How To Not Hate Running

Up to this point I haven’t written a thing about running on this blog.  It’s been all about cooking, particularly vegetarian or almost-vegetarian cooking.  I’ve tried to choose recipes that are hearty and nutritious (remember “vegetarian” could also mean Coke and fries) and could complement a training program, but certainly one could enjoy this food without ever thinking about running or exercising.

cimg2861 300x225My assumption is that most of the readers of this young blog are interested in healthy eating but are not runners, which is nothing to be ashamed of since even a slight interest in not eating yourself to death sets you apart from vast majorities of Americans.  But still, in writing about running for the first time, there is some risk of alienating those readers who have grown accustomed to enjoying the recipes and the pictures of me eating food.  But you know what, it’s not called No-Meat Television Watcher, so I’m willing to take that risk.

That said, I’m not going to immediately start discussing how to take ten minutes off your marathon time, how to avoid chafing, or prerace Port-a-Pot strategy (although come to think of it, vegetarian Port-a-Pot strategy might make a great post later on).  These are topics best left to blogs specifically about running.  Like RunnerDude’s, which I just found yesterday and have added to the “Links” section of this blog.  On just the first page there’s information about shoes, energy bars, technical apparel, and yoga for runners, so if you’re at all into running then check this one out.

My focus here is more on introducing you to running (and when I say “running,” I’m referring to distance running, 5k and longer).  I’ll be the first to admit that running is not the healthiest sport out there.  The rate of calorie burning is something like 1000 per hour, but it’s high-impact and therefore tough on your joints, bones, and muscles.  Truthfully swimming and cycling are probably lower-risk endurance sports, but the fact is that not everyone has access to a pool or decent roadbike.  And my favorite thing about running: you can put on a shirt, shorts, and a pair of shoes, and literally go from desk jockey to road warrior in three minutes.

When I talk to non-runners about running, their response is usually “That’s awesome that you like running that much; I love the idea of doing a marathon, but I just hate the actual running.”  A well-known variation involves replacing “hate” with “suck at.”  Well here’s a secret for you:  I don’t really like running much either, and I’m by no means gifted at it.

As recently as sophomore year of college (eight years ago is still recent, right?), I hated running.  I decided to do a marathon precisely because it seemed impossible, and for whatever reason, things that seem impossible are as exciting to me now as they were to that stupid college kid.  So a couple of friends and I gave it the old college try, and while the results weren’t pretty, all three of us crossed the finish line in San Diego a few months later.

Like I said, we were stupid.  We didn’t know anything about training, and we went about it all wrong.  It didn’t occur to us that maybe when we have to run n miles tomorrow, we shouldn’t drink n+1 beers tonight.  So while the process didn’t do much to ease my hatred of running, it did accomplish something else.  It made me realize that I love training.  There is a subtle but important difference here.  I still don’t particularly enjoy doing an eight-mile threshold run where the specific instructions are “maintain an uncomfortable pace,” and there’s nothing fun for me about running 20 miles on a precious Sunday morning when I’d prefer to leisurely do the crossword puzzle with a cup of coffee.  But when I step back and realize that I’m training for something, that the sacrifices I’ve made and the pain I’ve endured will allow me to do something that a few months ago was impossible, then I realize why I run.  And it sure makes the pizza, milkshake, or whatever else I reward myself with taste a whole lot better.

I’m not asking you to start running if you don’t run already.  You probably have plenty of other pressures in your life without my nagging, and besides, it’s not for everyone.  All that I want is for you to reconsider your reason for not running, and to appreciate that you don’t have to enjoy the actual act of running to get a tremendous amount of gratification out of the process of training for something which, to say it again, on some level seems impossible.  And please don’t misunderstand me; the actual act of running does become much more enjoyable as you train your body to perform more efficiently.  The bulk of my actual training mileage is done at a comfortable pace, and in fact all of yours could be if that were your priority.  Finally, if for whatever reason you physically cannot run, then everything I’ve written could apply to biking, swimming, or something else that you are able to do.

