope. Okay, this called for drastic measures because at this point, it was causing me a bit of alarm. And discomfort. So I did what any normal person would do.

I went to the bathroom and removed said bone from my throat. Let’s not go into details. It wasn’t pretty, or comfortable. But I got the job done. Much, much better. Anyone who has ever had choking and breathing issues due to food will relate when I tell you this is a moment of rebirth. Silly, I know. But honestly; perspective it gives.

Because I am just not the most balanced person in the world, I proudly came and showed off the offending sliver to my husband.

Dirk’s exact words:

“Oh my God. I can’t believe you actually got that out of your throat! I am in true awe of you.”

Just hearing those words emitted from my gorgeous husband nearly made it all worth it.

Back to more important issues at hand and life. Like finishing that glorious bottle of wine accompanying our halibut. The rest of dinner on my plate?

No thanks.

My Pace or Yours?

Half Mary, full of Grace.

Why are the runners naked? No wonder they're blue. They are freezing.

For all of you who know me, you are probably aware that I am going to run my first half marathon on Saturday.

I’m pretty anxious about it, but at the same time I’m trying to remain calm and not obsess about the whole thing. But it’s difficult when the past several months have centered around the training.

There are many training schedules one can follow when preparing for long distance runs and races. They all have a common thread however. Build up mileage slow and steady, week by week. Never increase your distance more than 10% per week. That said, in order to train up to a half marathon which is 13.1 miles, it takes an average of 16 weeks of  runs (5 miles), alternated with walks (2 miles) and rest days (huh?).

The five day run/walk schedule averages 8 miles the first week and after the 12th week, you’ve trained up, and running on average 25 miles per week. After the 16 week period, you’ve put about 400 miles on your body. And soul.

When you put it into logistical terms, 13.1 miles tomorrow is doable. Even sounds pretty tame compared to several hundred miles I’ve already logged. But add an excess of adrenaline, spotty nerves and a buzzing brain, all of a sudden things aren’t so calm and collected.

Which is why on the eve of my first Half, I will try and keep myself busy, but not harried. I will water my garden and sit in the sun. I will pack up a bag for the post race, which Dirk and my Mom will bring up to me after I cross the finish line. I will putz around online and finish up a bit of work. I’ll lay out my favorite running shirt. Nano playlists will be at the ready.

But what I hope will settle me down the most will come later when I head to my cozy kitchen to prepare dinner. After much thought, I decided to make Spaghetti Bolognese, a favorite of mine, and especially Dirk. It’s a familiar dish, one I’ve made dozens of times, and after tweaking the recipe over the last year, I think it is a fine dish indeed. A common dish in Italy, it’s not to be confused with the Americanized version of meat and red sauce. Both are great, but this Bolognese, prepared with tomatoes and meat, is more complex and deep in its flavor, helped along with some surprising add-ins, such as carrots, beef stock, milk and pancetta.

I’ll post the recipe later today and I hope you all give it a go. The meats used traditionally in the recipe are ground beef, pork, veal and pancetta. But in order to keep it a bit lighter on this runner’s belly, I’m using ground turkey. Oh, but don’t you worry. The pancetta stays.

Served with some crusty bread, a bit of red wine (to settle the nerves of course) and a light salad, I think I’ll be ready to face the morning. Fingers crossed and all that.

I love new challenges and adventures in life. It keeps things exciting, different and vibrant. But I also love the familiar, and the comfort it offers. This weekend contains a bit of both which suits me just fine.

I think I can do this.

I picked up my runner’s packet yesterday, which consists of my number tag, a cool t-shirt and a chip which I have to install on the top flap of my running shoe. (Wow, I guess this is official now!) The tag is a GPS system, which tracks my time for the duration of the race.

And the winning number is...

I'm number one! Okay, number 650. Whatever.

When I picked up my package, I couldn’t help but notice the endless files awaiting the participants. I think there may be a thousand plus runners out there this weekend. Yikes! That is another first.

Okay, steady as she goes. Don’t forget to breathe. The course I’m running is stunning. It starts at Leadbetter Beach, and goes north along the coastline, around a lighthouse, back down the coast heading south along West Beach, East Beach, The Santa Barbara Zoo and Bird Sanctuary. A quick pass along Butterfly Beach, home of the world class Biltmore Hotel and Ty Warner’s mega mansion, and then back to Leadbetter we go. A recap of the race will follow this weekend.

I want to take this time to give thanks to all of you, friends and family who have given me endless support during the last several months. I would also like to thank you all for sticking by me when it has taken center stage for most of my time and thoughts. I will take you all along with me on the course, your enthusiasm and well wishes will keep me going, mile after mile. And most of all, I wish to thank my wonderful husband for his endless patience and support as I struggled to train, work and keep things going without becoming a complete and total hag. (I know I failed on multiple occasions, so bless you for sticking by me.) You are the best Dokie. I love you so very, very much.

Life really is a kind of race when I think about it. Sometimes it’s effortless. And other days, it kicks us hard. But if we keep moving, one foot in front of the other, fueling ourselves with the encouragement and strength offered by the ones we love, victory is ours.

Game on.