repurposing a poor food choice

26 Aug
THE SLIMCADO!

THE SLIMCADO!

Hello readers! Welcome back. I apologize for my failure to keep this old thing updated. I’ve had many new food and fitness adventures since we last spoke.  Having returned from an inadvertent blogging vacation, I write to you today about recent encounters with a new take on the avocado.  Really? You ask, avocados? The early 2000s are calling and they want to let you know that while your blog isn’t exactly highbrow, even taking the time to extoll the benefit of the avocado is truly passé.

I know.

What I bring to you today is a new take on an old classic and a lesson on the benefits of repurposing unwanted foods. A topic particularly relevant to me as I’ve recently returned from the whirlwind of my wedding and honeymoon and, having recently gone back to work, find myself simply unable to stock our shelves and fridge fast enough.  I’ve resorted to many impulse buys merely because they seemed like good ideas at the time. This includes my avocado collection.

First off, and as a footnote, for those of you who are SICK of bougie young people always asking for avocado with everything, I offer an interesting alternative history. Pursuant to the website entitled “Today I Found Out” (who’s facts I have not thoroughly checked), “the word avocado comes from the Aztec word ‘ahuacatl’ meaning testicle.” Yep. I said it.  According to the Aztecs (or perhaps just according to this website), the reference was made due to the avocado’s shape. Once the Spaniards arrived, they began translating the word “ahuacatl” into “aguacate” and eventually “avocado” as we know it today.

So, where am I going with all this history? The answer is nowhere, really. I just thought you might like to know.  Moving on, I introduce tonight’s lesson. Repurposing otherwise good food that is, for reasons of palatability headed straight for the trash.

The story (finally) begins last weekend when I thought I’d had an “ah-ha” moment in  the grocery store when I happened upon a pile of wonderfully large and happily green avocados. Instantly, they reminded me of the humongous and juicy avocados I’d had the opportunity to enjoy during my stay in Tanzania two summers ago. After snapping up a few, I hurried home eager to cut them open and enjoy in a simple manner with some fresh pepper and salt.

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When I set out to crack the first sucker open, I knew my excitement was for naught.  The avocadoes I’d purchased were not truly avocadoes at all but rather a strange new beast heretofore unbeknownst to me.  Plus, they had a horrid name the “slimcado” and were clearly marketed for individuals blissfully unfamiliar with the concept of healthy fats. Ugh!

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So, this slimcado, is really not an avocado at all. After wrestling the thing open (and this was a hard task), I cut the avocado, or, err, sorry, the slimcado, into one inch thick cubes. Unsure of what to do next, I sprinkled them with some extra virgin olive oil, coated them with a heaping spoonful of cayenne pepper and chili powder, a sprinkling of salt and a hearty shake of pepper and put them in a medium skillet. I cooked the cubes over medium-low heat for about twenty minutes, stirring and adding a little water as needed.

I have to say, while this whole slimcado thing might not equal the one true food (or testicle, see discussion, supra) of the gods (the real avocado), it certainly cooks up really nicely. They turned out to be hearty and almost pumpkin-like in consistency. While I can’t say slimcados my new favorites, I am certainly glad we didn’t chuck them out on the spot.

Next time you consider tossing out your less-than-desirable produce or poor food choices, just rethink the possibilities.

This blog post has been brought to you by cayenne and chili.

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Tips for Staying Cool on Hot Summer Runs!

11 Jul

Stay thirsty my friends (with these great tips from Rather be Runnin’)!

Rather Be Runnin'

As many of you know I hate the heat. Lately in SLO, it has been unnecessarily hot (think 104 degrees with no air conditioning hot). Most of you probably live in places where the heat is a normal way of life, but for me… it isn’t. This is one of the many reasons that I moved 20 minutes away from the beach. The fact is though, that the heat is here to stay for a bit so I figure it is time to get acclimated… as much as I don’t want to. So, here are a few tips for staying cool during those hot summer runs.

1. Run early in the morning.

It is definitely the coolest part of the day, so I recommend heading out as early as possible to avoid the heat.

2. Hydrate like a mother!

Even if you don’t feel thirsty, drink at least 8 oz…

View original post 669 more words

Summer Salad Saturday

6 Jul

After another lovely weekend filled with kayaking and adventure, I found myself hot, sweaty and hungry. Being that it was not (and, currently, still isn’t) time for dinner, I was loathe to overindulge. I am a pretty boring salad-maker and usually stick to the basics: lettuce and tomato. This afternoon, I plodded into the nearest grocery store with a different plan in mind: An interesting salad.

I threw this blueberry salad together in a snap and you can, too. Here’s what I used:

– One bag of washed baby lettuce

– Organic reduced fat balsamic vinaigrette to taste

– Half a small carton of blueberries (but I’m sure strawberries would be amazing, too)

– About a handful of shelled walnuts

– Some reduced fat feta cheese, to taste

And, there you have it! Super refreshing and satisfying summer salad. Go out and share it with your friends!

