What fake meat has to do with baseball

I once heard an interview with a guy who was somehow deemed the worst player in Major League Baseball.  When asked how this felt, he replied,”It’s better than being the best player in the minor leagues.”

Now do me a favor.  Suspend your better judgement and replace “minor leagues” with “fake meat aisle,” and think of the Majors as “all the food that isn’t pretending to be another food,” and you’re primed to understand my feeling about Gardein meat-free products.

gardein logo white 300x148Gardein is the best player in the minor leagues.

As a self-proclaimed anti-fake-meat crusader, I’ve found myself procrastinating on writing my Gardein review.  (Thanks, Gardein, for sending me some to try.)  By this late time, chances are you’ve probably seen several (favorable) Gardein reviews floating around the blogosphere.  And this one’s favorable too, for what it is.  Gardein is the best fake meat I’ve ever tried.

What really separates Gardein from the rest of the meat-imposters is the ingredients: On multiple occasions, I’ve picked up buffalo “chicken” tenders from other fake-meat brands, only to put them back down after reading the ingredient list, longer than a steriod-juiced homerun and teeming with all variety of manipulated soy products.  For comparison, check out a Gardein ingredient list:

water, soy protein, vital wheat gluten, ancient grains (quinoa, amaranth, millet and kamut), natural flavors (from plant sources), potato starch, expeller pressed canola oil and/or safflower oil, pea protein, modified vegetable gum, carrot fiber, organic beet root fiber, organic evaporated cane juice, yeast extract, vinegar, sea salt.

Not bad, is it?  Sounds shockingly like real food.

The most amazing thing is that Gardein gets these techno-food-free ingredients to look and feel nearly identical to meat and to taste inoffensive, if not nearly as flavorful as real meat.

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Crispy tenders - buffalo sauce added by me

I tried three Gardein products: Seven Grain Crispy Tenders (tossed in buffalo sauce, of course), BBQ Pulled Shreds, and Chick’n Filets.  The first two were really good—though I can’t say they really tasted like meat, they really did “seem” like meat.  And with breading on the tenders and bbq sauce on the shreds, both of which were actually very tasty, it was easy to forget that what I was eating didn’t come from a slaughtered animal.  To me, the guy who once drove seven hours through the night for a Carolina pulled pork sandwich and whose biggest worry about going vegetarian was that he’d never again get to eat buffalo wings, this came as a pleasant surprise.

The Chick’n Filets weren’t as good; they had sort of a slimy texture and a very fake taste, perhaps because there was nothing to mask it.  Gardein recommends that you serve them in pasta or with a sauce, so maybe this would have helped.

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BBQ shreds

So that’s where I stand on Gardein.  Every once in a while it’s fun to go to a minor league game, and if you’re going to go, you might as well see the top draft picks play, or perhaps former stars who are shells of the players they once were, hanging on now for the sheer love of the game.  (In this rapidly-devolving metaphor, that’s supposed to be buffalo chicken and pulled pork.)

But as nice a diversion as a minor league game is, it just doesn’t compare to the bigs.

New ‘Running Fuel’ page

Feed readers, listen up!  I added a new page today, called “Natural Running Fuel,” that collects all of my “training food” posts and recipes in one place.  If you’re a new reader, or just want to make sure you haven’t missed any raw gel or natural sports drink recipes, you might want to take a look.  And if you’re feeling really saucy, you can bookmark it.

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A surprising perk of running: The ability to run far

A friend on dailymile.com, Thomas N., posted this video the other day.  I thought it really captured (and perhaps magnified) the awesomeness of trail running.  Nothing like a little music to make running seem a lot more fun than it is!  The video was put together by coachingendurance.com — I have no idea what that is, so don’t take my posting the video as an endorsement.  I suggest you watch the first minute or so until it gets repetitive, then leave the music on while you read the rest of my post.  Such is my lame attempt to compete with Avatar by providing a multimedia experience.

Twenty miles sans anything

The Hashawha Hills 50K, which was supposed to be today, was canceled due to all the snow still on the trail.  The official tally, then, is that of my three 50K’s scheduled since December, only one has actually transpired.  My next is the HAT Run, three weeks from today.  Barring another blizzard, that one should actually happen.

