Cooking Class and Reflections on Mental Health

I’ve always wanted to take a cooking class.  I have seen listings of interesting courses and passed the windows of Sur La Table, near the NYRR Run Center, where I witnessed packed classes in action, chopping away at parsley or kneading some dough.

My friend Keeley here in Calgary is a great cook. She enjoys preparing interesting dishes and hosting dinner parties.  She mentioned in passing taking a gnocchi making class at Cuisine et Chateau. I thought about it briefly, I love gnocchi, in fact I love anything dumplingy.  Later in the week, she revisited the idea and I decided to go, cooking class would be more interesting with a friend.

Reflections on Bourdain and Mental Health 

Irony or some weird fate would have it that I would have my first cooking class on the same day as Anthony Bourdain’s death.  Parts Unknown is one of my favorite food/travel shows.  It always inspired me to travel more and to seek locally-oriented restaurants and experiences when I get there. Although his race, gender and wealth rendered him privileged, he used his visibility to advocate for those who are often Othered, from Damon Young of  VSM,

He was a rich and powerful (and white) man who used the privilege that his riches, his power, his whiteness and his maleness provided to shed a spotlight on those without it. He was a tourist of the world who still treated people and cultures like people and cultures and not pamphlets.

He always showed deep respect and humility for the people, food and cultures he encountered and kept it real when describing the structures of oppression that contribute to the inequities he encountered.

In the wake of his passing, many friends have been posting articles about him and his life-long struggle with depression.  Many of these articles resonate with me as I too suffer from depression. Blogger Ashleigh O. describes her “imposter syndrome” even with her advocacy for mental health,

Truth is, I still struggle. Sometimes massively. I still struggle with depression, anxiety, and sometimes insecurities overtake my mind so much that I can’t stand to look at myself. I wonder why I’m here, if I’m truly helping others, am I being laughed at or mocked because of my truth? Depression and anxiety don’t have you thinking the most rational things.

Will Wheaton wrote (alliteration not intentional) about his irrational worries and “what-ifs,” something that I have also struggled with since I was an adolescent. “People who live with depression are wired differently. Our brains perceive life differently than those who do not have depression,” note Steve Safran on another blog.  It is a hard thing to publicly admit because of the [still] stigma around mental health along with notions that one can just “shake off” symptoms.  Those of us who have the illness know that this is not the case.  Also, those of us who suffer find identity in people like Bourdain, Kate Spade and Robin Williams–people who seem outwardly like they “have it all” and yet succumbed to the darkness of their illness.  It frightens me.  However, with the number of friends and colleagues who have been posting articles about common misconceptions about depression and other mental illnesses, it allows me to recognize that [sadly] I am not alone in my struggle.  But rather I am amongst a cadre of brilliant, successful and creative people who suffer the same.  It sounds weird, but I am in good company.  And in this company I hope that we can continue to support each other and help others to recognize the reality of our illness and how to be empathetic.

In the Fall, I participated in an artmaking/research workshop, Recognition… Validation… Reassurance… around creating a framework for mental wellness.  My colleague Dick Averns, asked us to address the prompt, How do you create a framework for mental wellness? in a collage. I created the following collage, I will leave it open for interpretation, but I am happy to know that it was one of the pieces chosen to be displayed on Calgary public transit sometime this year.

47 Zeine Bruja - small copy

I am on meds and go to therapy to help manage my depression.  I also run, dance and try to engage in new experiences to keep my mind active, hence the appeal of the cooking class.


The first time I tasted gnocchi was on my first trip to Sydney, Australia.  I had a brief romance with an Italian-born guy and he invited me for dinner where his mother made fresh gnocchi.  I was in carbohydrate heaven, thus began my love affair with this food.  I tend to order it whenever I see it on the menu.  I tried once to make it but it ended up being a pot full of boiling water and potato mush.  Not edible.

During this class, we learned to make parmesan shortbread with dips (I really enjoyed the arugula, garlic and sour cream dip), artichoke, squash and sage gnocchi, and goat milk ricotta ravioli.  Although it was a 3 hour class, there was not enough time to make everything from scratch so some things were pre-made and demonstrated.  Like the gnocchi.  Apparently the trick to good gnocchi is drying the potatoes with course salt after boiling and  before putting it through a ricer and mixing with flour and potatoes.  Seems simple.


We cooked and ate in succession, first the shortbread (pre-made dough with demo) and dips (we made the dips–the aforementioned along with black olive and sundried tomato dips), then the gnocchi (it had a very “cozy” taste, the squash and accompanying red wine made it feel like a late-autumn meal) followed by the desert.  Each was complemented with a glass of wine.


Demonstrating the art of onion cutting.  As a former biology teacher red onions make me think of the plant cell osmosis lab. 

Squash, sage and onion mixture

IMG_5644Sweet ricotta ravioli for dessert

A part of my framework for mental wellness is to keep trying new things, keep running and find different ways to be creative!