Running Tips for Beginners

So for those of you who are just getting into running or want to start, here’s the advice I can offer based on my experience and learning:

  • Choose a goal, be it an event, a weight, or anything else that motivates you.  Don’t make it a reasonable goal; reasonable goals don’t get you out the door when it’s raining.  Make it unreasonable, something that will make your friends laugh at you when you tell them.
  • That said, don’t hurt yourself.  If you’re new to running and want to do a half marathon, you had better make sure you have many months until the race.  Do research and figure out how long you need.
  • Find a good training plan online or at the bookstore to give you some direction.
  • Run slowly!  This is the biggest thing I can think of that will make running tolerable if you currently hate it.
  • Increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent each week, even less in the beginning.
  • Put a bunch of different types of songs on your iPod and see what works for you.  Having music makes a huge difference for me.  Just don’t get hit by a car.

That’s what I have for you.  I realize it’s not much, but if you choose to get into running, you’ll find it easy to get lots more information.  Please, runners or other athletes, if you have anything to add, leave a comment!  Thanks for reading, everyone.  Food and pictures of me eating it will be back tomorrow!

[UPDATE- See How I Plan to Qualify for the Boston Marathon for more running info!]

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Smoky Black Bean and Cheddar Burritos with Baby Spinach

We made this one for lunch yesterday, another winner from Fine Cooking.  It seems that vegetarians eat a lot of beans, and for good reason because in addition to being the musical fruit, they are a quality source of both protein and carbohydrates.

There are plenty of other good ingredients in this recipe.  Lime juice (very alkaline), spinach (see Popeye again), tomatoes, chipotle in adobo, pepitas, and more.  Wait… chipotle in adobo, pepitas?  Yes, believe it or not, there’s more to Mexican food than the 7-Layer Crunch Wrap Supreme.  Chipotle in adobo is smoked jalapeno with a smoky red sauce, sold in a small can.  It has a really distinct flavor and it’s not that uncommon; only a few times have I not been able to find it in a grocery store.  You won’t use the whole can, but it keeps in the refrigerator for months in an airtight container.  You can even puree the peppers with the adobo to create a really good sauce, which you could smuggle into Taco Bell to make an 8-Layer Crunch Wrap Supreme.  That other crazy foreign word I used was “pepita,” which is just the Spanish name for a shelled pumpkin seed.  I got these in the bulk section of a natural foods store (David’s Natural Market); I don’t think a lot of regular grocery stores have them.  But they’re an optional ingredient, so if you can’t get them don’t worry.  Here’s what ours looked like after they were toasted:

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We used a fake version of cheddar made from rice shreds, since we’re still not eating dairy.  I know this sounds like the world’s worst food, but apart from being a little drier than regular cheese it is almost indistinguishable.  We didn’t do the sour cream, and as usual we used the canola/olive oil blend instead of just olive oil, for more omega-3‘s  (the link this time takes you to a blog by a nutrition expert rather than the wikipedia page I normally link to).  The last thing of note is that we actually used the white-flour tortillas, something we almost never do, because we couldn’t find whole-wheat burrito-size tortillas in the store.

We took this picture in case the rolling-up process were to go horribly wrong:

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Here’s how it looked for about 30 seconds before we ravaged it:

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And here’s proof that I did in fact ravage it:

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We ravaged it because this meal was delicious.  And nutritious.  And filling.  It tasted like it does when you eat at Chipotle, only without the accompanying food-coma that usually follows.  I can’t wait to eat the leftovers.  This is a great example of a vegetarian meal where it doesn’t seem like meat would add anything at all to the flavor.  You won’t miss it.  The only thing I will change next time is to use more chipotle for a little extra kick.  Erin actually suggested this, and she definitely doesn’t like stuff too spicy.  We give this 4 cows out of 5.  And it was so inexpensive, as I’m finding that a lot of vegetarian meals are.  Highly recommended.

If you didn’t read this blog over the weekend, you might notice that the right side of the main page looks different.  I’m still experimenting with different widgets, so if you have any suggestions or feedback please leave a comment.  In the “Links” section I put a link to a Insomniac Chef, a friend’s blog about vegan cooking.  His food looks really good, professional even.  Another interesting blog I found is Almost Vegetarian, which has a nice format and lots of recipes that I think readers of this blog who aren’t total vegetarians will like.

