Friday, October 10, 2014

Great Ohio River Swim

"It was terrifying."  That's my typical response after I finish the Great Ohio River Swim.  I've participated (almost) every year since I discovered the race in 2009.  You're supposed to do things that terrify you, right?  This post is the story about why I decided to participate in the Great Ohio River Swim, what fears I had to conquer to be successful, and how I did in the race over several different years.

I've always been fascinated by the Ohio River.  I think its beautiful and I'd love to live somewhere with a view of it (not an option with my current salary and living standards!).  My Dad always told me about how dangerous the river is, how the current is really strong and can sweep you away.  So the next obvious step is to find a way to get myself into that river, right?
Sunrise, 2014
Many years after this conversation with my father, I found myself standing on Serpentine Wall with official lifeguard sanctioned approval to hurl myself into the river. They even had a lifeguard on a jet ski with a floating backboard!

Here is a picture of me sitting on the side of the river contemplating what I'm about to do.  I can tell I was feeling nervous when this picture was taken because of what I'm doing with my feet :)
photo credit to flickr user: OhioRiverWay
That first year, that I did the swim, 2009, I won the first place medal for my age group!  It was so awesome!  I'm the kind of athlete that participates in races as a motivator to exercise, not because I'm particularly fast, or particularly strong!  I certainly didn't have any expectations of getting a ribbon or a medal! 
photo credit to flickr user: OhioRiverWay
I met a girl that was around my age and we hung out before the race and after.  She cut her foot on the wall, where there are apparently some really mean mussels that will cut you if you push off the wall to start the swim (disclaimer: they warn you about the mussels in the pre-race meeting!).  This was my fastest ever time, in the 14 minute range! 
photo credit to flickr user: OhioRiverWay
I always find the race itself terrifying.  I usually get a quarter of the way across the river before I remember that I don't really like to swim in bodies of water where you can't see straight through the water.  I start thinking about giant fish swimming around under me...

I'm sure this is just a joke...
Anyway, if you let yourself get terrified while you're in the middle of the river you needlessly waste energy and get tired quicker.  My saving grace is when I get to the turn around buoy and look back to see one of the most magnificent views of downtown Cincinnati you ever will see.

So, I had a really good time that first year.  I immediately decided to do the race again the following year.

The second year that I did the swim, my (now) boyfriend came out to see me.  We had met a dinner party and it was our first time going out just the two of us without our friends (nothing breaks the ice like wearing your swim suit on a first date!!)  That year, 2010, I was in denial about a leg injury from running the Flying Pig Marathon that spring.  I got caught up in the swift current and had to swim upstream to make it to the turn-around buoy.  It was awful.  It took me over 26 minutes.  He took me to Pompilios for lunch after the race, and I consoled myself in a bowl of spaghetti (side note: we've been connected at the hip ever since!)

The third year, 2011, I skipped the swim!  I chickened out and decided to watch from the shore instead.  My leg was still being a bother and was sore.  I'm still disappointed that I decided not to swim that year!

In 2012, I was back with a vengeance.  No way was I going to chicken out again!  I made it across and back in just under 20 minutes.

In 2013, I'd been focusing on doing things I loved (training to run/walk a 10 mile race, taking a cake decorating class, doing yoga), and competing in the River Swim was right up there!  I finished the race in 19:54.

This year, 2014, I thought about chickening out up until the point I jumped in the water.  Well, perhaps slightly past that point because the water was so cold (mid-70's) that it took my breath away.  But once you start swimming, you are already so far away from the wall...

I came in 4th out of 5 people in my age group this year.  I finished the race in 18:48, my fastest time since the first year that I competed in the race.  I credit my success to some long summer days swimming laps after work at the O'Connor Sports Center on Xavier University's campus (did you know that part time students get full access to the fitness center, even if they're only taking one class at a time?!).
After the race with my biggest fan
Will I be doing the race again?  Yeah, I'll be there.  