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4 for the 4th

4 Jul

Great trail run this morning! Get on out there ladies and gents. There’s still time to do your 4 miles for the 4th of July. Happy independence, America!

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Brave New Beans

2 Jul

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Cooking with beans presents a wonderful opportunity for using all sorts of great veggies. Slow cooking recipes allow flavors to develop and enrich your legumes of choice.

OKAY. So, I know what you’re thinking. Really?!?! Could you please write about something just a tad more interesting than beans?

Although I have the sense to realize intellectually that parts of me will always crave, and give into, meat and poultry (albeit sparingly), I don’t desire it frequently or often enough to feel like a true omnivore. As a result, I’ve been testing out options for refining my life as what I like to call a 90% vegetarian.  For those of you out there who are hardcore meat-haters, I am sure this sounds as scientifically impossible as being ‘a little bit pregnant’. I can understand.

Being a vegetarian is probably  one of those things that you are or you aren’t.  So, as I move to refine my tastes and figure out a sensible life-plan when it comes to food, I am experimenting with various super-proteins to figure out their long-term powers to sustain me and my busy and sometimes athletic agenda.

This week, I dedicated my kitchen and palate wholeheartedly to beans. I report the findings as follows:

*Please note: In case you are interested in locating these fine beans on the web, I have hyperlinked all the subtitles to pages where these beans can be purchased online. This blogger is not affiliated with these purveyors of beanage in any way. Buy at your own risk. I stock up my stash at the nearest Whole Foods. The bulk bins offer a great and super cost effective way to load up on legumes.

ADZUKI BEANS:

According to Dr. Weil, adzuki beans are popular in Japan. They are low in calories and in fat. They contain good stuff like manganese and B vitamins and copper and they aren’t…ah-hem…gassy. They’re also a staple of the macrobiotic diet, which is something I don’t properly understand.

Nor I didn’t know what to do with these suckers at first.  So, I just cooked up a bunch and sprinkled a little salt on ’em and ate.

I later remembered that one of the ultramarathoners I most admire (Scott Jurek, in case you’re wondering) recently wrote about adzuki beans in connection with a health bar recipe featured in Runner’s World a few months back. So, I dragged up the article and attempted it.

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Step 1:

The KEY to cooking adzuki beans, and, perhaps a disclaimer for those of you who are perpetually in a rush, is that you cannot just throw them into a pot and expect results.  Adzuki beans must be soaked for 4-8 hours, or, ideally, overnight. If you’re like me and forget about them for over 20 hours, they’re still useable but will cook in an even shorter period of time than indicated in most recipes. The standard operating procedure for cooking with adzuki beans is to soak for about 8 hours and then cook for about 45 minutes, give or take.

I always get it wrong when it comes to water-to-bean ratio, so the lowdown is this: cover the beans with enough water so that there’s about 1/2 inch between the beans and the surface of the water. Rinse the beans well before you put them into the pot. Bring water and beans to a boil. Then lower the heat to a simmer, cover and let sit. Check on the beans intermittently to make sure they aren’t done. They should be soft and somewhat sweet tasting when they are ready to be eaten. I checked on my beans every four minutes after the first 20 minutes had elapsed. Of course, because I’d allowed my beans to cook for so long, they were super waterlogged and finished in about 20 minutes.

Step 2: ON TO THE RECIPE! Here is what you will need:

1/2 teaspoon coconut oil
1 15-ounce can adzuki beans, drained
1 medium overripe banana
1/2 cup almond or rice milk
1/2 cup light coconut milk
1/2 cup barley flour
1/4 cup rice flour (this flour was expensive, so I replaced 1/4 cup rice flour with 1/4 cup of barely flour)
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup goji berries, currants, or raisins
1/2 cup nondairy chocolate chips [optional]

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Step 3: Taken verbatim from Mr. Jurek, you do the following… and, it is really easy.

Preheat oven to 400° F. Grease a 9-inch square pan with coconut oil. Blend beans and banana with almond and coconut milk until smooth and creamy. Add the flours, cocoa, syrup, vanilla, and salt, processing until thoroughly mixed. Stir in dried fruit. Pour mixture into pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until firm. When cool, cut into squares.

My Assessment:  I was REALLY skeptical of the success of these little bean bars, especially since I am super low-tech in the kitchen and used a hand-blender to accomplish the “processing” of the beans and the bananas.

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Just a girl and her trusty, rusty blender. We get the job done.

I also used a  little less syrup and a tad less coco powder as well.  I also couldn’t bring myself to splurge on the full out vegan chocolate chips. Instead I purchased Whole Foods bittersweet chips. They were roughly 50% cheaper.  I also used goji berries which baked nicely and broke down to a much juicier consistency than I had expected.

Adzuki Bean Bars.

Adzuki Bean Bars.

And, there you have it. Lovely adzuki bean bars. They are even suitable for sharing with health food phobes. Furthermore, they pack up nicely and are capable of withstanding abuse at the bottom of your gym bag. I know, gross imagery, but they are quite hardy!