So I put in 20 miles today with some friends in liu of the race.  I had actually only planned on about 12, but I just felt great and kept on going.  The downside of such spontaneity, of course, is that I was completely unprepared for the distance in terms of food, water, and lubrication of my naughty bits.

The result: I ate my first commercial energy gel in about six months (kind of gross, but tolerable), drank only a single gulp of water from a friend’s bottle, and my crotch feels like it was briefly dipped in napalm, or perhaps treated with lye.  (How many subscribers might that nugget cost me?)  And now I feel a little sick, because that’s how I generally feel when I don’t bring enough nutrition along.  Not recommended.  So I’m lounging around in my Recovery Socks, and I’ve made Sascha the unofficial Recovery Sock dog with one of the way-too-many headbands they sent me:

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At least I drank a proper recovery smoothie!

Running saves my ass

Running offers a lot of benefits, the most commonly-cited being improved health and increased quality years of life (not necessarily a longer life, though).  But this week I noticed a surprising, yet so obvious, one — the ability to run far.  It’s not often in the modern world that this comes in handy; we don’t have to wear down our prey with our endurance to put a meal on the table anymore.  (For those who haven’t read it, this theory of why we run was presented in Born to Run.)

I left for school a little late one morning, and when I got there I couldn’t get a good parking spot.  I was left with what would have been a 15-minute walk across campus, with class starting in only five minutes.  I won’t make the story any more dramatic than it is: I ran to class, and still showed up a minute or two late.

But for whatever reason, I was struck by a sense of pride at being able to run like that.  In jeans, stabilizing my bookbag with one hand, I made it to class without breaking a sweat and hardly even breathing heavily.  Surely nobody suspected that I had just run a mile when I walked into class.

Ok, so it’s not hunting a wildebeast to feed the clan, but it was cool for me.  In that small way, being an endurance runner came in handy.  And on a very primal level, it made me proud on an otherwise routine morning.

Anyone else ever notice something like this, or do I need to stop thinking so much?

Last thing, check out Megan’s latest Running Shorts post: Are you making these running mistakes?

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Sweet-Tooth Friday: Allergy-Free Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Hey guys!  It’s Sweet-Tooth Friday, so this is Christine checking in with a new healthy dessert.  I am so excited for this week’s post— it’s a recipe from a brand-spankin’ new book by Elizabeth Gordon called Allergy-Free Desserts.

9780470448465 262x300Matt and I were sent this book to review and I am pretty stoked because it is my first piece of “swag,” even though I probably would have run out and bought it anyway!  The focus of Allergy-Free Desserts is, you guessed it, food allergies.  Funny how healthy baking and allergy-free baking are so aligned; both styles avoid foods that make us sick in more ways than one.

Anyway, all the recipes in this book are gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, and nut-free.  What’s left, you ask?  Pure baking-physics-defying delectability.  Well, that and sugar.  Elizabeth is not ashamed of leaving the sugar in these desserts.  Agave nectar and other sugar substitutes can compromise the structure of cake, and gluten-free goodies already struggle to win the dense-as-bricks war.  And, as she explains, sugar is ok in moderation and better than processed fructose.

christine allergy free photo 300x200The book and the photography are laid out in gorgeous, chic photographs— it feels nothing like a dusty hippy compromise for dessert.  I have made vegan gluten-free desserts before with some success, like the carrot macaroonsBut to be honest, I have never tasted a vegan gluten-free dessert this good before. This pineapple-upside down cake is just divine.

The ingredient list may look intimidating at first, but once you have a few key ingredients on hand, the door to gluten-free baking is unlocked.  You’ll need to invest in some xanthan gum to help the cake rise.  Elizabeth provides an excellent recipe for your own gluten-free flour mix made of garbanzo flour, potato starch, and tapioca flour.  If you purchase a pre-made mix, look for a batch that is made with predominantly garbanzo bean flour instead of rice.  The rice is what gives gluten-free goodies their gritty stigma.

