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Etiquette Hell
The International Club
Savage Love

July 7th, 2009

09:33 am - Dentists and dumplings

Yet another journal entry swallowed by the black hole that is my computer. I was at the dentist yesterday, finally got up the courage to make an appointment. Ever since I had my first cavity and the Austrian dentist filling it without anesthetic (costs extra and you have to know to ask for it pretty damn quick before that drill is already in your tooth), I've been petrified of going. Say what you will about health care in America, but our standards of dental care are incredibly high. At my American dentist in O'fallon, I would come in twice a year. They'd do x-rays, carefully clean, scrape, floss, polish and fluoridize my teeth, check for cavities and send me home with a new toothbrush. Here, you get x-rays and a quick visual check by the dentist. No cleaning (costs around €80 extra, isn't paid for by insurance). No toothbrush.  No fluoridization (have never even seen this offered anywhere). No nothing. It's very disappointing, to be honest.

Our dentist here in Linz is refreshingly aware though of how far Austrian dentistry lags behind the world standard. The first time I went, he was falling all over himself to tell me not to worry, that he knows Austrian dentists are mostly stuck in the dark ages, but that they do things more progressively at his office (like offer you the anesthetic before they start drilling). I must have particularly sexy teeth, too. Every time I'm there he piles on the compliments about how refreshing it is to see someone who has such nice teeth and who takes such good care of them. I mean, when you consider the alternative, I think there's a pretty good incentive to brush and floss, but apparently I'm in the minority.

Remember how I talked about dumplings being a staple here? Here's a recipe for sweet dumplings. You can make them with plums or even cherries or strawberries, but the most popular fruit to use is apricots.

For two people, you'll need:

  • 6-7 apricots, washed and dried
  • 1 package of cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 - 2 cups of flour
  • bread or graham cracker crumbs
  • 2-3 tablespoons of sugar
  • cinnamon
  • 2-3 tablespoons of butter

Blend cream cheese, egg and salt in a mixer until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, blend in a little flour at a time until managable enough to turn out onto the counter and work by hand. Keep adding flour a little bit at a time until the dough is still very soft, but not unmanagably sticky (hint: it will always be somewhat sticky). Roll into a cylinder and cut into equal pieces according to however many apricots you have. One at a time, use your fingers to squash each piece flat on the counter (use plenty of flour to keep it from sticking). Then lay the dough on one hand, place an apricot in the center, and wrap the dough around until it's completely covered (use flour and work fast, the warmth of your hands will make the dough stickier). Make sure the dough doesn't have any cracks anywhere and that the edges are completely sealed.

When you've finished all the dumplings, carefully drop them one by one into boiling salted water. Stir very gently at first and carefully pry up any that stick to the bottom of the pot, which they will until the dough forms a skin. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the dumplings are floating. You can leave them in the hot water to keep warm when they are done, just remove them from the heat.

In the meantime, heat the butter in a pan and add the crumbs and sugar, browning until, well, brown! If you have a quality pan, the crumbs will continue to brown for a bit after you remove them from the heat, so keep an eye on them until the pan cools a little. Add cinnamon if you like cinnamon.

When the dumplings are ready, lift them out of the water one by one and roll in the crumbs. Serve immediately.

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July 6th, 2009

12:40 pm - Of eyeliner and cars

I am fed up with my eyeliner pencil. The flipping thing needs to be sharpened fairly regularly, otherwise I look like I'm headed to some kind of heavy metal concert and not to work. But the "lead" is kinda sticky, and it coats the inside of the pencil sharpener. Result: the next time you go to sharpen the dang thing, the tip sticks to the inside of the sharpener and breaks off. Then you have to dig it out with a real pencil and try again, only to have it break again. This of course with minutes to go until the bus comes by. I'm gonna have to either start keeping the pencil in the fridge to keep it from being so sticky (we don't have A/C), or go with one of those plastic pencils where you turn it to advance the eyeliner.

We were in Graz this weekend for my aunt's 50th birthday. It was a fun, if exhausting afternoon with family. 

Meanwhile, the A/C in our car broke. Stefan noticed that it wasn't blowing cold air anymore on Friday afternoon. Well, tough luck. All mechanics close on Fridays just after lunch and do not reopen until Monday morning. The last guy there was simply able to inform us that there was no coolant in the system, obviously indicating a leak. And that it might have blown out the compressor if it had been running dry for too long. And that a new compressor would run something like €1500. We drove to Graz and back (2.5 hours each way) sweating, but fortunately it wasn't too hot out. I put a few ice packs on the cat's box to keep him cool.

