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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Low-Fat Lemon Curd & Lemon Ricotta Cake


Our dessert for Easter was this divinely low-fat lemon curd and ricotta cake. I have to confess, it's not entirely homemade, the cake mix is a doctored box mix, and I consulted my reliable Deceptively Delicious cookbook for inspiration. Anyone who knows me well, or has read enough of my blogs can probably figure out, that while I love to cook and eat, I'm not a practiced baker. I have a few baked good items that I make well and can improvise. I am an awesome pie maker perhaps because I take such care to have a light touch when it comes to preparing pie dough. Normally when desserts or cakes are made, it's Liz who bakes. She got the afternoon off for Easter, since it was a long weekend for her work wise, and she already put in a full morning with church services. The baking was left to me. There was a moment of tension when I said I wanted to bake a lighter version of lemon coconut cake. I'm sure Liz was thinking there weren't too many ways I could lighten the recipe or that I could even bake a cake without calling upon her services. Luckily I had a few ideas and recipes to help with the baking.

Technically, this cake is a three part recipe. White box cake mix; low-fat lemon curd filling; non-fat ricotta and non-fat cream cheese mixed with powdered sugar and lemon curd for the frosting or glaze. It's not hard to make, but you just have to take your time, have your ingredients together, preheat the oven and cool the cooked and baked items. Herewith is a condensed version of the recipes. My thanks to Susan Hill, who shared the lemon curd recipe. And of course, to Mrs. Seinfeld, for her non-stop inspirational cookbook. Can you tell I love love love it?!

Low-Fat Lemon Curd - from 1000 Low-Fat Recipes by Terry Blonder Grolson
  • 3 Egg Yolks
  • Zest of 1 lemon - finely zested with a micro plane
  • 2/3 Cup Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
  • 2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
  • 3/4 Cup Water

Directions:

  1. Place the egg yolks into a medium heat safe bowl. Set aside
  2. Use a medium sauce pot, add the lemon zest, sugar and lemon juice and stir to combine. In a small measuring cup, make a slurry with the cornstarch and water, then add the slurry to the sugar and lemon mixture.
  3. Place the sauce pot over medium-high heat and whisk the mixture until the sugar is dissolved.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 minute. Don't let the mixture come to a rolling boil - it should only bubble slightly.
  5. Remove the pot from the heat.
  6. Temple the eggs by ladling in 1/3 of the lemon sugar mixture to the eggs, a bit a at a time so the eggs don't cook or curdle. Whisk the eggs as you add in the hot liquid.
  7. Once the eggs are tempered, pour the egg mixture into the hot lemon sugar mixture and put the pot back onto the heat. Stir the mixture constantly until it is thickened - it should coat the back of a spoon.
  8. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture into a bowl; cover and chill.
  9. Mixture will hold for up to 1 week in a tightly covered container.
Low Fat Lemon Cake
  • 1 Box of White Cake Mix
  • Zest of 1 Lemon - finely zested with a micro plane
  • 5-6 ounces Non-Fat Plain Yogurt - preferably a Greek Style, which is thicker, tangier and tastier
  • 1 & 1/4 Cups Water
  • 3 Egg whites - beaten to soft peaks
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Prepare cake pans - butter and flour two round pans or one 9 x 13 baking pan
  3. In a stand mixer or if using a hand mixer and mixing bowl, beat the cake mix and the yogurt on medium speed for 1 minute.
  4. Add in them lemon zest and beat on medium for 2 minutes more.
  5. In a separate and immaculately clean bowl, beat the three egg whites until they hold soft peaks.
  6. Work quickly and fold in the egg whites to the cake mix, 1/3 of the egg whites at at time.
  7. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pans and place the pans in the center of the rack positioned in the center of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes.
  8. Rotate pans and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until the top of the cakes has risen and springs back when lightly touched.
  9. Cakes are done when a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
  10. Cool the cake in the pan(s) for 10 minutes. Then turn the cake out and cool on a cake rack until completely cooled.