Here is the recipe from Elizabeth Gordon’s Allergy-Free desserts, (Wiley) reprinted with permission.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup organic palm fruit oil shortening
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 14 oz can pineapple rings packed in syrup, drained
  • 7 maraschino cherries
  • 2/3 cup gluten-free vanilla rice milk
  • 3/4 tsp cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp ground flaxseed meal
  • 1 1/2 cups Betsy’s baking (gluten-free flour) mix
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Serves 6 to 8

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a heavy 10-inch cast-iron skillet or 10-inch round cake pan, melt 1/4 cup of the shortening over medium heat.  Remove from the heat and sprinkle the brown sugar over the melted shortening.  Arrange the drained pineapple in a circular pattern over the bottom of the pan, placing 1 cherry in the middle of each pineapple ring.
In a small bowl, make “buttermilk” by combining the rice milk and cider vinegar.  In a small cup, comobine the water and flaxseed meal and allow to thicken for 3 to 5 minutes.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the baking mix, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and xanthan gum.  Add the remaining 1/3 cup shortening, the “buttermilk” mixture, granulated sugar, and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the flaxseed mixture and beat until thoroughly combined.
Pour the batter on top of the pineapple in the cast-iron skillet.  Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in teh center comes out clean.  Remove it form the oven and immediately turn the cake upside down on a serving platter, leaving the pan in place on top of the cake for a few minutes whilte the borwn sugar runs down the sides of trhe cake.  Allow the cake to cool complteely before serving.
Store the cooled cake, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days.

allergy free pineapple upside down cake photo 1024x682

Yum, yum, and yum again.  This was a hit at my house!  I can definitely see myself baking this one again, even for people who can have gluten!  Who wouldn’t prefer chickpea flour over empty carbs when it tastes this good? Plus, it was really cool to bake in a cast-iron skillet.  Hardcore!

Give this cake a shot, and come back next week when I’ll post the chat I had with the author, Elizabeth Gordon.  Yep, lil ol’ me did an interview!  Elizabeth is sweet as allergy-free pie, and I learned all about her unconventional culinary journey.

See you next Sweet-Tooth Friday!
xoxo, Christine

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Hungry for meat? Eat this instead.

Now that I’m almost a year removed from eating it, I’m surprised at how infrequently I crave meat.  But it’s not that it’s completely unappetizing: Though I feel a little queasy when I think about eating a steak or chicken off the bone, I still sometimes miss the taste of a plate of buffalo wings, or a really nicely-cooked piece of lamb with a Chianti Classico.  It’s not often, but there are definitely times when I miss these things, usually after something else triggers the memory of eating them.

Fake meats generally do a poor job of replicating the experience.  They might look and feel like meat, but the essential goodness of the taste is missing.  Meat has a depth of flavor that I have yet to get from a soy imitation.

Fake meat meets its match

wine braised lentils photo 300x225But there are ways to get close to that deep flavor, and today’s recipe succeeds in doing so as well as any other vegetarian meal I’ve had.  What’s more, this wine-braised lentil stew served over toast actually provides many whole-food nutrients, something that imitation meats rarely do.

Lentils are great poor-person food — they’re cheap, packed with nutrition, and they contribute their own earthy flavor in addition to absorbing the flavors they’re cooked with.  This recipe, from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Suppers (my featured cookbook this week), uses green or black lentils rather than the standard brown, and elevates the simple ingredient to fancy-food status.  Like so many other recipes in Deborah’s cookbook, this one’s fit for company, even the carnivorous kind.

The lentil stew is braised in red wine for about 40 minutes, but the rest of the cooking is simple and can be done while the lentils simmer.  Forty minutes will cook off most of the alcohol in wine, but just to be on the safe side and not start our unborn baby on the bottle too early, I used alcohol-free wine for the cooking.  I drank a glass of the wimp wine,  too, and boy did it suck.  Talk about “essential goodness” being missing!  I can’t believe I used to drink this swill when I gave up alcohol for three months before a marathon, sort of just to prove to myself that I wasn’t addicted to a nightly glass of wine or beer.  For the record, the brand is fre — I guess it’s pronounced “fray,” as in ‘fraid not.

