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Half-Marathon Training/Running

Cooking is a labor of love. It might be love for the individual ingredients you use, the people you’re cooking for, the memories that a specific dish gives you, or…it could be all of the above. It is often all of the above for me…except tater tots, that’s just love for tots.

Think about it. Our moms (or dads/grandparents/etc) cook us the foods we love because they know we love it and they love us. One of my aunts gets so excited for an event (i.e. whether it’s a holiday, grandma’s birthday or a family get-together) that she will wake up at 4 a.m. to cook…and she doesn’t cook one thing, she cooks several. It is in her nature to cook and to serve the food (a lot of it).

I recently got the chance to practice this labor of love for some of my siblings. And I’m going to  preface here that this is a WORKING recipe…but I love it so much I had to share it. It’s called Mi Xao Giòn in Vietnamese, which translates to crispy noodles with beef and broccoli (or as my siblings like to say “CRISP-AY NOO-DUHL”). It is one of my absolute favorite things to eat because I like a good crunch, but this dish also has a nice balance. You’ve definitely seen this on a menu and you can put different things on top of your crispy noodles like a seafood/vegetable medley.

Should I have paid more attention when my mom was cooking it three weeks ago? Yes.
I have the noodles down at least, okaaaaay?

mi xao don crispy noodle

Mi Xao Gion (Crispy Noodles with Beef and Chinese Broccoli)

Difficulty: Intermediate because my recipe is…loose
Noodle Frying Time:
45 mins
Total Cook Time: 1.5 hours
Yields: 5 “bird noodle nests,”  generously serves 4-5 peeps

Ingredients:

  • Egg noodles, specifically Canadian Style Wonton Mein and can be found in the frozen/refrigerated aisle where all the noodles are in your local Asian grocery store
  • 1.5 lbs of London broil or flank steak
  • 2 bunches/bags of Chinese broccoli (Cai Lan), cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, diced and minced
  • 3 to 4 tbsp all-purpose flour, maybe more**
  • 2 to 4 tbsp oyster sauce**
  • 1 to 2 tsp hoisin sauce, this has a strong flavor, so start with 1 tbsp and taste**
  • 1 to 2 tbsp soy sauce**

**Note: these are rough estimates and slowly added to taste. Keep in mind that the flour is to create the “gravy” and the various sauces are to support the flavor of the “gravy”

candian style wonton mein

To prep & fry noodles:

  1. The noodles I use are already divided into 5 equal servings, but you still need to unravel them and form them into piles. See below…you do this so that the noodles don’t clump together because that’s gross. Making these piles also help give you an even fry.
    candian style wonton mein
  2. Personally, I use a cast iron (which is shallow), but you can use whatever pan you use for frying. I like using a 10-inch cast iron because it helps me form the shape that fits nicely on a dinner plate.
  3. Add about ½ inch of neutral/canola oil to your pan and heat to ~350 degrees.
    1. PRO TIP: If you have wooden chopsticks…stick the chopstick into the pan. If there are lots of bubbles coming off it, it’s ready. A smoking pan is a bad sign, and if this happens to you…take the pan off the heat to let it cool.
  4. When the oil is ready, take your noodle pile and try to spread an even, flat-ish layer in the pan. If you don’t get this, that’s ok! After you drop it in, immediately take your chopsticks (or tongs) to spread it out. You do not want clumping because you will get uncooked noodles. 
  5. I kept my eye on it but if I had to say a time…about 2-3 minutes until it’s golden (more yellow than brown) before you flip it over for another 1-2 minutes. I use chopsticks to do this, but if you are not good with chopsticks…I think tongs could work!
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you’re done. You may need to add more oil into the pan. You may also need to wait a little bit in between frying so that the temp can get back to where it needs to be. Put a paper towel between each “nest” of noodles, so it can soak up the oil.

