Thursday, October 20, 2011

Autumn, 2011

Holy Toledo, is it already six months since Cohen Hall has been updated? Well, since Lauren dusted off her travel blog and is rocking the Continent, why not take a moment to inform about domestic updates? Why not indeed!

We moved into Bag End -- if Bag End were a three-story townhouse on a side street between Rittenhouse and Graduate Hospital -- in April and damn, does it feel good to have a house. Not quite all to ourselves: we're renting, and our landlord (best landlord ever) was politely disapproving of us nailing into solid wood doors, but hey, what can you do at this point? We had a lovely summer of overpowerful air conditioning, the greatest deck herb garden in the world, and a lot of travel. Mostly Lauren, of course. (My eyes for a job with vacation days...) But we did have the best vacation ever, to Vermont and then to a yoga retreat in Massachusetts. Saw some fabulous people get hitched and fell in love with the state (all over again and for the first time). So yeah. It's been a good time. We're cosy and comfortable and snug.

I'm starting a new job in a week and a half, plus continuing my present one remotely for a month, so you will not hear hide nor hair (hare) of me in November, most likely. What else? I'm playing soccer now, and I'm actually halfway decent at forward and midfielder. Bizarre what you discover at the tender age of 39. Coco is the size of the A-Team van and has a new favorite activity, pouncing on Bella and zealously guarding the staircase. Ok, two favorite activities.

Hmm, I can see why we don't update this one too often. Domestic bliss is not the most compelling subject matter. ;)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Springtime for Cocovan

Cohen Hall! Hello! You remember this one!

Oh, who are we kidding? We've been slacking. Winter hit and both of us went into total hibernation. We got fat and watched way too much Buffy and basically hunkered down with a platoon of cupcakes. NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM.

But now! It's March, and things are in motion once more!

The biggest news is that we have found a new apartment. Actually, it's better than an apartment; it's a house! Our own house, a mere block away from our current place. Lauren did the legwork and gets all the credit for this one; our very own Bag End in Philly. As soon as we get pics, we'll give you a sneak peak. We're targeting mid-April for our move, so if you want to help -- and I know you do! -- let us know. We can pay in various foodstuffs and maybe even beverages.

I just got two wisdom teeth taken out. I've been grousing about it to everyone. Now that includes you! Word to the wise: never get wisdom teeth taken out. Ow ow ow ow ow.

Lauren has been learning the ways of the personal essay and of ancient Greek magic in her new grad school adventures. There may yet be more of these, but I'll let her write about those.

Coco Chanel Cohen-Hall is proving herself Least Appropriately Named Cat Ever, as she steadfastly refuses to attain any timeless grace or dignity. Her favorite activities include drinking from the toilet and going through the office trash can for used Kleenexes. Also, she's as big as a zeppelin. It's sorta terrifying. She's not even one yet, and we're already thinking of gastric bypass. We have a huge, slovenly, oblivious cat-daughter that is a tank with claws. If she weren't impossibly sweet and loving, we'd be in real trouble.

After the inertia of wintertime and having my mouth professionally mauled, I'm looking forward to warm temperatures and running around like a maniac. LET'S DO IT, PEOPLE.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Autumn Times

November in Philly is decidedly weirder than it was in Boston. November 1st hits New England and boom, you're locked into 40-degree-and-under weather until April. November in Pennsylvania has brought its share of cold days, but also its share of low-60s/high-50s stretches. It's very odd.

Since last we wrote, Lauren has been traveling like a crazy person. I have hosted two friends on my own, one of whom was Mason. Yes, the script is finished. First draft, anyway. I can't think about it yet. It's sort of insane that we got it done. Soon it'll be time to revise, but for the moment my brain is content to recuperate a bit. Writing is hard work; writing a 100-page script in three days total time is mind-boggling.

The two days spent finishing the draft, though, were right after Thanksgiving, which itself was cut short because I had to work on Friday and collect contractor dollars, so on Thursday we raced to Lancaster with Little Cat, ate vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner, did a puzzle, and then I had to bring Little Cat back to Philly so I could then drive to deserted Delaware on Friday. Then I had to pick Mason up from the train station on Friday afternoon and spend the weekend cranking out the script. Accounting for the fact that Lauren's week previous involved three cities in the South, plus a day trip to New York with Celia, I can see why she elected to take the Thanksgiving weekend in Lancaster while Mason and I foamed at the mouth in Philly. And then while she was in Raleigh/Atlanta, Kevin was visiting me before shipping off to L.A. and OH MY GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING??? No wonder most of November seems like a blur!

