Friday, April 03, 2020

The Next Turning of the Cooking Wheel: How a Pandemic Sparked More Cooking and Baking (And Not Just More Watching of the Food Network)

I love cooking. This is no surprise to those who know me.

I think many people who love cooking tell stories of growing up in their mother's kitchen, watching her cut and chop and mix and season; taking in the sounds, the smells; embraced in the oven-induced warm comfort of all day baking projects. And then eventually being instructed, little by little, how to do it all themselves.

My first remembrance of cooking went a little differently.

I was nine or ten years old. Both of my parents worked, and like many kids in the 70s, the thought of cooking never really crossed my mind. One day, my mother was going to be late getting home from work, so she called me to tell me to get some meatloaf mixed and in the oven. She told me all of the ingredients to mix together in a bowl (I had no idea what Worcestershire sauce was), what pan to put it in, and what temperature to set the oven to.

It all went pretty smoothly until I realized that I couldn't mix it very well with a mixing spoon, so I called her back for guidance. "Just mix it with your hands," she said.

Excuse me?

I tried. I really did. But the moment my hand touched that cool, slippery, sloppy mess, I pulled it away, repulsed. There was no way I was going to do that.

But I also wasn't going to drop the ball on doing what I was told, so I went in to the hall closet and found a box of gloves that my mom used to dye her hair (or give herself permanents, I don't remember now). I slipped the gloves on, and presto! Now I could mix away without getting that gross concoction all over my hands.

I didn't know there was powder inside the gloves until I took them off. That created an unexpected mess, which may or may not have ended up somewhere in the meatloaf.


This could have been the start of my cooking adventure, but it wasn't. In fact, I didn't think much about cooking again until more than ten years later, when I was a junior in college.

My friend Brad had this idea that we should drive from Iowa down to Florida to visit his mom in Tampa for spring break. The trip itself was full of memorable tales, but most importantly, this was the true origin of my personal cooking story.

One day, before Brad and I headed out to do whatever was planned for the afternoon, Brad's mom's boyfriend, who was a chef of some type, asked us if linguine and clams sounded good for dinner. I had ever had that dish before, but it sounded intriguing and sophisticated (to a boy from the Midwest who had probably never eaten a clam before), so I was totally on board with the idea. When we returned that evening, he had everything set out and ready to go.

My curiosity had been building for hours, so I asked him if I could watch him cook it. He said, "Oh, I'm not cooking it. You are." A moment of fear crept over me, and I was worried that I would somehow ruin everyone's dinner. "Um, I don't know that I can do that," I sheepishly answered. "Sure you can, " he replied, "I will tell you exactly what to do." Then he grabbed a wine glass, poured himself a tall glass of white wine, and added, "Let's get a few things chopped up and then we'll turn on the electric skillet."

And that, my friends, was the awkward beginning of my love affair with cooking.

I mentioned the electric skillet, by the way, because for years I was convinced that I had to use one when making linguine with clams (technically, white clam sauce). I mean, I knew you could probably just use a stove top, but I had never made it that way before, so for a few years afterwards I continued to use an electric skillet; not just for linguine and clams, but for a number of other things as well. I liked knowing the "preciseness" of the temperature, as indicated on the dial. But finally, I weaned myself off of it, and I don't think I have used one since 1991.


What does this have to do with cooking and a pandemic? Nothing, really. In fact, I could write for three or four more hours about my cooking life before I ever got to the pandemic part of the story. But I suppose, to stay true to the title, I should skip ahead, and, for now, anyway, leave out all of the cooking stories I want to tell so that I can get to the point.

Which is a tragedy, really, because there are so many good cooking stories.


But let's jump to the late 90's, when the Food Network suddenly became one of the fastest growing stations on cable television. I am sure that there are people out there who have already written about how and why this happened. I honestly haven't taken the time to figure it out. All I know is that by the early 2000s, yummo and EVOO seemed to be household words, and while I knew a number of people who took an increased interest in cooking, I knew exponentially more people who religiously watched the Food Network and put ridiculously nice kitchens in their homes...in many cases, to only get used once or twice a month.