That was pretty much the last straw with this car. It is 5 years old and we have had it for just over 2 years. So far: one window freed itself and dropped down into the door; the driver's inside door handle pulley system broke, meaning we couldn't open the door from the inside and the interior door panel had to be dismantled twice (€€€) to fix it; a ball joint broke; the tail lights keep burning out; a headlight came out of its socket; the LCD display went haywire; the brakes were warped; the doors keep squeaking and groaning. Just off the top of my head. Now, this is the kind of list I'd expect from a 10 year old car, not one with less than 50,000 miles on it!

So we're in the market for a new used car, a slightly bigger one in view of any future additions to the family. I'd love a Toyota, but they are much more expensive than the competition. At the moment, we're looking at a Ford C-max or Renault Scenic or maybe Opel Vectra. These are all a peculiar kind of European style: taller than a station wagon but not as long. Like a large hatchback. The Toyota Corolla Verso, would be good too, but it would be €2000 more expensive. Then again, if we went with a gasoline motor rather than diesel, that would knock about €2000 off the price.

Stefan spent most of yesterday evening looking up cars and prices while I was sewing. There's a Mazda 6 somewhere not too far from here that we want to visit. I get the impression it's going to be a hectic coupla weeks.

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July 2nd, 2009

12:38 pm - 10 year reunion

I'm thinking of moving my blog over to Wordpress. I would like to set this thing up like kind of a website of my own, but Livejournal doesn't really have that many features in its free version, at least not as far as I can tell.

My ten-year high school reunion would be the weekend after next (I think). Presumably, anyway, I haven't gotten any invitation or anything, but I did graduate in 1999, so it seems likely. Reunions are always held on the weekend of the Firemen's Picnic, which is a two-day party back in my home town. There's a parade in the late afternoon, featuring virtually anyone who wants to be in it, but certainly the High School and Jr. High marching bands, some classic cars, some tractors pulling wagons of employees sitting on hay bales and throwing candy to advertise local businesses, and of course, all the shiny fire trucks with lights flashing and sirens howling. And who could forget the shriners, who dress up in gorilla suits and are towed along in a wagon that looks like a cage, but with the bars plenty wide for them to get in and out. As a child, I was terrified of them getting out and eating the spectators! This being our reunion year, I would be sitting on a scratchy hay bale with people I never got along with in school, people I did get along with but haven't kept in touch with, and pretty much no one else. We would politely trading pleasantries and the abridged version of "my life since high school", and wave to people we know (in this town, everyone who isn't in the parade, is sitting on the curb or in lawn chairs, watching the parade).

After the parade, everyone wanders up town. The main street is closed to traffic and they have rickety carnival rides, cotton candy stands, etc. set up. Every year since I was a kid, I have been sure that the rides have reached the most rickety condition possible without failing inspection, but every following year disproves that theory. The fire department sells beer and hot dogs (I first mistyped that as "hot gods", which would be very interesting indeed!), which, considering the volumes of both commodities sold, should provide a pretty comfortable budget for the rest of the year. There's a live band playing cover versions of oldies. The main attraction is accumulating as tall a stack of empty plastic beer cups as possible while maintaining a vertical position.

Anyway, I'm going to be missing it, since I'm out of the country. I'm not too broken up about it, seeing as I'm only mildly curious about what people have been up to. The Picnic is a good time though, in general, so I look forward to the next time we're home in the summer.

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July 1st, 2009

12:31 pm - Couch update plus Asian snowpea stir fry

OK, now for my third attempt to write this post without Word crashing. The two programs we have to have open in order to translate (Word and Translator's Workbench) do not always jive, so crashes are pretty common. They tend to come in waves, strangely enough. No crashes for weeks and then a crash every half an hour for before another hiatus. Who knows...

The couch is coming along nicely. The pillows, which is what I started with, are more work than I'd anticipated. They are two colors, front and back, orange like the couch and yellow as a contrast. I'm doing appliqued squares of the opposite color and different sizes on each side, which looks great but takes a lot of time. Mostly for pinning. The sewing is not really that difficult or time consuming, which kind of surprises me. I'm also putting in zippers in case anything gets spilled on them. Yank out the stuffing and wash the case. I've already had to rip apart the "guinea pig" pillow, since I didn't like the way the appliques looked. They were originally aligned with the outside corners, but ended up looking kind of lost and random. Now they're aligned with the center and look much nicer.

