Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sorry, roommate--I used all the ice

Nothing out of the ordinary to report today. Oh, wait: I ran on a Wednesday. That's different. Packed in 4 miles: 2.33 at the park and 1.72 doing an out and back to the main street. Thankfully it wasn't too hot, as a well-meaning woman decided to dump out my water and throw the plastic bottle away while cleaning up the park after the children's soccer practice. I saw her pick it up and pour the water out before I was close enough to shout, "Oi! That's mine!" Oh, well.

I also mixed it up a bit during stretches, by doing push-ups in between stretching my major muscle groups. From my knees, I did three sets: 8, 7, and 6, with a minute's rest in between.

Silly me--I was so focused on icing my ankles after the run that I forgot to listen to my victory song. So I've got "Fanfare for the Common Man" playing in the background right now.

I felt just fine after today's 4 miles, so I think I will be in good shape for my 10K, what with four more weeks to keep training and all.

Tonight's dinner was yesterday's leftover potato salad, plus a serving of garbanzo beans for good luck! Nah, they were for extra protein. Add to that a few nuts for dessert and I'm sitting pretty on my protein for the day, what with having 1/2 C of yogurt, 1 C of garbanzos, 1/2 C of edamame, plus about 3/4 C of millet. Add this to other various minimal sources of protein in today's variety-filled eating--it all adds up!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Italian Flair Potato Salad

I played the "whatchagot" game in putting together tonight's supper. It turned out to be delicious! Of course, how could it not be, considering the ingredients. :)

Potato Salad with an Italian Flair
3 red potatoes, scrubbed
3 zucchini, sliced (I used green and yellow)
about 1/3 C julienne sun-dried tomatoes, packed in olive oil
1/4 diced red bell pepper
3 oz feta cheese, crumbled

Boil the potatoes until tender. Let cool, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Roast the zucchini until tender and browned, or if it's unbearably hot out, just saute them. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and season to taste (salt, pepper, garlic spice blend, etc.) Serves 3 as mini-meals or 2 as main course.

I'm interested to see how well the flavors blend overnight in the fridge.

I've noticed something interesting over the past couple of days: I'm filled with a great deal of positivity as I eat my morning salad. (Baby greens w/ a half cup of beans dressed with oil & vinegar or salsa, depending on the beans.) Just munching on the tasty tupperware of nutrition makes me feel good. Apparently, it's a comfort food, and a plenty healthy one at that.

I can definitely use all the comfort and nutrition I can get, as northern faire is kicking my butt! This past weekend my sleep was very interrupted (Who know that crickets could be so loud?) so Friday through Sunday nights I think I got about 5-6 hours of actual sleep per night, which is so not good for me. However, I was very geared up for my run on Sunday morning, and did my 9 laps around the faire site. I'm adding one lap per weekend, so that final Sunday will be 12, over highly variable terrain, which I think will be adequate training for the 10K I'm running on Oct 30th. I postponed today's run to tomorrow, as the heat wave will have finished breaking by then.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bloggus Interruptus


Look at the archives. Notice that huge, gaping hole during April and May? That's because all my energy was sucked away by this thing called the "Renaissance Faire." Even though it only takes place on the weekends, it's like having a second full-time job.

Well, it's happening again, this time not even locally, so imagine how much more exhausted I might end up being after driving 6 hours Friday evening, sleeping on the ground, performing all weekend, then driving back home Sunday night and getting up for work the next day. Despite the fact that I really enjoy playing my violin and I love many of the people, I am really not looking forward to this season.

Can we say, "burnout"?

In any case, I'm trying to be as healthy as I can. I've packed some fairly healthy instant soups (split pea and black bean), along with nuts, dried fruits, Lara bars, and Annie's Naturals cheese crackers. (They're in the shape of little birds. I love birds. The second faire dress I made is in a color that can only be described as "baby duck yellow". Contrast that with my third dress, colloquially known as "emergency traffic sign yellow".) I've also got a gallon of water and some nice ginger lemongrass green tea. I'm hoping to minimize as much as possible the fast food that I'll be eating; we'll see how well that works out.
Sunday mornings will be devoted to running around the site. A good 3-4 miles, out under the trees, on reasonably natural dirt, with hills. Really looking forward to it, even though I know the hills are going to kick my butt.

So, just a warning that there may not be any updates for a while. We'll just have to see how it goes.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Animal Instinct

That run was exhausting! 1 mile to the track, 3 miles of added speed laps, 1 extra lap plain ol' jogging to make sure that I ran for at least 30 mins, then 1 mile back home. Instead of running for endurance, I was trying to add some speed by running one straight leg of the quarter mile just about as fast as I could run. Run, that is; not sprint. Lap 10 I let myself just run at my normal pace, I was so tired, telling myself that I could have a little rest as long as I pushed myself on the last two laps. After each mile I took a short pause for a swallow or two of water.


I was definitely working harder than usual. Normally my breathing is just barely elevated--this evening I was panting during and after each fast-paced straight leg. I employed a technique I've used since the first time I ran for exercise, way back in high school. Visualizing animals running, and pretending to be one. Tonight I invoked horses, cheetahs, ostriches, and, naturally, dinosaurs.
There was an interesting comment to a recent posting on Marion Nestle's blog, Food Politics. "It has always mystified me that many of the same people who don’t want to pay $3 or $4 for eggs that are produced under much better (but still fairly large concentrations) conditions are fine with $4 coffee or $3 to rent a movie and other such elective spending." It's so true: a person has no problem going out for a $9 omelette for breakfast, but would balk at spending $4 (instead of around $1.50 - $2.00, which is what eggs are going for in my area) for a dozen eggs. Certainly conditions in the egg industry are appalling across the board--of course, I'm thinking more about the chickens than possible diseases present in the eggs. I'm now expanding my imaginary dream house to include a chicken coop.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Basic Tuesday

Ran my go-to 4 miles this evening. Imported some 80s & 90s music to help me out. I'd have to say that the second mile was the hardest; I think I was running at a quicker pace for the first two miles, and at my normal pace for the last two. Because of my post-vacation respiratory infection, I haven't run since last Tuesday, so I'm really glad that I'm well enough to get back to my regularly scheduled workout.

Dinner is straight out of The Front Burner: millet cooked with half water, half vegetable broth topped with sauteed green beans, seasoned with a tsp of coconut oil and some fiery crushed red pepper. Plus some mystery melon for dessert!

Still trying to use up all the strawberries. I've got a batch cleaned and hulled and ready for use.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Strawberry fields

On vacation for a week, sick for a week. Still finishing up the illness, in fact, though I can tell I'm on the mend because I'm being productive once again. Especially in the kitchen.

After reading Tartelette's recent post about blueberry sorbet-filled macarons, I was in the mood to try my hand at homemade sorbet. Alas! I live in a land where blueberries are not laying in flats around every corner. There were a few baskets still available at the farmers' market, but in nothing even close to my price range. So I went with the old So Cal standby this time of year: strawberries. Pesticide free!

Three baskets were $4. A half flat of six baskets was $5. I bought the half flat, thinking, "I'm going to need a lot of berries for sorbet."

Eh...not so much. Here's the recipe I went with, out of my Cuisinart ice cream maker recipe book: 1 C sugar + 1 C water to make a simple syrup, 1/4 C corn syrup, 1 quart strawberries, hulled, pureed, and shoved through a strainer. Mix well, chill, and then process in the maker. Currently everything is at the "chilling" stage. I do, however, have a delightfully red goo taking up space in my fridge, which is always a plus.

So I used up 2 pints. Which leaves me with four. What am I going to do with four pints of strawberries? Yes, I know: eat them. However, I know they're not going to keep in the fridge for that long, which means I may have to tip into the recipe in a section at the back of the book, which specializes in boozy frozen drinks.

Strawberry daquiris, anyone?

So now I have four pints left.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

And the number 5.

Today's run was brought to you by the letter V. For Vasen Street.

Like most people, I have many different types of music on my iPod, including one album by these three fabulous string players. It was very pleasant to listen to, and actually helped me be a little bit more playful on the second half of the run. Somewhere during mile four, I thought to myself, "Okay, I'm doing five miles. That's about one-fifth of a marathon. Could I do this five miles five times? I think so." Somehow five times 5.2 miles doesn't seem nearly as daunting as 26.2 miles.