Don't get me wrong....I don't want that to come out as a judgement. In my opinion, the kitchen is the most kick ass room in the house, and even if you don't really use it, the aesthetics alone are likely worth the money that was spent on it. Besides, 9 times out of 10, when you have a large party or gathering, the kitchen is where most of the people like to hang out (partly because that is where the food and drinks usually are, but also partly because of the inherent vibe of the space).

But I mention all of this because while an interest in cooking was clearly on the rise, what I witnessed most was nice kitchens with expensive appliances, frequent conversations about Food Network programs, and lots and lots of photos on Facebook of beautiful meals prepared in restaurants (again, no judgement here...I posted plenty of those photos).

In fact, I think for many years, this interest in food and cooking (for many people, at least) veered more in to an interest in eating other people's cooking, and thus, the "foodie" was formally born. And it's easy to see why. An interest in cooking was growing on the commercial side of things as well, and more and more restaurants serving amazing and interesting food were popping up everywhere. If one had the money, but lacked the time or inclination to cook, eating out was the next best thing. It was a mediated experience, of course, but it still allowed one to partake in the growing trend and interest in food.

We could discuss how that expression of food and cooking did or didn't get off track, but the "foodie" conversation will have to wait for another day. In 2020, the next turning of the cooking wheel was taking place.


I remember when I first heard about the coronavirus. Back then it was still the coronavirus and not COVID-19. It was also still contained to China. Or at least it seemed to be.

I also remember when I first heard the calls for the World Health Organization to label it a pandemic. Although I knew what that meant, in theory, I had no idea then that what it would amount to, now, was most of the U.S. population hanging out at home in relative isolation.

Additionally, when word of the first pillages of toilet paper made it's way through the media, it still seemed to just be a funny, albeit confusing, over-reaction by the panicked masses.

Even then...I didn't see it coming.

Now, two to three weeks in to sequester (depending on who you are and where you live), it is almost impossible to find flour and yeast.

Flour and yeast.

Were that many people silently waiting? Waiting for the day when they would be forced to stay at home to cook and bake? My Facebook feed is full of photos of food. All types of food. Food actually made by the person posting the photo. I also see lots of Facebook live videos of people filming themselves cooking and baking.

And I LOVE it. I really do.

I mean, it sucks that I can't buy flour or yeast anywhere, but in this pandemic madness; in this time of uncertainty and fear and anxiety; a time when no one knows what our lives will look like on the other side, or when the "other side" will even be; many people are using their time at home to rediscover, or perhaps to discover for the first time, the true joy of cooking.

That's not to say that some won't go back to what their lives were like before COVID-19 when this all passes, but I have to believe that maybe, just maybe, all of this time at home, not knowing what lies ahead, will create something that no Food Network show could ever do: give people the time and energy to have a first-hand, visceral experience of what a personal and intimate relationship with food and cooking feels like.

And my hope is that, for many, this will greatly alter how we view our food. And perhaps more importantly, that we pass that reclaimed vision on to our children.




Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Love (and Life) in the Time of Corona

In many ways, it feels good to return to the Mydharma Days blog. It is unfortunate, however, that it had to coincide with a global pandemic, but sometimes that's just the way things go.

The title of this post, if you are younger than the age of 45 and/or aren't in to literature, is a play on Gabriel Garcia Marquez's amazing book Love in the Time of Cholera. I think I would list it in my top 10 (fiction) books, so if you are looking for something to do during this semi-quarantine, I would consider reading it.

I started using this title in my MindBody Ops Facebook Live posts but thought I would use it here as well to kick off a new chapter, as it seems very appropriate.

There is really so much to write about, both related to COVID-19 and not. So much that I don't really even know where to start. I will warn you in advance that this post is not the "feel good post of the year."