Anyway, unlike the wine, this dish is fantastic.  My sister and mom loved it when I made it for them a long time ago, and Erin and I liked it even more this time, when we made the vegan version and “splurged” for the green lentils (the term is relative; we’re talking about lentils here).

Here’s the recipe, printed with Deborah Madison’s permission.  Note she does not recommend terrible, alcohol-free wine.  I should have bought the Barbera.

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Wine Braised Lentils over toast with spinach and red pearl onions

Serves 4

This may not be usual fare, but lentils over toast make a delicious winter supper, especially when they’ve been cooked in wine.  Butter is very good with lentils, so use some to finish them before serving.  Or use walnut oil, which is not only delicious, it makes the dish vegan.

Serve with a medium-bodied red wine with balanced fruit, acidity, and earthiness. A Barbera from the Piedmont or a Croze-Hermitage from the Rhone, make a good match with earthy lentils.

Cook the lentils first. Prepare the greens and the onions while the lentils are cooking, combine them at the end, and serve.

  • 3/4 cup French green or black “caviar” lentils, cleaned and rinsed
  • 1/3 cup each diced onion, carrot, and celery
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, 1 crushed, 1 halved
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups dry red wine
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • 12 small red pearl onions
  • 1 tablespoon butter or walnut oil, to taste
  • 4 slices sturdy country bread
  • 1 big bunch spinach or other greens, such as Tuscan kale, leaves only, washed

1.  Parboil the lentils for 5 minutes and drain.

2.  Heat I tablespoon of the oil in a 2 or 3-quart saucepan.  Add the diced vegetables and cook over medium-high heat for several minutes, browning them a bit.  Add the crushed garlic, mash the tomato paste into the vegetables, then pour in the wine and stir in the mustard.  Add 1 1/2 cups water, the drained lentils, and 1-teaspoon salt.  Simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

3. While the lentils are cooking, blanch the pearl onions in boiling water for 1 minute, then drain.  Peel off the outer layer, then put them in a pan with the rest of the olive oil and cook over medium heat, sliding them in the pan now and then, until tender and beginning to color. Add a splash of wine or water towards the end and deglaze the pan. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Wilt the spinach in a skillet in the water clinging to its leaves, season with salt and pepper.  (Tuscan kale will take about 7 minutes.)  Stir the cooked greens into the lentils, add a tablespoon of butter or the walnut oil, taste again and season with salt, if needed, and pepper.

5.  Make the toast and rub it with garlic.  Cut each piece in thirds and arrange them on the plates.  Spoon the lentils over the toast and garnish with the onions.

Alright, I’m out.  More snow’s a’comin’, so I’m going to try to log in some miles today while I can, even though I’m still recovering from a killer speed workout yesterday.  I’m need to get back in 3:10 shape before I even think about 3:00 shape!  I also wrote a new Running Shorts post yesterday, about how to keep from getting bored while you’re running.  Not usually a problem for speed workouts, but on long runs, boredom is my mortal enemy.

And as I finish this post, I’m polishing off the last of my raw chia energy bar stash.  Time to make more!

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The 7 Secrets of Post-Workout Recovery

Everyone loves the post-workout meal.  It serves as a reward, a celebration of having worked your ass off, and it’s a fantastic excuse to eat some of the sugars and simple carbs that we avoid most other times.

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Mooove over, chocolate milk.

But many athletes are mistaken or unsure about what to eat after a workout. People are fond of believing that a glass of chocolate milk is the perfect post-workout meal.  As someone who subsisted on the stuff for weeks at a time as a kid, I was delighted the first time I heard this news.  But although it has a good carb-to-protein ratio, chocolate milk usually brings with it high-fructose corn syrup, and always the many downsides of dairy.

In search of a better way to refuel, I pored over several of my favorite sports-nutrition tomes: Chris Carmichael’s Food for Fitness, Thrive, Core Performance Endurance, and The Paleo Diet for Athletes.  (I don’t follow the meat-happy Paleo diet anymore, obviously, but I still like it for its section on workout nutrition.)  Interestingly, I found several recurrent ideas shared by these authors and athletes who are otherwise divergent in their approaches to the optimal diet for athletes.