Non-Fat Ricotta and Cream Cheese Glaze
  • 1 Cup Non-Fat Ricotta
  • 1/2 Cup or 4 ounces Non-Fat or Light Cream Cheese
  • 1 & 1/2 Cup Powdered Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Low-Fat Lemon Curd (see recipe above)
Directions:
  1. Use a stand mixer or a medium mixing bowl and hand mixer.
  2. Add in the ricotta and cream cheese and beat on high speed for 1 minute to incorporate.
  3. Turn the mixer off and add in the lemon curd and powdered sugar.
  4. Turn the mixer on low and gradually increase the speed; beat for 2-3 minutes or until the mixture is smooth and thoroughly combined.
  5. The glaze will be thick and pourable. Refrigerate until ready to pour over the cake.
Assembling the Cake - I made this cake using two 9 inch rounds.
  1. Cut each cake round in half using a serrated knife.
  2. Spoon a thin layer of the cooled lemon curd over one layer of the cut rounds, letting the lemon curd soak into the cake.
  3. Once the lemon curd has soaked into the cake, spoon some of the ricotta glaze over the cake layer.
  4. Top the cake with its cut round. Spoon a layer of ricotta glaze over the first cake round top - this will be the glue that keeps the two cake layers together.
  5. Continue with the next cake round - cutting it in half; spooning a layer of lemon curd over the cut round; a layer of ricotta glaze; put the cake layers together. Place the second layer over the first layer.
  6. Pour the remaining ricotta glaze over the whole cake. Use an off-set spatula to smooth out the top and glaze the sides of the cake.
  7. Refrigerate for 20 minutes to let the glaze set.
  8. Refrigerate any left-over cake. Cake will hold, covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days. Once the flavors meld together, it will taste moister and better the next day.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sick and Inspired

I dislike when I don't have an entry to post because I'm not feeling inspired, or because I'm too tired. Lately it's been a bit of both, with a touch of illness thrown in for good, or bad, measure. I was really on a roll for a week there, posting several times in one week and then BAM! Nada. Sorry about that loyal viewers. I try to write when the mood strikes. I find it's easier to write about the topics in a thoughtful and natural way. Of course, I could just write recipes. I am always cooking and taking photos of my meals. It's become an obsession of sorts. It sucks for my house guests and girlfriend, because we can't eat a meal until I do a bit of food styling and take several dozen photos to "capture" that special photo. Thankfully, now that Ms. Liz is busy in rehearsals every night, I can cook and photograph my results without having to stall dinner for her. She just gets to come home, exhausted and hungry to a full refrigerator of tasty meals. Not a bad trade off at times, though I would much prefer her to be home in the evenings. The life of a musician and conductor. At least it keeps us happy and doing what we love.
So anyway, as I mentioned, I've been sick for the past few days. I picked up the bug at the gym. Oh, yeah, I finally joined a gym! My first class was an aqua aerobics class on the night I joined - Thursday, March 20th. I had a great work out, discovering new muscles and ways to make them ache. Friday after work I went for a quick and short bike ride in some fierce head winds. And this is what happens to me, I get a sinus/throat/bronchial infection when I a)go swimming for the first time and b) bike in cold winds that get me gasping for breath. Sure enough I started to feel that unpleasant tickle in the back of my throat by the finish of the weekend. By Sunday night, I could hardly breathe. Monday I stayed home from work, and tried to sleep most of the day. I'm having trouble keeping my sinuses open and getting a good nights sleep, plus I'm losing my voice. Too bad my appetite hasn't diminished. I lost a pound at my weigh in on Tuesday, though I'm sure I put it right back after my dinner tonight.

Some of my getting sick may also have to do with our very full Easter Weekend. While Liz was at rehearsal, Jen Check and I had fun out on the town Friday Night before meeting up with Liz and another friend, Kevin. We went to The Good Dog for beers and some of the best burgers in Philly. Saturday I worked at Williams Sonoma, helping to avoid an economic recession by selling cooks tools and dispensing olive oils to the City Food Tours Group that comes in on Saturdays. Sunday I went to Liz's church, living up to my C&E Status (Christmas & Easter attendee). I was the only fool who wore an Easter Bonnet. It got me a lot of attention and good laughs. Later when we came home, we had some merriment with the hat, each of us posing for photos, and then tormenting our dog, Hamlet, by making him don it for several pictures.
I cooked a Pascal Leg of Lamb; Steamed New and Fingerling Potatoes with Rosemary; Steamed Green Beans; Broccoli with Cheese Sprinkle; Glazed Carrots with Wine, Dill and Honey; Grilled Asparagus; and for Dessert, a low-fat lemon cake with non-fat ricotta and cream cheese frosting and low-fat lemon curd filling. Um, yeah, it's no wonder I'm sick and I haven't lost much weight in the past 4 weeks. D'oh!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Read, Listen, Learn