I dunked my feet in a bucket of ice water after I finished stretching. I was chatting on the phone with my sister (she rules!), and making all kinds of "oh, freezing!" sound effects. Eventually I realized that I didn't have a towel nearby, so after I hung up I got to toddle through the house with wet, numb feet to the linen closet. Left ankle was still not so happy, so I've got it wrapped up for a bit in an elastic bandage. (FYI, left leg has suffered some nerve damage, so it has, shall we say, "special needs".)

Today was also brought to you by the letter Z. For zucchini!


Anyone who has ever planted zucchini before knows the the slightly fuzzy-prickly outside of a ripe young zucchini. See, if you don't get them while they're young, they turn into mutant monster gigantic zucchini that threaten to take over your neighborhood. The only solution is to foist them off on people; the zuc I broke into this evening came all the way from friends in Ventura.

Zucchini is mostly water and a cell wall, i.e. it doesn't have many calories. Half a cup provides but 13 or so, nearly all from carbohydrates. Like most vegetables, it provides Vitamins A and C in respectable amounts, along with some Potassium and Folate.

A great way to get your zucchini is in the form of tasty bread. I decided to try this recipe, because I wanted to use whole wheat flour. I substituted applesauce for the coconut oil and honey for half of the maple syrup. It baked up in one large and three small loaf pans, so I have some to wrap up and share with friends. What I like best about zucchini bread, especially the recipes with so much of the vegetable in them, is that they're so moist it's almost half-pudding, half-bread. I would totally add nuts (walnuts or pecans) to the recipe next time. I only left them out this time because I want to share with my nut-allergy friends, and only want them to die from deliciousness.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Frankenstein Shoes & Strange Fruit

Looking at the pile of laundry, list of chores, and list of currently sore, potentially unstable muscles led me to make an executive decision on the way home from work to not go to yoga this afternoon and instead take today as my rest day. I can greet tomorrow morning with a little warm-up walk and personal yoga session, and give my muscles an extra day to recuperate.

Yesterday's run was an easy 3 miles in 32 minutes around the college track. This plan was approved by my unofficial running coach, who said I should definitely take an easy run after the rigors of my 5 miles on Tuesday.

NPR was a font of great radio stories this afternoon. I'd like to talk first about Frankenstein shoes. (Technically, Frankenstein's monster's shoes.) These are the new, rounded-sole toning shoes that have been purchased by a number of my coworkers, and I saw on two girls walking around the track last night. You can read it here, which also has a link for listening to the story. Scroll down a bit so that you can also check out the studies. Or let me lead you directly to that of the American Council on Exercise, the one on the Masai barefoot technology, and the one on walking in negative heeled shoes.

Always, always, always check the sources of claims by a commercial organization. Always check the sources of claims by anyone, really. I read the studies. I analyzed the charts. I sifted through the language. The end result is that the two studies specifically on new shoe technology said that the shoes could be used in a therapeutic fashion to strengthen the legs. It might be considered good training for the enhancement of the lower leg muscles.

All of the studies had small sample groups (12 or 13 individuals) and the study was conducted over a short period of time. In order to conclusively show that these shoes are more effective than ordinary athletic shoes, you'd need to have a larger population of individuals and conduct the study with people exercising in a controlled fashion over a long period of time, so that you can accurately measure actual muscle tone changes.

I'd throw in some barefoot walkers, too, just as an added study.

I agree with the spokesman for the ACE study, in that these shoes cause one's gait to be altered. That alteration forces you to use muscles in a different way to stabilize. This alteration would be caused by any different kind of shoe. Improvements in physique are mostly likely caused by people simply exercising more in order to get the most benefit out of their fancy, expensive shoes. Like my friend (a trainer of personal trainers) said, anything that gets people out exercising is a good thing.

Now on to the other story. It involves something emotional, rather than physical. NPR also presented a very moving story on the August 1930 lynching of two young black men in Marion, Indiana, a photograph of which inspired Abel Meeropol to write the poem and song "Strange Fruit". You can read about it and listen to the full story here. I'll give you the same warning that I was given by All Things Considered: it contains language and images that some people may find disturbing. They certainly disturbed me--I started weeping three times.

Earlier today, I read a story posted on my brother-in-law's blog about what it's like being a nerd of color, so race was definitely in my mind this afternoon. I find it interesting to note that, now that my sister has married interracially, I really am much more aware of matters of race. Growing up white in Salt Lake City, racial issues were definitely something that happened other places. Now that I live in Southern California, I go back to SLC and am shocked that everyone looks the same. We've made some progress in this country since that lynching 80 years ago, but really: fourscore years and we still don't have real equality. I can be upset at that, I can weep at the atrocities that were committed in our country's past, but all I can do myself is work every day to show each individual on this planet the same equal treatment and compassion.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Change the Way You See


I'm too late to be on the official bandwagon for this, but I thought I'd do my own personal post in honor of Operation Beautiful Week.

The mission of Operation Beautiful is to end "negative self-talk", partly through awareness and partly through extending that awareness to other people through anonymous notes posted in public places. Caitlin has been posting the personal stories of health and wellness bloggers across the country. I've been reading them over the past few days, and have decided to write about about what this means to me.

But first I want to put on a little avant-garde jazz.

I was the fat girl in my elementary school class. There was one fat boy, too, so the class had a matched set. I wasn't pretty, either. I was picked on as a child because of my size and my brains and my introverted ways. I stood up for myself now and then, but what's a kid to do? It's tough. It sucks to be the fat kid. To this day I haven't let go of some of the bad experiences. Things were a bit better in junior high school, and a bit better still in high school. It was funny: all I had going for me, really, was my academic prowess, so I worked hard and practiced at physical education just because I wanted to get a good grade in gym class.

Health class in 10th or 11th grade (I forget now) made me start thinking more about nutrition. I stopped eating red meat, and then in the fall of '95 I became a vegetarian. Not that I was a particularly healthy vegetarian, mind you, but I started being more mindful of what I was eating. Then we had this test for gym class, where we were supposed to run 1 1/2 miles. First time I did it, I ran the first half lap, and then walked the rest. Again, I wanted to get a good grade, so I was over at the track practically every evening, jogging where I could, walking the rest, to the point where I could run a very slow 12-minute mile. (I think I got an A on the test just because I showed such improvement and dedication.)

The highest weight I ever remember seeing on the scale was 190 pounds. This was when I was fourteen or so, at my full height of 5' 7". When I became vegetarian, I started to lose some weight, down to 170, 175 or so. My senior year of high school, I wrote down in a steno notebook the calories and fat in everything I ate (my sister will remember this), working off of a calorie chart in an old diet book we had in the house. I remember that I had three meals and two snacks even back then. I was also back at the track three or four nights a week, walking and jogging.

Even though it seems crazy in retrospect, that food diary was a great thing for me. I went away to college, where we had three meals a day in the cafeteria, everything paid for in our residence fees. There was a great big salad bar in the center, next to the dessert tables. Burgers & sandwiches & pizza on one side, hot foods (vegetarian & non) on the other side. Sometimes I would go nuts on Sunday sundae occasions, where I would have a little ice cream with my caramel sauce and sprinkles, but often I would eat as well as I knew how: fresh vegetable salads, pasta with tomato sauce and carrots on the side, roasted mushrooms with polenta and a side of broccoli, oatmeal and melon for breakfast, and fat-free frozen yogurt. Combine this with the fact that there was a gym I could go to regularly meant that, for me, the freshman 15 was an imaginary thing that happened to some other people. I exercised, I ate well, and I got down to my normal fit weight: mid 140s.

However, being at an average weight (still not skinny) didn't do jack for my social life. It didn't guarantee that I had a boyfriend, or that guys even paid attention to me at parties. Even now I feel like the last girl in the group to get any attention. So the shape doesn't really matter. How you approach the world does. I never expected that losing weight would solve all my problems, I just thought it would be a good thing to do for myself.

