1:34:27 — Exhaustion Never Felt So Great

[Running photo 1]

I said I’d be ecstatic, and I am.  Ecstatic, and really tired.  I amazed myself today. It’s not that I thought I couldn’t run a half marathon in under 1:35– I knew that I could do that on a flat course.  But as we drove up a two-mile long hill in the middle of the very hilly route yesterday, I couldn’t keep from my mind the thought that 1:45 was a more likely finish time.

After my two-month break from running because of a knee injury, my training has been sparse, to say the least.  A weekly track workout for the past month, long runs of eight, ten, and twelve miles at about eight-minute pace, and mostly just rest in between.  No reason to suspect any real improvement (other than injury rehab) in my fitness level.

013But right from the start today, I felt stronger than I’ve ever felt in a race. I had planned to start at a 7:15 minute-per-mile pace and hold onto that for as long as I could, figuring I’d lose it once the hills started to wear on me.  But my watch read 6:50 after the first (uphill) mile and I thought “I can keep this up for a while.”  So I did.  I ran the next two miles at about the same pace, and the fourth in 6:30– it was downhill.  I kept running sub-sevens until the dreaded two-mile hill at mile seven.  The first mile of the hill was alright; I think I did it in about 7:15.

The second mile of the hill  was brutal.  I almost stopped to walk, something I haven’t done in a race in a long time.  I didn’t, but as I neared the top of the hill, I thought to myself, “This is where all those fast miles catch up with me; there’s no way I’ll recover from this.”  It easily may have been the worst hill I’ve ever had to climb in a race. I completed this eighth mile in well over eight minutes, dashing my unexpected hope of finishing in under 1:30.

The rest of the race is a blur.  I did somehow recover from the kill-on-the-hill, logging a few more miles at about seven minutes, and there was one more tough hill at mile eleven.  The final half mile was run through some horse stables and around an old horse track.  I was under the impression that horses don’t race there anymore, but they must at least still come to go to the bathroom, judging from the smell.  It was kind of fun to run around their track, but more than fun, it was annoying having to run through soft dirt at the end of the race.  I entered the track pretty certain that I’d beat 1:35, but still had to haul ass in that dirt to actually do it.

But alas, I did it.  And I’m so excited about the potential for my Boston qualifying in the fall. 1:35 is really nothing special, as 1:31 in a half is considered “equivalent” to 3:10 in a full.  But this course was so much tougher than my full marathon course will be.  In fact, I’m thinking of adding a (flat) half to my training schedule just to see how much I can tear it up.

[Matt and Erin front]What I’m happiest about is that I’ve made these inexplicable gains in my fitness level.  Inexplicable, that is, if you don’t consider my diet. I’m a natural skeptic, so I’m reluctant to just attribute everything to being vegetarian for a month and a half, and pescetarian for a month before that.  But I do believe that it has played a big part, because something has to be responsible!  Maybe it’s the five to seven pounds I’ve shed since I started eating this way.

Finally, thanks to my wonderful wife Erin and to Colleen and Joel for cheering me on today.  Erin got in a four-mile run herself on the course, just trying to see me at as many spots as possible, and she even ran with me for a few hundred yards!  The three of them were the loudest cheering section I heard for any individual today, and if you’ve run any distance races before, you know what a difference that makes.

Enjoy the pictures.  Cool shirts, huh?  Most of the photos came out blurry for some reason, so I don’t have too many to post.  But I’ll get the professional ones soon and post those.  I don’t have official results yet (like split times and what place I finished), but I’ll post those as well when I get them.

[Update:  I just got my results I finished in 49th place, out of 1466 finishers! And 9th out of 109 in my age division (men 20-29).  I’m like, a real runner!]

[Matt and Erin back]

[Medal photo]

[Medal and blanket photo]



Two Faces of Vegetarianism: Not-Dogs and the Farmers Market

[Farmers market photo]Fake-Meat Soy Products

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you know that I don’t like fake food, which often travels under its alias, “health food.”  In particular, I HATED Gimme Lean fake ground beefBut the other day I was in a convenience store while I was getting gas, and I smelled hot dogs and started craving them! And I didn’t even like hot dogs all that much when I used to eat meat!