Stefan bought a big ol' bag of snowpeas at the farmer's market on Saturday, and we've been basing our meals around them ever since. Yesterday, we just had one handful left, so I gathered some inspiration on the interwebs and whipped up an Asian-style stir fry.

To feed two people you need:

  • "Asian" noodles, could be ramen-type, wheat, rice or glass, probably doesn't matter too much as long as they aren't too fine. We used wheat-based ones. I'm sure regular fettucine would work great too.
  • a handful of snowpeas (obviously), tipped and tailed
  • 1 carrot, peeled, halved and sliced diagonally into thin slices
  • half a red bell pepper leftover from yesterday's salad, sliced into strips
  • 1 spring onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • a few slices of ginger
  • 1 chili, sliced
  • peanut oil
  • soy sauce
  • lemon juice
  • cilantro
  • sesame seeds

Boil the noodles in salted water until nearly done (still chewy). Drain into a colander but do not rinse. Splash with sesame or peanut oil instead to keep them from sticking.

Optional: fill that pot back up with water and bring to a boil, tossing in the peas and carrots and blanching them for 2 minutes. This is if you don't want them to be quite so crunchy in the final dish.

Heat peanut oil in a wok. Add garlic, chili and ginger. After a few seconds, add peas and carrots. Don't forget to stir all the time to keep things from sticking or getting too brown. After about 30 seconds, add bell pepper and onion. Splash in some lemon juice and soy sauce to taste. You could also add some chili paste or a dollop of peanut butter or teriyaki sauce, etc. Finally, add the noodles, sesame seeds and cilantro, tossing with the veggies until hot. Remove from the heat.

You want to noodles to be a little chewy going into the wok, because they will cook some more in that heat. Also, by not rinsing them off, they are coated in a thin layer of starchy goo which holds onto all the other flavors and juices better. If you want some protein in there, add sliced chicken or pork to the wok first.

 This was such a nice, fresh, light meal, perfect for summer and chilled white wine.

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June 30th, 2009

11:24 am - How far have you ever traveled for food?

The blogroll subject of the week is "How far have you traveled for food". Unfortunately, I don't have any spectacular story of intercontinental journeys for tacos. I guess the farthest I've traveled would be clear across Vienna, on foot, for a hot dog (I'm using the term hotdog for all the myriad kinds of sausages sold at Austrian hotdog stands).

I was at a Halloween party hosted by some other Americans with two friends, Rebecca and Karen. Now, Halloween is great in Austria, because Nov. 1st is a federal holiday (All Saint's Day), which means you can sleep in and don't have to worry about being hungover or anything. Austrians don't quite get the Halloween costume, though. As in, they do not quite grasp the idea that you are supposed to dress like something or someone else (pirate, vampire, samurai warrior, crayon, etc). They consider putting on a funny hat sufficient, which I refuse to accept. Anyway, the party was fun, but around 3AM, the hosts clearly wanted to get to bed, so we left. Now, the party was on the outskirts of the first district, near Museumsquartier. I lived in the 12th district at that time, which is way too far to walk, Rebecca lived I think in the 10th, and Karen lived just on the other side of the 1st district, in the 4th, but was too drunk to walk it (see map).

Trouble is, the subways don't run at night. And we were hungry. But 24h establishments are practically non-existent in this country. So we started walking towards the city center. Or more accurately, Rebecca and I were walking and half-carrying Karen. I knew there was a hotdog stand on Hoher Markt (a square right in the middle of town) that was open 24h. They also have the world's greatest Käsekrainer, which are these sausages with chunks of cheese in them which melt and ooze when you cut them up and leak out and crisp up when frying. Mmmmm...

Finally, we made it. There was a line at that silly hotdog stand from here into the middle of next week, but it was moving pretty quickly and we soon got our hotdogs and beers. Well, Rebecca and I got beers, we wouldn't let Karen have anything but water.  We sat on the curb, eating our hotdogs, admiring the strange monument on the square. If you've ever seen The Third Man with Orson Welles (and if you haven't, you really should), one of the final scenes (where the final chase begins) takes place on Hoher Markt. The movie was filmed in the 50s, when most of the buildings around the square were piles of rubble, but that very distinctive monument survived.