One of the grandparents of a preschooler stopped by my office window on her way out with her grandson. She urged me to take a moment to read, listen and learn from Senator Barack Obama's speech today, regarding race and politics, more specifically, his response to Reverend Wright's sermon that has caused untold controversy this past week. The grandmother, Carol, implored me to read the speech and to share it with others. "No matter what your political preferences are," she said, "we all need to learn from this inspired and topical motivational talk" Senator Obama presented today at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. I've not yet made my decision as to whom I think will be the best choice for President. The choices, as limited as they are now, are still difficult to make. As a firm Democrat, I can't quite see myself voting for McCain, though I know he's not such a bad choice. He's a little out there crazy, but he seems to be honest and not as much of a religious zealot as so many Republican and Right Wingers are these days.
As a woman, I would love to see a woman in our most important government office running the country. Other nations have had female leaders, how is it possible that as a Super Power, our country has yet to break the glass divide for female political leadership? My concern about Hillary is, is she the right woman who can overcome the baggage and backbiting that is attacking her campaign as she nears the end of the primary season and nears the Democratic Convention? The attacks and mudslinging are certain to become uglier.

I am a gay woman of a liberal persuasion; I grew up in diverse and racially mixed urban areas of Philadelphia. I would love to see a man or woman of color, mixed heritage or some diversity other than white male wasp of privileged legacy, who is an inspiring, dynamic leader capable of running the country, healing the wounds that have hurt us for so long. My dilemma is, are any of the three people running in this race right for the job? I will ponder this more as Pennsylvania goes into our primary on April 22nd. In the meantime, please seek out the words of Senator Obama's speech. As Carol succinctly put it to me today - "It is a speech that all us need to hear. It is all of our responsibility to learn from these words, no matter what our political persuasion is." Never a truer word spoken in many decades Senator.

Here's the speech as reprinted in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama

"A More Perfect Union"
Constitution Center
Tuesday, March 18th, 2008
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union."

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either "too black" or "not black enough." We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

"People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend's voice up into the rafters. . ..And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about. . .memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild."

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven't fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today's urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so na├»ve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright's sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I'd like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King's birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."

"I'm here because of Ashley." By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins

Monday, March 17, 2008

Corned Beef and Cabbage with Carrots and Apples


It's not St. Patrick's Day with out the "national dish" of Ireland, Corned Beef and Cabbage. So good that everyone will want to eat it. It won't stink up the house, it tastes fantastic, and it's full of good for you vegetables. How's this for an international twist? Me, and Italian/Polish lesbian, who learned a version of this recipe from a gay Greek/Cypriot man. Through in a dash of Tomato paste - Italian, some shredded Apples - Jewish, and sauteed Cabbage - Polish or Irish and enjoy! It's an easy recipe that cooks mostly in a crock pot - for at least 6 hours. Then once the long slow cooking is done, it only takes about 30 minutes from prep to saute to cook the cabbage and vegetables to mix in with the meat.

Step One Ingredients:
  • Corned Beef Brisket - trimmed of fat and rinsed well
  • 1 small onion - large slices
  • 1 Cup Green Cabbage - large slices
  • 1 Tablespoon Pickling Spices
  • 6 Whole Clove Seeds
Step Two Ingredients:
  • 1 Tablespoon Vegetable, Canola or Light Olive Oil
  • 1 Large Onion - finely sliced or shredded
  • 2 Large Carrots - peeled and shredded
  • 1 Granny Smith Apple - peeled and shredded
  • 2 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1 Teaspoon Celery Seed
  • 2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste or Ketchup
  • 1 Cup Reserved Cooking Water from Corned Beef Brisket
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper - to taste

Directions:

  1. Prepare Corned Beef Brisket - cut and trim away any excess fat. Rinse the brisket well and set into the bottom of a crock pot.
  2. Sprinkle the corned beef with the pickling spices and cloves.
  3. Layer the onions and cabbage on top of the corned beef.
  4. Cover completely with water until it the water level is two inches above the brisket, or until it is fully submerged.
  5. Turn on the crock pot to low if you have 6 or more hours to cook it, otherwise turn it onto high and cook for 4 hours.
  6. When the meat is cooked - remove it from the crock pot and set aside to cool. Reserve 1 to 2 cups of the cooking water and discard the rest with the cooked cabbage and onions - they've given up their usefulness so it's okay to throw them away!
  7. Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Saute the onions until they turn translucent - about 4 minutes.
  8. Add in the shredded carrots, apple and minced garlic and saute for another 4 minutes.
  9. Add the cabbage and toss to combine. Saute the cabbage until it begins to wilt, about 2 minutes. Then add in some of the reserved cooking liquid from the corned beef. Bring to a low boil and reduce the heat to a bare simmer.
  10. Sprinkle in the celery seed and keep the cabbage mixture at a simmer for another 10 minutes. If the mixture is beginning to dry out, add in more of the reserved cooking liquid. The mixture shouldn't be too liquid - you only want enough liquid in the pan to braise the cabbage but not enough to make it soupy.
  11. Stir in the 2 tablespoons of tomato paste or ketchup and toss thoroughly to combine. Season to taste with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Go easy on the salt - the corned beef and its cooking liquid are very salty.
  12. Sliced or shred the corned beef and add it to the cabbage mixture.
  13. Serve hot over mashed, smashed or baked potatoes. To round out your meal with something green, serve the corned beef and cabbage with steamed broccolini, grilled asparagus or sauteed string beans. Erin go bragh!