I’ve compiled those ideas, plus a few that are less universal, but obviously important, into this list to help you decide what to eat after a workout, and when to eat it.

1.  Respect the fuel window. In the 15-60 minutes immediately following a workout, your muscles are primed to receive fuel to start the repair process.  Eat (or drink) your recovery meal right away, within the first half hour after the workout is complete.

2.  Make it easy to digest. Your muscles need blood to deliver nutrients to them.  The more of that blood that’s tied up in digesting a hot dog — sorry, any solid food — the less that gets to your muscles.  Ideally, you should get your immediate post-workout fix in liquid form.  Here’s the first strike against chocolate milk: Dairy is notoriously hard to digest.

3. Consume .75 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight, and include protein in a 4:1 or 5:1 carb-to-protein ratio. I’m not usually one for specific numbers around my food, but these were so common that I had to list them.  Your carbohydrates should include high-glycemic index carbs, like glucose (dates are a good way to get it), and some slower-release, even fibrous, carbohydrates as well.  And don’t forget the fat — include about half as many grams of healthy fat as you do protein.  Flaxseed and hemp oils are my favorites.

4. Get out of the acid state with greens or other vegetables and fruits. Intense exercise creates an acidic environment in your body.  If you don’t neutralize the acid with what you eat, your body will use the calcium from your bones and nitrogen from your muscle tissue to neutralize it.  Greens, sprouted vegetables, and certain fruits like lemons and limes have a neutralizing effect on your body.  (Yes, I know it’s weird, but lemons and limes are considered alkaline, not acidic, in the body.)  Strike 2 for chocolate milk, as animal protein is acid-forming.  So are heavily-processed protein powders; I use minimally-processed hemp protein powder in most of my smoothies.

5.  Drink 2 cups of water per pound of body weight lost during exercise. What else is there to say?  You need water, or you’ll die.

6.  Replace lost electrolytes. When you sweat, you lose electrolytes, the little conductors that transmit electrical impulses throughout your body.  So you need to replace them; some good sources of electrolytes are fruit, dulse flakes, a few pinches of sea salt, and Nuun tablets.

7.  Nourish your adrenal glands. Under the stress of an intense workout (or from caffeine if you included that in your pre-workout drink), your adrenal glands work hard to release hormones to help you perform.  To help them recover, add a teaspoon of ground maca, a Peruvian root that packs the added benefits of better sleep and increased libido.  Bonus!

Recovery doesn’t stop with your post-workout meal; you’ll want to eat again an hour or two later, this time focusing more on quality protein.  And there’s more you can do that doesn’t involve food — stretching, self-massage and foam rolling, rest, and even wearing compression socks.  See Megan’s Running Shorts post about workout recovery for details.

Here’s a recipe, from Thrive Fitness, for a recovery drink that satisfies all of the above criteria.  I use slightly less dulse because I’m not completely used to the taste of it.  Also, since this drink contains ground chia seeds, you’ll want to drink it immediately after you make it if you don’t want the chia to gel in the water.

Lemon Lime Recovery Drink

(from Thrive Fitness, reprinted with permission)

  • 4 large Medjool dates (remove pits)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tbsp hemp protein
  • 1 tbsp ground salba
  • 2 tbsp sprouted buckwheat (or substitute cooked)
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • Juice from 1/4 lime
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp ground dulse flakes
  • 1 tsp maca
  • 1 tsp greens powder (chlorella or spirulina)

Blend all the ingredients together in a blender.

Now get out there, so you can come back and recover!  Before you do, take a look at the first post in this series, on what to eat before a workout.  And look for the third and final post, on what to eat during the workout, soon.

For more posts (and recipes) on natural sports nutrition, check out the Running Fuel page.

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Guest post: The no-meat newbie

When I first “met” Susan via email after she ordered a No Meat Athlete shirt, she told me she would be running her first marathon the next day.  Afterward, she sent me her race recap and mentioned that a fall Ironman triathlon was next on her list.  Must already be an accomplished swimmer and cyclist, I figured.  When she told me more, I was so motivated by her story that I asked her to write a guest post to share it with you.  If it doesn’t make you want to get out there and move, check your pulse.