By the time we'd finished our hotdogs, it was around 4:30. We trekked to the nearest subway station and sat on the platform, waiting for the first train of the morning. Mine arrived around 5, and I was back in bed with a stomach full of greasy goodness by 5:30.

Since I'm already writing about food, here's another favorite recipe.  I am a huge fan of soup.  In the winter, Stefan and I will often make a big ol' pot of vegetable soup and work on it for a few days for supper.

We had the most delicious soup last weekend: cream of zucchini. It's super easy to make and really really good. What you need for about 6 servings:

2 medium zucchinis
½ cup of whipping cream (depending on how rich you want it to be, you could add more)
1 medium onion
bouillon cubes
garlic to taste (I used 3 cloves)

 Dice the onion and zucchini, slice the garlic cloves into thin slices. Add some oil to a pot and fry the onion until translucent. Add the diced zucchini and garlic and stir in until warm. Add enough water to cover the zucchini and onion. Add boullion cubes according to how much water you added. Add cream. Simmer until the zucchini is soft. Season with pepper and nutmeg, if you have some. Ladle the soup into a blender and puree. I find it really makes a difference if you then pass the whole mess through a sieve after blending. In other words, pour it through a sieve and force any chunks through with a rubber spatula. I used to think this was silly (after all, it's just been blended!) but I tried it once and it really makes the soup just that much smoother. I've been doing it ever since to all creamed soups. Return to the pot, check the seasoning and serve immediately. If it tastes a little bland, add salt or another splash of cream. Optional: reserve some of the whipping cream and whip it, adding on top of the soup just before serving.

 This would be really good with some croutons in it or some crunchy bread twists. From this recipe, I ended up with two generous servings for dinner plus 3 for the freezer.

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June 16th, 2009

09:34 am - The couch

 Not too much going on at work today. We're slipping into the slow summer months. There are just a few weeks of school left before the end of the year, and then half the country boards up their windows until the end of August. Because everyone gets at least 5 weeks of paid vacation per year, people tend to take longish vacations away from home (most often in Italy on the beach). For this reason, a good third of any company's employees tend to be missing on any given day of July and August. In other words, nothing gets done because it's always laying on the desk of someone who's off getting sunburnt.

 Stefan and I are going to take a mini-vacation of just a week in August some time. Mostly, we're spreading our vacation days out to make several 3 and 4-day weekends because my mom is visiting from the states. Plus we want to save some up for Christmas. The plan at the moment is to fly overseas for Christmas and New Year's. We really should get on looking for flights...

 Yesterday, we finally bought fabric for my latest and most ambitious project to date: reupholstering our dingy couch. I think I've mentioned before (or maybe not) that we got this couch I guess about 4 years ago in Vienna, and it was the cheapest couch with a pull-out bed on sale in the entire city. It cost €300. I reckon you can count on about a year of couch service life per €100 spent (nice ones cost around €2000 and I'd expect them to last at least 20 years), so ours is clearly already a wonder of science. The cushioning is actually still fine: the main problem is the fabric. That's obviously where they skimped to make it so cheap, the fabric is this thin microfiber stuff that doesn't stand up very well to a cat running across it. It's full of claw holes despite the fact that Kürbis never scratches at it. It's only a matter of time before two of those holes join with a tear, and that's the beginning of the end. Or maybe the end of the end, come to think of it. It also statically attracts dust and cat hair like it's going out of style.

 So, two options: 1) buy a new couch to the tune of €700 for something halfway decent or 2) spend €200 and a lot of time reupholstering the old one. We opted for 2).

 The fabric store we went to in the city is pretty ritzy, they sell lace that costs hundreds per meter, wool for suits, but also cheap stuff of every weight, color and quality. Their upholstery/bedding fabric comes in widths of 280 - 300 cm, which is extra extra wide. I had my eye on this plain, dark gray cotton fabric, a bit like denim but without that crisscrossy grain. Turns out that was out of stock and they didn't know when they might get more. The lady there suggested this rust orange fabric in a cotton/synthetic blend, with a subtle woven-in diamond pattern. Our couch is currently almost the same color, a little pinker though. We ended up with the orange fabric because it was there, mostly, and Stefan likes it. It's a little shinier than I would have liked, but I think it'll look nice. We also got some goldenrod yellow in that first kind of fabric as a contrast for the pillows for the back.