To satisfy the craving, I made an exception to my no-fake-food rule and picked up some LightLife Smart Dogs (let’s just call them not-dogs) and whole wheat buns at the grocery store.  The not-dogs are made primarily of water, soy protein isolate, wheat gluten, and evaporated cane juice.  Make no mistake– I don’t endorse eating this kind of junk on a regular basis. Nutritionally they look ok, with zero fat and a little bit of protein, but I can promise you that this food won’t support you the way good whole fruits and veggies will.

[Smart Dog photo]We threw these dogs on the grill yesterday for lunch, and they actually weren’t bad.  They tasted pretty much like flavorless hot dogs, but the truffle mustard that we added made our foray into fake-food land just a little more gourmet.  Whereas Gimme Lean ground beef was so disgusting because it was not only tasteless but also slimy, these not-dogs were also pretty tasteless but texturally not unlike real hot dogs.  Since most hot dogs are processed and slimy inside anyway, I guess it’s not difficult to replicate their mouthfeel with fake food.   So I might bring these along next time the idea of having grilled veggies at a cookout just isn’t doing it for me.

Real Food at the Farmers Market

On a much, much healthier, real-foodier note, Erin and I hit the farmers market this morning. More and more vegetables (and people) are starting to show up each week.  Which is good, because buying asparagus and spring mix was starting to get old.  This week we scored some strawberries, snap peas, spinach, red leaf lettuce, and the best whole wheat rolls I’ve ever had in my life!  Here are some gratuitous photos of the haul.  Warning: What follows may be disturbing to those not accustomed to eating real food!

[Strawberries photo]

[Snap peas photo]

[Spinach photo]

[Red leaf lettuce photo]

[Rolls photo]

Love it!  Find your local farmers market at Local Harvest and start supporting the local food movement.  Trust me, your body will thank you.

We went to our friends Eric and Laurie’s house last night for some grilling and O’s-watching.  We were expecting a literal sausagefest— Eric and Laurie eat very healthily, but you know how grill-outs usually are.  But to our surprise, they had planned a vegetarian-friendly meal!  No not-dogs necessary!  We had quinoa, veggie-kabobs, and a fantastic mushroom, corn, and black bean saute with wilted spinach.  Thanks, Eric and Laurie!

I do wonder how the four brewskis I downed will affect me in my half marathon tomorrow.  But what are you going to do?  Actually I feel totally fine today, so there won’t be any effect tomorrow.  I picked up my race packet today, and then Erin and I drove the course.  Way more hills than I expected!  If I can run a 1:35 on that course, I’ll be ecstatic. I’ve decided I’m going to go out at that pace and just see how long I can keep it up.  I’ve got to at least give myself a chance at a PR, right?

I’ll post results and pictures tomorrow, so check back then to see how I did.  If there’s no post, it’s a safe bet that I’m in the hospital.  So wish me luck, and wish for a post!

[Update: I submitted this post to Fight Back Fridays, check it out and be a Food Renegade!]



Stir-Fry Crazy

I’m amazed at all the 30-Day Challenge commitments coming in, keep it up!  The reason I’m putting your names (and links) up, of course, is so that your commitments are there for everyone to see.  This way your friends will make fun of you if you quit!  I badly want a nice cup of coffee this morning, but there’s no chance I’ll drink one, because how ridiculous would I look up here in front of everyone if I did it? If you’re not used to making decisions (or making them last, anyway), then your first instinct is to not let too many people know about your commitment, just in case you fail.  But that’s the point– tell everyone, so that you can’t fail!

If you haven’t committed to a 30-Day Challenge yet, you still can, and I’ll still put your name up.  But let’s say only until June 1st.  This is something we’re doing together, so it doesn’t make much sense to start weeks apart from each other.  Keep leaving comments to let us know how you’re doing, and maybe we can get some guest posts from those of you who succeed.