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February, 17, 2010: A day that will go down in history.

You see, on February 17, the No-Meat Athlete, Matt Frazier, called me “inspiring.” ME. Me who trips over almost everything, sings loud and off-key songs from the 80’s to her dogs, and has a tendency to embarrass herself without even trying. “Inspiring?” Frazier must have been high. There was no other explanation.

If you had told me three years ago that I’d be inspiring to a vegetarian endurance athlete, I’d have looked at you like you were dense. My jaw would have dropped open, probably revealing a half-masticated corn dog. No way would I inspire those filthy-hippie-fitness-freak types. I had so many bad habits, I made Lindsay Lohan look like Shirley Temple.

But that was 2 years and 70 pounds ago. That was the moment I became a vegetarian. I know I make it sound simplistic, like a televangelist preaching the Gospel of Carrots (“Ohhh, praise ‘da swee’ baby carrot! Deliver us from evil pork! In quinoa’s name, a-VOCADO!”). But really, it didn’t start out easy. I had to consciously make healthier choices, but then something amazing happened: once I started a little bit of the healthy lifestyle, things kind of snowballed from there. I gave up meat, started focusing on eating whole foods, and slowly began to get rid of a lot of my vices. I lost 30 pounds in the process.

That weight loss was one major reason I started working out. One lifestyle change led to another: My New Year’s resolution for 2009 was to run (not walk) a 5K, which I did in May of 2009. Of course, once that was done, the momentum was there. I needed another challenge. And then another. And then another.

Did I become a filthy-hippie-fitness-freak-type? Heck, no. I set my alarm every day for 4:30 AM with the best of intentions of working out, but my snooze button is so easy to reach. There are days when I eat potato chips. I often roll my eyes at the gym rats grunting as they bench press. And people, I try to be good, I really do…but if you tell me to give up cupcakes, I will drop-kick you. Don’t even scrunch your nose at my god-given right to drink a pint of good beer – last I checked, there was no meat to be found there.

jpg1 682x1024But…I also look at how far I’ve come in the last 2 years, and that reminds me to stay focused on being healthy. I’ve done some more 5Ks, small triathlons, three half-marathons and lost another 40 pounds. This past weekend, I completed the Lost Dutchman Marathon. Nothing I have ever, ever done compares to the feeling I got when I crossed that finish line. I didn’t do anything impressive. My time was 4:32:31, hardly a Boston qualifier. But I have a swagger in my step that says That’s right. I’m a marathoner. Don’t act like you’re not impressed. Two years and 70 pounds ago, I would never have thought I’d have that swagger.

I encourage you to find what gives you that swagger. It doesn’t have to be related to running. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be a goal about vegetarianism. But pick one small lifestyle change; perhaps you’ve thought about giving up soda, taking a Zumba class, or kicking that smoking habit once and for all. I defy you to even try keep it from snowballing into bigger and better things. You just can’t stop it.

Where’s my snowball rolling? Shortly after my first 5K, someone I love finished his 12th Ironman Triathlon, an endurance competition that consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run. Compared to him, I felt like a chump…and I was jealous. While watching the competition, I saw so many different types of people cross the finish line and began to wonder, “Well, if they can do it, why can’t I?” Naïve thinking? Heck, yes. But I was inspired. I started thinking more…and then decided to stop thinking and just start doing. So I got a coach, got a game plan, registered for Ironman Wisconsin 2010, and dived into training. My friends and family, like everything else I’ve done in the past two years, think I’m absolutely nuts. However, they’re nice enough to at least smile when they say it…and tell me they’ll be there to cheer me on. I’m a lucky gal.

My goal for Ironman is, once again, not to do anything impressive…it’s just to finish. That’s my only desire. When my butt gets to the end, I will swagger across the finish line. And then I will have a cupcake and a pint of beer. After all, I really don’t want anyone mistaking me for a filthy-hippie-fitness-freak type…

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Black beans, yellow rice

black beans and yellow rice photo 2 300x225Beans and rice.  Health gurus tell us it’s a match made in nutritional heaven, since each provides the essential amino acids the other lacks.  If beans and rice could talk, they might in a moment of unguarded honesty simultaneously declare, “You complete me.”  Or, perhaps more ethnically accurate, “Me completas.”