I know that if I want to receive anything, first I should give it to the world. It won't necessarily come back to me, but I'm fine with that. If I want to be social, if I want attention, maybe I should go out and ask for it, nicely. I'll have a party and invite all kinds of people. I'll find people doing stuff and ask them about it. I'll just make eye contact and start interacting with someone. I'll be a good listener, fair and open and non-judgemental. All the qualities that really matter in yourself and other people, none of them depend on height or weight or hair color or shoe size.

All the running I've been doing has really made me think about my thighs. My body has its fat deposits in the upper portions of the extremities. I'm certain that my upper arms will never be skinny and there's an 11 inch difference between my waist and hips that makes it impossible to find pants that fit. My thighs, though, they might have muscle definition at the bottom, but they're definitely soft and comfy pillows at the top. Badunkadunk does not even begin to describe my booty. I think the fat is here to stay, and really, I'm all right with that. It's the way that I'm made, obviously; it's all natural. So why hate on what's natural? And, you know, one of these days, my thighs and I are going to run a 10K. Then my thighs and I are going to run a half-marathon. Then my thighs and I are going to run a full marathon. Because that's also the way I'm made.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Aftermath

Well, gentle reader, I have to say that 5 miles yesterday has not been particularly kind to me. Ankles, the left one especially, have been grousing all day. There were definitely some interesting sensations just now during yoga class. Everything else has been fine. I think maybe it was just a little too much pavement. However, I am looking forward to tomorrow's run: 30-35 minutes of intervals over at the track.

In general, I am not a fan of Aaron Copland's music. However, there is one piece which speaks to me, and that piece I love. I am speaking of "Fanfare for the Common Man". Listened to it just now to celebrate my victory over a rigorous yoga class with plenty of new moves. In my imagination, as I race towards the finish line of my first marathon, I take a moment to turn my iPod over to this song, so I can cross to the bright notes of brass.

I played "Whatchagot?" with stuff on pasta tonight. I needed to use up some assorted vegetables, so I threw them all together. Here's what I did:

1 red bell pepper
1 bunch of broccoli
1/2 lb brown mushrooms
sun-dried tomatoes (in olive oil)
fresh basil
whole wheat pasta

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut the pepper and the broccoli into bite-sized pieces and place in a single layer on a greased cookie sheet. Stick in the oven. Next, clean your mushrooms and slice into bite-sized pieces. Place these in a single layer on a greased cookie sheet. Stick this in the oven as well. (Mushrooms generally take less time to cook, which is why I put them in second.) Cook for 30-45 minutes.

Boil some water and cook two servings of pasta. (I used the spiral type, what is it? Rotelle? Ah--rotini. That's it. At least according to Wikipedia's handy-dandy chart.) When it is cooked to your liking, drain. Add some sun-dried tomatoes and a bit of the oil and mix well. Throw in all the vegetables. Chop up a bunch of basil and stir that in, too. Season to taste. I like to add a good grind of crushed red pepper, 'cause I'm fiery that way.

If you want a little more protein, crumble in some feta or chevre, or add a can of garbanzo beans.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Out and back


Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! It's Super-Me!

I ran FIVE miles.

I didn't time it, because there were lights where I had to jog in place, and I did a lap around the block for cool-down before I was able to check the clock (running into the VP of my department, and you know how it's always kinda weird seeing work people outside of the company. Not as weird as the time I ran into my Japanese professor in the showers at the pool and we were both naked and I had to have a short conversation with her, but still a little unusual. I mean, heck, he was in a t-shirt.) Anyway, a nifty watch/timer/lap tracker sort of device is on my list of things I want for training.

Had a serving of chocolate soymilk right after the run, while I was soaking my feet & ankles in a bath of ice water. Dinner is imminent: tofu, frozen veggies (string beans and carrots) and vegetable gyoza, all from Trader Joe's. I'll be cooking more later: an experiment of roasted mushrooms and peppers, to go with some sun-dried tomatoes and basil, all over pasta. Should make a tasty lunch for tomorrow.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Normally I'm good at math

Somehow I thought that today's biathlon would only take 45 minutes. Yeah, I don't know where I came up with that. I left the house around 8:45 this morning, and came back through the door at 10:30. I was shocked, until I actually thought about it. This morning I did:

10 1/2 miles biking
3 miles running (on the sand)

Add in waiting for numerous traffic lights, stopping to watch the start of a dragon boat race, getting slightly lost and confused when I discovered I was in Naples instead of Belmont Shore, and, yes, that can all add up to 1 hour and 45 minutes of exercise, fresh air, and sunshine.

I felt myself inexplicably drawn to the beach this morning. Plus, I wanted to see how it would be to ride my bike over to Belmont Shore instead of driving as usual. It worked out rather well, except when I finally got to the beach there was technically no place to lock up my bike. Rather discourages one to use the bike as a form of transportation, don't you think?

I'm really glad I did it, though. I discovered the aforementioned dragon boat race. It looked just like this, except without Hong Kong in the background. Watching the people at the paddles really made me think of the two types of muscle fibers: Type I (red, good for endurance) and Type II (white, good for bursts of speed and power). I could see the rowers start to slow down after a little while--it would definitely be hard, continually beating at the waters with that short little paddle.

Also, the sand at the beach was perfect for running. I think they flattened it recently, so it was nice and smooth and able to be packed down. I didn't do the full 4 miles (pier to jetty and back) because the last 1/2 next to the jetty was really soft and inclined, as usual, and full of surf fishermen, and I didn't want to have to dodge all the lines. Plus a three mile run was just fine for this morning, especially since I totally had to pee for most of it. That was the worst part of the run, especially since the beach there has a really nice restroom right in the middle of it. 12 individual, separate toilets, each one of them locked up tight. *Sigh* I just got a little extra workout for my pelvic floor muscles, right?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Round and Round She Goes


Today was my first day of running on the track at the university. I wasn't sure whether it was open to the public, so I just casually walked in, and figured it was okay since no one threw me out. My workout was plain, timed 30 minutes of running with a bit of something different: periodic bursts of speed. On each lap, as I came to the straight section on the west side, I would run faster and switch from a mid-foot strike to a fore-foot strike. Basically imagining that I was some type of lithe African antelope.


I realized that the track was, indeed, open to public use when I found myself surrounded by a bunch of folks in Sole Runners t-shirts. There were about 40 of them, having a training session. I had to dodge them on occasion, because they were all over the place! Plus, a number of them were using special watch/running metronome gadgets on their wrists. They produce a beeping noise which I found rather annoying, because I thought at first my iPod was acting up on me.

Today's run soundtrack: Faraualla

Getting a massage tomorrow. I'm interested to see just what my legs feel like these days, and whether I work well with this new therapist.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Upper Body Monday

Do you ever have lingering pain in your upper back? Lower neck? Feels like it could be right between the shoulder blades? It was the most common problem people had when I was doing my clinic shifts at massage therapy school. Basically, it all stems from the fact that we have a front and a back. Everything we do is directed towards the front: where our face is, where our hands can grasp. Of course, the problem is exacerbated by the one thing that the average person has done much, much more of over the past 15 years: work on a computer.

When you're working on something before you for a long period of time, seated, with your arms resting, your body will start to hunch forward. Your head will drop, your shoulders will curve around to the front, and may even end up somewhere around your ears. This is because the pectoralis major, a huge (and sexy!) muscle on the front of your chest [see above], is balanced by the rhomboids major and minor, two small (still sexy!) muscles in the back [see below]. Of course there are many more muscles involved in the stability and motion of your upper body, but these are the two major culprits.
See the difference in size? As the pectorals pull the shoulders around forward, the rhomboids are straining to pull them back. The pain you feel could be an overstretched rhomboid, simply unable to keep up with the load. What's a body to do? Two things: 1) strengthen the rhomboids and 2) stretch the pectorals. [Hmm...obviously I need to spend more time scoping out the articles at livestrong.com. Looks like the could have some good stuff there.] Stretch your pectorals every day!