Since I spend much of my professional life (as a personal coach and psychotherapist) challenging and deconstructing beliefs, I have noticed that there is one belief that is so interwoven in to our current mindset that we have probably never thought to examine it. It has become a part of the zeitgeist of our modern era; an assumed fundamental truth based on our unique time in history.

That belief is this:

We have an entitled view that Life, and the world, is just a medium for us to fulfill whatever desires we have, with little thought towards how it affects other people or the world that we live in.

If thousands of years ago the prevailing thought was that this world was illusion, or sinful, and something to escape by minimizing or eliminating our desires (and incorrect view, in my opinion), then we have now tipped to the opposite end of the spectrum, where we now see the world as a place to maximize pleasure and happiness and comfort at, basically, any cost.

We could point the finger at the New Agey ideas that sprang up from places like The Secret, or a number of other abundance teachings, but the soil from which most of those ideas grew came from the reality that most people have not had to live with a global crisis since World World II.

Now don't get me wrong...if you have lived or served in an area with war, or famine, or a major natural disaster, you have had a taste of this. But there was always some other place you could go to escape it. In fact, you were probably a 2-5 hour plane ride away from a totally different environment.

But the Great Depression and the World Wars were a whole different level. A high percentage of the world's population was affected at the same time, and these massive events caused profoundly different ways of relating to life and the world around us.

This should have been easy for us to see. It was right in front of us the whole time. We saw it every day in how our grandparents and great grandparents, the ones who survived these epic events, lived when times got good again. Many of them never let go of those older ways of thinking; the ways that life hardened and chiseled in to them. We naively labeled it "old fashioned," but many of those beliefs were the product of suffering and sacrifice and a world view that none of us have ever had to live under.

So here we are today, in the midst of what appears to be a global pandemic capable of causing millions of deaths, and so much of what I see on social media is about inconvenience. How dare that virus disrupt my routine, or my vacation, or my 401(k). How dare that virus ruin the success of our runaway economy; the one that has been very much based on debt and destruction and illusion.

I want to fly wherever I want to fly. I want to go wherever I want to go. I want to do whatever I want to do. It's my right. No one can tell me what I can and can't do.

Does it seem a little more ridiculous when viewed this way? Can you see the arrogance and entitlement? We have been so fortunate to have avoided so much crisis in the last 70 years that we forgot that our life has actually been a grand luxury.

If you are still having trouble seeing it, I would invite you to read more about the Great Depression, or about the rations (and internment camps) that happened during WWII. Or if you really want to have your eyes opened, read about what was happening in places like Hong Kong and Macau during the Japanese occupation.

A Facebook friend of mine (who I won't identify unless he sees this and says it is ok) posted this the other day:


Trust me, that is just one, small example of what I am talking about.


This is not to make light of your plummeting 401(K), or your precarious employment situation, or all of the other stressors that we are experiencing during this time. These stresses are real, and I don't mean to devalue them, per se.

But I do call upon an upgraded understanding and expanded perspective. We have lived during a time that has lulled many/most of us in to a sense of privilege and comfort. And maybe, if we see it as that instead of as how COVID-19 has been a great injustice to our lives, we can live with more mindfulness, and understanding, and appreciation going forward.

Because honestly, that is what it is going to take as we confront the life and the world that lies in front of us. The challenges that are out there in the near future, long after COVID-19 makes its exit, are going to demand a drastic reframe, and if we can begin to view our lives in the context of these upcoming challenges, we are much more likely to make the decisions (and take the actions) that are necessary to make the most of Love and Life in our short time on this planet.

What do these changes look like, from my perspective? That is part of what is to come.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Race Sherpa Rises: The side road through cancer

It is time to resurrect this blog.

But first, a note about the missing piece...