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The State of the Diet (or How to Lose a Five-Pound Guy in Ten Days)

The 10-Day Challenge is over.  I can go back to eating any way I want, and do it without shame.  I don’t spend much time thinking about my weight, but today I weighed myself, expecting to see what I usually see.  I weighed-in at nearly five pounds less than I did when I started the 10-Day Challenge!  For some people this might be reason to celebrate and become no-dairy, no-coffee, no-alcohol, no-exceptions pescetarians for life, or at least until John Madden’s diet book hits the shelves.  But if you know what I look like, then you understand why the loss of five of my precious pounds would concern me a bit.  I’m a full twenty-five pounds lighter (15.6 percent in Biggest Loser lingo) than I was at my peak in college before my exercise focus shifted from getting big to getting healthy.

So the sudden vulnerability to even moderately-strong winds certainly had me worried for a moment, but after reminding myself that I lifted more in the weight room this week than during the previous few, I became excited by the fact that my strength-to-weight ratio is much increased from its pre-challenge level.  And this makes a big difference when you’re trying to haul ass 26.2 miles in a little over three hours.  Maybe it’s water weight that I lost (after all I did do the whole-body cleanse), but I’ve been drinking lots of water and eating all of those water-rich foods.  Could toxins weigh five pounds?  Doubt it.  I’m left to infer that it must be some combination of fat and water, which you won’t hear me complain about missing.

My New Diet Plan

Now that the 10-Day Challenge is complete, I need to set some ground rules for my eating so that I can relax some of the rules that I don’t find necessary without slipping back over time to my old meat-masticating ways.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • No meat other than fish, and fish only a few times a week
  • Eat 70 percent water-rich foods (fruits and vegetables mainly), with a salad before every dinner and many lunches
  • Limit dairy, replacing milk and yogurt by their soy versions, but allowing cheese in recipes where ‘nozzarella’ won’t do
  • Alcohol in moderation (no more nightly after-dinner beer)
  • Coffee in moderation (about once weekly, not daily), replacing it with herbal or green tea
  • Put lemon in my water for its alkaline properties
  • Take a multivitamin, acidophilus, digestive enzymes, and greens supplement

I think this is a pretty simple set of rules which I can live with.  You’ll see this modified set of rules manifested in the recipes I post.  I’ve done away with the no-protein-and-carbs-together rule, because I think this just doesn’t allow me to get enough food in each meal to support my training.  And I’ll allow myself to drink water during meals, just not to the extent that I used to, mindlessly drinking it after every bite.

Coffee

I went to Barnes and Noble today and ordered a regular coffee there (caffeine and all), perhaps relinquishing some of the street-cred that my week of ordering grande-triple-decaf-soy-cappuccinos had afforded me.  But I hadn’t had caffeine in two full weeks, and decided that it was time to reward myself.  I was shocked by the way it made me feel.  Really happy, but jittery, scatter-brained, and even a little dizzy while trying to read and shop for groceries.  I can’t believe that my body had developed such a tolerance that I didn’t experience these symptoms when I used to drink coffee every day.  There are so many studies that show positive and negative long-term effects linked to daily coffee that it’s not at all obvious to me whether it’s good or bad.  For example, see the Twitter ‘tweet’ that I sent yesterday (and what a perfect opportunity for me to point out the ‘Follow @NoMeatAthlete on Twitter’ link on the right side of the main page of this blog).  So the only conclusion I can draw is that coffee is fine in moderation.  But I think I feel better when it is not a part of my daily routine.  And from a marathon-runner’s perspective, caffeine is a useful race-day supplement to help shave a few minutes off your time, but the effect disappears when your body is accustomed to caffeine.  So I’m happy with hitting the old Starbucks once, maybe twice a week.