 I already measured out all the fabric-covered parts of the couch (and there's a lot!) and made patterns out of newspaper. That was very time-consuming, let me tell you. Cutting out the pieces ought to be a piece of cake in comparison. We'll see how it goes...

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June 8th, 2009

12:46 pm - Dumplings
Haven't posted much recently, but we had a barrage of visitors and then I was sick. Just a cold, but it was the cold from hell (TM). Still is, in fact. It's been a week and I don't feel 100% well yet, but I can't justify staying at home, you know? I did take two days off from work last Wednesday and Thursday, for the first time ever. I've actually never had a job before with paid sick days, and I thought I'd use them for their intended purpose. It was kinda nice, I think I enjoy not working because I am basically very very lazy at heart, though I'd also prefer not feeling like death. I got a link somewhere to a forum thread about the moon landings with some nutcase who didn't even have the most basic grasp of astronomy or physics or even reading a graph trying to claim they never happened. Hours of entertainment there, trust me. After reading that thread, I feel confident that I can answer any question sceptics might have, because I'm pretty sure they were all covered.

My mom flew in on Wednesday for the summer, she's staying with my Grandma in Graz, which is a pretty good arrangement. We visited last weekend, and they'll be visiting us this coming weekend.

Let me tell you about dumplings. They are an Austrian staple and they come in an infinite number of varieties. The basic savory ones are bread dumplings. What you want to start off with are dry white bread cubes, kinda like croutons or stuffing, but without any flavor. Can you get plain stuffing? I honestly don't know remember, but it's just stale white bread cut into cubes and left to dry. You can use fresh bread ones too.

You need:

bread cubes
1 onion
1 cup milk
1-2 eggs
1-2 T flour
pressure cooker / steamer

I never measure these ingredients, but it's a very flexible recipe, it really doesn't have to be exact. It's really hard to get so wrong you can't eat the result.

Take a salad bowl (volume of around 3-4 cereal bowls) and fill it about 2/3 with these bread cubes. Chop one onion and sautee in oil until translucent and starting to brown, i.e. not very long. Add onion and any remaining oil to the bread cubes. Whisk one or two eggs (depending on how big the bowl is, just guess, it'll be fine I promise) with the milk. Pour over the bread / onions. Season the mixture with plenty of salt, a pinch of nutmeg and plenty of parsley. Mix well. There should be enough liquid to get all the bread mostly soft, but not soggy. It's ok if the bread is still crunchy in the middle. You don't want it to completely fall apart though. If it's not looking moist enough, add a splash of milk or water. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so to soak up the liquid. In the meantime, get out the pressure cooker and get it ready with water and the little platform thingy for food (what do you call those things).

When the mixture is moist but not soggy (bread should still be in nice pieces, shouldn't disintegrate), scatter 1 or 2 tablespoons of flour (depending on how soft your mixture is) over the mixture to bind the remaining liquid. Mix in well. Now take handfuls of the mixture and form dumplings a little smaller than baseballs. They should be soft enough to stick together well, if not, add a little more liquid. Make sure the outside is pretty smooth. Put dumplings in the pressure cooker, lock down the lid, turn the stove on high. When the cooker has reached full steam, let it go for around 5 minutes and then turn off the stove, leaving the cooker to cool down naturally. When it's back to normal pressure, open it up and hopefully find a lot of nice, steamy dumplings looking up at you.

I think you could do this in a steamer too, but it would take longer. Maybe 15-20 minutes of steam. You are supposed to be able to cook them in hot but not quite boiling water too, but my attempts at this have all ended in waterlogged, disintegrating disasters. I don't recommend it.
The dumplings can be served as the starchy side dish of practically any meat that has a little sauce or gravy to it. Great with goulash, for example, or pork roast, or turkey. They are also good cut into slices and fried with scrambled eggs in a pan. I always make a whole bunch and freeze them (they freeze really well). Just wrap them individually in foil and freeze. Reheat by chucking the whole thing, foil and all into simmering water or by microwaving (without foil, obviously).

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May 26th, 2009

12:30 pm - Scrabble

My favorite ever ad was one I think for Polaroid. I thought of it when I read about Polaroid discontinuing their instant picture cameras.

 The camera pans down a gate to a park reading "San Francisco Park". You see these two old fogeys playing Scrabble in the park. The board is about half full as one puts down "QUIXOTIC" across a triple word score and gloats. The other looks on, helplessly, and glances at his letters, which the camera cuts to, showing nothing but I's. Suddenly, you hear a rumbling and the board starts to shake, shaking the tiles out of order. But the guy who's winning whips out a camera, takes a quick Polaroid of the board, all while laughing his head off as the other guy sighs, dejectedly.

