Monthly Archives: November 2013

Taking the First Step

A little more than a year ago, I joined a gym and started working with a personal trainer. I never intended to work with a trainer; I walked into the gym and joined because it was next door to my office, it was cheap, and they had a swimming pool where I could do laps. One of the perks of membership was a complimentary (read: included) fitness assessment with a trainer.

His name was Quayshawn, but he went by Q. I was more than a little nervous when I met him, but I maintained an aura of confidence and calm. I had worked with a trainer before—one who pushed me to the point of injury, and another who pushed me to learn how to box, and quite well at that. But he had flaked out on a few too many appointments, and eventually disappeared.

Q went through some basic warm ups with me, and then wanted to do push-ups. I shook my head vigorously. “I can’t do them,” I said. “Not in 7th grade gym class, and not now.”

But instead of insisting I put myself in a plank position and push, he had me stand near a bar that came up to about my hips. He stood next to me, leaned over and demonstrated the move, showing me how to position my shoulders directly over my hands and keep my abs tight. Go down, then push up. Simple.

It took 5 tries and a whole lot of sighing, but I did one. And 10 minutes later, I forked over a bunch of money and signed up for 24 sessions of training.

And so the work began.

Today, I am still working with Q two mornings a week at 7:30am. He left the gym next door to the office, and I followed him to another one ten blocks north. Not only can I do multiple reps of push-ups on a lower bar, I’ve also learned how to do sit-ups and Sumos and kettle bell swings, chest presses and deadlifts: exercises I could never do before, and never thought I would do. And what keeps me from hitting the snooze button every Tuesday and Friday when the alarm wakes me at 5:30 is knowing that by training muscles I never used and pushing myself to keep going, I look and feel better now than I ever have. And admittedly, I like it when I hear, “Wow. You look great. What have you been doing?”

I have Q to thank for a lot of this—he’s an excellent teacher and a great motivator, not a bully. And by showing me that I could do a lot if I really pushed myself, he inspired me to maintain the discipline to get out of bed early and just do the work, to have patience and trust that the results I wanted would come if I kept working at it.

I’ve tried to apply the “it’s just working a different set of muscles” idea to writing, but I haven’t been able to maintain the discipline to do it consistently. I think I’m afraid of producing bad material.

Today I took the first step in lighting the fire under me (or within me) to kickstart this blog writing and keep it going. I registered for a food writing class with the Institute for Culinary Education. It’s only two sessions, and they don’t meet till December, but if I’m going to meet a bunch of new people and workshop my writing, I want to be ready.

Today the work begins.

Sunchokes: A Culinary Wrong, Righted

While I am rather behind in my writing, I did eventually get around to make the $8/pound sunchokes, and I learned a valuable lesson in doing so:

Don’t leave a vegetable you’ve never cooked before unattended in the oven while you’ve got four burners going on the stove.

And add to that:

One of the down sides of disconnecting your ultra-sensitive smoke alarm is that you can’t tell how much you’ve burned something until you pull the pan out of the oven and get suffocated by the smoke.

So, the sunchokes were a disaster. I couldn’t even eat around the burned bits, because they tasted so…burned.

The next day, I went to see my friend Jessica, who moved from bustling Park Slope to a lovely neighborhood called Ditmas Park. When I got off the train, I felt like I was in another country. Tall trees, lovingly restored Victorian mansions with driveways. Parking spaces on the street. Well-manicured front lawns. Drivers who obeyed traffic laws (which is what kept it from feeling like New Jersey). Jessica gave me a tour, which included stops at a co-op grocery store, and the local green market.

And there, I found a crate teeming with sunchokes. Cost: $4/pound. I loaded up with the enthusiasm of a child set loose in a candy shop. I would right my culinary wrong, and  prepare crispy, golden brown roasted sunchokes.

For round 2, I changed methods, switching from oven roasting to pan roasting. Prep work was pretty minimal: rinse, scrub, chop into 1″ chunks. Heat skillet, add oil, then garlic, and allow some time for sizzling. Add chokes, salt and pepper. Allow a good 5 minutes for loud sizzling and a few pops. Shake pan, being careful not to let any sizzling hot pieces take flight. Stir periodically and cook another 8-10 minutes, making sure there’s a good sear (but not a char) on the chokes, and use a wooden spoon to scrape brown bits on the bottom of the pan.

Transfer chokes to a bowl, return pan to the flame, increase heat, and add a generous pour of wine. Stand back from initial burst of smoke, then scrape the browned bits on the bottom of the pan and stir into the liquid.

Deglazing. Best technique for making a pan sauce.

Once the liquid has reduced by half (it should also be a bit thicker), return sunchokes to pan and toss in the sauce. Side note: while sunchokes have a nuttier flavor than potatoes, they’re pretty mild, so season as you go, and test frequently.

Serving suggestion:
Co-starring sauteed chicken with shallots and steamed broccoli

Co-starring sauteed chicken with shallots and steamed broccoli