MUNG BEANS

Mung beans. Where to begin? Actually, it was a simple twist of fate that led me to purchase a bag. I happened upon these strange critters in the dry food bins and thought “these look cool”. The rest, you might say, is history.  Mung beans originate from the Indian subcontinent where there are many varieties. For all you bean fanatics out there, Alana Sugar’s blog post for the Whole Story, does a nice job combining the cultural history of this lovely, protein-laden bean while offering a nice travelogue.

So, now to the heart or rather, the bean of the story…

I really had no idea what to do with these beans. Feeling adventurous and also crunched for time, I decided to boil the one cup of beans and while still hot mixed them with about  two servings of whole grain pasta. I then stirred in some chia seeds (about a tablespoon) tossed with some extra virgin olive oil. I sprinkled with salt (sparingly) and pepper (abundantly).

Mung beans are simple to cook. Use 3 cups of water for one cup of dry beans. The mighty mung requires no pre-soaking.  Simply bring the beans and water to a boil, then to a simmer and cover. Let simmer for a good 40 minutes. Sources say they can take up to 60 minutes to cook fully. I did not find this to be the case. My best advice is to check up on your bad boys regularly so as not to blow it when it comes to ensuring they reach optimal consistency.

While keeping a close eye on my pasta and my beans, I took this time to set up my yoga mat in front of the stove (users PLEASE use caution, you are forewarned, this is probably dangerous)…but I took the opportunity to go through a few sun salutations while waiting for my grains and beans to boil.

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Chia seeds and mung beans, strange but happy bedfellows.

My Assessment: I’m not sure if this is one for the cookbooks. It’s great as a quick dinner. You’ll feel full yet clean afterwards. However, I’d refain from this with guests. It’s more of a ‘me only’ dinner.  The chia seeds got a little chewy but it all depends on how much of a pasta purist you are.

FRENCH LENTILS

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photo credit: http://honestfare.com/french-lentil-soup/ another great recipe for French Lentils!

OMG! I never use the aforementioned phrase except under circumstances in which I wish to convey my most sincerest sense of irony. However, after trying David Lebovitz’s Lentilles du Puy, I mean it. With all my heart.  French lentils when cooked correctly are amazingly amazing. And, unlike some other earthier, grittier tasting beans, these are smooth and delicious, particularly when simmered with fennel and onions to sweet perfection.

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A little dull in color, but certainly not in taste.

Mr. Lebovitz’s recipe is as follows:

For the lentils:

  • 1¼ cup (250 gr) French green lentilles du Puy
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a few springs of fresh thyme
  • salt
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 bulb of fennel (optional), finely diced
  • freshly-ground pepper

For the vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon red wine or sherry vinegar
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, peeled and minced

1. Rinse the lentils and remove any foreign matter.

2. Transfer the lentils to a large saucepan then cover with a copious amount of water, which should cover the lentils by at least 3-4 inches. Add the bay leaf and thyme.

3. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, add a bit of salt, and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until the lentils are just tender, adding more water if necessary. Be sure not to overcook them.

4. While the lentils are cooking, heat a few spoonfuls of olive oil in a skillet and add the carrots, onions, and fennel (if using). Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently until tender. Set aside.

5. In a large bowl, mix together the ingredients for the vinaigrette.

6. When the lentils are done, drain them well, then toss them in the vinaigrette with the cooked vegetables. Stir a few times to release the steam. Taste, and season with more salt, pepper, and olive oil if desired. Remove bay leaves and thyme sprigs.

My Assessment: Amazing. Period.

RED LENTILS

Red lentils are popular throughout India and the Middle East. And, I could be wrong, but after my travels in Ethiopia, feel convinced they are a big part of the diet there as well. I like red lentils because they cook down to a creamy, fibrous blend and really absorb the spices with which they are cooked.

For this purpose, I really wanted to make a red lentil curry. I’ll be honest, I selected the following recipe from Allrecipes.com while not-so-hard at work last week. The results of this experiment, however, were amazing.

You can access the recipe at the following link: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/red-lentil-curry/

This is what the finished product looks like

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Downfalls to this lentil project are as follows:

– After cooking, your home will smell like your favorite Indian restaurant, possibly for a few days.

– Once you start mixing the curry paste with the onions and spices and tomato paste, you better get ready to move fast. You’ve really got to put some elbow grease into your efforts. Otherwise, the ingredients will just start to stick to each other and congeal like crazy. At one point, I added half a can of water just to break things up. Actually, I highly suggest you get yourself ready with half a cup of water to control the mixture during the final phase.

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This is where you’ve got to give it your all…but don’t go at it too hard. Red lentils are sort of fragile.

– Once you add the lentils, also get prepared to mix vigorously again. I added some fresh ginger to garnish this dish as I just love the sweet burn of some good old fashioned roots. Despite the strong smell and sweat and tears I put into this one, it’s definitely the closest I’ve come to getting Indian food down right in my home kitchen. I felt so successful!