Not long after my last post, in February of 2015, I was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer. I really wanted to write about my experience, but I wanted to do it somewhere else, so I started a new blog called Race Sherpa Rises, which you can find here: Race Sherpa Rises blog

Race Sherpa Rises contains all of the content from my cancer experience, including my recovery. It also contains a little bit about the birth of my daughter, Taylor Joi. I actually wanted to pivot that blog in to what it was like to be a stay at home parent, but I decided not to, for reasons that I will explain later in this blog.

Because I started a side project called The Life Between, much of which is based on my experience with cancer, I wanted to leave Race Sherpa Rises just as it was so that I could use it as a resource. But I also wanted to start writing again, so as of today, I am moving back to Mydharma Days.

My first post, Love (and Life) in the Time of Corona is coming soon.

Monday, February 16, 2015

I Know Why The Race Sherpa Sherps

This post has been on my mind for some time now. In fact, I have probably written a number of versions of it my head more than a few times. As to why I have waited so long?? Well, there are a number of reasons, I suppose. I could use the excuse of not having the time, but frankly, as busy as I am, I have found the time for more trivial things.

I guess part of the reason is that it is really just a personal story, and not one that I feel compelled to share with the rest of the world. That said, being the significant other of Rose Wetzel Sinnett has put me in some sort of "limelight," and while I am not prone to draw attention to myself, sometimes that attention is inherited.

As such, a number of people have asked me why I haven't done a Spartan Race yet. While the real answers would best be conveyed in a long chat over coffee, or bourbon, I will briefly touch on three different reasons, for all of those who care. For those who don't, feel free to stop reading right now, as you probably won't find the rest very interesting.


First, I can't breathe.

I mean, yes, sitting here, typing this out, I can breathe. But something is wrong with my breathing. And that something gets compounded dramatically as my need for oxygen increases (ie during fast running, with high intensity exercise, etc). I don't mean a little bit, I mean a lot.

Like many stories, this one changes over time as more and more information is gathered. I used to pin this issue down specifically to July of 2013. I had been training for a 35k trail race in Washington called Angel's Staircase. On July 4th I met a friend at Discovery Park to run two hours of repeats on the south bluff trail. Three days later I did an 18 mile trail run/speed hike in the Cascades. Two days after that I woke up tired and thinking "I don't care if I ever run another step in my entire life."

Being a trainer and coach, I recognized it right away. I was displaying classic over-training symptoms. My heart rate would become elevated during even easy exercise, my strength plummeted, and psychologically I just didn't care. The thing was, I didn't think my total stress load was high enough to put me in to over-training, so I was a bit perplexed.

I took two to three weeks off and then just started to do really easy stuff. My breathing issue became more and more noticeable. A number of people shared their thoughts on what they thought I had done to myself. Some of the points seemed possible, others just didn't add up.

By November I was still doing very minimal stuff. My cardios were really chill and my lifting was pretty lame. My grip strength was all but gone, which I recognized as a possible sign of CNS fatigue. Then I made a fateful decision...

Rose had decided to run the XTERRA Trail World Championships in Hawaii. Rather than just go along for fun, I decided to do it as well, even though I was really in no condition to race it. We spent about three weeks training hard in the cold, rainy mountain weather; pushing really hard on the inclines. I could do it, but I was maxed out doing it, whereas I could tell Rose was only going about 75-80%.

The race killed me. I finished decently, actually, but the climbing and the hot weather piled on top of whatever I had going on pushed me way over the edge. I was done; physically and psychologically.

It was in January of 2014 that I realized that I was not breathing normally at rest, either. I made an appointment with a sports medicine doc who was mostly concerned about a heart issue. My labs were normal, my resting EKG was normal, my resting HR was still around 47 (pretty normal for me when I am training), and my chest xray showed nothing unusual. Their next play was an echocardiogram and/or a cardiopulmonary exercise test. The problem with being self-employed is that my insurance wasn't going to cover very much of anything, and I wasn't convinced they were going to tell me anything other than "you seem to have problems breathing," so I didn't do it.

