Life of Megan

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Weekly wine update: Southern Hemisphere (part I)

Today we covered wines of South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. I am still dealing with a sinus infection, and I was pretty conjested today, so I had a tough time. Still we had a few interesting comparisons. We started by comparing a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to a South African one. The New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was extraordinarily crisp and refreshing, whereas the South African version was a little more subdued. Next, we compared Chardonnays, one from Australia, and the other from South Africa. Here, the Australian Chard was very oaky (it was hard to taste any fruit), and was well-made but simple. The South African wine had a nice balance between oak and fruit, and it actually had a butterscotch aftertaste! I still don't care for Chardonnay, but if I was going to start drinking it, I would definitely look to South Africa. We also tried a Pinot Noir from New Zealand, a Shiraz from Australia, and a Cabernet-Shiraz-Merlot blend from Australia. Overall, I was a little disappointed with today's selections, but I think that's because Jud and I have spent a lot of time exploring Australian red wines, and we have already found some really nice ones.

It is useful to know that all three of these Southern Hemisphere countries produce good wines at relatively low price points. Though the costs have been increasing lately, you can still find some great deals. Also, if you're looking for a white wine from the Southern Hemisphere, know that most don't age well and should be consumed within two years of the vintage date. Higher quality wines will last a little longer. Oh! And "Bin," which you often see on Australian wines, doesn't mean anything.

Here are the wines I tried today. If you want to do the taste comparison (which is a really neat way to find out that you can, in fact, distinguish among wines), just invite a few friends to try them along with you.
  • Matua Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 2004, Marlborough, New Zealand ($12)
  • Boschendal Sauvignon Blanc, Coastal Region, South Africa, 2004 ($14)
  • Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay, South Eastern Australia, 2003 ($8)
  • Glen Carlou Chardonnay, Paarl, South Africa, 2002 ($14-$15)
  • Kim Crawford Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2003 ($16)
  • Greg Norman Estate Limestone Coast Shiraz, Limestone Coast, Australia, 2002 ($14)
  • Wynn's Coonawarra Estate Cabernet-Shiraz-Merlot, Coonawarra, Australia, 2001 ($10)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Building a better body

Because it took so long to get back to running after my last adventure with ITBS, I am trying to take a better approach this time around. Not only am I going to limit my running to three days per week, but I will spend the other two or three non-rest days working on the rest of my body. To this end, I had my first round with the Runner's World Feb. 2005 strength-training plan.

This plan is nice because the workouts don't require too much equipment, and they're geared specifically toward runners. There are only two workouts which only have five movements, and they are supposed to work all the areas that need it while maintaining balance. Today I did Workout B, which seemed easier to me.

The exercises:
  1. Stability-Ball Leg Hip Extension/Leg Curl

    Basically, you lie on your back with your arms extended to your sides and your calves resting on a stability ball. Then you do a pelvic tilt, and while maintaining that tilt, you use your legs to roll the ball as close to your butt as possible and back. That's one repetition. Do 6-8.

    Can be made easier by stopping with the pelvic tilt and not rolling the ball in and out.

  2. Rotational Shoulder Press

    Do a shoulder press, rotating to your left as you press the dumbbells overhead and returning to center as you lower them. Then rotate to the right as youp press the weights upward again. That's one repetition. Do 6-8 repetitions.

    Can be made easier by doing half the repetitions without rotations.

  3. Stability-Ball Knee Drive

    Get in push-up position with your hands on a stability ball. Alternately raise one knee as close to your chest as possible and lowering it again for thirty seconds.

    Can be made easier by not using the ball

  4. Alternating Dumbbell Row

    Hold a pair of dumbbells at arm's length in front of you, palms facing down. Keeping your back naturally arched, bend at the hips and lower your torso until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor and the dumbbells hand straight down. Then pull the dumbbell in your left hand by bending your elbow and raising your upper arm toward the middle of your back. Lower and repeat with the right arm. Do 10-12 repetitions.

    Make it easier by performing the move with both arms at once, which requires less stability

  5. Lower-Body Russian Twist

    Lie on your back with your thighs perpendicular to the floor and your knees bent at 90-degree angles (so your shins are parallel with the floor). Without changing the bend in your hips or knees, lower your legs to the left side of your body while keeping your shoulder in contact with the floor. Lift them back to the starting position and repeat on the other side. That's one repetition. Do 10-12.

