On Running

My closest friends know how much I resented running as a sport when I was growing up. The annual 600m run for a final mark in high school felt like a death sentence. At that time I excelled at short runs though. My marks at physical education (we used to call it gym class which is apparently obsolete) were improved by decent results in 60m and 100m runs. My man says this is typical of people with no endurance.

Still, someone at my primary school (way before the hated 600m) was brave enough to sent me to represent our school in district competition. Me of all pupils. Even though that was more than 30 years ago I still remember the utter exhaustion I felt when I finished that horror 2400m run (I was too ashamed to quit). Talk about sensible teachers.

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Anyway, I love to run now. I find it uncomplicated since no prep is needed. I change to my running gear (a sophisticated expression for a tee, shorts and sneakers) in the comfort of my home and I’m ready to run. Off the threshold. If packing and driving to a destination for the sole purpose of exercise aren’t your things then you might consider running for the simplicity of it. Warming up and stretching can both be done along the way. No equipment needed for that.

The greatest upside of running for me is being outdoors. I run year-round. When it’s cold, when it’s warm, when it’s foggy, when it’s sunny, come winter or summer, in October as well as in March, when in a good mood, or when blue. Only two conditions stop me from running: when pavements and paths are black iced and during downpour. The rest is a bunch of excuses. I try to avoid finding one.

Some jolly nice and unexpected situations have occurred during my runs, as well as nothing at all. I notice the colours in the woods as seasons change. Or, I see a couple in a loving embrace, or a handful of playful dogs in the meadow. I might notice other runners and feel envious of their stamina. On most days I don’t care about that at all. Occasionally, I meet a lovely fellow like this one:

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My runs have proved to be good time spent with myself. I have never returned from a run in worse shape or mood than upon start. Selectively, I compose a playlist of my favourite songs for my run. When I don’t feel like listening to music, there are many interesting podcasts to listen to during running. All available online in a matter of seconds. Sometimes, I get carried away in my thoughts during a run and when I finish I realize I’ve used my exercise time to plan a meal, for instance. Every now and again, I plainly accept the void. At times, I need a change of route to keep me motivated. Simply starting a run in the other direction can make wonders.

I’m not hiding there come the days I’m dragging my legs behind as if they weighed a ton each, or am in a nagging mood, or am just too lazy to go out. But I remind myself how good a feeling it is afterwards so I try to keep to my steady two runs a week. If I do one more, or something extra like occasional cycling trip or hiking, the better.

Considering there are years of work and pleasure before me I’d rather be in good shape to grasp it all if I can help it.

 

Related:

The man who popularized running

The first joggers’ club in the world

Running Up That Hill

 

You say tomato, I say tomato

Not so long ago I was asked what my favourite food was and I surprised myself by replying swiftly it was tomatoes. I never considered food as rating material: I either like it or I don’t. True, there are things I prefer but I don’t think I could make a list of, say, Top Ten Foods without obvious bias towards the current season. The palate is in my case a matter of season: asparagus = spring, cherries = early summer, sauerkraut = winter to just name a few typical examples.

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Tomatoes on the other hand I consume throughout the year in various forms and textures. Guilty as charged. They’re beautiful, red and curvy; they certainly look good, don’t they? I like them raw, cooked or roasted, on their own or in combination. They’re versatile and they taste and smell like summer. Arguably, tomatoes have changed a great deal in the past two or three decades due to intensive cultivation and high demand. I believe they mostly taste like nothing and consider myself lucky being of generation that grew up on seasonable only tomatoes. I can clearly recall the taste of my childhood tomatoes and none of them now are quite the same. Still, when carefully and timely selected one can enjoy them nearly as much.

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I love tomatoes just sliced and salted with a drizzle of olive oil. As a child I was used to eating tomato salad dressed with pumpkin seed oil, as it is a customary dressing choice in the East where my mother comes from. Now, I choose a good olive oil any time of the day for my tomatoes. I love a simple tomato sauce for pasta dishes. Actually, if I look closely I can’t imagine my life without tomatoes. Ergo, it’s quite stressful to read about this.

I admit to indulge in the first spring variety known by the pretty name of Marinda and soon other kinds, summery, follow.

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I like canned tomatoes as well, they serve us well through winter. I use them to dress pasta (peeled San Marzano is best) or to enhance a legume vegetable stew (passata or polpa brighten the dull fagioli immediately). They’re indispensable in autumn Indian curry or when I crave a plain, good old tomato soup. I add a squeeze of lemon and plenty of chilli to it.

Now, what I look forward to as the summer comes to a close is roasting them (cherry tomatoes or any other variety) in the oven. Roasting deepens their flavour, it somehow intensifies their taste and concentrates them. To make them I roughly follow David Lebovitz’s recipe, which is simple and delightful, but after they’re roasted and still very hot from the oven I spoon them carefully into a meticulously clean glass jar to preserve them. I add some additional olive oil on top and close it up immediately. When it cools, I store it in the refrigerator – it keeps well for several weeks. If you do it sporadically as the tomatoes occur even later in the season (sometimes I get my hands on good tomatoes as late as October), the jars prepared this way may last till Christmas. I find this way of preserving tomatoes to be a smart move this time of year when the prices are more reasonable and one is somehow fed up with eating yet another tomato salad albeit 1001st version of it.