As for my workouts, since all my focus has been on the lower body (running, biking) lately, it's definitely time for me to become more well-rounded (in more ways that one! Hah!) So this evening I did some upper-body exercises with free weights, sometimes resting on my stability ball both for a core strengthening bonus and to have enough free space around my body for certain exercises. Of course, I did a sequence of shoulder squeezes for my rhomboids, and took a minute when I was finished to stretch my pectorals. :)

Food has been an issue for me lately. I'm in one of those phases where I just don't care about cooking, so I haven't been making fabulous food for myself. Still, my focus is on finding vegetables wherever I can. I still love 'em, I just don't feel like chopping & cooking them. I'm hoping I'll get out of this funk soon and get back up on the super-healthy eating wagon.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I must, I must!

Decided to mix things up a little today, in more ways than one. Scheduled myself to run 30 minutes, so I looked up a new route, and found one at a large local park: two different loops, a little over 3 miles total distance on roads and bike paths (of course I went off-road), surrounded by green spaces and a large pond. The park was local enough that I decided to turn this into a biathlon, and ride the bike there.

Total: 7 miles biking (in two blocks of 3.5 miles before and after), 3 miles running.

I'll definitely be doing this combo again. Biking there was pretty safe, as it was mostly residential streets and bike lanes all the way. Plus, if I want more distance on the bike I can either do a loop or two around the park or go up and down the canal a bit. The run also lends itself well to increasing distance because of the ability to mix and match pathways through the park. There are also a few restrooms, just in case. The only con is that I could not find any drinking fountains, so next time I'll have to bring some water.

There was an added bonus on this run. Maybe it was some endorphins kicking in around mile 2.5, but I think it was seeing the ducks and herons around the pond that made the last bit of the run very pleasant and remarkably easy. The first mile was totally harder than the last mile. I'm always happier when there's waterfowl around.

I have some sad news to report, relating to the post title. I think my bust has officially shrunk! I used to be able to basically fill up a B cup, but I discovered while bra shopping yesterday that I'm most definitely an A. Le sigh. The problem is that my rib cage is fairly big around, so my ideal bra size is 36A. Who even sells that size? All the 36's I see start at B. Thank goodness for the interwebs. On the bright side, though, I can wear all the kickin' halters and tiny strappy tops I want.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rolling with the Homies

At one point during work yesterday, I read this post from No Meat Athlete, which discusses the use of a foam roller as a therapeutic aid. For more information, here's a longer article on using foam rollers. I'd seen them before, even laid on one a couple times as a balance challenge during pilates classes last year. However, I thought it was a very interesting bit of synchronicity that I read the article in the morning and then went to yoga in the afternoon. What did we do at yoga class? Foam roller therapy.

Man, it was painful, but that semi-good sort of painful, wherein I, at least, tend to smile and laugh through the pain. Along the lines of, "Man, I didn't know it could hurt like this, ha ha ha." What I did find useful, however, was that I could control how much pressure I was applying by using my arms and legs to take some of the weight off the area being rolled. There are also similar exercises that can be done with a tennis ball, to affect smaller areas, something very useful when dealing with hard-to-reach muscle groups. Considering that I haven't yet found a massage therapist who will do what I need on my glutes and hamstrings, a way to massage them on my own with my own body weight could be a very good thing.

One thing made me pause while thinking about this therapy. In massage therapy school, we always learned that deep strokes should always go towards the heart. The veins in the legs are equipped with valves to aid venous return against gravity. I was told that doing any deep massage downwards on the legs could potentially damage these tissue structures, especially if there was an underlying weakness. Since, on a roller, you're using effectively the same pressure back and forth, can this cause problems on the downstroke? Or is the force spread over a large enough area that it doesn't affect the veins? If I get a roller and start using it, should I try to limit the amount of pressure when I'm moving that way against the roller? That would certainly be the easiest way to have my cake and eat it, too.

Speaking of which, I ate some chocolate cake yesterday. It was delicious.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stacked Frogs for the Win!

Thursday has become my long-distance running day. My unofficial coach echoes what I've read in my books: do a long run only one day a week. Last Thursday I broke 4 miles, today I added one lap to that. So my total was:

4 1/3 Miles (or 13 laps).

The last lap wasn't especially peppy, but I tried to up my pace just a little, to prove that I could. Upon returning home, and after stretching, I took a dose of my own medicine and let my feet and ankles rest in some ice water, put an ice pack on the back of my left knee, plus did some extra calf stretches. Nothing hurt during the run, but I could feel the sole of my right foot, and both my calves, working a little extra hard.

Here's a tip that I read once, and has been reiterated by what little research I've done on yoga: lie on your back with your legs up in the air for 10 minutes every evening. It was allegedly done by members of some posh ballet company. (Is there really a way to have unposh ballet?) Reversing gravity on your legs enables passive fluid drainage (both blood and lymph) to prevent swelling and give your veins a break. It's an easy habit to maintain; I like to read before I go to bed, so while I'm kicking back with my book, I just happen to kick my feet up the wall.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Goal Attained!

Woo hoo! First ever four mile run! Went over to the park with a friend and did 12 laps (1/3 mile each--you do the math), with an added pace boost on the last one, plus sprinting (such as it was) to the finish. There were a couple of stops for hydration (summer has finally arrived in Southern California), and I didn't time the run at all. However, no matter how long it actually took, I am totally jazzed to have run 4 miles at one go. Next up: 5 miles!

Really, I am just amazed to have come this far. To start off this year, never having run more than a mile at a stretch before in my life, and realizing that I have the stamina and strength to run, and the ability to train up to longer and longer distances, is just a wonderful feeling. It really shows in my other physical endeavors as well. It used to be that I could only bike 3-4 miles before my legs would want to give up and my lungs would be working overtime. Now I can go 8 miles without really thinking about it. My low back pain is essentially nonexistent. I'm thinking about training for a triathlon and a marathon. I have never in my life felt like I belonged in the athletic community, and now I know that all I have to do is put my mind to it and start on that journey of a thousand steps.

Pretend it's this past Tuesday

This is what I got to do this past Tuesday evening:
Sit comfortably in the shade at the park, listening to fantastic band music. The first half was all marches (some classical, some modern) and the second half was more jazz/big band/vocal music. For me, the best part about it was the feeling of quintessential, small-town America: all the neighborhood families gathered in the park to enjoy a picnic and live music. There were babies and old folks alike, out on chairs and blankets, loving the summer.

I had to pack a hasty picnic for myself. I wanted something light and summery, but still nutritious fuel after my 3.5 mile run.

A nice big hunk of watermelon (working on my third whole melon so far this summer) and an open-face egg salad sandwich on a whole-wheat english muffin. Here's how I make my egg salad: finely chop one stalk celery and one hard-boiled egg. Transfer to a bowl and add enough of your favorite mustard so that it binds together. That's it! Of course you can add salt and other seasonings as needed, or some type of mayonnaise-like substance, but I don't have any of the latter in my fridge, so I go with the three simple ingredients. The lady next to me commented that it looked like "girl food"; that is, the simple, light fare that her husband just wouldn't eat. Too bad for him--it was all I wanted for my picnic!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hurry up and wait


Or hurry up and rest, rather. That was my experience this afternoon: the laser-focused absolute drive to finish work in time to get to four o'clock yoga class. A last-minute analysis had me working down to the wire, and five minutes overtime. It doesn't sound like much, but that five minutes combined with Friday afternoon LA traffic can mean the difference between making it and being fatally late for class.

At 3:18, I jump into my car. There's a long traffic light at Frampton: I change out of my jeans and into my yoga pants. A medium-long light at Sepulveda: I braid my hair. A stupidly, mind-boggingly, we should have gone twice already, I actually park my car and hit the pedestrian crossing button just to give the light another incentiv
e to turn green for me: I put in my contacts. Take no prisoners on the freeway, use the super secret ninja route along the side. Make it to yoga with three minutes to spare.

Unroll my mat on an open piece of floor, then I lay myself down and try to unwind the frantic physical tension of the previous two hours.

Had a really good class--I'm glad I was able to attend. My hamstrings are still very sore from all the downward-facing dogs we did on Wednesday afternoon, so thankfully we did nothing of the sort today. A lot more focus on the hip and the front of the leg, with some starter handstands thrown in. Here's a question to all you long-term yoga practitioners: does it ever get easier to have one's head in an inverted position? When my head is upside-down for too long and all the blood rushes to it, it gets incredibly painful. My head actually limits my ability to be in certain positions more than my muscles ever do. I'm hoping that my body will adjust and be more accepting.