Rather than go in to detail of the next eleven months I will just say that I have investigated a number of possibilities: stress, too few carbs, mold exposure, other environmental toxin exposures, lung parasites, etc etc etc... My strength is slowly coming back, but far far from what it used to be. My breathing...well, that hasn't really come back on-line yet. I do my best to work around it.

I mentioned at the beginning that the story has changed over time. Looking back now, I don't think July 2013 was the acute event. I actually think it started before that, and that maybe it was an escalating breathing issue that pushed me in to that place that looked like over-training. I have since had other labs drawn, outside of the standard tests, that show that there is definitely something going on. So the mystery, and the investigation, continues. I have some intuitions that I continue to pursue.

So, in summation, my health and fitness have become my priority, and doing races has very little appeal to me (for more than just this health issue; see below).


Second, I find a lot of fulfillment in being a sherpa.

If you have never had the opportunity to play the role of sherpa, without having to think or worry about all that is involved in racing, you should try it. I know that many of you have indeed done this. I have read the race accounts of pacers and support teams and you can see it in their words...that sense of duty and satisfaction of being helpful. It really is a beautiful thing. Rose has traveled to and won a number of races that I wasn't at. She is fully capable of doing it all on her own. But when I go, I can take over all of the logistics, and all she has to think about is the preparing and the racing. It's fun. It builds a sense of team. I am 48, and I have been an athlete my entire life. I have no problem hanging out in the shadows. That said, I am enormously grateful for all of the amazing people I have met in the Spartan community who have made me feel included, from the top elites to the slowest open runners. It has been such a privilege to be a part of that world. Interestingly, it is precisely because I haven't been racing that has allowed me the opportunity to get to know so many people.

Genuinely...thank you for demonstrating such kindness.


Third, ????

This is the tough one. The one that is perhaps the most difficult to explain.

It is possible that this point of view is tainted because I haven't been feeling the greatest. I acknowledge that. But as of now, through the lenses that I currently wear, even if my health was much better, I don't know how many Spartan Races I would do. It's just not where I am at right now. As I mentioned above, I've been a competitive athlete for most of my life, but at some point (probably around age 32 or so) I made that journey more private. The "why's" would take too long to explain in this already too long blog post. The 35k trail race I signed up for back in 2013 was the first real "race" I had agreed to do in a long, long time. For the last fifteen years my primary competition was my watch and my former self. No competitors, no spectators, no entry fee, no podiums.

In addition, the flame that used to stoke the fire of athletic competition is now pointing in a different direction. I still enjoy sports and fitness...it is part of my current career...but my focus is on other aspects. And the intensity is just as strong.

I LOVE to see how empowered people get by doing these races. As a trainer and coach, I have seen the same thing happen with clients. But success in the athletic arena is not how I find my own personal empowerment right now. I still love being athletic; it is still an integral part of my life; but with my focus elsewhere and my health and fitness on the ropes, I've decide to dedicate my time and energy in other ways.


So why does the Race Sherpa sherp?

Because.

As with any question about a person, the answer rarely lies in assumptions and speculative narratives. If you want to get to the real reasons behind why people do what they do or don't do, ask. And more importantly, listen to the answers. Because some answers won't be as straight-forward as they seem.

We all have histories and stories that make up who we are. Or more accurately, who we believe ourselves to be.

Listen. Listen.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Too long

Too long, too long...

The words have played out in my head (only) before returning to the ether
Making contact long enough to see, but without a sketch
Their form now escapes my thoughts

But oh, how silly to long for the water that has passed by
In the river I am standing in

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Question of the Gyro; or, How Endurance Runners Made Me Love the Loaf

It's not uncommon when you are in your 20s or 30s to begin loving foods that you disliked as a child. For me, olives and avocados are examples of things that I despised when I was younger but grew to like over time. By your 40s, however, if you've been eating across the food spectrum (as I have), your tastes have pretty much been developed. There is always room for a special preparation of something or another, of course, that might swing your culinary taste (in any form, I rarely like eggplant or artichokes), but it's rare to suddenly start liking something that you've never liked before. Or, in this case, something I had never really eaten before.