Perfect Days in Brooklyn and Dolan Race Recap

My last two days in Brooklyn (this visit) were quite as perfect as Brooklyn days go.  I got up early on Saturday and prepared for my long run.  Since I am coming off the Brooklyn Half and have not yet officially started marathon training, I decided to do about 6 miles and also decided to run down to and along the waterfront.

Waterfront Running

While I was getting dressed, my mother called to say that she was on her way to the Dr because her blood pressure what high.  I asked her “why didn’t you call me to let me know you were going?”  She responded, “I didn’t want to bother you.” My mother.  She will bother me with trivial stuff like writing checks and IMing her sister on FB but will not call me when it is something that is more important.

Lucky for me the Dr. on the running path I chose so I ran to the office to meet her there.  Dripping in sweat, I entered the office and swabbed with some rough bathroom paper towels. Thankfully my 85 year old mother is in brilliant health (she ran/walked a 6k race last year and placed in her age group, in a NYRR race!!!) so the Drs visit only resulted in a change of medication.  I left my mother to continue my run, but not without a warning from her, “Mind your blood pressure, it runs in the family and I know you love salt!” Ok mom! I love you too.

So I continued on my downhill run towards the seafront.  It was mostly on the sidewalk so  it entailed dodging pedestrians and dog poo.  I passed over the Gowanus Canal, a superfund site that has been both cleaning up and gentrifying–a harbor seal was spotted swimming there not too long ago.

I made it to the waterfront, saw and odd statue, and continued towards the Brooklyn Bridge park.


Lounge Kayaking 

When I made it to the park I was at about 5 miles. There was a nice breeze coming of the bay and I enjoyed seeing the city skyline from the water, that includes the orange Staten Island ferry leaving its Manhattan berth.  This view never gets old and the ferry gives me all kinds of good feels from my childhood.

While I was taking in this experience, I noticed yellow kayaks on the water.


I happened upon the early season of the Brooklyn Bridge Park free kayaking, a part of increasing efforts to get New Yorkers to access our iconic and increasingly cleaner waterfront.   In my lifetime I have seen the Hudson River go from inky black with ample dead fish floats to a more appropriate murky brown, representing the estuary it really is.  I have also had the pleasurable experience of swimming in this estuary and very happy that it is cleaner, so much so that seals, dolphins and even whales have been recently spotted enjoying the waters.

I took advantage of having no wait time and took a kayak out on the water.  As it is meant to be just public experience teaser, you could only kayak in between the two piers.  I am not a professional, but quite experienced as I volunteer for local swim races as a kayak support and have circumnavigated Manhattan while doing so.  I just wanted to be on the water.  I sat on the kayak and felt the sea rise and fall under my watercraft with each passing boat (wake).  I also lounged back in my life jacket which afforded a nice cushiony lounge chair feeling. I drifted off into a little nap, only to be awaken but the hot sun beaming on my face.  I spend the next half hour or so gently turing the kayak away from the sun and then allowing it to slowly drift back.  My feet were in the water, life is good.


Not wanting to end my time on the water but knowing that I needed to finish my run and head home, I reluctantly returned the kayak and hit the pavement for my remaining mile.

Race Recap: Dolan 5k 

Pascale Muro trying out the age-group trophy hardware

A good friend of mine, Tamara, texted me on Sunday morning that her daughter (Alyssia Brown, an upcoming road racing dynamo and member of the Prospect Park Youth Running Club–watch out for her) was running the Dolan race at 10am.  I remembered the Dolan race, it is an annual 5K in memory of Kenny Dolan who tragically died in an automobile accident at 23 years old.  The race, organized by the Dolan family as scholarship fund, started in the early 90s. It quickly became a popular local race with a fun after party with music, beer, bbq, dancing and the award ceremony. The race starts on the downhill–the easiest part of Prospect Park loop and ends with a challenge, the infamous Battle Pass hill and grindy west side.  Again, I went out too fast and lost energy on the more challenging part of the park, but I still managed to place in my age group and contribute to the PPTC women’s Masters win (Alyssia won third place OVERALL, she is just entering her teens!).  However, the prize of the race was the post race party.  It brought back memories of my fitter and faster years where I also placed either overall or age-group along with all-you-can-eat hamburgers and hot dogs.  And there was the dancing.  Nobody does post race party like old school Brooklyn runners and more importantly, the Dolan family.

Local running legend.  He is probably closer to 70 and probably more fit than someone half his age. I was once telling a friend about him on Utica Ave., quite far from this location and lo and behold, dude dance-runs by with his headphones, backpack and signature deep squats and splits. 

IMG_5592Mad strength and flexibility skillz, yo! 


Even Dance-runner aka Flex can’t get jiggy with these moves!

Coney Island

The weekend rounded off with a couple of stops on the Prospect Lefferts Garden house tour with one good friend, here are views from roof of a new building:


And a visit with another dear friend Joy to my favorite spot, Coney Island! It was quite a windy day, lots of white caps on the water, so we did not walk the boardwalk too much but enjoyed a drink at a relatively new bar/restaurant in a vintage Coney Island building.


Coney Island Art


All is good!