In the past week, two people have touted the merits of chocolate milk as a post-workout recovery drink. Today I'm pretending that a glass of soymilk and a few tiny chocolate chip cookies will have the same effect. That highly season-appropriate mug? The first thing I could reach, one-handed, in the cupboard. I'm really loving my post-yoga hair right now.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Good sand and bad sand

Today was a day of bad sand. There I was, fresh from my massage and chiropractic adjustment, in my new pair of black shorts, ready for a nice long run on the beach. The beach was fairly unrunnable. (Yes, I know that's not a word.) While I understand the phases of the moon and the gravitational pull between the moon and the ocean, I've never learned about tides. I'd have to say that, this afternoon, the tide was...high...because the water was higher up on the sand than usual. However, whether it was coming in or heading out is beyond my expertise. All I know is that the water had created little hills of sand, so the seashore was fluted like a pie crust.

And covered in piles of seaweed. Piles.

And also covered in fruit. Seriously, I don't know how the fruit gets onto the beach at Belmont Shore. I saw apples, oranges, mangoes, and three or four watermelon halves.

So I managed to do 40 minutes: dodging piles of kelp; running barefoot over tiny, jagged shells; slogging my way through deep, dry sand. Not the most pleasant run, but really any day I get to go running on the beach gets a smiley face in my book.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Moo, I say. Moo.



Today's exercise: 10 laps around the park (allegedly 1/3 mile per lap) as follows: walk 1, run 2, walk 1, run 2, walk 1, run 2, walk 1. Plus walking to and from the park, total workout time was about 45 minutes. Ankles are still a bit sore from Sunday's run and yesterday's yoga, so I took it a bit easy. Here's me, about to head out for my run. It was very overcast when I left.

I've discovered that the yoga teacher on Monday afternoons is not such a good match for me. I can't exactly pin down why, but I found myself wanting to look over my shoulder at the clock to see how much more we had. There's one more instructor on Friday afternoons, and I'm hoping to check him out this week. However, if the Wednesday afternoon fellow is the only one that works out for me, I'll be fine taking yoga just once a week.

Here's what I cooked last night. 2-Bean Stir Fry.
You'll need:
Coconut oil
1/2 Tbsp Grated ginger
1-2 cloves garlic, minced (which I didn't have, sadly, but you should)
1 onion, sliced
Two big handfuls of green beans, ends trimmed, and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 C edamame (I used frozen, which I boiled in water in the microwave)
Tamari, soy sauce, or salt to taste

Over medium heat, saute the onion in the coconut oil to your liking. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for a bit. Add the green beans, saute for a minute, and then cover the pan to steam for 5 mins (this just helps the green beans cook.) Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the green beans are browned and cooked to your taste (whether you like them more crisp, or more soft). Add the edamame and tamari sauce and mix well. Serve over brown rice.

I got the idea of coconut oil from Emily. (Scroll halfway down the page to the big picture of green beans.) Coconut oil has a very high percentage of saturated fat, so you don't want to use a lot of it, but a little bit is all it takes to give food a wonderful, rich flavor.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Swag!

Here's what I brought home this morning from the Farmers' Market: strawberries, green beans, leeks & broccoli (pesticide-free); avocados (organic); and olive oil from the ascolano variety.

As a Buddhist, one of the qualities I should cultivate in my life is that of generosity. This means all kinds of generosity: giving of money, time, emotional support, or even being nice to the other drivers and letting them in during awkward, traffic-ridden spots on my commute. However, sometimes that last one can be less than beneficial.

Yesterday morning, I was enjoying a lovely bike ride down along one of the canals leading to the ocean. I have to ride along some major streets close to CSULB in order to reach the entrance that takes me off the beaten path. There are a few traffic lights, and one difficult T intersection. However, since it was early on a Saturday morning, there were few cars about.

I reached the T just as a car was coming up on the right. It stopped well ahead of me, so I stopped and waited for it to turn left across in front of me, poised and ready to ride on after it. Instead of going, the driver decided to wave me forward, thinking he was being kind. Well-intentioned as it was, because I had to wait so long for his move, I lost balance on my bike and had to totally stop, set a foot on the ground, reseat my other foot on the pedal, and then restart.

On the way home, I reached the T as a car was stopped across from me. I was just turning right, so I wasn't necessarily going to cross any traffic, but still, the nature of traffic signs and right of way dictates that I should fully stop, and anyone else who was stopped before me should go first. Besides, I couldn't tell if the car across from me was going to go straight through the intersection or turn left, and possibly swing across into the bike lane that I was turning right into. However, this car was hesitating--I could tell that he was waiting for me to go, even though I didn't want to move until I knew what he was doing. So some negative words came out of my mouth, to express my frustration. I eventually just turned right and started up the street, and the car eventually turned left after me.

Certainly, there was no harm done in either of these situations, but it seriously frustrated me. If one comes to a situation dictated by right-of-way rules, I think it is much easier for all parties concerned (drivers and cyclists) if those rules are followed. Cyclists adjust their pedaling when coming to a stop sign so as to lose as little momentum as possible. I would personally much rather have a car take the initiative and move when the opportunity is rightfully theirs--what I am expecting them to do--than force me to wait for them to think that it would be nice to let me go ahead.

So, gentle reader, are you a cyclist? If so, what are your thoughts on this?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Water weight

I read an article recently on the importance of hydration during prolonged exercise, and even during normal, everyday activities. The article addresses overhydration, rather than dehydration, and women are more prone to it than men. Anyone knows that it's no fun to exercise with a stomach (or bladder) full of water, but hydrating too much can dilute the blood to the point of danger. Once during massage therapy school, a girl in the class fainted due to low electrolyte levels.

Just to see, I decided to weigh myself before and after exercising this evening. My workout was not very strenuous: 2 miles running, 1 mile walking, plus warm-up and cool-down. Took 43 minutes. Temperature was somewhere in the 70s, with normal humidity and a light breeze.

I lost nearly a pound. 13 oz of water evaporated from my body. To recover this, I need to drink 1 2/3 cups of water. Not too bad. I definitely don't need to chug down on my liter-sized Nalgene bottle. It will be interesting to check this again, once the summer heats up a bit more, and I'm running more vigorously.

I'm cooking Emily's Black Bean Burgers this evening as a test run for the 4th of July pool party. I crunched the numbers to discover that they have 195 calories per burger. Plus, if you will excuse the expression, a s#!tload of fiber. :)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Best Face Forward

Last Wednesday, I partook of a 30-minute facial at the Indulgence Day & Med Spa near my house. It was my first one ever. Being not so girly in general, and afraid of what too much treatment could do to my sensitive, easily-reddened skin, I'd just never been very inclined to receive a facial. However, it was a very good experience, and it could turn into a monthly thing.

One thing my aesthetician was adamant about was washing twice a day, and at each of those, washing your face twice. She has the same oily, breakout-prone skin that I do, and her experience and education taught that the first washing takes care of the layer of oil, and the second wash actually clears the dirt from one's skin. Then you apply toner (which I don't) and moisturize as usual.

So, for the next month, I will be conducting this two-wash, twice-daily face cleaning regimen and seeing if there is any significant difference in the condition of my skin. I am rather fond of the cleanser that I have right now (Avalon Organics lavender facial cleansing milk). Yes, it's for dry to normal skin, but I like to maintain that I have sensitive skin first, and oily skin second, because the cleansers for oily skin seem just too harsh for me. I actually started this washing procedure last Thursday, and so far so good.

My eating habits have been very lax over the past couple of weeks. Way too much snacking, not enough real food. I've got a pool party in two weeks, so it's definitely time to tone back up. I'm scheduled to run tomorrow, and I'm going to try out a local yoga studio on Wednesday. I'll keep y'all posted to how that goes.

In other news, confession time: I have see the A-Team movie twice in less than two weeks, because I have a huge crush on Sharlto Copley. I'm going to get on Google and see if I can find out how tall he is.



Sunday, June 13, 2010

Wine & Cheese

Threw a wine & cheese party last night in honor of my sister, who was in town visiting. Had a pinot grigio, a chardonnay, and a rioja, plus a merlot that we didn't get around to opening (there were only 4 of us!)