BEAN BURGERS

Okay, so Friday was supposed to be my adventurous day. I was fixing to borrow a friend’s food processor and make these awesome sounding bean burgers (also featured in the Jurek article). But I went on a long run after work, and it was hot, and I was tired, and I drank a beer or two and lost my ability to fight on. Instead. I settled for some baby greens and freshly nuked Boca Burgers (see link above). Yeah, I know they’re not the greatest, but they do the trick. They’ve got less sodium than the other frozen bean burgers I checked out at the store. Plus, they only have 70 calories per serving. You can’t beat that.

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For extra protein I cooked up two patties and spread hummus inside and made a sort of sandwich. Not too shabby. Especially when washed down with some hearty Ommegang Abbey Ale.

Finally, I whipped up some grainberry muffins for a fresh and quick dessert. I kinda don’t even want to go there. All I’ll say is that they came from a mix, I made them while tipsy…and, I don’t know if you ever ate playdough as a kid, but…yeah, enough said.

So, in sum, I recommend you get out there and bean it up! During my week of eating beans almost exclusively, I felt clean and energized. I can’t report any decline in performance or any sad sluggishness as a result of meat withdrawal.

I suggest you get out there and experiment.  There’s a bag of beans out there with your name on it!

Go on, make a date with yourself

1 Jul

“Curving back within myself I create again and again.” ~ The Bhagavad Gita

“Sometimes you gotta have a conversation with yourself.”  Or, so a co-worker told  me the other day.  Actually, it was her grandmother who first gave her this advice.  Although I’ve never actually called it that, I probably couldn’t agree with grandma more. In almost everything we do in life, we often don’t have sufficient time to pause and reflect on our choices, our desires or our dreams.  Sometimes we find that we are simply “doing” things and we don’t even know why.

While I think it’s generally unhealthy to believe that we can turn infinitely inward to find answers, there is certainly power derived from being with oneself.  I love running and yoga so dearly because they bring me great pause.  As my joint passions, they are both activities that remind me that I frequently have more answers and more strength than I think.

When we build connections within ourselves, we can find the strength to create, to hope, to accept and to push harder in all things, whether they be physical or mental.

Sometimes our usual routine to workout or unwind ceases to be sufficient and stops providing us with the solace we need for thought and introspection. I’ve been feeling that way recently.  It’s like I haven’t been able to connect with what’s really going on…with me.

Given the fact my sick days are limited, I was able to get away for some quality “me” time this Saturday when I  headed to the Hudson for a kayaking trip. A few hours on the cool waters did the trick.  Kayaking is something I don’t get to do all that often, so it really broke down the doldrums of my usual weekend workout routine. While physically strenuous, it’s not murderously hard (as is something like crossfit) thus paving the perfect path for some steady contemplation. And, I’ve got to tell you, it was amazing.

The glorious Hudson River Valley. The perfect remedy for my rut.

A view of the glorious Hudson River Valley as seen from my kayak. The perfect remedy for my rut.

Something about the magic of the Hudson brings out the poet in me. As the waters churned beneath my oars, I couldn’t help but feel the words of Walt Whitman come to mind:

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,

I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.”

So now, I challenge each of you, to take time, as my co-worker mentioned, to simply be.  To exist with yourself. To be alone with your inner voice. To come to complete stillness, like a compass settling on a smooth surface, and find your inner north. While others are inevitably a part of our daily lives, being alone is often equally as important. Do whatever moves you to happiness, to thought, to purpose.

I promise, you will not let yourself down.

Finding Hope in Hotel Rooms and Other Unfortunate Places

24 May

I believe in my previous post I mentioned that Whole Foods is the place where my money goes to die.  Well, in a more intangible sense, business conventions are, in my opinion, the place where hope goes to expire.  As much as conference organizers try to jazz up that fact their event will be held in a lovely place, they will always find a way to sequester you in some room where the air conditioner blows too much, the lights dim too low and your internal clock goes slightly bonkers as it loses track of time. The business conference is a place where one can only dream of finding sustenance beyond coffee and cocktails. It is the place where disorientation and dehydration prevail. It is not a runner’s paradise.

Last week, I had the privilege, or, perhaps the misfortune of driving down to the ends of earth (also known as Atlantic City) for a conference. While this may excite some, I instantly began to plot my escape in the form of a morning run. As I don’t like to run alone in new or potentially unsafe places, I began hitting up fellow convention-goers to see if anyone out there wanted to team up for a run in the morning….Alas, I found no takers.

The lecture days proved long and the breaks were short. After each session finished, I’d aimlessly find my way to the casino/conference area exit, desperately searching for indications as to the time of day. Like Robinson Crusoe heading toward the promised land, I pushed past the automatic glass doors, escaping into sunlight with dribs of cigar smoke still emanating from my suit.