So that’s where it stands, and those rules will dictate what recipes you see here each week.  As I also tweeted about, I saw a new book called The Flexitarian Diet which made me think of you, dear readers.  I’m assuming that most of you are not vegetarians, pescetarians, or marathoners, but rather friends and family who are interested in eating healthily but unwilling as of yet to make any drastic changes.  The book is a mostly-vegetarian nutrition plan which allows the addition of meat (and not just fish!) to most of the dishes, even suggesting in the recipes which meat to optionally add and how to prepare it.  I strongly encourage you to check it out.

Come back tomorrow for a fun meal:  Smoky Black Bean & Cheddar Burritos with Baby Spinach!

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Red Cooked Tofu

You can’t be a vegetarian for long without eating tofu, especially if you are trying to get lots of protein for training.  And while I’m not a total vegetarian because I still eat fish, I’d like to make true vegetarian meals often so that you non-fish eaters out there will get something out of this blog.  So with that, I give you red cooked tofu from Fine Cooking.  You’ve probably noticed that I do a lot of Fine Cooking recipes.  One reason is that most of them are online, so I can link to them instead of typing the whole recipe.  But more importantly, they are always really good.  Without exaggeration, I think our success rate with them might be 100 percent.  Some of them are complicated, but they have a new section called “Make it Tonight” with meals that generally take less than half an hour to make.

I have never really liked tofu, probably because of the spongy texture and lack of flavor.  But with this recipe, the tofu really takes on the flavor of the Chinese sauce.  So at least the little sponges taste like something.  And I like extra-firm tofu because it’s not so spongy and doesn’t break up when you cook it.

A lot of times when I try to get my asian on, I’m disappointed because the result tastes like bland vegetables with soy sauce on them.  But this meal is different; the soy sauce really gets integrated into the stew and it combines with the fresh ginger, rice vinegar, sugar, and some vegetables to make a really nice sauce.

I used homemade organic vegetable broth that my sister made and froze for me, but if you don’t have such a sister, just get it premade from the store. But make sure it doesn’t have a lot of unnatural ingredients and sodium.  Also we used brown rice and you should too.  It is to white rice what whole-wheat bread is to white bread.  Another thing to note is that the recipe calls for fresh ginger.  Do not substitute ground; it’s really considered a different cooking spice and has different uses than fresh.  Another ginger tip:  Most of the flavor of fresh ginger resides near the skin, so be careful to remove only a thin layer when you peel it.  Using a spoon to peel it ensures that you won’t take off more than necessary.  Finally, if you buy more than you need for this one meal, store the rest in the freezer.

Here’s how it looks when you’re done:

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This meal is pretty good; in fact this is the second time I’ve made it.  And it’s really easy to make.  But the fact remains:  no matter how much you polish a turd, it’s still a turd.  And that turd, in this case, is tofu.  So if you like tofu, then definitely make this meal; it’s by far the best way I’ve ever made it.  If you’ve never had tofu or haven’t had it in a while, this is a pretty good way of trying it.  And I will say that tofu is growing on me and I’m willing to continue to experiment with other ways of preparing it since it’s such a good protein source.  Overall, Erin and I give this meal 3 small cows out of 5.

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The 10-Day Challenge

Happy Friday!  First off, I’d like to sincerely thank everyone who has taken time out of their week to read this blog.  The number of readers has gone far beyond what I expected for the first week.  And I’ve gotten lots of encouragement and a few useful criticisms, all of which I appreciate greatly.  I’ll continue to post over the weekend, so you’ll have something to do when it’s just you and your dog on Saturday night.  Otherwise you’ll have plenty to read at work to stave off your case of the Mondays.

A few people have asked for details about the 10-Day Challenge (which I just finished, by the way) that inspired me to go permanently pescetarian, so that’s the focus of this post.  I’ll even list the meals I ate during the ten days so that you can see that you don’t need to eat like a nomadic gatherer (thanks to Christine for using this phrase to describe Mom’s diet).  And you’ll see where I broke the rules a little, so you won’t feel like you need to follow every single rule to a T in order to get something out of this challenge.