To have a unique vegetable offering, I decided to make kale chips. I may have misjudged the 15 minutes of cooking time, because when I pulled them out, they were decidedly brown and starting to smolder around the edges! However, there were a couple that still had some green bits, so we gave those a try, just to see if the experiment was worth repeating. It was. So now I'm going to try again, and check the kale starting at 10-12 minutes.

Fabulous finds at the Farmers' Market this morning: pluots, white nectarines & peaches; broccoli, cauliflower, & red cabbage; and 5 varieties of beets! I was in the market for melons, but it's too early in the season yet. I'm very excited about the beets. A recent issue of Vegetarian Times has some beet recipes to try: cooked and mashed in brownies, raw and grated in beet slaw, and gently roasted in plain ol' delicious roasted beets.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lazy Wednesday

Lazy because I only ran 2 miles instead of 3. Here's my list of excuses: I was thirsty, it was later than usual, I didn't want to overdo it and pull a muscle before the race on Saturday.

One of my hopes is that I keep running at least twice a week even though I'm not training for a race. Or perhaps I should say that I'm training for whatever race comes along, that I just decide to do. One thing I definitely need to start doing is other physical activities. Get back on my bike, do some weights, give yoga one more try; that sort of thing.

I was all set to take some pictures of fabulous foods, but discovered that my camera was all out of juice. So batteries are charging. I can give you a preview, however. Roasted mushrooms, peppers, and zucchini! Something secretly frozen! A very small glass of wine!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Running

Tonight's run: 3 miles in 31:13. I'm going to have to pare down over a minute if I'm going to run the 5K in 30 mins. I've got...let's see...10 days until race time. Technically, my goal is just to finish, and to run the entire thing, but my inner goal is to run it in 30 minutes or less. At least I'm doing better than I'd feared: halfway through the 8th lap around the park, I figured my time for this evening would be more like 32-33 minutes. Considering I hadn't run in over a week, I figure I'm doing okay.

During my afternoon walk break around the block at work, there was a guy whistling and making uncouth noises across the street. Since I wasn't wearing my glasses, and couldn't deign to turn around in any case, I didn't get a look at him. Why do men (read: idiots) do that? I think to myself, if a guy approached at a respectful distance, no matter how crazy he looked, and sincerely said, "you're beautiful" and left it at that, I'd probably be smiling and sassy for the rest of the day. However, if any man, no matter how handsome, decides to come on to me by leering and cat-calling, he doesn't have a whelk's chance in a supernova of receiving anything but withering scorn in return.

Cooking lentils right now. My body has been very timidly yet insistently asking for more protein the past few days (if I'm reading the signs correctly), so I'm going to give it lentils. Plus tomato sauce for some vitamin C to help soak up the iron. Always remember that combination!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Greek Yogurt, Part 3

I just ate one more brand of Greek Yogurt. This time, it was Fage Total 2% (all natural lowfat Greek strained yogurt.) This is the first yogurt I've had lately that was not fat-free. As for nutrition, an individual 7 oz. serving contains 130 calories, 4 g fat (3 g saturated), 8 g carbohydrates, 17 g protein, and 20% RDA for calcium.

Man, that 4 g of fat sure made a difference. This was like eating cream cheese compared to the fat-free yogurts. It was wonderfully smooth and thick, and very very mild in flavor. Very much like the missing link between yogurt and yogurt cheese. :) It only contains two yogurt cultures: L. Bulgaricus and S. Thermophilus, so if you're looking for Acidophilus, you're going to need to keep looking. I know I didn't mention this for the other two yogurts, but Fage has a little statement on the container that their milk suppliers pledge not to treat their cows with rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), which is a good thing, in my book.

Final verdict: I would totally share and enjoy this yogurt.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The little things

When I got home from work yesterday, I was tired. The drive home had been particularly taxing, so all I really wanted to do was throw myself down on the bed for a nap. However, I was hungry, so I had tea and (honey-sweetened) cookies. Then I worked on a few odds & ends and debated whether I'd go running before music rehearsal. Part of me said, "I've got too much to do. I should just take care of a few domestic activities and take it easy before rehearsal." Then another part of me countered that with, "But I really want to try out that new iPod holder armband that I bought last night."

So I threw on some exercise clothes and headed down to the park.

Where I, with electronica in my ears, somehow managed to find my stride and I ended up running 4 laps, walking 1, and running 4 more. A lap around the park is essentially 1/3 mile, so I was, for about the second time in my life, jogging more than a mile at a stretch. It wasn't particularly fast, only about 6.5 - 7 mph, but my friend (and Ironman triathelete) always says that speed will come with time.

The moral of the story, for me at least, is that any little detail that you can find that helps you feel good about yourself will help you get out there and exercise. It may be some good exercise clothes that are comfortable and stylish. It may be a new album of music in your iPod. It may be a variation to your exercise routine, like a dance class or running on the beach instead of on the treadmill. Whatever it takes to help you achieve your fitness goals is worth it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Greek Yogurt, Part 2

A little over halfway through my 45-minute bike ride just now, I felt my legs start to turn to jelly. I just didn't have the energy to pedal at all. Plus, my stomach started growling; not loudly, but nonetheless fiercely. I managed to get home, but was completely ravenous as soon as I walked through the door. The split pea soup I'd started before I left was nowhere near done, so I reached into the fridge and pulled out another yogurt.

This one is Chobani Greek Yogurt. Like the one I consumed yesterday, it is also plain and nonfat. One 6 oz container has 100 calories, 7 g carbohydrates, 18 g protein, and 20% of the RDA for calcium. The ingredients are nonfat milk and 5 live active cultures.

The texture is rich and creamy smooth, as it says on the container, but this one definitely has a very strong plain yogurt taste. Maybe it was the tartness, or maybe it was the sugar depletion after exercising, but I had to have something sweet along with it. I can imagine stirring a tablespoon of fruit preserves in, but for this evening I went with a banana on the side.

Of the two I've tried so far, I like the Brown Cow better, because it's a little more mellow.



Dinosaurs love bananas!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's all Greek to me

Since a friend introduced me to it last year, I've taken a shine to "Greek" yogurt. (I put it in quotation marks since all of the Greek yogurt I eat is produced in the U.S.) Lately my body has been telling me to get more protein, preferably some complete animal protein, so I'm going to see how it likes low-fat dairy choices. Yesterday, while at Whole Foods, I stood in front of their wall of yogurt for some minutes, finally deciding to try three different brands to see if any one in particular stood out from the rest of the herd.

Tonight's snack (after a rigorous tap dancing class) is Brown Cow All Natural Greek Yogurt. The plain, fat-free variety contains nothing but nonfat milk and 5 different cultures. The individual serving of 5.3 oz packs a mere 80 calories, 15 g protein, 6 g carbohydrates, and 20% of your RDA for calcium. It's incredibly smooth and creamy. The tang characteristic of plain yogurt is a little bit mellow, and it overall has an excellent flavor. Definitely picked a winner to begin the taste testing.


Bravo, Brown Cow!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beans & Greens! To stay leans and means!


This recipe is simple, hearty, delicious, and the epitome of comfort food. Just sitting there, sadly, in a small bowl, this dish does not come even close to expressing how much I loved eating it. I should have had my roommate take a picture of me with a spoonful in my mouth, and a big smile on my face.

Take note, this recipe has a day of prep time, as it does require that you cook up some dried beans, which may be daunting, at first, to anyone who has not done it before. However, once you break that seal and discover how tasty home-cooked beans can be, you'll automatically put them on to soak the night before.

Black-Eyed Peas with Swiss Chard
1 C dried black-eyed peas
1 bunch swiss chard
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
ground cayenne pepper
salt

To cook beans from dried, first you must soak them: cover the beans with plenty of water and let sit at room temperature at least 8 hours. (Or you can do a quick soak: again cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, cover, turn off the heat, and let soak for 2 hours.)