Although I was unsuccessful in finding a running mate. I decided not to languish in a caffeine and cocktail induced stupor and neither should any of you when confronted with your next job-related travel venture.  If anyone out there has a busy business trip coming up, here’s a plan for working in a little extra exercise:

1.   PLANK it up…seriously, who doesn’t love dropping just for a little while. Hold it up for about a minute with your hips lifting and arms strong. For a little extra variation if you’re not feeling tired, alternate between the hands and the elbows. I have yet to develop the courage to be video-taped while doing any of these exercises but until I do, you can view a great demo of what I’m talking about here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5JUPHxHXhA

2. Hindu Squats: Yes, I said it and it sounds totally silly, but in my humble opinion these are more fun than regular squats and seem to give you a quicker burn in a shorter period of time. Once again, I am not yet prepared to be the demo queen, but I did scour youtube for a worthwhile video. Basically, there is a lot of crap out there when it comes to Hindu squats. Most people on the internet are not doing them correctly. This video is great because the guy actually knows what’s up. Please, don’t mind the dog that crosses the screen at one point : ) You can see this work of cinematographic genius here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2O4MwQBZ-DY

Do several reps, or whatever your time permits.

3.  Side plank! Hang out on each side for a few. Or, if this is too easy for you and you’d like to kick it up a notch, then opt for side plank push ups. Again, here is a video with a quick demo (I love her accent and crazy scary tight abs). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wa5Li3edwl4&feature=player_detailpage

4. Chair pose and/or twisted chair pose.  Ahhh, utkatasana!

5. I recommend coming through a vinyasa (dog to plank to ground to cobra then back to dog) then lunging into Warrior II and then, from there, folding into revolved triangle.

6. If this still hasn’t done it for you and you either have more time or energy, I recommend some yogi windmills and yoga jacks. Try a set of 25 then see how you feel! (p.s. if you watch this video, I am sure it will make you laugh…further, I am not sure if the user who posed it just thought it was too ridiculous to be true and posted it for a larf or shared it in the hope that others would truly like it. Either way, I am sure it will serve one of these purposes for you).

If you aren’t feeling a workout and instead just feel stressed out by all the extra socialization that goes on during large gatherings, I recommend sneaking off for a break and taking advantage of that big hotel bed (which is usually up against a nice big wall) and doing some good old feet up the wall.

Also, if you know that these trips drain you, plan to bring your own hydration and aromatherapy (I recommend pure lavender oil from aura cacia).  Although I’ll admit the carrying of all these liquids is much easier if you aren’t flying, of course. On this trip, since I drove, I came all stocked up with homemade coconut water chia drink (a great recipe recommended by the author of another great blog), some GT’s Kombucha (I am obsessed) and this f***ing awesome tumeric drink I just discovered. It’s expensive but it was spicy, delicious and I felt like it was giving my liver a bath after a night of wine.  I was so fascinated by this seasoned elixi that I am sharing the company story here: http://vimeo.com/laurabrooks/tumericalive

Above all else on a business trip, take time at the end to enjoy and explore something new and off the reservation so-to-speak. On this trip, my fiancé and I escaped the conference center for a visit to New Jersey’s tallest standing lighthouse. Complete with over 200 stairs!

Inside the lighthouse, preparing for the ascent.

Inside the lighthouse, preparing for the ascent.

Even if you can’t break away for an excursion or even a workout, certainly there may be at least one morning sunrise or one evening sunset worth your time. Regardless of how much of a spirit sapping vacuum conferences can be, stick it to ’em and prove that you’ve got to play a little even if you’re supposed to be doing work.

Sunrise over the strip (the Atlantic City Strip, that is). Time: about 5:15AM.

Sunrise over the strip (the Atlantic City Strip, that is). Time: about 5:15AM.

Until next time, namaste.

Tacochiladas, pasta potluck and, of course, I do something else with beets

15 May
Whole foods...also known as the money hole.

Whole foods…also known as the money hole.

Ahhh, Whole Foods. The place where I go when I need to feel, in a very Holly Golightly sort of way, that I am in a sanctuary where nothing awful could ever happen. In reality, Whole Foods is just the place where my betrothed shakes his head in agony as I inspect organic avocados and ponder the differences between the various environmental ratings ascribed to items ranging from pecans to pecorino romano. It is the place that supplies the kombucha to which I am addicted and the almond cheese that no one else on earth sells. It is the embodiment of my first world problems (what! the cherry lime chia is out of stock!?!). Most critically, it is the place where my money goes to die.

Fortunately, the last few days have led me to believe that all the money I’ve recently spent at this fine foods emporium may not have been for naught.  I can’t keep up with some of these other chicas in their twenties and thirties who all seem to be killing their own livestock in the backyard, growing their own kale, making their own yogurt from home-harvested bacteria and spinning their own yarn all over the internet. Not to worry, there is none of that here. Unless of course, you want it. In which case there are many amazing bloggers with more time, talent and patience on their hands than I. And I suggest you stop reading this and go elsewhere stat. If you still feel you’re in the right place, here’s the lowdown.

Part I. Taco/Enchilada (does that make it a tacochilada?)

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I have been told by runners and by yogis alike that mantras are helpful in physically difficult situations. At the twelve mile mark on my run last weekend, I thought briefly of some inspirational stuff as the pain in my feet grew worse but the only thing that stuck in my mind with every step was: enchilada, (insert expletive here),  enchilada, expletive, enchilada, expletive. You get the idea.