To prep meat & veg:

  1. Peel, smash and dice your garlic. This will be incorporated with your meat in its “tenderizing” process.
  2. Slice your meat against the grain, PRETTY THIN (not pho tai thin, but close), and about 2ish inches long. Not bite-sized, but small/short enough so that you don’t need a knife.
  3. Grab a medium sized bowl and add 2 tbsp of vegetable oil to tenderize the meat. I DON’T KNOW WHY, my mom does it. Add the garlic and mix with your hands.
  4. Let it tenderize while you prep the vegetable.
  5. Wash and cut the Chinese broccoli.chinese broccoli cai lan
  6. There are two parts to Chinese broccoli: the stem and the leaves.
    1. If the stem looks too thick, cut it in half lengthwise, this will make it easier to eat and cook.
    2. You can cut the leaves if it looks too big, but keep in mind that they wilt and shrink.
  7. Set your Chinese broccoli aside.
  8. Fill a medium-sized stock pot with water (fill up about 2/3 of the way) && salt your water!
  9. Get a dutch oven or a heavy-bottom pan — this is where you will be browning your meat and preparing your “gravy”/sauce.
  10. Add enough canola/vegetable oil to your pan to cover the surface, and when it’s hot (right before it starts to smoke) add your meat.
  11. You want to brown it, but not cook it all the way through because it will finish cooking later when it’s incorporated all together. This part should take a few minutes.
  12. In the interim, if your water is boiled, throw in your Chinese broccoli. I don’t know how long it takes (I told you this is a working recipe), I would check it after a few minutes. Again, you don’t want it FULLY cooked because it’s going to get cooked in the sauce and meat. Let’s go with check in at 3 minutes (I Googled it).
  13. Take out your browned meat and set aside in a bowl. Turn your heat to low-medium and now add flour. Use a whisk and stir constantly so that it doesn’t burn.
  14. If you have ever made a roux, the process is similar. The goal is to cook the flour with the meat drippings (?) and not let it stick to the pan.
  15. Slowly add water to the pan to loosen the sauce/gravy.
  16. Add soy sauce, hoisin sauce and oyster sauce, still stirring. Taste. Add more if you need to.
  17. You are looking for a gravy-like consistency — not too thick, not too watery. You may need to add more flour, you may need to add more water. Keep stirring.
  18. This may take 10 minutes to figure out the right taste, but once you do…it’s time to dump in your Chinese broccoli! Let it warm up for 1-2 minutes…then dump in your meat!
  19. At this point, you are warming your sauce and goodies, and checking to see if you need to add more salt/soy sauce/water/etc.
  20. To serve: each nest goes on a plate. Personally, I let each person to ladle their own because some like it saucy and some don’t (like me). See above image for reference.

The first time I did it…I didn’t make enough sauce. The second time I did it…same thing, so I guess the lesson here is: make more sauce than you think you need to!

If you’ve stuck around to this point, thank you for being patient. I am amazed by the response from people about my blog, I cannot thank you enough for pushing me to publish this dang thing! I don’t think it’s a difficult recipe, but it might take some trial-and-error. Godspeed and good luck.

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I don’t usually talk about myself in third person, but it’s relevant. I can only run two miles. 

strava running mileage

SHIT. 

Excuse my language, I’m blogging from a slight runner’s high. I have a lot of emotions (and sweat).
It’s hard to keep running in perspective.
When I run, I think to myself:

  • Where you used to be is not going to happen over night
  • You’re probably dehydrated
  • You’re probably sleep-deprived
  • It’s not going to happen over night
  • You’re running, and that’s a start
  • You have to start somewhere
  • You used to NEVER run, so that’s something too
  • It’s hot in Texas
  • Maybe you need to commit to a half-marathon
  • …Maybe not
  • You have to start somewhere
  • Keep running

And at some point, the thoughts take over and you want to start walking. So I guess for once, I feel unresolved after a run…
The real thought is: Who wants to sign up for a half? I will also be taking more suggestions for running music. If you’re interested in knowing what I’ve been listening to, check out my Spotify Playlist.

I’m a running fraud.

…because I haven’t run in a week…maybe two.
…because I need new running shoes.
…because I don’t feel hydrated and I might cramp.
…because I don’t have the time anymore.
…because I’m lazy.

Here I am…being honest and vulnerable. I’m also trying to shame myself into running, is that a bad habit? Running, exercise, and healthy living is a stupid mental game- and sometimes my mind lets the fears win, and any sort of “excuse” passes for a plausible excuse. BUT.

