“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Zucchini Pizza

This summer our dinner are improvised at the level of the TV show "Who's Line is it Anyway". Sunday dinner is a good example. Brenda had set out chicken breasts for us to grill. But after getting home from the Royals game and having had popcorn and an after-game sundae (thanks to a Royals score in the 7th) we weren't all that hungry. We put the chicken back in the fridge for another time. I got out my garage-sale bread machine and got it started on making pizza dough. When Brenda came back in the house she asked, "But what are you going to put on it?". I said, "How about if I grill some onions and peppers and cut up some zucchini?" She didn't think that squash on pizza sounded very good. I thought it was a creative way to use up some of the abundance of zucchini from our garden.

I was starting to think about "Plan B" and how I could avoid making a trip to the store. After a few minutes Brenda announced that she had searched online and found a recipe for zucchini on a pizza. Being the typical male I didn't look at the recipe but proceeded with my improvisation. The rules are simple: use only what's in the fridge, pantry, or growing out in the garden. The result was a surprisingly good pizza. Here's what I did:

I followed the recipe for pizza dough that came with my bread maker, but I added a teaspoon of Italian seasoning.
I cut up green peppers and onions and cooked them until the onions carmelized.
I slice zucchini and fried it in butter until they were browned. I ground pepper on the slices as they cooked.
I spread out the dough and drizzled on olive oil. I then put on creamed cheese and sort of spread it out on the dough.
I placed the onions and peppers around the pizza and laid on the zucchini like pepperoni.
The cheese I had available was the Mexican 4-cheese blend, so I put on a good layer of that.
I then went to our herb garden and got some fresh parsley and basil. I put on a little parsley and then laid on the basil leaves to almost cover the pizza.
I baked it at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.

The result was surprisingly good. We could only eat 2 pieces. We've got leftovers for tonight.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Thoughts from 2008 Tour de France

I started following the Tour de France in 2004 when Lance Armstrong won his 6th tour in a row. It seems like such a simple thing. A bunch of bike riders see who can have the fasted overall time. The best man wins. But it is much more complex than that. I'm still learning the language and the strategy of the race. The winners of the race and the winners of each daily stage get the glory and attention. But they never get to that place by themselves. They can only reach the podium of victory through help from both their team members and their competitors.

Two days I've watched a lone rider break away from the pack within 10 miles of the finish line. He rides strong and fast and develops a commanding lead. He seems to be in position to win the stage for that day. Both times the lone rider was overtaken by riders working in a group. The instance that made the most impression on me was seeing the lone rider be eclipsed by a group of 3 competitors working together. The lone rider had to fight the wind on his own. The 3 competitors took turns in front to break the wind. The cooperated even as they competed to win the day, and they were able to go faster working together than any of them could have on their own. When they got to within 500 meters of the finish they then sprinted to the finish, and may the best man win. The lone rider finished far behind them.

The winning rider also relies on his team for support. The term used to describe the team's role is domestique, meaning "servant". They drop back to the team car and get water and food for the leader. The cars can't drive up through the pack of riders to get to the leaders so the domestiques ride up and back. The domestiques also work to break the wind and provide a "draft" for the leader. Sometimes they sacrifice themselves by breaking away from the pack and forcing other teams to expend energy to chase them. The role of leader and domestique can switch sometimes. For example, in 2005 Lance Armstrong served as a domestique for George Hincapie in some of the classic one day bike races, because they were more important to Hincapie and less important to Armstrong.

No matter who we are or what we accomplish, we should never forget that we didn't get here on our own. There have been "domestiques" all along the way who gave of themselves to make our way easier. On the other hand, we need the grace to stay quietly in the background and rejoice when those we have served get their moment to shine. It's more difficult to acknowledge the role of our opponents and critics in our success. As the writer of Hebrews says, no discipline or hardship is pleasant at the time, but both our character and our success are forged in adversity and struggle. Not many can be world-class bike racers, but all of us can learn from them. May we all have our times to stand on the winner's podium.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

On a Plateau

Competitive athletes peak. Amateurs plateau. I've never peaked, but I've plateaued many times. A plateau in geology is an elevated, level piece of ground. You have to exert some effort to get there, but once you do, it's flat and easy going. A performance plateau is much the same. You expend the effort to get in shape, lose weight, eat healthy, etcetera, but after some success your subconscious tells you that you're "good enough" and you plateau. You never know how big the plateau is or how long you can stay at that level. But usually you end up going down the other side and wind up about where you started.

Sometimes accomplishing a goal can cause a plateau. I did that years ago when I set a goal to get in shape and run a marathon. I accomplished my goal and stepped onto a plateau. I kept running for several more years, but I gradually did it less and less. The plateau ended and I went back to my old, out-of-shape self.

As I said goodbye to folks I'd met on the 2008 BAK, I asked if I'd see them again next year. Many of them answered "yes". After a few days of rest, I got back on my bike and set in my mind that I'm getting myself ready for next year. I'm not taking any chances on seeing a plateau here. I'm setting a goal to participate in several other bike events as well.

Now, I just need to apply this to all the rest of my life. Hmm.