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Here are few of the sights and visions I found over the past few days that had a definite St. Patrick's Day Theme. The dreaded, depending on your age and mind-set, "Erin Pub Crawl" began over a week ago in Center City, peaking on Saturday Evening and winding down today. Of the many Wearin' 'o the Green sights I saw, only one was not draped or adorning a person - the Lucky Horseshoe with Green Ribbon I found on a garage door 17th & Delancey Place. Thereafter, the green could be spotted on all manner of places - whether or not the person could walk or had the body to really be sporting a shamrock.

Plastic Bowlers seem to be very popular. These two "Dandies" are making their way to some watering hole along Chestnut Street.
Erin - ya shouldn' be wearin' an entire suite o'the green my lass. 'Tis not becoming. Lucky for us, I don't have a view of her mug - she was sporting an over-sized pair of novelty green sunglasses with beer yellow frames. 'Tis a pity she's a bore.

As crooked as the olive on the pick above his wee head - Mr. Irish Cat in the Hat was a bobbin and a weavin in a drunken stupor. Now do you really need another wee dram of Jameson's Laddie?
A dear old friend once told me, "Don't be caught smoking in public." Seems these two maidens and the lad have not heard this sage advice. Ladies - don't block the box either, though in your cases, perhaps you should for the night.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"Right." said Fred


A new bicycle shop opened in Philadelphia, Performance Bike, on Columbus Avenue at Reed Street. The weather today was kind of iffy, I wasn't sure that I could get in much of a ride. Instead I opted to make it a more useful day by shopping for a gym and some new bike gear. I checked out a gym in my area, getting in a tiny workout on some of the exercise machines. Loath as I am to spend money on a gym, I know I have to join one and start training NOW for the triathlon. I have 4 1/2 months to get ready for this insanity so I have to make each day count. I'm fairly certain I'll join this gym, it's convenient to my neighborhood and the hours are flexible. Plus, it has a pool - a small one that will suffice for getting myself ready to swim half a mile downstream in the Schuylkill River. AGH! What the heck have I gotten myself into? Swimming in the Schuylkill? Running 3.1 miles? The only part of this triathlon I am sort of capable of completing is the 15 mile loop around the Art Museum, and that takes me an hour now. I've got to shave off at least 15 minutes off my riding time just to be sure I'm not dead friggin' last in this race.
After my moderate success with my gym shopping, I rode down to Performance Bike, where I found it difficult not to become a total Fred - a person who buys all kinds of cycling gear and looks the part of an avid rider but is in fact, a phony. There are quite a few Freds pedaling around town. It's hard not to get a little gear-envy when I see gorgeous clothes and helmets, cool team jerseys and jackets, nifty shoes and tricked out bikes with the latest bags, GPS and odometers. Are these folks actually riding or just posing for the JCrew version of a bicycle fashion spread? Susan Hill and I were riding hard trails Friday, and we didn't need much more than muscle, determination and our helmets to keep our noggins from getting jostled. What does having a bike full of bags and gadgets have to do with exercise? The bicycle magazines, as a lot of consumer publications do, push the feeling that you need to have this stuff in order to be a better bicyclist. My wallet just can't justify the expensiveness the hobby. Most of the time I do see how impractical all of this "stuff" is. I have one body, one head, one pair of arms and legs, etc that can accommodate one article of clothing helmet at a time. I sometimes get so caught up in wanting to look the part of a bike rider, that I'm not riding enough. It's hard not to succumb to my baser consumer urges. To satiate this hunger, I trolled the bike shop for about an hour, eyeing up all the new bikes on the block, inhaling the heady scent of new rubber tires. I innocently fondled pumps and tools, and I felt compelled to costume myself in a new pair of tight bike shorts and a sexy jersey. It was bicycle therapy, allowing me to role play in order to develop my skills as a cyclist and see where I "fit". Playing in the bike toy store worked, I could fantasise about what I want and buy what I actually need. My list of need to have bike gear items is reasonably small and it won't turn me into a poor Fred. I bought some reasonably priced items - a new well-fitting helmet; sunglasses with changeable lenses for different lighting conditions; lights for when I ride in the dark. Absolutely necessary items for my safety and well-being. As my friend, Susan, reminded me on Friday, you just don't need most of this stuff, just get out and ride. She's so right. I don't want to be a Fred.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Butt Kicking Good Time