I’m still on my no-pasta kick (I don’t think it’s unhealthy; I just got sick of it).  So I had a delicious lunch of tofu and broccoli over brown rice at Pei Wei the other day.  I’d never even heard of a Pei Wei before; it just happened to be the only alternative to Wendy’s and Chick-Fil-A when I was stranded waiting for my car to be fixed.  It turns out Pei Wei is a faster, more casual version of P.F. Chang’s, owned by the same company. I ordered ginger broccoli with tofu and vegetables over brown rice, and they sat me and brought it out within five minutes.  It was such a good meal, and all for less than eight dollars!  So much better than I’d have gotten at any fast food place.

So last night, I did my best to replicate that meal at home.  Historically, my stir-frys have sucked, so I vowed this time not to overcook the vegetables and to only add the sauce during the last few seconds, so that the vegetables wouldn’t absorb it and lose all of their wondeful crispiness.  And it worked!

[Stir Fry photo]

Here’s what we did.  Erin found a quick teriyaki recipe on allrecipes.com: 2/3 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup cooking sherry, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon grated ginger (the recipe called for ground ginger, weird), 1 minced clove of garlic.  Very easy, and about twice as much as you need.  We cooked some brown rice– I used to use the boil-in-bags, but recently I’ve done it the real way, for the whole hour, and it’s much better (probably more nutritious too).  I seared some tofu with a little soy sauce, then heated a big skillet over very high heat, and once it was really hot I added some canola oil.  You don’t want to use olive oil with high heat; it smokes too easily.  Then I added vegetables, in order of how long it would take them to cook.  Broccoli first for a few minutes, then snap peas, then thinly sliced carrots.  Finally, when the vegetables were still crisp, I added the tofu and about half the teriyaki sauce and let it reduce for just a minute or two before serving it over rice.  Of course, you can use whatever vegetables you want for this.  Season with a little salt along the way, and don’t fry any minced garlic with the vegetables unless you have a good way to prevent it from burning (and if you do, tell me how).

As I said, it turned out really well!  Much better than previous attempts at stir-frying.  I wish the sauce had been thicker, like it was at Pei Wei.  But I can’t complain much. Another delicious, meatless meal fit to fuel an active life, exactly what we aim for around here!



Three Days Without Coffee and Still Kickin’

Reader 30-Day Challenges

Wow, my innocent query “What change do YOU need to make for the next 30 days?” has inspired quite a few of you to join me in this challenge!  Here’s what we have so far:

  • I’m giving up coffee
  • Christine is starting the Core Performance Essentials program, a fitness plan that I really like
  • VeggieRunnr (from Veggie Runnr) is giving up cheese (and has encouraged her readers to take the challenge! See her post about it.)
  • Holly (from The Healthy Everythingtarian) is going to reduce the amount of coffee she drinks
  • Colleen and Joel are giving up soda
  • Jeffrey is going big and giving up soda, alcohol, chips and cookies!
  • Krys (from Two Vegan Boys) is giving up coffee
  • Katherine (from A Runner Wife’s Life) is giving up dessert
  • Pete (of guest post fame) is giving up all caffeine and running a 5k
  • Angie is giving up all red meat, pork, and poultry, and exercising 3o mins/day (wow!)
  • Laura is going to walk a mile and run four flights of stairs each day (change doesn’t have to mean giving something up)
  • My mother is going to limit herself to 1200 calories per day (I really need to get her eating plan together so she can stop this self-torture!)
  • Nicole (from Goddess of Everything) is giving up emotional eating, and mentioned this challenge on her blog

[Green tea photo]A lot of good is happening here, people!  I started three days ago, VeggieRunnr started when she aborted her plans for pizza a few days ago, and I’m not sure if the rest of you have started.  If not, why not make your official start right now? Don’t wait!  How many times have you heard someone say “I’m not smoking anymore after this pack is done”?  If you have to wait, then you don’t really want to change.  Start now!  Need extra motivation to stick with it?  Brag about your blogosphere fame by showing this post to as many people as you can, so that you’ll never hear the end of it if you wimp out on your commitment (“Share on Facebook,” hint, hint)!  This is the way to make it a “must,” not a “should.”  And for you stragglers, it’s still not too late; just leave a comment with your 30-day commitment and I’ll add you to the list.