I have working legs, I have a body, I breathe in and out- I am capable. 

There are a lot of things I take into consideration when I go running, because I am prone to injury but I know when I’m bullshitting. And I’ve been doing it a lot lately. Mental games and focus- I know these are things I really push on my blog, but it’s because that’s really it. It’s not easy, but mental games are what puts up walls, makes excuses, and keeps me in the house. So I have to play mental games to break down those walls and push me out of the house.

No more self. Get out.

And run.

ProTip: Keep your running mind positive. A negative mind WILL slow you down/tire you out, physically.

focus

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about running, and it’s definitely because it’s been awhile since I did a proper run.

I went from running 4 times/week to maybe 1 time…if I’m lucky. I don’t know who is actually lucky in the scenario of running 1 time/week, I think the it’s a losing situation. It’s just so freaking hard! You guys, how did I run that half-marathon?

Easy, 1) I was signed up and it was non-refundable and 2) I was on Team Wilson and 3) Look at #1.

Personally, I’ve come to realize how hard it is to work at something, especially exercise-related, when you don’t have something to work for. Does that sound sad? Because I know when I run trails at Town Lake or in my parent’s neighborhood, there are people who run for reasons that are not race-related. There’s that health aspect blah blah blah it’s good to exercise, and there’s that habit thing that I used to have- something happened, and the thought of moving my legs make me irk.

My motivation is lost, I have “nothing” to work toward, but again- running is hugely mental. Right now, my mentality is in this state of defeat even before I walk out the door. So, what can I do to bring this motivation back without signing up for another race? Because I don’t want to have that association where I fall flat without doing a race, you know? I’m in this search, and for now I’m making a new playlist.

I think another thing (aside from the weather conditions) that has made running so hard is the expectation that I have for myself. Lately when I go on a run, I already tell myself, “What’s wrong with you? You can’t even break 3 miles? How did you run 13?” I think it really messes with my mentality to keep going. Aware of this, I try to combat it with positive thoughts like, “It’s fine. Slow. You have to build yourself back up and you didn’t go from 1 to 5 miles, overnight. You’re doing okay. Keep going.”

Left foot, right foot. Breathe.

Should I list the things I did today via a list? Those are fun (and just lazy blogging).

  1. Church
  2. Home
  3. Lazing and watching Bar Rescue
  4. Hamburgers + Pool Time + Family Time + USA v. Portugal World Cup Time (Meow.)
  5. Home
  6. Run 2.7 miles (while I thought about how on earth I ran 13.1 miles 4 months ago)*
  7. Home

If you didn’t read my post about Sundays a couple of weeks ago, you should. Sundays are really up to your own interpretation, but ultimately it’s a day of rest and spending time with your people.

*Vacation running is hard, y’all. It’s a whole new environment. It’s exciting because it’s new and different. And it can be scary if you’re not properly prepared. Vacation running is also eye-opening because running in said “new environment” gives you perspective on things you routinely do and spins it around a bit. Running for me had been so routine. I woke up, ran to Town Lake, and I would run back. I knew the route, I knew my obstacles (and I knew where all of the water fountains were). It gets pretty passive after a while. Then I come to a new place and everything has to be reconfigured. I have to be more alert and aware. While running, I imagined myself creating a new life here and I’m like, “everything would have to be reconfigured. Hmm, ok.”

Yes, I parallel running with my life (as a whole) a lot because our lives are just a bunch of analogies and parallels. While this thought is kind of a “duh” moment: theorizing about a new life in your home-base is very different when you’re experiencing it firsthand.

Does this mean I don’t ever want to leave Texas? No, anything is up for grabs. I’ve learned this the hard way. But does it give me more perspective than when I would sit at home and think about a life here on the west coast? Yes, absolutely.

EVERYTHING IS ABOUT PERSPECTIVE. Maybe my blog will just be about perspective. Here’s a thing: perspective is in constant flux.