And it doesn't stop! This weekend, Lauren and I make the journey to South Florida to visit the Cohens for Hannukah times. The aforementioned weather difference between Boston and Philly means that Coral Springs isn't the shocking oasis from winter hell that it once was, but it'll be nice to see the family. (I think.) After that, though, things should be calmer. Lauren is taking advantage of her Penn-granted holiday break to take a sojourn into the Southwest, visiting Megan and going on a bit of a spiritual retreat. I'll be working in Delaware (barring a sack of money falling in my lap), alas; I might travel up Boston-way for NYE, but I'm also inclined to stay local this year...

If you know us, you know we have decidedly mixed feelings about Philadelphia. That says nothing about the fantastic friends we've made here. In a week or so, we're hosting Latkefest, and it's going to be a pretty darn big party. We've made friends here, established ties with some really great folks, and that's a huge accomplishment. The move to Philly was kinda hard on me -- unemployment, not finding my niche, having to scramble way out of my usual comfort zone -- and to be able to celebrate with friends in this new city is something I'm really looking forward to. My usual impulse is to go Somewhere Else; now I'm realizing the pleasures of Enjoying the Present.

SPEAKING OF PRESENTS. holidaysholidaysholidaysgiftsgiftsgifts. GIMMEGIMMEGIMMEGIMMEGIMME.

Sorry. Even at the ripe old age of 38, it is apparent some things are not easily changed.

MANDATORY CAT UPDATE: Coco now outsizes Bella. Coco is so large, she could no longer fit into this blog post. Coco is so big that Kanye put her in his newest album. Coco is so megagargantuhuge that it is hard to forget that she is just little.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Back In The Script Saddle

Let me take you back, friends, back to the year 2005, back to a place known as Los Angeles. A place I lived, where I met two friends, Mason and Kyle. Imagine the three of us now, in a chain Italian restaurant, enjoying fine garlic knots soaked in butter.

We are talking about movies, as most people in L.A. are at any given time. Kyle brings up a strange idea: he's always wanted to make a movie about the Battle of Fort McHenry. This is the battle immortalized in The Star-Spangled Banner, where the British shelled this fort for 25 straight hours before giving up. Now, Mason and I are skeptical. After all, this battle isn't really a...battle, per se. I mean, it technically is, but nothing much happens there. Shell shell shell, minimal casualties, Francis Scott Key sees a flag flying and gets inspired, the end. So in terms of drama, not a lot of meat on the bone.

Mason goes, "You know what would make this movie awesome? Werewolves."

We laugh...and then spend the next two hours figuring out the werewolf-at-Fort-McHenry movie. I don't know what possesed us, but we ran with it. (Improv training must have worked, 'cause we said "yes" to everything.) We decided that the protagonist would have to be played by James van der Beek. Don't ask why. He would be this American soldier who discovers he's a werewolf during the shelling, and it'd be all about horror and hidden werewolfness and WEREWOLVES???

Plainly, this is a ludicrous story. But admit it: you're intrigued. You'd watch it On Demand.

So over the years Mason has often said that he and I should get together one weekend and just churn this script out. (Kyle lives in Montana now, which is horribly inconvenient for this sort of plan.) I hemmed and hawed, because I have a complicated relationship with screenwriting, in that I basically talked myself out of ever writing a script again. Blah blah blah. When Mason brought it up again a few months ago, though, I was more receptive. I mean, why the hell not, right? What do I have to lose? What am I afraid of? I ASK YOU.

So last weekend I drove up to New Haven and Mason and I attacked this thing. We dug into the outline, figured out a completely new plot, added characters and then spent all of Saturday writing the first act. We did it. I'm still astonished. It's been years in the making, and even more years since I wrote a screenplay, and we just did it. Granted, our brains were mush for the rest of the weekend, and I had to leave the next day, but we have an act. More importantly, we have momentum! We're going to get together in November and finish this thing off.

What was remarkable was how easy it was for me to just glide on the laptop and let it go. It felt precisely like riding a bicycle. It was profoundly cathartic to take up a form that I thought I was done with and realize that I wasn't. It was a really good time.

So be on the lookout for Werewolves of 1812. And if you're a producer, get in on this action early and give us a shout.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

So, I ran a race

After months of "training" (by which I mean randomly running a 5K loop around my neighborhood in an attempt to teach myself how to run), I finally entered my first race yesterday morning.  Thankfully, my dad (Tom Ha!!) is an experienced runner, and agreed to join me.

We woke up early, headed over to Greider Park, pinned on our numbers, and waited with about 75 other runners at the start line.