    Make it harder by keeping your legs straight

Do the first three exercises as a circuit, completing 2-3 circuits total, with 60 seconds rest between each complete circuit. Then alternate sets of the last two exercises, taking 30 seconds rest between each set, and completing 2-3 sets of each exercise total.

I did three sets of all the exercises in all, and I only had to simplify the third exercise. I tried it with the ball several times, but I just kept falling over. It has been several hours, and I am somewhat happy to say I am sore everywhere. Now I'm off for some much deserved sleep.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Taxes and exercise balls

Yesterday I lived through two arduous tasks: doing my taxes and inflating a 55-cm exercise ball. The taxes were worse this year than ever before because it was the first time I had to deal with my investments (mutual fund and tax-free short-intermediate bonds), and I had the fellowship and two different jobs to balance. I am relatively good at finding the correct "extra" forms and worksheets and following directions (my parents still call me "the obedient one"), but it still took me a few hours. Part of that time was spent on estimated taxes for next year. Basically, if you have a fellowship (a good thing), they bring you down a peg by paying you in lump sums with no tax with-held. This means that you have to figure out estimated taxes and send in a good chunk of change with the start of every new fiscal quarter, starting--you guessed it--on tax day for the previous year.

I still haven't figured out whether my fellowship is taxable on a state- and local-level. Most education sites that have this information say that it isn't, but I haven't seen anything coming from New York. I gave up on the New York tax information line after waiting on hold for 90 minutes yesterday.

Later, I decided to inflate the giant exercise ball I finally purchased after years of admiration. If you have seen these, they're made from a heavy vinyl and range in size from 55-cm to 65-cm in diameter. At my height, I am right in the middle of the 55-cm recommendation. I ordered my ball from, which offered a good price and included a pump. The whole thing arrived a few days later in a 18 cm by 18 cm by 18 cm box. The instructions were really easy to follow, and it came with a strip of plastic to put around the ball as a measuring tape (the end had holes, so you simply put the pump valve through the tape holes and into the ball before starting. Then I practiced CPR for about thirty minutes. I tried using my foot at the beginning, but my legs quickly tired, and I learned that CPR-style compressions were quite efficient. I had to stop to rest a few times, but now I have this lovely ball that takes up 1/4 of my bed.

And I'm about to go try it out.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

More on burgundy

I forgot to mention that if you go to buy burgundy, it will most likely be called Bourgogne (the French spelling). Also, the good wines are very good, but if you want to try them out, you need to do some research first. Because of the variable weather and the finicky nature of pinot noir grapes, some vintages are definitely better than others, and the terroir is quite important. So look up good producers and good vintages before heading to the shop.

Weekly wine update: Burgundy

Burgundy is one of the great French wines, and today's lecture focused on it. I learned two things from today's lecture. First, Burgundy labels are really confusing, and, second, Burgundies are expensive. Burgundy is renowned for both its red and white varieties. The reds are made from pinot noir (except in Beaujolais, where Gamay is used instead), and the whites are made from Chardonnay.

We started with a simple Chablis, which was crisp and refreshing. It was completely unoaked. Next, we had a 1er cru white Burgundy. It was lightly oaked, but just served to convince me that no, I don't like Chardonnay. We had the Beaujolais next. It was light with strong fruit flavors, but I just didn't like it that much. We had a village-level red Burgundy next. It was closed, and I didn't enjoy it as much as I've enjoyed pinot noir from Long Island or California. Finally, we tasted a premier cru Burgundy, and it was truly enjoyable, but at $24/bottle (and probably the cheapest of its kind), it's a little pricey. The Rhone Valley was squeezed into the end of the lecture, and we tried one relatively inexpensive wine from the southern part of the region. I felt it wasn't as good as some other Rhone Valley wines I've tried, but it was also $11/bottle, a good deal.

Next week is spring break. The following, we'll be studying the "brave new world" of wines--Australia, New Zealand, and South America.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


Jud and I have been watching a lot of Wheel of Fortune lately because the 7:00 Seinfeld was replaced with Everyone Loves Raymond. This is all just to pass the time before Jeopardy starts. Now we can hardly stand to watch the interview segment--the part of the show where Pat talks to the contestants. This is because almost all of them are married, and when Pat says "You're married?" they all answer:

"Yes. I'm married to my husband Dave..."