Drain off the soaking liquid, and add enough water to cover the black-eyed peas by about 1/2 inch. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for many hours. At least three hours. What you want to have happen is for the beans to be so cooked that they start splitting open and falling apart a bit. Once this occurs, remove the lid, and increase the heat a bit so the water starts boiling off. You want nearly all the water to be removed from the pan so that you can mix the peas up and have them close to the consistency of refried beans. At this point, cover and remove from heat completely.

Next, wash the chard leaves well. Remove the white ribs so you have only green leafy parts. Cut this into small strips.

Heat some olive oil (say, a tablespoon) in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for a few minutes. Add the chard and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the leaves are wilted and tender.

Add the mashed black-eyed peas and stir well. Season to taste with salt, and shake in some ground cayenne pepper. Even if you don't like spicy foods, add a pinch or a dash. It'll give the dish some depth of flavor without a lot of heat.

One 1/2 cup serving of black-eyed peas alone provides 120 calories, 5 grams fiber (20% DV) and 10 grams protein (about 20% DV). Plus, they contain about 20% of the RDA for iron, 4% for calcium, and some supply of potassium.

One 1/2 cup serving of cooked swiss chard provides fewer than 20 calories, 2 grams fiber, and about 1 gram protein. It'll also kick in over 100% of your RDA for Vitamin A, 25% of Vitamin C, 5% of calcium, and 10% of iron.

As comfort food goes, this packs a serious nutrition punch. I enjoyed this dish along with cornbread (thus the previous post) for a couple of evenings, and then with rye crispbread spread with fruit-sweetened superfruit spread. Although the potential iron content is high, both beans and greens contain natural compounds that can interfere with iron absorption in the intestines, so it's a good idea to get some extra Vitamin C with the meal to help that iron get into your system.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cornbread


A cooking experiment the other night was based around fat. I'm eliminating dairy products right now, which means no butter. There are many different types of margarines, but most seem to have a degree of processing and ingredients I'd rather not consume. After cooking with it before to make delicious cupcakes, I thought about giving coconut oil a try.

Vegan Cornbread
1 C cornmeal (medium grind/stone ground)
1 C whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour or other flour)
1/2 t salt
4 t baking powder
1 T agave nectar (optional)
1 egg's worth of egg replacer
1 C soy, almond, or rice milk
1/4 C coconut oil (or margarine)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Sift together dry ingredients into a bowl. Add egg, milk, and fat. Beat until smooth, about one minute. Do not overbeat. Bake in a greased 8-inch square pan for 20-25 minutes, or in greased muffin cups for 18-20 minutes. Serves nine.

There is a hint of coconut flavor to this recipe, but it's in no way overpowering. The cornbread was very tasty (just ask my roommate--she had one piece one day, and two more the next), went well with my vegan chili, and kept in a closed plastic container for 4 days. Next time I want to add in about 1/2 cup of corn kernels. Other variations could include 2 T of diced green chiles, or 2 T of flaked coconut, to enhance the coconut experience.

Coconut oil is very distinctive in the realm of edible oils because it's a solid at room temperature. This is due to its very high content of saturated fats. However, what's interesting about coconut oil is that its saturated fats are very different from those found in other oils, animal or vegetable. The fatty acid chains are of medium length, instead of long length. You can look up the biochemical details if you choose, but studies indicate that medium length fatty acids tend to have a more positive effect on the body, despite the sweeping statement that all saturated fats are bad for you. In many Pacific countries, coconut oil has been the vegetable oil of choice for hundreds of years. From a common sense perspective, though, I'm using a small amount in a baked good of which I'm eating a small amount each day. Our bodies need fats, and I definitely want to consume the best quality ones I can find.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Where to eat in Berkeley, Part 2

On Valentine's Day, a girl friend and I decided to be each other's hot date for the evening, and we went out to dinner at Herbivore. The restaurant is completely vegan; that is, no eggs, milk or any other animal products. Definitely great for anyone with a milk allergy or sensitivity.

We started off with the vegetable sampler--char-broiled vegetables served with three sauces: pesto, tahini, and lemon-garlic. The vegetables ranged from bell peppers to eggplant to potatoes. They were broiled to a turn and I couldn't decide which of the three sauces was my favorite.

That evening the restaurant was completely packed (unexpectedly so), and they didn't have my first choice for dinner, which was the ceviche. So instead I ordered the roasted beet salad. If you've never had roasted beets, please do. They're sweet and earthy, and are a fabulous combination with greens and vinagrette.

For dessert, I had an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie and their soymilk hot chocolate. I was hoping to try out one of their vegan donuts, but those were all sold out (surprise, surprise). I also got a bit of mudslide ice cream, which is chocolate coconut fudge brownie. It was fantastic, and comes in a huge scoop, so it can easily be shared with one or two friends.

Overall, the menu is very intriguing and has many dishes I want to try. Of course it makes me happy that I can eat everything on this particular menu, instead of being relegated to a small vegetarian section on the last page. I'm looking forward to their cocktails, too, and next time I'll definitely have to try the german chocolate cake.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Where to eat in Berkeley, Part I

Whenever my family comes to visit me in California, we tend to eat our way across LA. Now that I'm spending some time traveling up north to the Bay Area, I'm continuing the tradition. I had a fabulous time over Valentine's/President's Day weekend with friends and family up in Sacramento and Berkeley, plus the ritual sharing of delicious (and not so delicious) food.

First up is the restaurant that is top of my list of restaurants to return to in Berkeley. It's Bacheeso's. Bacheeso's is a family-owned restaurant that features locally-produced and sourced ingredients, plus a name that's very funny to say. Ba-cheeeeese-o's. Wandered over there for brunch/lunch on Sunday. They have a regular menu (which I haven't actually looked at), but on the weekends they serve a brunch buffet. If this conjures up images of pancakes, muffins, and "build-your-own" omelette bars, then think again. On my plate was a spoonful of cabbage salad, pepper & zucchini salad, mashed potatoes, lentils w/ assorted veggies, half a delicious pear, and more that I can't remember. Plus a small cup of rice pudding for dessert. There were also egg dishes, pancakes, soup, roasted vegetables, cake, and more fruit.

In addition to this feast, I had the best coffee I've ever had in my coffee-drinking existence (which, truth to tell, has been short). It was smooth, flavorful, and so delicious I drank it straight up and had to stop myself after the second cup because otherwise I would have been in serious caffeine overload. I can imagine going back just for dessert (a small sampling of which I saw, and had to restrain myself) and more coffee.

The pricing is good; the eating space pleasant, bright, and open; and there is a wall on the way to the restroom tacked up with thank-you letters from various social organizations that Bacheeso's has donated food to. It's nice to have a place that is so socially conscious. I'm really looking forward to my next visit there.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Recipe Review: Apple Oat Muffins


Thanks to a gift subscription (of a sort) from my brother-in-law, I receive Vegetarian Times in the mail (almost) every month. Last month I decided to try out the recipe for Apple Oat Muffins. I didn't have any quick-cooking oats, but instead used a multi-grain blend that I bought at Trader Joe's. The 2 cups of diced apple was obtained by one large Rome apple, on which I left the peel.


The result was delicious! If you look closely at the tops of the muffins, you can see bits of red from the apple peel. The recipe states that the muffin cups will be very full--they were--but you can see that there was no overflow. These were some hearty muffins. I would imagine that you could substitute whole wheat flour for some of the flour in the recipe for added nutrition. The yogurt is a good addition, substituting for the oil used in a standard muffin recipe. These muffins freeze very well, so you can make a batch, stick at least half in a plastic freezer bag, and eat them all week long. Just make sure they spend enough time defrosting--I discovered that frozen muffin is not so nice to eat.

Take note of the shiny pans used to bake these. These pans were specifically purchased to bake cupcakes. The shiny metal leads to very light baking. I should buy separate pans for muffins, in a darker finish, which will give the outside, the "crust" of the muffin, if you will, a much better texture to correspond with the density of the baked goodies.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Morning Breakfast

Breakfast is really my favorite meal of the day (unless I happen to be having an afternoon tea party). On the weekends I can take the time to cook myself a tasty breakfast and sit down to enjoy it with a pot of tea. During the weekdays, alas, I eat my breakfast in the car during my drive to work.