I’m doing just fine without the coffee, though of course I still crave it.  I’ve been drinking loose green tea, which (according to my extensive and official internet research) has about one-eighth the caffeine content of coffee.  And trust me, I don’t drink nearly as much green tea as I did coffee, so my caffeine intake is a tiny fraction of what it was.  Hooray for change!  This morning I had my tea with some Wasa crispbreads and almond butter.

[Crispbreads with almond butter photo]

Eat ‘n’ Run

Erin and I made smoky black bean and cheddar burritos with baby spinach last night, our first repeated dinner since I started this blog over two months ago.  This approachable meal was one of the first that a lot of readers tried, and everyone who makes it seems to love it.  Especially with those toasted pepitas!

Interestingly, someone commented that the tortillas I used back then actually contain lard, which, in addition to being an animal product, has the virtue of being disgusting.  This time I bought lard-free (actually, vegan) Nature’s Promise Organic Whole Wheat Tortillas.  Their ingredient list is so much shorter than that of any other tortilla brand I saw.  I love Nature’s Promise stuff!  And it’s the Giant organic store brand, so it’s cheap too.

I went for an easy seven-mile run on the trail yesterday, foregoing my track workout since my half marathon is Sunday and my knee doesn’t need that kind of abuse.  It felt tight for the first minute or two of the run, but after that everything was completely fine.  In the spirit of taking it easy, I didn’t bring a watch, iPod, or heart rate monitor.  Unplugging once in a while is good for the runner’s soul.

I must say I’m getting nervous about my race on Sunday. I suppose it’s because I just haven’t logged in that many good runs with all the rest I’ve given to my knee.  And I really wonder how it’s going to hold up to my pushing it hard over rolling hills for 13.1 miles.  Or how I’m going to hold up.  I worry about overestimating my fitness level and going out way too fast.  But that’s just how I am; I can’t pace myself for anything less than a personal best.  If I’m not shooting for something great, then I’d just as soon stay in bed on Sunday morning.



Couscous Cakes– Not as Lame as They Sound!

[Salad close photo]I’ve never been a huge fan of having salad for dinner.  With dinner, yes; for dinner, no.  But I’ve been trying to get more fresh greens in my diet since realizing last week that I had been feeling a little sluggish as a result of getting lazy in the kitchen.  Or more accurately, getting lazy with my shopping.  When I shop and cook lazily (or don’t cook at all), I still eat pretty well.  But fresh greens and veggies are usually the first thing to go.  That’s the great thing about having a blog though– if I start slacking, you’ll notice!  Well, one of the great things.  Maybe not as great as free yogurt.

So I decided to put my machismo aside (as if there were any to begin with) and make a salad for dinner. But there’s a bonus!  Wait for it, wait for it… couscous and chickpea cakes!  Hmm, doesn’t sound like such an exciting bonus, does it?  But I’m trying to get some extra whole grains this week before my race on Sunday, plus chickpeas are an awesome protein source for a vegetarian athlete.  And believe it or not, these cakes actually make the meal!  Of course, Erin and I helped out a little.

[Couscous cakes photo]Here’s the recipe, from Fine Cooking.  I haven’t been making their stuff much recently because they keep changing the pages later so that you have to sign up for something to see the recipes.  So if you’re going to make this one, do it soon!

We changed just a few things with this recipe.  I couldn’t find canned artichoke bottoms at the store, so we just used hearts.  Funny how they make artichokes sound like people, with bottoms and hearts.  I love artichokes recently, ever since I started eating meatless muffaletta sandwiches.  Also, I used my Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt instead of sour cream, and instead of using just baby spinach, we added some spring mix from the farmers market.  And we used whole wheat couscous and substituted canola oil for the EVOO.  Oh and one more substitution, I used the word “EVOO” instead of “extra-virgin olive oil,” because Rachael Ray has infected my brain!