I got my butt kicked today on a hard trail ride. I went riding after work this afternoon with my biking buddy, Susan Hill. She is officially one of the coolest people I know. She's not only one of the best and most creative teachers at the synagogue's preschool, she's also a fantastic biker who can mountain bike, climb some wicked steep hills and fly down a perilous rocky declining backwoods trails like a boy on his first dirt bike. Once again I have to say my biking abilities are comparable to a child's pedaling around a suburban street cul de sac. Okay - I'm exaggerating a wee bit. Riding on Thursday, I covered more ground in a faster amount of time on fairly even grade trails. It was nothing compared to today. We rode up to the Wissahickon trail and into the woods. Susan asked me if I wanted to climb a hill and I gamely/lamely said of course - I'm READY! I need to remember to check my ego because it does crazy things to me, like making me believe I have greater physical abilities. The Ego doesn't quite know what my body can really do at this point.

So up the hill we went. Susan gave me some great pointers, telling me to down shift into a low gear, getting a bit of speed from a downhill turn. The incline went up at a steady and sharp degree for at least 1/4 of a mile. It's a dirt trail, littered with some twigs and branches and lots of small sharp rocks. It curves up around the Wissahickon trail and then plateaus a bit before turning into two areas - a private old home that is probably in Roxborough, and then into the upper dirt trails of the Wissahickon. I rode about 5 miles an hour, huffing and puffing after about 10 pedal strokes into the climb. Even breaths didn't return until I had reached the top and rested about 5 minutes or so. I made it about 90% of the way up before stopping. My trick to making it up the hill was to only look at the immediate ground in front of my tire otherwise I would have gotten too overwhelmed by the heights, the distance and the unnerving rocky ground. I couldn't look at Susan or more than 2 feet in front of me I just had to concentrate on the road right before me. It was a good tactic making me realize that this survival mode can work well in other situations. It forced me to have singular concentration, only notice what I needed to and to just power forward. Kind of like the idea of just taking my weight loss one pound at a time in 10 pound increments. Looking at a climb this way, I can appreciate the immediacy of what's in front of me. Reaching the top of the hill - Susan's HILL - I had a chance to notice the naked tree limbs, scrubby pines, a carpet of confer needles scattered about, the rolling hills of golf course adjacent to the trail, and the amazing view of the Walnut Lane Bridge Span from a vantage point I've never before experienced. It was magnificent.

After the summit, we road a bit further up along some very narrow woodland trails. Again, I had to just concentrate on a small bit of dirt ahead of my tires and try not to look to the sides or down. Heights are not my friend - I have a touch of vertigo and between my racing pulse and the scariness of this difficult ride I was beginning to feel like I would hyperventilate. As steep as the climb up was, the descent was even more difficult. The trail was not as well worn, rockier and there were a lot of tree roots to navigate. I lost my footing almost immediately and fell over. Susan gave me some more pointers, but I lost my balance again. She told me to keep my feet evenly balanced on the same pedal levels; keep my butt off the saddle and over the back tire; let the bike do the work letting it navigate the trail; and to go down the hill faster than I think I can. I heard the advice but it didn't stick with me, I lost my footing a few times and had to tiptoe down a few feet while straddling the bike. I made it down the trail in one piece, light headed and a bit freaked out after realizing just how high the trail was and how fast I rode it. I didn't quite loose my composure but it was a close call. I felt light headed and about tho have some tears of terror burst forth. The feelings quickly turned to exhilaration back on more even ground and we rode quickly back to the regular trail. I was even able to dispense advice and directions of my own to some younger riders! The ride back to the City was fast and fun, keeping my heart rate going but not making me feel sick with fear.

Among the many things I learned about myself today - the most important lesson is that I have to go slowly and while still trying to tackle new things. I would have kept riding, exhausting myself far from home and leaving myself with no energy to make it the 10 miles home. Susan is grounding for me, helping me to see what is it that I need and should do right now. She isn't caught up with trying to outdo the mountain bikers and road racing riders we passed along the way. She knows her limitations, whether it's how much time she has to ride or an actual physical limitation. My left calf is sore. I feel an ache in my back in a new spot. But I also feel that woozy high you get from good hard physical activity. A body and brain drain which feels euphoric. Better than most drugs and good for you too. Getting my butt kicked, it's a good thing.