Seeing as last weekend was Cinco de Mayo, I quickly darted from the finish line to Whole Foods to get some supplies. Much to my dismay upon arrival, I was literally inches away from snatching the last package of soft tortillas when the woman in front of me made a b-line and nabbed it. Now, I know it’s not a true enchilada unless you go to Mexico but it’s even more of a s****** American taco if you don’t have the right materials. At any rate, I had to settle for some hardshell blue corn tacos.

Sensing where this endeavor was going, I ad-libbed quite a bit.

Here is my recipe for tacochiladas (you can substitute chicken for black beans or a tofu based substitute, as I was tempted to do, but whenever I cook for the fiance, I end up relaxing my somewhat elastic vegetarianism…):

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breasts (I prefer the reduced cruelty chicken sold at Whole Foods :))
  • 1 box of 12 blue corn taco shells
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 large green bell pepper
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1 large bag of RBST free cheddar jack cheese
  • 1 tablespoon of dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon (or more if you’re like me) of chipotle or chili powder
  • 1 15 oz can of salsa de tomate (aka Goya or similar tomato sauce)
  • 1 12 oz can of green enchilada sauce

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees farenheit or 175 degrees celsius. Wash and clean your chicken breasts trimming extra fat. Get a medium skillet and coat it with omega 3 DHA canola oil. In addition to adding the seasonings in the amounts listed above, I like to coat the oil in the skillet with extra pepper and chili powder and a slight pinch of salt. Place the chicken in the skillet. Over medium heat, cook chicken breasts until liquid runs clear (or, if you’re me, cook the chicken a little too long).

It will take awhile for the skillet to heat up. So I used this time to clean my hands and break out the red onion, bell pepper and garlic and chop them up nicely. After slicing those veggies up, I put them aside for safe-keeping in a clean bowl and returned to monitor the chicken, flipping from side to side and adding seasonings as I saw fit.

When the chicken was cooked, I broke the breasts up into smaller pieces and cracked open the salsa de tomate, and stirred that in along with the green enchilada sauce. I mixed a little cheese and stirred in my veggies slowly. I then added each of the above-listed doses of oregano, parsley, pepper and chili powder. After letting all these ingredients cook for about 4 or 5 minutes (and you’ll have to use your discretion with regard to heating as everyone’s stove is different, the idea is to slow cook these ingredients over a period of a few minutes rather than tossing them in a very hot pan that is spewing volcanic sauce fragments everywhere).

Once the onions are cooked, empty the contents of the skillet into a deep baking dish. Cover with cheese to taste and place in the oven for about 10-12 minutes longer.  After that, take it out and stuff taco shells with enchilada mix.

Seems sort of sloppy but it is yummy.

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Part II. Pasta Potluck

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Yes, friends, this really is as easy as it sounds. And it gets even easier.  I don’t know if you can read the bottom of the packaging on this Bona Chia bag, but this pasta cooks up in about 3 minutes and 30 seconds or less. In previous postings I’ve extolled the value of slicing up veggies commonly found in fridges and turning them into quick lunches or dinners. The same is true here. After a very busy day at work followed by what turned into a late night run, I barely had time for dinner last week.

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Bona Chia is a great product because it’s healthy and easy to make. For this recipe, I simply turned on the oven to 450, wiped some clean asparagus with canola oil and sprinkled them with lemon juice and pepper. I threw the asparagus in the oven, read the news for about 15 minutes, took the asparagus out and left them to cool. I sliced up some tomatoes and separated some broccoli florets.

I cooked the pasta with the broccoli for about 3 mins, then mixed in tomato slices at the finish. Broccoli turned up perfectly cooked, and the heat wilted the tomatoes nicely. I sprinkled a tad of parmesan cheese thus spoiling what was otherwise almost a delightfully animal free dinner.

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This recipe would make my Italian relatives wince, but I still call this a pasta dinner.

Part III. Pickled Rose Wine Soaked Beets (or something like that)

These are my beet porn pictures, I present them to you up front. I don’t know why they fascinate me so. Maybe it’s something to do with the color, but beets are my new thing. Incidentally, beets, along with chia and a zillion other things are credited with (maybe) having endurance boosting powers, so runners take note.

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I got the recipe for rose and raspberry pickled beets from Cooking Light Magazine and instantly felt compelled to make it after dinner on Sunday evening. For this recipe you will need the following:

  • 1 pound red beets (about 2)
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries
  • 1 1/2 cups dry rosé wine
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

    A little fruit porn. Another tip is if you haven't had dessert prior to making this, I recommend conserving the raspberry refuse after straining and dumping immediately into a small cup of vanilla frozen yogurt. It's delicious in that fancy restaurant sort of way.

    A little fruit porn. Another tip is if you haven’t had dessert prior to making this, I recommend conserving the raspberry refuse after straining and dumping immediately into a small cup of vanilla frozen yogurt. It’s delicious in that fancy restaurant sort of way.