[Whole plate photo]This meal was surprisingly good.  I say “surprisingly” because I was expecting it to be a little bland.  But it wasn’t at all!  The couscous cakes were awesome, though ours didn’t brown up quite as nicely as I had hoped.  And I overcrowded the pan, making them in one batch instead of two, resulting in about a 50 percent success rate of cakes making it to the plate intact.  But no problem; I made a double recipe (who wants to use half a can of chickpeas?), so I just tossed the crumbled ones with some salad today for a really tasty lunch.  Two complaints with this meal: the dressing was too lemony-tart, and the meal took much longer than I think a salad should.  For the dressing, I’d use less lemon or add something to balance it.  The feta cheese did this to an extent, but not enough.  Maybe some honey?

I’m so glad that some readers are joining me in making a change for 30 days! It’s not too late to sign up.  The signup process is extremely complicated; you have to leave a comment and say what change you’re making.  And then change it, for 30 days!  After that, you can go back if you want, no guilt attached.  But you’ll have broken the habit, and if you choose to go back, at least you’ll know that you own the habit, not the other way around.



Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt and a New Coffee Challenge

Some car fairy must have heard me complaining about having to drive so far to Erin’s car guy, because yesterday the exact same problem started happening in my car!  So here I sit, in a Panera Bread, while the car guy fixes it.  Yes, Erin’s car guy.

[Oikos yogurt image]I recently switched back to regular yogurt from soy, primarily because I didn’t like the taste of soy yogurt, but also because I’m trying to reduce the amount of soy I get on a regular basis.  I have no problem eating tofu or tempeh every now and then; I’d just prefer that my daily smoothie not be a soy bomb.  I’ve been buying Nature’s Promise Organic Yogurt, but I’ve been really tempted to spend the extra cash for the Greek yogurts that are all the rage nowadays. They’re loaded with protein, and even though I don’t fret over nutrition facts, as a vegetarian endurance guy I do try to get extra protein when possible.

[Erin with bag image]So you can imagine my excitement when, this weekend, I got a package from the nice people at Stonyfield Farm, makers of Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt (yes, I get excited about this stuff).  In the package were coupons for lots of free yogurt to review on my blog, this nice reusable shopping bag (modeled by the lovely Erin), and even a handwritten card to thank me for trying their yogurt!  Talk about good customer relations, and I’m not even a customer (though I soon will be, read on).

Greek yogurt, I’ve now discovered, is about a billion times creamier than regular yogurt.  So much creamier, it’s hard to even compare the two as the same food.  Greek yogurt is thick like sour cream, which means it would be excellent for cooking (and would have been great in buffalo tempeh wraps).  And oh by the way, Oikos is 100% organic, 0% fat, has 23 grams of protein per cup as compared to 11 grams per cup of regular yogurt, and has 9 grams of sugar per cup as compared to 16 for regular.  These stats, by the way, are for the plain; I really only use yogurt in smoothies and in cooking, so this is the kind I’ll be eating most of the time.

[Granola image]The taste of this yogurt is just as you’d expect– really creamy, so much so that the plain tastes a lot like sour cream and would be nearly indistinguishable in cooking.  And it made for a deliciously creamy smoothie this morning.  The vanilla would be suitable as a dessert topping; we mixed it up with some Bear Naked granola and it was scrumptious (which says a lot, since I don’t eat this type of girly snack).

30 days without coffee

In other news, I was inspired by Pete’s saying in his guest post that he had given up coffee as part of his new diet, the result of his reading this blog.  So what kind of inspirition would I be if I continued to drink it regularly?  The answer, NMA’s-in-training, is “not any kind of inspiration at all”!  I’ve also realized that as much as I love the buzz and the energy I get while I’m drinking coffee, I really hate the way it makes me feel for the rest of the day. I don’t get that crash that people talk about; I just get a lot of anxiety.  And as relaxed a person as I usually am, I’m really vulnerable to anxiety; I even dealt with a pretty significant issue a few years back.  Who needs that from their breakfast?