Back in the Saddle


Well, the week is almost out and I've not yet accomplished my goal of finding and joining a gym. I did get in a quick bike ride today that gave me a real taste of what it might be like to ride in my new-found sporty self. I was able to ride the 4 miles from my house to the Art Museum trail in under 20 minutes - riding 2 & 1/2 miles on the busy streets and the last 1 & 1/2 mile or less on the trail leading up to the Art Museum Loop. I then made it up to East Falls Bridge - clocking in 8 miles under 40 minutes. I stopped for a rest, snack and water before turning around and heading back to the City. I stopped in town to visit with a friend. My mileage was at 14 miles in about an hour, which is about what my average speed on my bike odometer read. Riding at an average clip of 12 to 15 miles an hour is a personal best so far, not enough to qualify me for any sort of record, but it gives me a goal o work towards on the biking part of my triathlon. If conditions had been ideal, less winds, cars and cold, I think I can ride the 16 to 17 mile round trip from my house, up to the Art Museum and around the loop in under an hour. My short-term goal to build up to in the next month is to be able to ride the loop twice in half an hour and still have enough strength to make it home. One piece of this physical transformation at a time I suppose.

On the weight loss front, I am noticing changes in my physique that have more to do with the biking then with any further losses. I suppose toning up while loosing weight slowly is key to making your appearance improve, even if the numbers aren't coming off me as rapidly as I would like. The small changes I find happening to me on a daily basis are at times surprising and at other times shocking. Like tonight - I nearly lost my biking shorts as they were falling off me when I stopped riding and got off my bike. I bought them when I lost about 12-15 pounds and now they are just swimming on me. They aren't the skin tight ones, they're the kind that look like regular shorts with the biking shorts and padding underneath. I usually wear them over a pair of winter biking tights. I'm not quite ready to run or ride around in the traditional biking shorts or tights -my body isn't ready to do a Ned Flanders in his ski suite impression just yet. "It feels like I'm wearing nothing at all!" It's certainly fun to go shopping for new clothes and gear, but this expense can also be a burden. Ah - to have such a problem! I'll take it!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

It's all in your hands

Photo - a yellow lady bug landed on me while I was biking - this is it - on my finger!

Monday's tend to be my best day for inspiration and blogging. Funny how that works - I feel more jazzed about writing and reflecting after my Monday Night Weight Watcher's meetings, especially if I've had a good week with a significant weight loss. This week's meeting was fine - I didn't gain back any of my lost 50 pounds, and I inched down another .2 pounds. I don't think I'll loose my next 10 pounds easily if I continue to eat birthday cakes, go out drinking and not ride or exercise. I've allowed myself to be content with staying in the same general spot.

What has jazzed me up today is that I got a most excellent bill of health from my doctor. I had blood work taken two weeks ago and the results were glowing! My blood pressure is down and under control; my cholesterol and triglycerides are low low low, and best of all - I did not have to take any medication to get the lower the numbers! The positive results have all come from the hard work, positive efforts and determination I've put forth. I actually feel happier tonight about my doctor's appointment than I did last week when I hit the 5-0 mark. It's receiving this validation that makes it seem more significant and important. Now I know that I can achieve my next set of goals. This week I plan to check out a few gyms in the area so I can start my triathlon and bike ride trainings. I'm starting to make plans for several other bike rides this spring and summer. Whatever has shifted within me feels right. Moving forward never felt so good!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Finding your True North

Call me crazy because I recently signed up and paid to enter a TRIATHLON! I decided to give the SheRox Triathlon a whirl. My friend, Jill, mentioned it to me a few months ago, and I gave it about 5 minutes worth of consideration. She mentioned it to me again on Leap Day, and this time, I gave the notion several days consideration. Maybe it was the wooziness of the extra day in the year or my approaching birthday. I've never competed in anything before. I barely can ride my bike up hill as evidenced by my poor outing last Sunday; the only pool I've navigated across is the rain pool across the street this week; and I've only been running to to catch a bus. However this is all going to change and I'll be cross training as soon as I join a gym to get into some sort of shape to take on this challenge. I feel that something within me has changed over the last few weeks. Part of it is turning 41. Even though I'm already in my 4th decade I feel like I want to accomplish something. I want to do rather than just wish. There's also a great deal of believing in myself and realizing that - YES, I CAN DO THIS (more on a riff of what would you do if you knew you could not fail...) I lost 50 pounds, a major accomplishment and I'm proud of it. I want to continue losing more weight as well as tone up my body and have it be more useful. I find I am discovering a self that I didn't know existed. Call me Sporty Spice - I think I am finding my inner athlete and jock!

About a month ago, a co-worker and I were talking about being true to yourself and doing what genuinely makes you happy. I said that I wasn't and her answer was that of course not because what really makes me happy is food-related work - cooking, writing, teaching, etc. She said it reminded her of an expression her husband always says "You have to find your true north." It exists, you just have to follow that internal compass.