I’ve heard that’s a load of garbage, that as long as all the essential amino acids are present in our diets, it doesn’t matter whether we ingest them during the same meal, perhaps even the same day.  Nutrition-nerd arguments aside, there’s another problem with beans and rice: They usually suck when you make them at home.

Maybe my experience has been tainted by the way we used to make them in college.  A can of pinto beans, a bag of instant rice, perhaps a little salt and hot sauce if a beer-fund deficit hadn’t resulted in grocery cuts that month.  There are plenty worse things one can eat in college, but dorm room beans and rice was one I learned to loathe.

vegetarian suppers from deborah madisons kitchen 266x300Thankfully, this recipe for black beans with yellow rice, from this week’s featured cookbook, Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen, is nothing like what I ate as a fresh-faced frosh.  The black beans are dressed up with the familiar Southwest flavors along with the surprising coconut milk, an ingredient also used in the rice.  (If you’re still hung up on coconut oil being a saturated fat, please say goodbye to 1995 and come join us in 2010: It’s one of a few saturated fats that are now considered beneficial.  And since you’re presumably an athlete, you can use the calories.)

Erin and I just ate this one for lunch and really enjoyed it—we found it surprisingly light for such a nutrient-packed meal.  And it’s one of the quicker meals from the book; you can prepare the black beans while you’re waiting twenty minutes for the rice to cook, and have the whole thing on the table in half an hour.

As for the saffron, you really should use it for the flavor it contributes, if not for the beautiful color, but it’s expensive.  A small jar costs well over ten dollars, so if you don’t think you’ll use it again soon, you could probably get by without it.  (I stole some from my sister, who has a spice suitcase that looks like it just came off a boat from the East Indies.)

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And for the rice, the recipe calls for basmati, rinsed well.  Definitely don’t skip out on this step; rinsing the starches off the rice is what helps the grains stay distinct and not all stick together.  And I used brown basmati, ’cause that’s how I roll.

Here’s the recipe, printed with the author’s permission (and the notes are hers).  If you give it a try, let me know how it turns out for you.  And look for another great recipe from Vegetarian Suppers soon.  For now, I’m off for a bean-and-rice-fueled run, the mounds of black snow having finally given way to a thin strip of shoulder on the side of most roads, so my probability of death is significantly lowered.

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Black Beans with Coconut Rice

Serves 4

This particular combination of rice and beans, which is one of my favorites, is one dish where organic canned black beans do just fine if you take a moment to doctor them up.  Vegan as is.

The sweet red fruit of a Chilean Cabernet or Australian Shiraz would be lively partner for both the beans and the rice.  For dessert, I’d go for something tropical and cooling, a mango sorbet, a basket of pineapple guavas, or a ripe cherimoya.

Make the Coconut Rice first (see below).

Ingredients for the beans:

  • 2 teaspoons light peanut oil
  • 1 green pepper, finely diced
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro, plus leaves for garnish
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 scant teaspoon toasted and ground cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon or more to taste, chipotle chile, either powdered or in adobo
  • 2 15-ounce cans organic black beans plus their juice, about 3 cups cooked
  • 1 scant cup coconut milk (or all the coconut milk remaining from the rice)
  • 2 limes, 1 juiced, 1 cup into 4 wedges

1. Start the rice, below.

2. While it’s cooking,  heat the oil in a saucepan.  Add the pepper, onion, and cilantro, and cook, stirring frequently, for about five minutes.  Add the garlic, cumin, chipotle, then the beans and coconut milk.  Bring to a boil and simmer until hot.  Season with salt and add fresh lime juice to taste.

3.  To serve, scoop the hot rice into a wet cup or ramekin and turn it out onto a plate or pasta plate.  Scoot the beans around the rice and garnish with the cilantro leaves, pickled onions, if using, and lime wedges.