For me, the Great Ohio River Swim is about conquering my fears, about challenging my body to fight it's way against the current, about something that other people think is a little crazy.  If you are thinking about doing the swim and have questions about it, feel free to drop me a line through the comments, or hit me up on twitter @amytashcraft!

related reading:
One year, I swam the Louisville based Ohio River Swim.  You can read about that experience by clicking here

I also have some great pictures of the Ohio River at flood stage (it was a 'pond stage' in my 2014 pictures).  If you'd like to see the flood pictures, click here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

World's Best Vegetable Broth

Remember what I said the other day, about sometimes googling the 'world's best' and the name of whatever food item I want a recipe for?  Well, I did it again.  And it worked, again.  Marvelously.

We are heading fast into fall weather (ok, so maybe it'll start getting cold this weekend, after it hits 80 degrees tomorrow) and I have been on the hunt for a nice vegetable broth to mix in to my rotation of chicken soup and beef stew.  Sometimes you just need to feed a vegan friend some good home cookin, you know?  Or maybe you're a hardcore carnivore (raises hand) and have a healthy appreciation for the way your body feels and your jeans fit when you eat more veggies.  That's where I'm at right now, the tight jeans stage.  Back to the broth...

My favorite soups or broths are the ones that have a decent bit of oomph to them, something that gives them some staying power, or makes it feel like you've consumed more then hot water.  Turns out there is a name for this!  It's called umami. 

Umami is a Japanese word that means 'pleasant savory taste,' and it is imparted by something called glutamate, which is a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, which is a word I never thought I'd need to spell again after high school/college.  Long story short, umami is something that is very important in making yummy food yummy, and you can base a recipe off things that are high in glutamates and ribonucleotides and make yourself some very yummy food.  You can even pick out specific vegan/vegetarian items that are high in glutamates/ribonucleotides like tomatoes, dried shiitake mushrooms, marmite, and kombu/dashi seaweed.

There's a lot of in depth information on the web about glutamates, so google it if you want to learn more, as I am moving on to the in depth portion of broth making.  I based my recipe on the one found here, which also contains a much better explanation, but I also tweaked that recipe to match what I had in the house or was willing to purchase.  The original recipe calls for marmite (Amazon affiliate link!), which I didn't have, but would definitely try sometime if I came across it at the store.  Or on Amazon, duh.

Amy's Delicious Vegetable Broth
vegetable oil or butter
2c roughly chopped onion
1c roughly chopped carrot
1/3c chopped celery leaves (or celery itself)
2 cloves minced garlic (don't you dare use the stuff from a jar)
1 regular sized container button/white mushrooms, washed, roughly chopped
1 star anise (buy it once, own it forever!)
1 teaspoon salt
10 whole peppercorns
4-5 bay leaves
1/2 can tomato paste
3-4 fresh parsley leaves and stems, roughly chopped
1 embarrassingly small piece of fresh rosemary (mine was maybe 3", maybe)
2"x3" piece of kombu (dried seaweed)
7 cups water

-Use the oil or butter to carmelize the onion, carrot, and celery (only if using actually celery, don't try to carmelize the leaves, that'd be silly) in your soup pot
-Deglaze the pan with the liquor of your choice (original recipe calls for dry vermouth, I used water because I'm lame and don't have vermouth).
-Add in the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, then take down to a simmer.
-Simmer until broth is reduced to the desired intensity (I reduced mine by half, but be forewarned that you won't get a giant vat of broth if you do that). 
-Strain the broth, then consume, or use to make other delicious stuff like vegetable soup. 

Other notes:
-The original recipe recommends making this in a pressure cooker, see link.  I don't have one, so I did it in a stock pot to no ill effect.
-If you quadruple this recipe, it's entirely possible that you might be able to take over the world
-This doesn't taste like anise/black licorice.  I promise.  Pinky swear.  Seriously, just try it.

Let me know if you try this broth recipe!  It's one of the most adventurous broth recipes I've ever made, but the results were well worth the off the beaten path ingredients!