This is about the time I started to get nervous.  Not only was I a first time racer, I had also been sick most of the week, taking two days off of work and not running at all.  In fact, my last training run had been a lackluster treadmill session in Boston last weekend.  In other words: I was definitely not at my best.

Still, I had come too far not to at least give it a shot.  And so, there I was, surrounded by a group of more experienced, more fit, and more prepared runners.  As Scott so eloquently summarized, "It's cool to see you do something you're not good at."

And we're off!  As the pack of us left Greider Park and headed into the adjoining neighborhood, I experienced my first (and only) adrenaline rush of the race.  Although I took my dad's advice and started at a slow, sustainable pace, I'm sure it was a bit faster than my normal training pace.  It just felt so cool to be running within the group -- like a pack of wild horses, or those blue-faced Mel Gibson followers in Braveheart, before the disemboweling.  Wheee!

But my joy was short lived, as the path cut back into the park and took us down a hill and through a half mile of long, deep grass.  Ooof.  And then up a really steep hill.  Double ooof.  By the time we were back on flat, stable ground, I was already winded and was just coming up on Mile 1.

I stuck it out, relying heavily on my familiar iPod playlist to carry me to the midpoint water station... where I encountered another hill.  A quick glance at my heart rate monitor told me I was pushing 190, and I felt it.  So I made the decision to walk the hill.  It sucked.  Not the least of which because the experienced older runner my dad had pointed out at the start line, who had been just ahead of me the entire time, did not walk.  She chugged up the hill and I lost her for the rest of the race.

Fortunately, I made a new friend at the water station -- the woman who had been following me.  "That last hill killed me," she said, and I nodded my agreement while throwing my plastic cup over my shoulder.

As I started my slow jog again, I realized that I was really and truly alone.  Where once I could see a long row of runners snaking along the path, now it was just me.  Me and the woman behind me and whoever was behind her.  It was up to me to find and follow the road markers and get myself to the finish line.

Almost.  As I turned the final corner, I saw my dad jogging back toward me.  "This is the last hill," he shouted.  "Jog it in!"  And so I did.  I made it up the last hill, and finished strong.

Okay, so maybe "strong" is the wrong word.  I finished in 37:07, which is not great.  But I felt great!  My mom and dad and Scott and the dog were all waiting at the finish line, and as one of the volunteers ripped off the bottom of my bib number and taped it to the scoreboard, I felt like I had really accomplished something.

I stood on the sidelines and clapped as the remaining runners made their way in.  First was the woman I'd met at the water station, but about a dozen others tricked in after her.  Holy crap, I wasn't last!

After visiting the food tent for water and bananas, I pulled up the data file from my heart rate monitor.  To give you some perspective, allow me to share some previous data.

Here's what my numbers used to look like when I first got my heart rate monitor and actually paid attention to the alarms when I exceed my "target zone."

Here are my numbers during a normal training run, now that I no longer pay attention to the alarms.

And here are my numbers from the race.

I'm chalking this up to a combination of race adrenaline, a week of sickness/no training runs, and the fact that the course had a number of hills (my usual training course is entirely flat).  And damn if I didn't feel it for the rest of the day.  It started with a weird, wheezy cough that lasted until I took a hot shower.  (My dad informed me that this is normal when you really exert your lungs.)  And I had some noticeable hip flexor pain later in the day, which doesn't usually happen when I do my training runs, and is still bothering me today.

So, I'm giving myself a rest day today, but tomorrow it's back into my sneakers and out on the road.  I'm already planning for my next race.  You guys, my 55-year-old father beat me yesterday by 9 whole minutes!  This cannot stand.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Curried Sweet Potato & Coconut Soup

As you may know, Cohen Hall is now operating out of a vegan kitchen.  This is a decision that was made primarily for health reasons (thank you, Food, Inc.) a little over two months ago.  Eating vegan is amazing. I've never enjoyed cooking as much as I do now, and I love that the food we're making is wholesome, sustainable, and kind to our bodies as well as the planet.

Of course, eating vegan outside Cohen Hall is a very tricky thing, especially while traveling.  For that reason, I eat vegetarian while on the road, though I try to make as many vegan choices as possible. Dairy and sugar really catch up with you, and after two weeks of travel -- and far too many buttery and sweet treats -- I found myself run down and sick.  Yuck.

So, I headed to the kitchen to make some medicine.  This soup is one of my favorites, not only because it's packed with amazing, cure-all ginger, but because it's just so damn delicious.  I really could eat this soup every week...hmm, that's not such a bad idea.