Every time something comes to a close, I do some hard thinking. This is my nature. Camp is all fun and games until you realize, “Wait…it’s almost over.”

focus

Today I’m not talking about running per se, but a byproduct of it: focus. In this age of being constantly plugged in, I find it incredibly easy to get distracted. From school to social life to media- there is such a multitude of outlets that are available to us, sometimes I find it hard to grasp the limiting outlets that people once had (or did not have).

There is a saying that I see floating in the running realm about how running teaches you a lot about yourself. I believe this to be true. Going hand-in-hand with the concept of focus, when I go run, it’s about me… and me. I decide my pace, my music…I decide when to trick myself into running further than I want, and I decide when I have to stop. Running, like most things, is largely mental, but I fail to say that I have focus in other things aside from running.

And focus is not an easy concept I gained by any means, I used to run and only think about everything else aside from running. This habit failed me as the distractions took away from reserving the energy I needed to keep going. After a while (after a long while for me), I started to zero in on what was in front of me, instead of shooting my energy into everything outside of it.

Funny anecdote that relates to focus: I started running again, and it’s hard. My favorite part about Texas winter was running because it’s cold, but not unbearable (some days are unbearable, but I thrive in those 40 to 45 degree temps). So on that note, I am not used to, nor do I thrive in the 65 to 70 degree temps- I actually feel like I’m dying. When I don’t have access to water? You might find me dry heaving on Town Lake from exhaustion.

ANYWAY, when I went running, it was me, myself and I. No dilly dallying thoughts, I have to focus…on making it to the other side. Literally. When you run Town Lake, there are no short cuts, you have to keep going until you come back to Point A. It’s miserable, but it keeps me accountable for mileage. While I wish that I could tell people the dreams and ideas I get on my runs, I actually only think about where the next water station might be or how much further I have or praying that I don’t get a cramp when I’m halfway on East side.1

Focus. Clear the mechanism. See how far you can go.

1. Was that funny? It’s not? Whoops, watch this. My apologies, I’m working on it.

“Consider to hope against all odds, dream in response to fear, and survive in the face of adversity.”
-R. Wilson

This quote resonated with me today, and like the 24 hours before Feb 16, the 24 hours after Feb 16 – my mind is still racing at a million miles an hour. It’s over. The Austin Half Marathon is over. I finished (with a good time), and what do I do with myself now?

Cliché alert: while the actual race day has ended, I feel like I just started something. Never did I EVER ever ever ever think that me, Thu Nguyen, would take two steps outside, let alone run 13.1 miles up and down hilly Austin, Texas. While my hip is doing some weird popping thing, my legs feel broken, and my toes feel smashed- what an inexplainable feeling.

What’s next? I don’t know, but I know I’m not stopping here.

If you would like a bit of comical relief (or something), this is how my Race Day went:
Anxiety, anxiety, anxiety.
*Clear the mechanism.*
Start – “Go…slow, slow, slow, pace, pace, pace, oooh Gatorade, hydrate. I can just throw these cups on the ground? Okay.”
South Congress – “Oh look, there’s St. Edward’s. I just ran to St. Edward’s…and I have to keep going.”
Ben White – “There’s a dude wearing a sign that says ‘I’m Drunk.’ Ha! Keep going.”
South 1st – This stretch felt like eternity. I kept running and running and running and I was thinking to myself, “Where the hell is that bridge? What mile am I even on? ONLY 8!?”
Somewhere between Mile 8 & Mile 9 – A person was holding a poster with a giant Coach Taylor face that said “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Run Fast.” I clearly shouted “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” as I ran past that glorious sign. Keep going.
Split from 26.2 runners – “I know exactly what is about to come, but do I really?” Nope. Naive Thu did not know what was in for the next 2-3 miles…
Einfield Hill – “Shit. Shit. Shit. And there’s running to do on the other side of that hill, shit.”
AND THERE’S A LITTLE MORE?
Last 500m – *Cosmic Love by Florence + The Machine comes on* Perfect timing but also thinking, “Why does this feel like the longest 500 meters of my life?”

Ok, 400m, 300m, 200m, 100m…F I N I S H. Done. Fin. What just happened?

If you got all the way down here: thanks for sticking around, I couldn’t have done it without you.