Which leads me to think about all the other things I want to try to accomplish - weight loss being one of them. My neighbor and dog-walking buddy, Michele, and I were talking about her friend Barb, who wrote a book. Barb's book is about her experiences related to her dog Duffy and his impact on her life through. He died and I think the story goes, she wrote a book to help her deal with the grief. Barb is a doer. She takes risks and isn't afraid to look foolish, though I'm sure, she rarely does look foolish. Barb persevered and got the book published. Then she decided to market the book herself and has been successful with the marketing efforts. She's been on local television spots, has gotten a bunch of publicity and will be selling the book at several local stores in Philadelphia. All this because she just Did It. She didn't just say, "Oh, I want to write a book." or "I think I can write a book." She actually wrote the book and illustrated it.


As Michele and I were marveling at her gumption, I'm shaking my head and grinning to myself all the while thinking huh, why can't I do something like that? I can. I just haven't. To which Michele said she once saw a tapestry or hand painted sign in a craft store that said "Sure you can do it, but are you gonna?" Meaning - why bother buying this cute little hand-crafted tchotche when you can make your own? I don't think the question stops here or that the answer is to find an excuse not to do something, or to take the easy, prepared road out of answering the question. I ask myself, why not? Why not try something new? Why not try to complete the triathlon? I am good at what I do - I have to just do it.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

If I knew you were coming I'da baked a cake - Hey, who's Ida?

Birthday Cake Report: Liz made an awesome birthday cake for me this week from what else - my favorite new cookbook - DECEPTIVELY DELICIOUS! It was a box cake made with egg whites and pumpkin puree. The pumpkin makes the cake rich and moist, deeply chocolaty and it tastes nearly as good as one made from scratch. There are complete home-made recipes for cakes using ingredients such as roasted beets or pureed spinach, but this cake was easier and chocolate - two big pluses in my cookbook! The frosting was made with low-fat and non-fat cream cheeses, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, powdered sugar and a few tablespoons of non-fat milk. The frosting has a buttery tang to it but isn't at all overly sweet or cloying. We think the points value of the cake goes down from 12 points per serving for the box recipe version to 5 points per serving for the lightened version. Would we make this cake again? Most definitely. It made me realize that there are many ways to lighten a cake and still enjoy it. Can you have your cake and eat it too? You betcha!

Hawkeyes

Reason #100 why I love having a camera with me at all times: Bird Watching.
Spotted a hawk in my neighborhood, with its prey.
I've been spotting at least 2 hawks in Rittenhouse Square; seen one up close twice - once without my camera and a second time without enough time to whip out the camera. Today's sighting was a rare treat. It was no higher than the top of our row homes, and it had a fresh kill in its talons!
I've heard that this hawk has been patrolling the alleys of our neighborhood. We've seen evidence that it's been around - loads of feathers and some carcasses, but I hadn't' actually seen it for myself yet.
Look! It's got its dinner in its clutches!
Hawks like this one have become fairly common all around Philadelphia, but it is still such a treat to spot one in our busy residential neighborhood of row homes.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Celebrations and Milestones

Yes! You can have your cake and Eat It Too!


This is the kind of entry that I've thought about for weeks. It's writing one imagines you would like to write if given the chance. For weeks now, I've set up imaginary goals and plans for this day. It's the kind of thing I think we all do to psyche ourselves up to meet a task or challenge. Because March 3rd is my birthday, I had set a goal of reaching my 50 pound weight loss by this date. I've struggled these past 2 months with trying to take off my last 8/9 pounds. It's been very slow going, mostly because it's winter, I hadn't been that great with keeping to my program, and I'm not moving and riding as much as I would be in the warmer and sunnier days of the Spring, Summer and Fall seasons. Realistically I know that I set myself up for a potential bomb explosion of not meeting my goal. But unless I tried, I would never know if I could achieve my goal. To quote an entry I wrote in January "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?", my answer today is that I would lose the weight I want to lose and I would continue to lose more until I reached a point where I felt comfortable. To that end I have made tremendous strides.



Today I have many things celebrate. The sudden and unexpected spring-like day; My great relationship with Liz; my good friends, family and co-workers; waking up without too much soreness from yesterday's extensive 36 mile bike ride; Having it be my birthday and realizing what great strides I've made over this past year; succeeding in my plan to meet the next mini-goal of losing 50 pounds!