They can be added by spoonfuls to bought canned tomatoes or passata to give a dish an extra homey feel or to any other dish calling for tomatoes. Meatballs for instance. They enhance the flavour of any dish. Plus, you can brag about them being homemade.

 

Related:

Christopher Walken on tomato 🙂

Dinner in prison in Goodfellas

Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald

 

Lecce, Puglia


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Whenever I flip through the photographs I took, a warm feeling comes over me. Mostly, I remember the mood not only of the place but the one I was in at that moment.

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Different occasions provoke different responses: these days it is a regretful sense that the holiday season is over. I know, I know, the whole world is back to work again (myself included) so stop moaning and groaning, right? Right. Let me take you on a trip to Lecce then, as promised. This way please.

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There was this store we were passing every day for it was just around the corner of the garage where we parked. Its shelves were full of wine and champagne bottles and other liquor from all over the world. The loaded pallets were stacked outside on the pavement in front of the store waiting for lorries and vans to collect them. On our second evening in Lecce we decided to stop by and ask if one or two bottles can be bought since it gave the impression more of a wholesale. Well, we could’ve bought the entire pallet had we known how good the wine was going to be and spent the holiday happily surrounded by emptying bottles. We’d end up lying under the table soon enough though because the Apulian reds are intoxicatingly strong. So, instead of doing that we healthily opted for two bottles to drink on our terraces (yes, we had four at our disposal) before going out or after we’d return or for no reason at all – just to enjoy them. Not only did the signore serving us suggest two lovely wines, Primitivo di Manduria and Negroamaro, when asked he would happily recommend a place for dinner.

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“Fish?” he asked. Upon our confirmation he stepped outside and we obligingly followed because, well, of course, you have to be outdoors to give directions properly, and murmuring to himself and counting using his fingers directed us, verbally and manually alla italiana: “Seconda left, porta grande, prima right, corner e li ristorante Blu notte.”

To be honest, the restaurant didn’t look very convincing upon our inspection (it resembled a regular tourist trap). But we were shown the day’s fish and decided to dine. The restaurant filled up completely by nine (mostly locals; lady from the kitchen came out to greet them that’s how we knew) and was bursting with muted voices of diners’ satisfaction. It was soooo good. I’d like to say that it was then and there I had the best octopus and the best fritto misto of my life but I’d be lying. I had the best octopus and the best fritto misto a few days later when we chose Blu Notte to be the venue of our last Apulian dinner. There may be better ones but haven’t been discovered yet.

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No surprise then that the next evening when we were passing the wine store I asked: “Another place?” Signore was genuinely happy and gleamed with pride when he heard we liked his previous recommendation. This time the directions were in higher numbers but nevertheless quite straightforward: “Quattro left, sette, no, otto right, venti metri, right: Degli spiriti.”

There, we entered the oasis of calm and elegance that this restaurant is. It was exactly what we needed after the hustle and bustle of the whole day around town. The food was to die for. The antipasto of melanzane was too good to be true as were the orecchiette with clams and chickpeas – what a wonderful combination. Mind you, the dish was filled with full halves of the clams only – where else do you get that?

The wine we had was superb as was the passito that rounded off the meal nicely. We returned to the apartment hypnotised by the deliciousness of it all.

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By all means, there’s more to Lecce than food and wine. There had been the Messapians, the Greek, the Romans, the Normans, and the Ottomans. The rich mixture of cultures and their clashes caused the town to have developed a distinctive charm. There are countless impressive churches, terrific villas, monuments of astounding proportions, colourful roof tiling, extravagant baroque facades that blow your mind, not one but two Roman theatres, infinite number of ornate balconies with bearded plants hanging over them, huge pedestrian area for passeggiata and numerous picturesque streets of the golden centro storico. Proximity to the coast adds appeal and the climate is fantastic. I’ve said it before, Lecce is overwhelming. Breathtaking. Astonishing.

We were very lucky to have had selected a fantastic accommodation and I highly recommend a rooftop place to stay: the views over town’s landmarks, terraces, flat roofs, aerials and church bells are unforgettable. Plus, the gentle movements of the evening air are priceless in the summer heat because the only place to feel the gentle breeze is on top.

Last but not least, beginning another new day with a delicious breakfast under the shade surrounded by blue skies and lush Med greenery is a rare luxury several floors above the dried up stone pavements.

As for the signore from the wine store, we never met him again although we passed the store almost every evening, carrying our helmets at the near ending of yet another joyful day. I regret we couldn’t fire the sparks in his eyes with praise of his recommendations again.

Related:

Wikipedia on Lecce

Roof Barocco Suite B&B

Primitivo di Manduria Felline 2011

Negroamaro Salento Notarpanaro 2007

Antico Palmento Acini Spargoli Primitivo di Manduria

Jorche Primitivo di Manduria Riserva 2011

Ristorante Blu Notte

Osteria Degli Spiriti

La Bottega del Corso

Linciano Vini