For those who haven’t yet read the first post, the 10-Day Challenge is from a Tony Robbins seminar I went to a few weeks ago.  So these are his ideas, not mine.  You can get more information and order his products here, but the 10-Day Challenge doesn’t require any of his products.  All it requires is a commitment to yourself!

Essentially, the 10-Day Challenge is just a challenge to live by the health principles that Tony teaches for ten days.  Tony spends his life finding people who are getting the very best results in certain aspects of life and then learns what they are doing to get those results, so I believe he does have some credibility in this area.  The goal of this lifestyle is to maximize energy and wellness by eliminating and avoiding toxins and maintaining slight alkalinity in the bloodstream, as opposed to the acidity of blood that the normal Western diet produces.  Please note, you do not have to believe in these principles in order to enjoy this blog; this blog is about being eating a vegetarian diet or pescetarian diet while training for endurance sports; it’s not about the alkaline diet.

bg 9 3 ozAnd of course, so some rand-o who stumbles across this site doesn’t sue me, get medical advice from a professional before making any changes to your diet and exercise program!

Here are the principles of the version of the 10-Day Challenge that I attempted to adopt:

  • Drink lots of water each day, half your body weight in ounces.  And add lemon juice to it (lemon juice is acidic outside the body but is somehow alkaline inside the body).
  • Make 70% of your foods water-rich.  Lettuce, non-starchy vegetables, fruits, baked fish, etc.  Things that are watery.  An easy way to get more water-rich foods is to have a big salad before lunch and dinner.
  • Get lots of omega-3′s and some omega-6′s.  See my smoothie post for more information about these. Try avocado, almonds, flax seed oil, Udo’s oil blend, krill oil, etc.
  • Eat mostly alkali-forming foods.  Green vegetables, almonds, lower-sugar fruits, and more.   Here’s a chart.  An easy way to get more is to take a “greens” supplement. I bought Barlean’s; it tastes terrible.  But tolerable in a smoothie.
  • Do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-5 times per week, at an intensity where you could carry on a conversation during it.
  • Don’t drink water during meals, don’t eat fruit with any other foods, don’t eat protein and carbohydrates in the same meal.  Green vegetables are ok with either protein or carbs.  These rules are aimed at lessening the demand digestion places on your body.
  • Eliminate processed fats, animal flesh (except fish in moderation), dairy products, caffeine (I love coffee so this was a big one for me), alcohol, vinegar, nicotine, and white sugar, white bread, and white rice.  For the most part these foods are highly acidic, difficult to digest, or foods of decay.
  • Take ten deep breaths, three times per day, to help your lymphatic system.
  • Take a food-based multivitamin, digestive enzymes, and acidophilus.  Any vitamin store should have these.
  • Do a full-body cleanse; I used Enzymatic Whole Body Cleanse.

You can see why it is called a challenge.  A lot of this seems ridiculous, and your boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse will think you’ve been brainwashed.  One thing that I think really helped me stay with it was to go out before beginning and buy the vitamins, greens supplement, cleanse kit, soy milk and yogurt (you can get soy yogurt at a natural foods store), and ingredients for the first few meals.  I probably spent 60 dollars for the stuff, not counting groceries, and it will last me much longer than the ten days.  I know people don’t like to spend money on something until they’ve tried it, but I really think that spending that money committed me to doing it.  If I had bought all this stuff and then not followed through on the challenge, I would have felt and looked like an idiot. Reader: Insert “You already do” joke here.

Ok, here are the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, listed in that order, that I ate during the ten days.  I ate salads with olive oil and lemon juice before or with almost every lunch and dinner, and fruits, nuts, and no-butter popcorn for snacks throughout the day.

Monday:  Fruits (since I didn’t have soy smoothie ingredients yet), veggie pizza with mushrooms, sundried tomato, and red bell pepper on Boboli whole-wheat crust, with “nozzarella” cheese (not really called that, it’s rice shreds which somehow taste just like cheese), baked shrimp with fennel and feta (easy on the feta).

Tuesday:  Smoothie (made with soy yogurt), leftover baked shrimp with fennel and feta, halibut in whole-wheat batter (fried in canola oil).