Then today we were flipping channels and heard: "I'm engaged to my fiance Tim"

How can we claim that language evolution is a good thing if it results in redundant bullshit like this?

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Alton Brown is bad at math

I'm a big fan of Alton Brown. He doesn't feed you recipes; he teaches you the basic principles of cooking, and he does it with a geeky flare that appeals to me. I have learned a lot from his first "cook book," which is more of a cooking science book than a book of recipes. It's called I'm Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking. Now I am the proud owner of his new book, which is I'm Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking. That's right, folks. To go from cooking to baking, you simply need to multiply food by mixing before adding heat. If it's so simple to go from cooking to baking, why has Alton previously claimed that a) he doesn't like baking and b) he's not particularly good at it? Why can't people make decent pie crusts?

Well, I can make a good pie crust, but that's beside the point. The answer to these questions is that baking requires precision and a deep understanding of how ingredients behave under different conditions and how they interact with other ingredients. This is made clear by the fact that Alton's book has 83 pages of information about precision, tools, and baking components before he even starts explaining how to bake things. It's the first cook book I've ever seen that has schematic drawings of amino acids. Apparently, for Alton, the key to learning how to bake well was learning how to organize the various methods used in baking. Now he has an outline of five different baking methods, and these are the basis for the organization of the book itself.

Mais revenons a nos moutons. Precision is key to baking. Alton spends entire pages talking about why it's better to weigh ingredients than it is to measure their volume. He says a cup of flour can weigh between 3-6 oz on page 14 and between 3-5 oz on page 18. He talks about owning two scales, one that is precise to within 0.1 grams with a small capacity, and a second that's accurate to 1 gram but has a much larger capacity. Here, we begin to see Brown's failings as a geek. He mixes units: "The [scale] is very precise and measures to the tenth of a gram, but only handles items up to 8 oz." This problem isn't too bad because he balanced the unit mixing with an unnecessary comma, proving he's not an English nerd. But there's a deeper problem here. If you check unit conversions, 0.1 gram is equivalent to 0.03527 ounces. That is slightly more than 1/32 oz. And Alton himself admits that for small additions, volume measurements are fine. I guess this is a good option if you're a) anal or b) rich (this scale of his costs around $80), but it seems unnecessary for most applications.

More striking, the units Alton includes in his recipes don't always work out. He may say the weight of one ingredient is 32 g or 1.125 oz (which is approximately correct) and that the weight of another ingredient (in the same recipe) is 2 g or 1/4 oz (which does not work out: 1/4 oz = approx. 7 g). He mentioned that he almost included the chef's formula method of recording ingredients, but opted against it. The chef's method is to list the weight of all ingredients, normalized by the weight of the flour in the recipe. I wish he'd done that. Now I'll be spending time trying to figure out if he started with metric units (which he loves) or English units (which are more common) when writing his recipes. Oh, well. An experiment! The theory in the book is well worth any strange conversion problems in the recipes.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Report from the orthopedist

My leg is definitely not broken. Phew! I have sustained a periosteal contusion (bone bruise) in a painful spot, and apparently, bone bruises tend to take 2-6 weeks to heal. So I'll have some pain for a while, but I won't do any permanent damage by exercising. I aim to hit the elliptical trainer or go for a walk tomorrow and to try a short (15-20 minute) run on Thursday. The doctor told me I probably bruised the area under my knee cap when I fell, which is causing some of my other symptoms. He checked out all the tendons and ligaments in my knee and my range of motion, and it seems my ITBS has subsided and that the rest of my knee is in good shape. All in all, I suppose the visit was unnecessary, but I feel slightly better knowing that it is normal to still be in so much pain.

In other news, I wanted to let everyone who enjoys my weekly wine update know that there won't be one this week. Tomorrow, we are being lectured about "wine in society," which means we will be going to DARE class for college students. I have to admit that I'm a bit curious about my legal responsibilities if I ever host a party, but I feel confident I could have received all the necessary information in a handout. On the other hand, I've noticed that most students are swallowing all the wine we try, which is generally equivalent to two-three glasses. The legal limit is 0.08% here, so maybe it's a good thing to have this talk now.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Moving on

Well, my new orthotics arrived, and they're nestled cozily in my running shoes. These are some serious foot-positioning devices. They basically consist of a hard plastic shell that goes from the heal to the area where the foot flexes and a soft foam-and-leather cover that goes from the heel to the tip of the toes. My leg alignment is now perfect, and I have noticed that my bruised spot hurts less when I'm wearing them. So once my leg is feeling better from this ice accident, I get to start running again!