Note: For some reason, I couldn’t find dry rosé wine, so I ended up using pink moscato instead. I reduced the sugar in this recipe by a lot. I wanted a less sweet beet so I only used about 1/4 cup of sugar rather than the full 3/4. Just seems like loads to me. Further, I thought the beets would taste better with rosemary sprigs, so I substituted those for thyme.

Here are the instructions as indicated on the magazine page (or you can access the steps on their page directly):

  1. 1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  1. 2. Leave root and 1 inch stem on beets; scrub with a brush. Place beets in an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish; add water to a depth of 2 inches. Cover with foil; bake at 425° for 50 minutes or until just tender. Drain and cool. Peel beets; cut into 1-inch wedges. Place beets in a large heatproof glass jar or bowl with peppercorns and thyme.
  1. 3. Combine raspberries and remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer; cook 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and raspberries begin to break down. Strain raspberry mixture through a fine sieve over a bowl; discard solids. Pour hot raspberry liquid over beet mixture; cover and chill at least 8 hours or overnight.
The finished product before being drowned in the raspberry wine sauce.

The finished product before being drowned in the raspberry wine sauce.

The results were satisfactory. This was super simple but left me feeling like I’d actually made something wholesome yet different. I don’t say that about my cooking often. My one tip is to drain the mixture after about 15 hours. Don’t let the beets soak forever as they will get tart. Drain almost all liquid out after that time, conserving only a little mixture and leaving the beets to sit on top of the rosemary and peppercorns.

This is the story of a girl

14 May
Me at the Finish Line in Long Branch. An amazing day filled with great Jersey pride and some very supportive spectators.

Me at the Finish Line in Long Branch. An amazing day filled with great Jersey pride and some very supportive spectators.

Friends, I have a confession. I have not always been a yogi. Nor have I always been a runner. I offer you these olive branches in the case you come upon this blog, see that it’s about running and fitness and think: I. will. never. run. anywhere.  In writing this, I hope to convince you that you can, in fact, become more athletic, no matter who you are, what your background is or how much (or how little) time you have. So…without further ado, here is my story.

Although I’ve always been physically inclined, albeit on my own terms, I have certainly never been an all star. I developed a natural talent as a gymnast early on. I was limber, lithe and fearless; qualities that served me well for the rare, bi-weekly occasions on which I dared to exert myself in any form of physical activity. Not even when a fellow team member from the gym where I trained (who differed from me dramatically not in terms of physical capacity, but in terms of grit, dedication and vigor) made it to the qualifying rounds for the 2000 Sydney Olympics was I at all motivated to step up my game.

After becoming too cool for gymnastics altogether and dropping out of the sport so as to free up time for more important endeavors such as loitering in shopping malls and chasing after boys, I retreated into a quasi anorexic realm of what Jessica Clark in this month’s edition of Runner’s World aptly calls ‘skinny fat’. The only selling point for me when it came to sports was, perhaps, the chance to wear slightly scandalous under clothing (e.g. the donning of brightly colored bras under the see through mesh of my soccer jersey).

Apart from the aforementioned opportunities, I developed a disdain for the athletic. I viewed friends who electively participated in such insanity as cross country as sufferers of a rare form of mental illness. And, above all, I DESPISED gym class.  Primarily, I regarded it as a medieval torture camp conjured up by sadistic adults and designed to make young people suffer unspeakable fates. Perhaps the worst of all afflictions was the mile run, a fate I could barely accomplish in 12 minutes flat. I distinctly remember being taken to the high school track as an early teen and being made to run around it on a crisp autumn day. It was beautiful, enjoyable, relaxing…it was…it was…horrid! I felt I was part of a chain gain (okay, I know chain gains are usually made to do labor…but dude, that was my reality).

For fitness purposes, and in futile attempts to stave off the effects of too much tofutti chocolate supreme ice cream (Mmmmm sooo good), I took up running during my freshman year of college. This was a pitiful attempt to stay, or maybe just to get, in some sort of shape. I plodded on day after day on a treadmill in our university’s basement gym. Feeling glad to be moving, but not really going anywhere.

This was my routine for…the next three years. I don’t really want to chalk my ultimate breakthrough up to a guy, but I guess I kind of should. After I broke up with the only serious boyfriend I’d ever had at the start of my senior year, I distinctly remember rolling out of bed one morning, feeling desperate (and probably somewhat hungover) and thinking: I should go for a run. And, so, I did. I remember running out of the campus gates and just going.  I can’t really say why I started running. I guess it was just something my body wanted me to do. And so, I listened.

I think I ran for an hour, maybe more. I didn’t have any concept of time or how far I’d gone but I just kept repeating it, like clockwork every morning.

Wake up and smell the roses...spring foliage as seen on a recent run.

Wake up and smell the roses…spring foliage as seen on a recent run.

Strangely, I began to notice things, like the shape of dew drops on green leaves on small patches in front of the stately homes near campus. I enjoyed the smells, the lights and the quiet of early mornings. I felt alone. I felt free. And, for some bizarre reason, I no longer felt as though I was on the chain gang of yore.