Wednesday:  Smoothie, leftover halibut, broiled salmon with herb mustard glaze and asparagus.

Thursday:  Smoothie, veggie wrap, trenette with pesto, beans, and potatoes.

Friday:  Smoothie, veggie wrap, veggie pizza with mushrooms, sundried tomato, and red bell pepper on Boboli whole-wheat crust with “nozzarella.”

Saturday:  Smoothie, leftover trenette with pesto, spring vegetable ragout with whole-wheat pasta (dried pasta, not fresh as in recipe).

Sunday:  Smoothie, leftover spring vegetable ragout, whole-wheat penne with asparagus, olives, and whole-wheat breadcrumbs (no parmigiano as in recipe).

Monday (first day of blog): Smoothie, leftover penne with asparagus, salmon with spinach and shiitake.

Tuesday: Smoothie, two bean burritos on whole-wheat tortilla with “nozzarella,” pasta with roasted cauliflower and arugula.

Wednesday: Smoothie, leftover pasta with roasted cauliflower, red-cooked tofu with brown rice.  And a Guinness to celebrate the completion of the challenge.

Not so bad, is it?  If you don’t cook at all, you might have some trouble with this type of diet, so you’d better learn.  All of these recipes took less than half an hour of work, plus maybe some time in the oven.  As you can see I had a lot of fish near the beginning to ease into it, then less as I got used to this type of diet.  And I messed up a few times, having some feta on the first day, some parmigiano in the pesto (which we made a long time ago but had in the freezer), and perhaps violating the “fruit only by itself” rule with the smoothie.    And as I’ve mentioned before, a couple Guinnesses one day during the basketball games.

It really does feel great eating and living this way.  Especially after dinner, when I used to stuff myself and then drink a nice beer and get really tired.  Now I have a lot of energy in the evenings and I’ve stayed up later (working on this god-forsaken blog), feeling like I don’t need as much as sleep as before.  I’m really glad that I did this challenge because I truly believe it has permanently changed my lifestyle by letting me experience first-hand how good this feels.  If you are at all intrigued by this, then by all means give it a try (after talking to your doctor, of course); it just might be something that changes your life.  And while I think that committing to all the rules for ten days is great, if you flat-out refuse to give up coffee, alcohol, milk, or whatever other thing, don’t let that stop you from taking the challenge.  Cut that rule out, write down a revised set of rules that you can live with, and do it for ten days.  Make a commitment to yourself and stick with it.  I can guarantee there will be a few instances when it would be so much more convenient to have a burger or whatever your weakness is, but it’s in these moments that you truly have an opportunity to prove to yourself that you are not a slave to your cravings.  And on that note, I’ll stop writing before I get any more Tony Robbins on you.

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Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower and Arugula

Here’s today’s recipe, again from Fine Cooking.  And it’s by Pamela Anderson, so it’s got that going for it.  You’ll notice that the recipe uses prosciutto, which is really good if you’re into that sort of thing, but of course we made it without.  The other deviations we made:  substituting a canola/olive oil blend for the olive oil to get more omega-3‘s, using whole-wheat pasta (chiocciole since I can never find orecchiete), and omitting the delicious Parmigiano-Reggiano from mine since I’m still on this blasted 10-Day Challenge where I can’t have any dairy.  If you are going to use cheese but don’t feel like shelling out $18 per pound for Parmigiano-Reggiano, just get a wedge of regular parmesan cheese.  Although it doesn’t have the nuttiness and depth of flavor that Reggiano does, it is much better than the pre-grated Kraft stuff in a green cylinder that we all grew up with.

If you’re going to use whole-wheat pasta, which you should if you eat pasta at all regularly, make sure you get 100-percent whole wheat, not a 51-49 whole-grain blend.  We bought those blue Barilla Whole Grain boxes for a long time before realizing that they are blends.  100-percent whole-wheat pastas are a little more expensive, since they’re often organic as well, but the taste is really not much different from that of regular pasta.  If you tried it five years ago and still can’t get the cardboard taste out of your mouth, try it again because it’s much better than it used to be.