I have decided I'm not going to do the Country Music Marathon or Half Marathon. At this point, my leg hurts, and I only have eight weeks to train. I could conceivably walk the half, but where's the fun in that? The only advantage would be seeing my dad. We'll be able to do other races together.

In that vein, I am now planning to do the Wineglass Marathon in early October. Runners start in Bath, NY and end in Corning, NY, just across from the Corning Glass Museum. There are a lot of neat prizes. This year it's being held on October 2. I'm going to use Jeff Galloway's six-month training plan, which means I have a month to get back to the very low running base required at the start of the plan. Galloway is a big run-walk person who virtually guarantees injury-free results, so it seems like a good way to go. I don't mind being slow so long as I'm healthy.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Off to the orthopod

I emailed the doctor who saw me yesterday to tell him I was still concerned about my leg and to ask about having a second opinion or seeing an orthopedist, and he replied by saying he was sure the radiologist had seen the strange little spot in the x-ray and dismissed it, but that he was happy to send me on to see an expert. So today I blew about 45 minutes heading to back to the health center and waiting for a nurse to help me set up my appointment. I'll be heading to the medical center near the hospital on Tuesday afternoon to see what's up with my leg. If this is anything like my typical experience, I'll be feeling completely cured by then. One can only hope... I have copies of my films now, which I have been obsessively examining. I am beginning to fear that I've just become a big wimp. I keep telling myself I am just being careful so that I can get back to running (safely) as soon as possible.

In other news, the wines exam was harder than I thought it would be, but not bad over all. There were some obscure questions about the history of wine production in various areas, and I think that's where I struggled the most. I'm sure I did well enough to pass, so there's nothing to worry about except ego.

It is nice to know French when dealing with wines. I had free answers to several test questions as a result. One just asked what "sec" means. Woohoo!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Weekly wine update and more

Today's topic was wines of the Iberian Penninsula (Spain and Portugal, for those of you who aren't so good with geography). The focus was on fortified wines, which are basically wines with brandy added to make them stronger (15-23% alcohol by volume). Best of all, we got to try red wines for a change! Woo!

We started with a tasty white from Spain called Albarino that was tart, crisp, and refreshing with hints of citrus and some white fruits. Then we had Borsao, a red from Campo de Borja ($6) that was quite fruity (black fruits) and tasty. Next came a Rioja Reserva, which was decent, and a Prazo de Roriz, which hailed from the region in Portugal specializing in Port and which I found a bit too tannic. Maybe it'd be good with meat.

Next we tried sherry--amontillado, to be exact. That's right, now I have a Poe story to look up! I was a little afraid, having read "The Cask of Amontillado" at a young, impressionable age, but I got over it. It was a rich golden-amber and smelled really weird (nutty and sweet). It tasted like almonds. We were actually given an almond to try with it, but I didn't think the almond tasted better or anything as a result.

Port capped off the day. Port is a really strong, sweet fortified wine (with a whopping 9% residual sugar). We tried it with a Hershey's kiss because chocolate and Port go well together. As a good chocolate snob, I had really been hoping for something darker. Anyhow, the port was interesting but too sweet and too firey for me. If I want that kind of burn, I'll stick with Scotch, Cognac, or Armagnac. Jud really liked it, as did almost everyone else.

In other news, I finally got my leg checked out after having taken a hard fall about ten days ago. The motivation for this was that I can't bear to put it down on a mattress. The x-rays showed a strange little chipped spot, which my doctor felt was a small fracture but which might have been attributed to a childhood growth syndrome I never had. So he said we'd wait for the radiologist. It came back negative, so now I think I have to check into a second opinion. I've had x-rays of that leg since I reached my adult height, and the bone was always smooth. I even remember a number of doctors commenting about how nice the bones are.

I also called about reserving the chapel for my wedding, but the policy is correct online, so I have to wait for the first business day in August and then call really early. They only have four wedding times a day, so I want to be sure to get in first. At least they said the times are somewhat flexible.

Prospective students are coming to visit this weekend, so I have to hang around campus on Saturday to answer questions if they check out our lab. I'm hoping to get more information about that later.

And that's about all I know for now.