Today's breakfast consisted of: 1 slice Ezekiel bread spread with 1 T Trader Joe's Organic Superfruit Spread; 2 C spinach topped with 1 medium egg and 1 oz New Zealand Grass-Fed Cheddar; and a pot of Harney & Son tea, Florence flavor (a sort of chocolate hazelnut). The meal (which was incredibly delicious and filling, by the way) weighs in at about 300 calories, with 15 g fat, 18 g protein, and 4 g fiber. Plus I've gotten 30% or more of the RDA for calcium, Vitamins A, C, B12, and some minerals. (This is all according to the calculations at FitDay.)

Now, for a vegetarian, every little bit of iron counts, and this meal contains some from the spinach, egg, and bread. There is a difference between dietary iron found in meat and that found in plant products. Due to the nature of the molecules involved (heme versus non-heme), the body is much more able to absorb iron found in meat. This gives vegetarians a double-whammy, as plant products tend to be lower in iron in any case, but now we also have to deal with that iron being much less readily absorbed. To throw some numbers out there, the recommended daily intake of iron for an adult woman is 18 milligrams/day, whereas for a vegetarian woman it goes up to 32 mg/day. That's why I say that every little bit counts.

So what can you do to help the iron get into your system? One of the key things is Vitamin C. Having Vitamin C in the same meal as iron allows that iron to be better absorbed by your body. That's why, at breakfast, I went for jam on my toast instead of honey. Each would provide some sweetness to my morning, but the fruit spread packs a Vitamin C punch that was otherwise missing from the meal.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The other half of "Kale and Hearty"

I was going to post a recipe review, with pictures even, but my camera's batteries are so dead that it will not even turn on so that I can do a download. The batteries are currently charging, and that post will have to wait for a more auspicious day.

Going beyond vegetables, Kale and Hearty is also about wellness. Good health embodies many aspects of daily living. I'd like to offer two items for this evening, one for you and one for me.

I admit it: I'm a calorie counter. Back in my senior year of high school, I would keep a food diary of everything I ate, calculating the calories and grams of fat. Being a scientist, I like to take the scientific approach to questions like "what is a reasonable diet on which I lose weight in a healthy fashion but still get enough to eat?" So I discovered for myself that I do quite nicely on about 1900 calories a day and normal exercise levels. That keeps me at 145 lbs (healthy for my 5' 7" height). If I gain weight for whatever reason, I can drop down to 1700-1800 calories and increase my exercise. This was highly beneficial to me in college. While all around me fellow freshmen were gaining weight, I was staying stable and actually toning up, because we had a nice fitness facility in the gym.

Back then, I kept track in a little steno notebook. Nowadays, it's all about logging things on the computer. I use FitDay, the first one I found, and the only online log I've tried. I like the way it shows me various nutrition charts, so I can see how I'm doing on all my vitamins and minerals in addition to calories, fat, protein, and fiber. You can also chart your physical activities, moods, and make journal entries. There's also CalorieKing, Calorie Counter, and many others to be found online, all generally free (with advertising).

I recommend that everyone, whether you're trying to gain weight, lose weight or just stay healthy, keep a food diary at least for a couple weeks, so you can see what you're really eating, and what an average day's nutrition is really like. Having the numbers in front of me really does help me make the healthiest food choices. Plus, there's nothing like being a hundred calories short and the end of the day so that there's room for a piece of dark chocolate.

Now, as for my current overall health, I've been noticing that my face has been breaking out in a different way over the past several weeks. The best complexion I've ever had was while I was on a hard-core vegan diet. I am tempted to do an elimination diet to determine if there's something in particular that makes me break out, but that would require me to be incredibly mindful of my diet, perhaps more attention than I'd like to pay to it. For starters, then, I've switched facial washes. My "Desert Essence Thoroughly Clean Face Wash" is probably too harsh and drying, so while at Whole Foods the other evening, I picked up "Alba Sea Lettuce Cleansing Milk", which is for dry, delicate skin. My skin is not in the least bit dry, but is delicate, and after just two days of use, I can already see a difference. I'm glowing a bit, which is very nice to see. :)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lima beans with Garlic

At work this afternoon, I started pondering what I wanted to prepare for dinner. In the fridge, I knew I had some leftover squash and shredded broccoli stalks, along with marinara sauce, so I decided to do vegetable pasta. So the veggies were sauteed up in a skillet, whole wheat pasta was cooked separately, the two were mixed and covered in marinara. But I knew I wanted something higher protein to go with my carbohydrates. Leftover cooked lima beans would do the trick, and I had that bulb of garlic from yesterday's expedition to the market, so I thought to roast the garlic in the oven and mash that all in with the lima beans, in the manner of garlic mashed potatoes.

However, when I did get home, I suddenly didn't feel like getting my hands all covered with sticky after squeezing all the cloves of roasted garlic out of their jackets. What to do, what to do.... I decided instead to make a bit of "browned" butter and garlic. (I put that in quotation marks because I didn't truly brown the butter, but one could.) A grind of sea salt, and a shake of oregano later, and I had produced serious rainy-day comfort food. Mental recipe success! The initial flavor of the beans is followed by the mellow golden tones of garlic and butter. I imagine that this recipe would work with any light-colored, well-cooked bean, like navy or great northern.

1/2 cup cooked lima beans has 105 calories, 6 g protein, 20 g carbs, 5 g fiber, less than 1 gram fat, and respectable amounts of iron, potassium, and magnesium.

To cook lima beans (and, in general, any sort of bean) from dried, soak the beans in plenty of water for 8 hours or overnight. Drain the soaking water, and add fresh water to cover beans by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 2-3 hours or until tender. Lima beans have a seed coat that may detach during soaking or cooking. This is entirely edible, but may be removed and discarded for aesthetic reasons, if you so choose. Yes, cooking dried beans requires prep time, but once cooked, you can refrigerate and freeze the beans for later use.

To make four 1/2-cup servings, melt two tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over low-medium heat. Add 4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped. (You can add more or less garlic according to your taste. It is cooked, so the flavor is not too strong.) Let cook gently until the garlic just begins to brown. Add two cups of cooked lima beans, and mix well, mashing with a spoon. Throw in some dried or fresh oregano and salt to taste. Once heated through, serve it forth.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Farmers Market Findings

I am fortunate to live in a place where we have a farmers market all year long. Every Sunday I have the opportunity to buy locally-grown (as local as you can get to metropolitan Los Angeles) fruits, vegetables, fungi, and plants. I love to see the people strolling about through the stalls, trying samples of fruit, shoveling green beans into a bag, asking the owner to hook them up with a selection of mushrooms. For me, the best moment was at my favorite purveyor of potatoes, carrots, and assorted glamorous sundries. I was sorting through the loose beets (roasted beets = serious yum!), and the scent of beet and dirt wafted up, giving me that small connection to the earth.

This trip to the market came fortuitously after receiving the February issue of Vegetarian Times in the mail. I found two recipes I particularly want to try, and was able to get the ingredients accordingly. One involves green beans and assorted small potatoes, the other shittake mushrooms and kale. I also purchased cabbage, garlic, apples, and beets for general use. Actually, the apples are for saucing. I buy the "seconds", the ones with blemishes and odd shapes, because I can easily cut out the rotten spots, chop up the rest, and make delicious, all-natural and sweetener-free applesauce.

I've had oatmeal for breakfast three out of the past four mornings, using the basic recipe that Kath has on her real food blog. I've been throwing in a spoonful of almond butter, cinnamon, and a few chocolate chips. However, I do not buy bananas very often. It's not because I dislike them, but because they're not available locally, and banana monoculture farms are a big problem in the rain forest. Since my favorite apples come from a local, organic farm, and are particularly in season right now, and produce an exceptionally sweet sauce, I'm going to try that as an addition to my oatmeal. Certainly the texture will not be the same, and apples are low on the totem pole of nutritional value, but they provide sugar and fiber, and they make me happy, which is another important factor in one's food.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Current reading: The Jungle Effect

I've stayed up later than usual reading "The Jungle Effect" by Daphne Miller, MD. I'm almost halfway through, having read Part I and two countries of Part II. I'll be posting a full review once I'm finished, and definitely talking about some of the recipes in the back. Already I've selected the delicious vegetarian ones I want to try first.