How a carnivore like myself had not crossed paths with gyros is a bit of a mystery. I remember seeing lots of gyro places around when I was growing up, I just wasn't drawn to going to them. But last May, while I was in Spokane for Bloomsday, my entire attitude about gyros changed forever. And I have endurance athletes and antiquated ideas about carb loading to thank for it....

I was in Spokane with Rose, who had been invited to run Bloomsday as an elite runner. As such, we got to stay in the Double Tree Hotel and had access to all of the elite athlete perks. This included a pre-event meal the night before, consisting of pasta, bread and lots of sweet things, as well as all-day access to the hospitality room, which was constantly full of similar starches.

First of all, don't get me started on the idea of "carb loading" the night before a race. Especially with pasta. I'm amazed that athletes perform well at all after that blood glucose bolus followed by the subsequent insulin smack-down (not to mention the inflammation potentially firing up as a result of all of those refined starches and sugars). Yes, of course, carbs are an important source of calories for endurance athletes, but the system doesn't work quite like that. Secondly, and more important to this story, is what happens to a protein-type like myself when there is only access to these kinds of foods.

You know those times when you haven't eaten in quite a while and your brain starts to go crazy? That's what it's like for me when I haven't had some serious protein. The Kenyans seemed to be having no problems, but I was suffering and exhibiting some serious physical and psychological deficits. Craving meat and feeling fuzzy-headed I found myself wandering outside the hotel, looking at the Yelp app on my iPhone for ANYWHERE nearby that might do the trick. Azteca, across the street?? No no. I wasn't THAT desperate. I think I might rather pass out and fall over. I was looking for something that, at the very least, had good local reviews. I'm not a TOTAL food snob, but I do care about what is going in to my body (if not by quality then at least by taste).

Finally, a Greek place showed up on Yelp. With really good reviews. And only a few blocks away. A light shining down from heaven! I practically ran there, and when it came time to order I almost didn't know how to choose from all of the meat-oriented options. I settled for a simple gyro, and when they brought it out to me it was as if I had been served my first meal in a month. It was unbelievable.

I understand that when you are really hungry even the most simple foods taste amazing, like a PB&J sandwich during a long hike. But THIS! THIS was something special. And when I got back to Seattle I took to eating gyros as a weekly staple. I would have to say that it even displaced tacos as my favorite "out and quick" go-to food.

So here I am, almost ten months later, and gyros are still an intricate part of my weekly eating pattern. But because it's gone this long, I have to finally confront the one thing that I ignored originally (out of necessity) and have turned a blind eye to ever since: what IS that beef/lamb meatloaf, exactly, and where does it come from? I don't consume high-fructose corn syrup, I avoid most sugar and grain products, I buy organic produce and organic/grass fed meat whenever I can. What I am left with when I strip it all down to the core is that I intuitively know that the quality of meat in those gyros isn't very high. And some day soon that knowledge is going to overtake my love of them. But until then, I will savor every bite. And I have skinny endurance runners to thank for it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Don't call it a comeback...

How is it that it is now 2010? Not just 2010, mind you, but the middle of May 2010. Where have I been? What has changed?

On a glacial scale, very little has changed, of course. In human terms, however, so much has changed that to go back and try to revisit it all seems pointless. So I'm left with "not much has changed" in terms of information to share, and yet in reality everything has changed.

You can't put your foot in the same river twice, they say. And that's true of life as well. It is in constant flux. And even though we sometimes feel as if there's nothing to SAY, it's only because the constant, on-going, moment to moment movement of our own existence eludes us (or eludes our ability to verbalize it). The person I was when I started typing this is already different; thoughts are different, biology is different, molecules are different.

How silly we are...conceptualizing separate, discrete, tangible...where only interconnected, continuous, and empty exists.