 I'm not sure why, but that one has always made me laugh, probably because I've been that guy who has nothing but I's or C's. And my grandma is the one who puts down words like quixotic, or even more questionable ones we need a dictionary for, to determine whether or not it is a real word. When we play in Austria, my grandma has a trusty, (ancient) dictionary which is the final arbiter of these disputes. If it's not in that dictionary, it isn't a word and can't be played. I say trusty, but I don't trust it all. I once played "QUASAR", my best ever use of the letter Q. She challenged it and sure enough, it wasn't in the dictionary. Well, that's because the dictionary was printed round about 1962. I just checked on Wikipedia, and quasars were not even really discovered until around then. I may as well have tried to play "PODCAST" or "EURO", but neither have as high a word score as QUASAR.

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May 19th, 2009

12:30 pm - 21km in 2:29:41

  We did it!

 Stefan and I finished the half marathon a hair under our target time of 2:30. 

 It was quite an experience, that's for sure. The day started early: we got up around 6am to get ready and get down to the city. The race was set to start at 8:30 and we had to stop by the Brucknerhaus concert hall, which is where everything was organized from, to drop off our stuff. So we got ready, ate breakfast, and went out to the bus stop. Now, because of the race, the bus was scheduled to stop short of the city. The plan was to take a shuttlebus from there to the other end of town and then walk to the starting line. But as we were standing at the bus stop, a van from the fire department stopped, the door opened, and some guy from my work (whose name I can't remember for the life of me) asked if we wanted a ride! He and this other guy in the van, who was some kind of volunteer firefighter, were being dropped off as close to the start as traffic was allowed to go, so we jumped in. Great, eh?

 As we walked toward the Brucknerhaus, we joined a vast stream of runners in their running outfits and shoes, all going in the same direction along the river (the start was on the Autobahn bridge). It was already pretty warm, warmer than they'd forecast, so on the spur of the moment, we stuffed our jackets into our bags and left them at the Brucknerhaus. Boy am I glad we did! After standing in line for what felt like hours for the bathroom, we headed out to the starting line.

 There's something just so awesome about standing in the middle of the highway, isn't there? I love it! The full marathon runners and relay runners were on the right side of the highway, facing the river, and we half and quarter marathoners were on the left side of the guard rail, facing the same way. It was packed. On our side at least, obviously there's more people running the shorter distances than the whole thing. So packed, in fact, that we didn't even start moving until a good three minutes after the starting signal. And then we were off!

 The marathoners split off to the right just after the bridge, while we kept left. The half marathon distance is mostly the second half of the whole thing, which allows everyone to start and finshed at the same place. And we ran. People passed us like nobody's business, but after a few kilometers, we were keeping to our target speed of 7 minutes per kilometer, which was good. I mean, it's good that we were keeping to our speed, not that 7 min/km is particularly fast. We saw Stefan's officemate with a camera within the first mile or so, waiting for his sister to come into view (though she must've actually already passed us).

 So we ran, back over the other bridge into Linz proper, down one of the main streets towards the industrial part of town. Every few kilometers, they had refreshment stations set up with drinks and pieces of banana. We gulped water and ate bananas, it's amazing how much energy you need, and breakfast was used up pretty fast. Also how much you sweat. I didn't notice it until the finish line, but I was soaked! It was warm, but not too hot, at least not in the morning when we were running.

 The marathon takes kind of a long loop southwards through the city, and at one point you are running right next to people coming up the other way already. I was really surprised at how many people had completed the loop already, and how fast they were!

 Part of the way, we were running behind a guy in chain mail, wearing a helmet and carrying a sword. He was raising awareness for something or other, but I'm sure Stefan and I are now in the background of a whole lot of people's pictures.

 We passed the knight when he stopped for a breather (I read later that the whole get-up weighed around 45 lbs.). Pretty soon we ourselves were passed by the fastest marathoner, who sprinted past us like there was no tomorrow.

 Downtown, you zig up almost to the river, then zag back a few blocks, then run up the homestretch to the finish line at the main square. There were bands playing music and people clapping, cheering on god knows how many strangers.  Not just here in the inner city though, people had tables and chairs set up all along the way, cheering the runners, which was really great!