The Coconut Rice

Ingredients for the rice:

  • 1 1/2 cups brown or white basmati rice
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 2 pinch of saffron threads (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 4 slender scallions, including the greens, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup sesame seeds (black and white are nice)

1.  Rinse the rice.  Bring 2 cups water and the coconut milk to a boil with the saffron and turmeric.  Add the rice and 3/4 teaspoon salt, cover the pan, and cook over low heat until the rice is done, in about 20 minutes.

2.  Using a fork, gently toss in the scallions, season with pepper.  Scatter the sesame seeds over the rice the toss again. use the rice hot from the pan, pressing it into a cup first, then unmolding it or simply scooping the rice onto the plate. While you can stop here, pickled pink onions and a wedge of lime make a fetching garnish.

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Warm and fuzzies

Saturdays have been my “personal post” days recently, as opposed to the more useful, entertaining info that isn’t about me that I try to post during the week.  That’s been working well, so I’m sticking with it.  Let’s get personal!

Helping people

An email I got from a reader named Bridget this week:

I just wanted to let you know that I completed my FIRST marathon today (the Austin Marathon!!) with no injuries and a smile the whole way. I began training in October and had become a vegetarian in August; your website was INVALUABLE to my training (both the practical advice and the nice mental breaks). It’s nice to know other “no meat athletes” are out there when everyone else is questioning how you can run a marathon without eating chicken!
So thank you and your beautiful wife (and soon to be baby!) for putting the time into this website-it’s changing lives!!!!!!!

I was a little scared when I decided at the beginning of this year to change my blog’s content and start posting only WHAT I felt like posting, WHEN I felt like posting. But thanks to Bridget and a slew of other readers who have recently taken the time to drop me a line and let me know they appreciate what I’m doing, I no longer have any doubt that it was the right decision. As I’ve said before, helping people accomplish impossible goals (without eating animals) is absolutely the thing that keeps this going. So thank you, readers. And congratulations, Bridget.

Helping animals

By my calculation, traffic to this website during the month of January raised just over ninety dollars for the Humane Society of the United States. This is on pace to exceed my goal of donating $1,000 to help save animals this year, and I can’t tell you how proud that makes me. Better still, February is on pace to be even bigger. And you should feel good too, since it’s you whose daily check-ins actually earn that money. (Feed subscribers: don’t forget to visit the actual site every once in a while to help those animals.)

I’ve emailed the Humane Society about setting up some sort of page where you can keep track of how much we’ve raised, and donate more if you’d like. Haven’t heard back from them yet. (Hmm, if someone were emailing me wanting to give me money…oh well, maybe they have lots of people doing that.)

More inspiration

While we’re all feeling gooey inside, here are links to three other blog posts I read this week that struck me as particularly insightful or motivating.

New: Featured Cookbooks

Rather than continuing with the the haphazard cooking and random adaptations of recipes I’ve done for most of this blog’s life, I’ve decided to clean up the cooking around here.  Now that I’m a big-boy blogger, I’ve found most authors eager to let me share some of their recipes (completely unbastardized!) on No Meat Athlete.

So here’s what I’m going to do: Each week or month, depending on how many recipes I’m allowed to share, I’ll feature a certain cookbook that I really like in the sidebar.  And while it’s featured, that’s where most of my recipes will come from.  You dig?  This week it’s Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen, a cookbook whose recipes are a little more involved than what I usually cook, but always worth the extra effort.

50K’s fate hangs in the balance

It’s been about a week and a half since the second blizzard hit us, and finally some of the snow is starting to melt.  But there’s still well over a foot on the ground in a lot of places, and I can only imagine that the trails aren’t any prettier.  So my 50K next week at Hashawha Hills is in serious jeopardy.  I heard that the race directors are making a decision this weekend about it.  Seriously, if we’re going to be running through eight inches of snow, I’d just as soon have them cancel it.

That’s all the random hodgepodge I have for today.  Lots of great posts in line for this week, including the recovery-drink follow up to 5 Keys to the Pre-Workout Meal Everyone Should Know, and that major interview I mentioned that I’m over the moon about (hint: Born to Run, not the author, or The Boss).  Assuming nothing falls through, that is… fingers crossed.

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