I went to my Weight Watcher's Meeting tonight, dressed in my lightest clothing, hoping for a drop of 2.5 pounds. Not only did I meet my goal I exceeded it by .2 pounds! I have now lost 50.2 pounds since Monday, July 30, 2007. Today truly is a Birthday - these past seven months have been an astounding and life altering experience. I entered tonight's Monday Night Meeting with a positive attitude, looking forward to my weigh-in and to sharing my journey and birthday with the members of the Monday Night Club. What would I do if I knew I could not fail - work harder, continue to lose weight and climb more hills on my bike rides. Next I might venture to try more culinary adventures, write more and finally learn to drive. Beyond that - share this journey with whomever will listen and just keep trying. What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail? Sure you could do it -but are you gonna?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A 36 Mile, 1919 Calorie Cycling Challenge


I went biking today with a group from the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia. I've been riding steadily for the the past several months, while going at a slower pace during the winter. I had myself convinced I'm ready to be classified as an advanced beginner; A "C Class" rider in the bike club parlance. I set out this morning anticipating a meandering and fun ride through Fairmount park, riding some fast paced miles that would quicken my pulse and push my muscles. I couldn't have been more wrong about my abilities and my place in the bicycle pack. The ride I got today was such an eye-opening, muscle aching and heart-pumping work out that I'm surprised I have any strength left in my fingertips to even type this!

The bike club leader and riders decided to head out to Ardmore which is about 15-16 miles out from the Art Museum starting point; about 35 round trip. I gamely said I was up for it, thinking I've done 35 to 40 miles before. What I neglected to realize was that my 35-40 miles rides have been like a child's tricycle ride in the driveway compared to Lance Armstrong's 7th Tour de France 3rd Day Sprint wearing the Yellow Jersey ride. Okay, maybe this ride wasn't that intense, but it sure felt that way to me trying to go up Chamounix Street Hill past the Strawberry Mansion Bridge in beautiful Fairmount Park. Luckily the BCP leaders and riders are so nice and friendly; one of the guys always lagged behind with me, matching my snail's pace of 5 miles an hour uphill, urging me on while dispensing advice on how to best switch into the lower gears to twiddle up the hills. Tim, Sam, Chuck and Tom, 4 true gentlemen and experienced riders all took turns sharing encouragements and telling me when the next "rewarding" decent was about to approach. I could not have made this trip without the whole pack trailing along with me or waiting for me at the next major turn in the road.

We made it out to Ardmore, winding through Wynnefield and Bala, pedaling through Philadelphia, Montgomery and Delaware Counties. When we arrived in Ardmore, we stopped at the McDonald's for a rest and refreshment break. With strong will-power and memories of bad meals, I resisted the urge to go into Mickey D's and opted instead for a cuppa Joe from Dunkin Donuts. Hey, if American can run on Dunkin' then I can pedal on it too. Plus, I had a pack of smart fuel food - a sandwich on light whole grain bread, banana, apple, Nutrigrain Bars, and lots of water.

After resting about 1/2 an hour, we turned around and headed back towards the city, riding through Haverford and Ardmore, and then back through the beautiful suburban stone and gated communities and houses of Wynnefield, Wynnewood, and Lower Merrion. I was pedaling so hard, trying to take the small baby hills that seemed to just keep coming at me, I couldn't quite take in all the beauty of the neighborhoods, let alone have the chutzpah to stop and take any photos. I think the guys would have abandoned me along Lancaster Avenue if I pulled out my camera. There's always another time and place for taking photos and the memories both in my mind's eye and sore muscles will be with me for a long time to come!

After we crossed back into the City Limits,one of the guys said we'd be heading through Mannayunk. It wasn't until we crossed over the bridge that traverses 676 did I realize we were really riding through Mannayunk. Back on familiar biking territory felt easy to me - less muscle killing hills along Main Street. Somehow though I was still the last in the pack all the way up Main Street and then along Kelly Drive and West River Drive. Crossing East Falls Bridge was a new experience for me. I rode across it last weekend, but not after having ridden 30 miles with a my calves and thigh muscles having lactic-acid muscle spasms. Once I could cruise down West River Drive and keep up a 13 mile pace without feeling like my lungs were collapsing, I knew I had made a major accomplishment.

Back in the City - I had to walk up Locust Street from 25th to Rittenhouse Square. I was just too spent to take on any more inclines. I strolled through Rittenhouse and saw a bunch of people I know from the Synagogue; taking photo opportunities along the way of old buildings, signage, and a precious little long haired Chihuahua named Princess. The whole day was such a glorious rush. I learned a lot about my abilities and lack of therein, but I also realized where I want to go physically and quite possible how I may get there. It's not a marathon, I didn't set out on a bike race today. Match, pace, lead, eventually I'll get to my next stop.