Another alternative, of particular interest to readers of this blog, is Barilla Plus.  Barilla Plus is a multigrain pasta with much more protein and omega-3 than regular or whole-wheat pasta.  Seems ideal for vegetarian endurance athletes, who are always after more protein, and to be honest I totally forgot about Barilla Plus until I started writing this post.  In the past I have tended not to buy Barilla Plus because it’s not 100-percent whole-wheat, but now that good protein sources are more scarce in my diet the tradeoff seems worth it. Plus, pun very much intended (and emphasized!), it looks like the added nutrients are the result of natural ingredients rather than fortification, which means they can be assimilated easily into the body.  In Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food, Pollan argues that a good rule of thumb is to avoid foods that make health claims, since often the extra nutrients are unnatural additions, disrupting the wholeness of the food source and resulting in little absorption into the body.  This, by the way, is a fantastic book to read if you are at all interested in nutrition and the travesty that is the Western diet, and I’ll write a post about it one of these days.

But back to the meal.  Erin did most of the cooking, and when I tried to help I knocked a cup of reserved pasta water off of the counter, so she got to hold the plate today:

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And the money shot:

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Erin and I agreed that this meal was good but not great.  She liked it better than I did, probably because hers had parmesan cheese on it.  We both agreed that more tomatoes would have been nice to balance the bitterness of the arugula.  But my biggest complaint is that it was not substantial enough for marathon training, and I was hungry again later in the night.  Maybe Barilla Plus would have helped with that.  So we give it a generous 3 cows out of 5.

One last thing; here’s another article from Yahoo! news about the unhealthiest restaurants in the county.  It doesn’t tell us much that we don’t already know, but sometimes it feels good to read about this stuff and know that you haven’t gone near it in years (or months, or at least weeks, I hope).

If you aren’t eating healthily yet, there’s no better day than today to start!

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Pan-Seared Salmon with Spinach and Shiitake

Note: This post is from the early days of my blog; I no longer eat fish.

We found this one on Fine Cooking’s website; the link will take you to the recipe.  Salmon is high in protein, omega-3‘s, and Vitamin D, among other vitamins.  Wild-caught salmon is much better both nutritionally and gustatorily than farm-raised salmon, as is the case with most fish and meats.  We buy wild-caught when we can find it, but the only salmon at the store today was farm-raised.  And what more is there to say about spinach than “look at Popeye“?

Only one modification was required to meet the 10-Day Challenge’s no-dairy rule, and that was to substitute soy milk for the heavy cream.  I wasn’t sure how this would work, but it actually turned out just fine.  The soy milk evaporated faster than heavy cream usually does, so the result was that the spinach-shiitake mixture was perhaps a little thicker than it would have been otherwise.  Our piece of salmon took much longer to cook than the time given in the recipe, so I ended up putting the whole pan in a 400-degree oven to avoid burning the outsides.  By the way, this technique (pan-roasting) is a great way to get a nice sear on the outside but avoid drying the fish out.  Just sear until one side is nicely-colored, then flip the fish and put the pan in a preheated oven until it’s cooked through.  It’s also a great way to sear your entire hand if you don’t leave the potholder on the panhandle after the pan is out of the oven!  I know this from experience (actually two experiences, within a week of each other, the second of which delighted Erin).

Here’s how it turned out:

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This dish was really good!  We found that there wasn’t quite enough lemon pan-sauce to drizzle, so we added some more lemon to the salmon on the plates.  The salmon was nice and simple, but the spinach-shiitake mixture is what made the dish for us.  It had a surprising heartiness to it.   My only complaint was that there wasn’t enough of it; in fact if I make this again I’ll double that part.  All in all we give it 4 stars out of 5.  Actually, we need a more exciting rating scale than stars, and Erin has suggested cows instead.  So 4 cows out of 5.

Red Meat Consumption Linked to Early Death

Someone sent me this link today [UPDATE: link no longer works]; the story was on the front page of Yahoo! news and the Washington Post.  It seems like every day a new study finds that some food is good/bad for you, contradicting the previous month’s study which showed that the same food is bad/good for you.  But for what it’s worth, I thought I’d share the latest.