Later that year, I signed up for a 5k because someone told me I should try it. I figured why not? It certainly could not be worse than the inaptly named fun runs of my youth where I scraped along just to get…to…the…end…of…a…one…mile…course. Not expecting much from myself at all, I did this 5k.  And, I came in third place. It was a really small race and I think I ran the course at about 9:00 mins per mile. I know for some people it’s not much to celebrate, but I remember feeling really floored. I remember thinking: this is totally, totally amazing!

From that point I’ve pushed on, and I think you’ll find you can too. After 5ks, the miles just started melting away. I moved up to 10ks and from 10ks, I’ve moved on to half marathons. Including the New Jersey Half Marathon, which took place May 5, 2013 in Long Branch which I completed in about 1 hour and 55 mins. Not the best, but under an hour and with 8:44 min miles the whole way through.  I’ve yet to take on a full marathon, but it’s on my list next.

Throughout all of this, non-runner friends always ask me: how?

How do you do anything?

By wanting to do it. During the course of my professional life this passed week, I was asked to speak on a panel to a bunch of high school students about career paths. I probably babbled at them a whole bunch but the one thing I told them was this:

Ground yourself in your passion

because what you plant there will ultimately be stronger and grow more roots.

The same is true with physical endeavors. Find something you love and do it often. Life is short but it’s long enough to enjoy and to build things that have the ability to sustain you. As Buddha once said “to keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”

For those of you who hope to run your first 5k. Like everything, it’s always…uh-hem…tough-going the first time. Once you break on through, it’ll all be good. So good, you’ll want to do it again, and again, and again.  AND this month’s edition of Runner’s World features some great tips for beginners (wow, I am really plugging RW in this posting)!

Also, the Mayo Clinic has a great 5k training plan which I think is an awesome place to start.

Or, if you’re like me, just lace up, hit the road and see where it will take you.

Happy trails, my friends!

Tuesday Tip: Love and Lettuce

1 May

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Apart from somehow being a word I still have to spellcheck even at this stage in my life, I love lettuce. In another lifetime or perhaps when my life slows down a bit, I’d really love to homestead an apartment garden featuring hanging baskets full of luscious, yummy leaves. While I have had to postpone that dream for the moment, it doesn’t mean I still can’t try to get as much lettuce in my life as possible. And maybe you should, too.

This brings me to today’s tip. If you are like me then you have certainly engaged in what I like to call robotic eating at the workplace. This usually arises when one brings a ostensibly healthy snack (e.g. pop chips) back to one’s desk. Instead of consuming one serving, one eats the entire bag. What better way to get through the monotony of your afternoon assignment than to coat it with a little salty crunch, right? Wrong.

To avoid the sudden pang of “ewww” that usually strikes in the minutes after your mind catches up with your stomach in realizing it’s full, I suggest keeping a tub of undressed lettuce leaves near your desk. If mindless eating is on your horizon, I totally recommend this tip.

Baby lettuce is super sweet and if it’s fresh, it will not be sticky and can easily be grabbed up en masse and shoveled down the hatch. I know, I know, I probably sound super strange, but I actually love the taste. Eating undressed greens has also caused me to have a greater appreciation for what Wikipedia informs me is the “annual plant of the aster or sunflower family.” I mean, when you think about it, it’s pretty amazing to eat raw leaves rather than processed goop made into cracker or chip form for a change. If you’re on the east coast, I definitely recommend Olivia’s Organics for great lettuce selections (pictured above). Not only do their leaves taste terrific, but they also support a local communities.

Here’s another Tuesday Tip for chilling out on the job. If you’re feeling stressed, unable to focus or just suffering an off day, take a moment for yourself to chill. In yoga, we often talk about mudras and the power that flows through the body when we connect with ourselves. The word “mudra” essentially means to close. The most commonly seen mudras in yoga are those where the fingertips touch (usually pointer to thumb) or the soles of your feet in a butterfly type stretch. Making these connections with oneself are powerful and calming.

Frequently, my teachers often talk about the power of combining mudra and mantra. This is usually done by touching each of your fingers to your thumb, and, while so doing, thinking of a four word mantra (please! I already see where your mind is going, but notice I said four word and not four letter mantra) to repeat either internally or aloud. For example, one that I like to use in moments of extreme stress is:  I-am-peace-ful. Each word represents a connection I make with each of my fingers to my thumbs.

I’ve often grappled with the extolling the general utility of the mudra/mantra as some people to whom I have tried to teach it have just found this routine funny. But, before you laugh, I think the key is to visualize the words you are speaking to yourself, whatever they may be. If you try this activity, really try to focus. I think the act of forcing yourself to be creative and to find your own voice is a grounding function in itself. Just try it, you may even thank me later.

If you’re still interested, you can check out this article on mudras, although the beginning of the article rambles, the latter part does a great job of explaining their purpose and function.

Until then, I wish you nothing but love, and lettuce.

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