I can't take credit for this original recipe (I found it online somewhere -- sadly, I can't remember where!), but I've tweaked it along the way to make it my own.  Good food was meant to be shared, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Curried Sweet Potato & Coconut Soup
makes 5 servings

Two medium-sized sweet potatoes
just over 1 cup uncooked farro or brown rice
1 T coconut oil
1 large onion, diced
1 3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
1 T red curry paste
1 15-oz can unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups (1 can) vegetable broth
juice of one lemon
1 t salt
toasted sesame oil for drizzling
fresh cilantro for garnish

Preheat your oven to 400.  Put your sweet potatoes directly on the rack, and bake for about 45 minutes. Remove to a cutting board.

While the potatoes are cooking, start your farro or brown rice on the stovetop.  Farro will take about 30 minutes, rice will take about 45.  Follow the directions on the package and keep an eye on it.

When your potatoes have about 15 minutes remaining, start your soup.  Heat the oil in a large saucepan over med-high heat, and then add your onion and ginger.  Cook for about 5 minutes, and then stir in your curry paste.  Once everything is well mixed, add the coconut milk, vegetable broth, and 1 cup of water, and bring it all to a boil.  Then reduce your heat to low, cover, and simmer for another 5 minutes or so.

Skin your potatoes and cut them into chunks.  Toss them in your soup and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in your fresh lemon juice and salt, and then remove the pan from the heat. Use a immersion blender in the pan (this is the easiest way), or process the soup in batches in a blender or food processor.  You want your soup to look rich and creamy when you're done, although a few remaining chunks are okay.

By this point, your farro or rice should be done.  Spoon about 1/2 cup of your grain into a large soup bowl, and then cover with about 3 ladles of your soup.  Garnish with a drizzle of sesame oil and as much fresh copped cilantro as you'd like.  Best of all?  This delicious vegan meal clocks in at under 350 calories!

I'm starting to feel better already.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Yoga Times Are Awesome Times

Folks, can you believe it was MONTHS since I did yoga? Well, of course you could, because you probably didn't know I did yoga. I have many layers, like many-layered dip, and I could understand if the potato chip of your knowledge did not dig far enough into the dip bowl of me to reach that particular strata of rad. Fair enough. This is what this blog's all about: getting every flavor of us that we offer, for your consumption.

The best yoga studio in Philly -- and really, one of the best I've encountered everywhere -- is Dhyana Yoga. They're spiritual without being crystal-waving, they're together without being overpopulated, and they're casual without being too flaky. Plus, the instructors are good, which is key: you need a patient instructor who is nonetheless going to challenge you and make necessary adjustments. The atmosphere is simple and encouraging. It's a really good place. Might be the only game in town, in fact.

I think the last time I went to a yoga class there was before the wedding. With wedding/honeymoon expenses, job uncertainty and general chaos, it seemed an extravagance I could do without. Friends: I was wrong. My body was crying out for yoga, demanding it! "Give us yoga!" Just like that! So I had to answer that call. Lauren got a link to a special, bought two of them for us (yes, she's now trying yoga -- more on that from her later, I hope!), and off I went to a Vinyasa Plus class. (This particular flavor of yoga emphasizes the flow between poses -- other types of yoga focus on other aspects.)

An hour and a half later, I was drenched in sweat, every muscle trembling, renewed and released. I forgot how much of a purgative yoga is for me. I carry all my stress and my emotions in my muscles, and yoga does an outstanding job of purging those and allowing me to relax once more. I probably should have started with something a little simpler, but I was proud that even after months off, my body remembered the poses and flowed into place. I was much less stiff than I expected to be. (No headstands, although there were attempts at handstands, which I just don't have the strength for yet.)

What's really remarkable is how my strength training, both through weights at the gym and through the Lithe routines that Lauren taught me, made yoga SO much easier. Normally, downward dog is my worst pose, because I have lacked shoulder strength. Not anymore: I could maintain my pose much longer than before. And let's also talk about engaging my core, people! I bitched at first, but core strength is AWESOME, especially if you don't even know you're doing it! And added flexibility is always welcome to this stiff.

Yoga occupies a strange space in my fitness routine. It's definitely exercise, but it's an effect quite different from cardio or strength training. The spiritual aspects of yoga (what we know of as yoga is one prong of a multi-disciplinary practice that would take us years to get the hang of) inform a lot about myself beyond the studio. Yoga is a necessary component of my life, offering a space for me to release everything that tends to cripple and inhibit me and remind me that life is about flow and breath.

Yeah, I'm part hippie.