 By this point, I was really starting to feel the burn. We'd kept up our pace pretty well, but were two minutes off our goal with just over a mile to go. So the last two km, through the city, we picked it up a little. The home stretch is the city's main street, Landstrasse. Which is paved with cobblestones and has trolley tracks running down the middle. Last year, they'd put down this kind of foam rubber carpet to make it easier to run, this year they didn't. There were thousands of people behind the barriers cheering for everyone who ran by. Stefan grabbed my hand and pulled me along, in kind of a sprint to the finish, as I tried my best not to twist my ankle within sight of the finish line. By that point, my energy reserves were completely tapped out and this last fast section made me really lightheaded. The world was kind of tilting and sliding a bit to the left, but then we were crossing the finish line and done! 

 We were immediately given a cheaptastic (but metal) medal for finishing and encouraged to limp through the corral that led to the recuperation and refreshment area for runners. We downed water, a free beer (yay!), a whole wheat roll, more water, and then headed to the Brucknerhaus to get our stuff. At first I laughed at the runners carrying whole armloads of free water and gatorade and bread out of the endzone, but about halfway to the Brucknerhaus (which is only about two blocks away), I was thirsty again.

 We changed, drank some more water, and headed back to the main square. Originally, I had thought we might meet up with some friends who were planning on being there and sit down for a beer together, but we were both completely exhausted. After watching a few more runners cross the finishing line, we started the long walk back to the train station to catch the bus back home. I got myself a piece of pizza as we walked, but every step was feeling harder than the one before. Not only that, but we had just missed the direct bus home and had to take one where we had to walk one stop. Normally, not a big deal. But I was dying! We walked slowly along the road home, which has just a tiny tiny rise to it, but I was totally out of breath.

 At home we stretched, drank some more water and juice, took a bath (after the cat had meticulously licked the salt off of half an arm and both my knees) and flopped down in front of the TV. We ate and ate: chips, fruit and veggies, bread, etc. For supper we got Chinese, which looked like waaay to much at first, but it was gone pretty soon. Especially the rice. I was surprised at home much we managed to eat, but then I looked online to see how many calories you burn running at that speed, our weight, and that length of time: around 1300 for me and around 1800 for Stefan. That's a whole lot. That's how much you'd probably burn in an entire day of sitting in the office in front of the computer, we used it up in just two and a half hours. That all needs to be replaced.

 We were so tired though. So tired we didn't even finish the beers we had so been looking forward to and not even something as easy on the brain as The Davinci Code could keep me in front of the TV too long that evening. Went to bed, woke up yesterday with the world's sorest muscles. But it was worth it.

 I'll compile some pictures and put them up. Today, the local paper (and sponsor of the run) had a marathon insert listing all the finishing times, and they have a picture of me and Stefan crossing the finishing line! I was so surprised! Cute caption too: A simple equation - if two people each run a half marathon, that makes one whole one!

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May 16th, 2009

06:55 am - Warm zucchini salad
Here's something simple yet delicious, which we like to eat as an alternative to salad.

You'll need:

a zucchini
a clove of garlic
a spring onion (optional)
salt & pepper
olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Dice the zucchini.  The amount totally depends on how many servings you want.  Slice the garlic and spring onion into very thin slices.  Heat some of the olive oil in a pan, thrown in the zucchini cubes.  Let them warm through, add the garlic and onion.  Keep this in the pan until the veggies are just a little soft (i.e. not falling apart, but a little translucent), this should only take a minute or two.  Turn it out into a bowl.  Season with salt and pepper, splash some balsamic vinegar and maybe a little more olive oil over the zucchini and toss.  Serve warm.

Yummy, and only takes about 10 minutes from start to finish.

Tomorrow is the Linz Marathon.  Stefan and I are running the half marathon, together.  We're hoping to run it in 2:30, but I'm not sure if we'll make it.  We've never averaged that speed during our training runs, but on the other hand, our training runs have always been in hilly areas, and the marathon is pretty much flat.  That might make us a little faster.  And you know the hardest part?  Not running 21km.  It's just getting to the starting line.  Everything is shut down tomorrow, you can't hardly drive anywhere and the bus routes are chopped short.  And since we're both running, there's nobody to drop us off somewhere close to the starting line.  Looks like it'll be a bit of a walk before we even get started, but it'll keep us warm.  It starts at 8:30, so I'm anticipating some goosebumps; it's still really chilly in the mornings here.

Wish us luck!

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