Tomorrow’s meal: Pasta with Roasted Cauliflour, Arugula and Prosciutto (minus the prosciutto).

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Smooth Operator

Nope, I’m not referring to the colon cleanse again.  This post is all about smoothies.  One smoothie, really.  The one I invented!  It actually tastes really good and is a great vessel for supplements.  Erin and I have had it for breakfast almost every weekday for nearly a year and somehow we don’t get sick of it.  It makes a nice breakfast because it’s quick to prepare and you can take it to go.  So enough with the hype, here it is:

Blueberry Smoothie Recipe

  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/3 cup plain nonfat yogurt
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder (or about 20 grams of protein)
  • 2 handfuls frozen blueberries
  • 1 Tbsp flaxseed oil (Udo’s oil blend is my favorite)
  • 2 ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree.  Simple, right?

[UPDATE: We now add a few tablespoons ground flaxseed powder (for whole-food goodness), a half teaspoon ground cinnamon (for antioxidants and digestion), and Udo's Wholesome Fast Food (for greens, fiber, and digestive aids).]

blueberry smoothie 200x300But not so fast; there are countless possible variations.  Although the original recipe uses all blueberries, you really can substitute any frozen fruit.  We’ve tried raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, cherries, and even mangos.  You can find these bags of frozen fruit in the “pie filling” part of the frozen section of the grocery store.  Our favorite blend is blueberries, blackberries, and cherries.  The great thing about all these berries is that they are loaded with antioxidants (and who doesn’t want more of that hot nutritional buzzword?), and for whatever reason we just never eat fresh berries.  Some other changes we’ve tried:  Adding 1 oz acai juice or goji juice (more antioxidants but a little pricey), mixing in some fresh fruit, and adding additional supplements like glutamine (for workout recovery).

Trop 50

Tropicana has come out with a new orange juice called Trop 50 which has half of the sugar of regular orange juice but no artificial sweeteners.  The secret is not more water but rather the extract of the stevia plant, which is natural and sweeter than sugar.  So we’ve been using that and it tastes the same.

Soy vs. Dairy

Regular yogurt and whey protein don’t exactly jive with the 10-Day Challenge’s no-dairy restriction, so I’ve had to make some easy soy-substitutions.  Soy yogurt is a little runnier than regular yogurt but makes almost no difference in the smoothie other than not having the good sour taste that regular yogurt does.  You can get it at a natural foods store; most supermarkets don’t seem to have it.  We had been using Vitamin Shoppe-brand whey protein, the one sweetened with Splenda, not Aminogen (the Aminogen one is wretched in the smoothie).  I’ve had to switch to Vitamin Shoppe soy protein, which in addition to not being a milk product contains many fewer unnatural ingredients than what we had been using.  It doesn’t taste quite as good since it’s unsweetened, and it’s a little grittier in the smoothie.  Stick with the vanilla whey if you aren’t concerned about milk products or artificial ingredients.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Finally, the flaxseed oil is included solely for nutritional purposes, primarily the Omega-3 fatty acids.  The optimal ratio of dietary Omega-6′s to Omega-3′s is around 2:1, while the ratio in the normal Western diet is something like 15:1.  So getting lots of Omega-3′s is crucial.  One other easy way to do this is to substitute canola oil for olive oil in your cooking (olive oil is great in comparison to butter and many other oils, but its EFA ratio is relatively high).  If you already consume a lot of Omega-3′s (by eating a lot of fish, for example) and don’t need much more, you may want to halve the amount of oil in the smoothie or not use it at all, since there is an upper limit to how much is healthy.  If you’re going to use and it haven’t before, just keep it refrigerated and don’t use it for cooking.  Heat ruins it.

By the way, just in case you have visions of cashing in on my lack of a disclaimer, here it is:  I’m not a doctor so talk to yours before making any drastic changes to your diet or exercise program!

I hope you try this smoothie and let me know what you think.  And I have last night’s dinner to post so check back soon.  And to all who have taken the time to check out this new blog, thanks!

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