So here’s what I’ve decided: no coffee for 30 days.  Not once or twice a week; none of that wimpy, ineffective moderation.  If you were to get really creative, you might even call this a 30-Day Challenge!  So that’s that.  I have no doubt that I’ll be able to do it, having committed to my decision.  And after 30 days (June 26), I’ll decide if I want to allow myself to drink it every once in a while or not.  If so, fine.  If not, all the better.

What change do YOU need to make for the next 30 days?



Farmers Market Asparagus Ragout with Polenta

[Ragout close up image]Erin and I have been to the farmers market plenty recently, but I believe this is the first time we’ve bought something in the morning and cooked it that night.  And really, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be done? This recipe is adapted from the book Vegetarian Suppers by Deborah Madison, something that we picked up in Barnes and Noble the other day.  Erin was leafing through it, reading out awesome-sounding dish after awesome-sounding dish, so we figured as new vegetarians we might as well buy our first vegetarian cookbook.

What we didn’t realize in the store was that a lot of these recipes are REALLY involved, often referencing other recipes, which reference other recipes, and so on for eight or nine iterations.  Ok, not really.  But one iteration.  This recipe is pretty easy though (with no iterations!), except that it requires a good bit of chopping and some time at the stove.  Definitely more fun with two people, just like see-sawing.

meals-0051This dish is loaded with vegetables: swiss chard, leeks, carrots, asparagus, snow peas, mushrooms, and herbs. In fact, it’s essentially a pile of vegetables with some sauce on the plate.  But what a delightful pile it is.  Part of what makes it so delightful is that there’s a substantial amount of butter in the dish.  I try not to use much butter  when I cook, but more and more I’m becoming convinced that saturated fat isn’t all that bad for us. Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman both believe it was rather unfairly associated with heart disease when some studies showed a very weak correlation in the 1960’s.  Like all fat though, butter is very calorie-dense, so I wouldn’t eat it at every meal or anything.

[Ragout on plate image]I’ll keep this short and get right to the recipe so you can get your (hopefully skinny by now) butt into the kitchen to start chopping.  This meal was fantastic.  Erin and I both loved it. Five cows out of five, no doubt about it.  The beurre blanc sauce and fresh tarragon (Erin’s favorite herb) were the perfect finish.  The vegetable stew was so rich and delicious, you couldn’t have paid me to add meat to it.  I loved the polenta– this was the first time I’d made it the real way– but Erin has never been a polenta fan so she could have done with rice or mashed potatoes instead.  That certainly would speed things up too.  We had a nice unoaked (but still nice and vanilla-y) Chardonnay from the dog-friendly Mutt Lynch winery.  Linus had a small taste and approved, but seems a little concerned over the photo setup.

[Linus with wine]Last thing before I give you the recipe– all this chopping of vegetables got me to thinking.  My friend and NMA reader (and guest-poster) Pete was telling me about some of his cooking-learning curve woes, since he’s new to it.  So I’m going to put together a list of all the great, easy tricks I’ve learned for preparing individual ingredients (for example, to find out where to snap the ends off asparagus, just bend one until it breaks, then line the others up and cut them to that length).  I’m thinking this will be something that you can print out and refer to whenever you use a new ingredient, so you’ll learn what’s taken me a few years, in a matter of days. So look for that post soon!

Ok here’s the recipe.  It’s not as simple as most of what I make, but trust me, it’s worth it.  Do all the chopping after you start the polenta, since that part takes over an hour to cook but doesn’t require much attention.

Recipe for Vegetarian Asparagus Ragout with Polenta

Vegetarian Asparagus Ragout with Polenta
Serves: 4 servings
  • 1 bunch red swiss chard with stems (if you can only find green, fine)
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp butter (we used salted butter)
  • 5 teaspoons canola oil
  • ⅓ cup finely diced leek or onion
  • 8 carrots, peeled, sliced lengthwise, and cut into three-inch lengths
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 bunch asparagus, thick ends snapped off
  • ¼ lb snow peas
  • ¾ pound mushrooms (we mixed cremini and shiitake), stems removed, halved or quartered
  • 2 Tbsp fresh tarragon
  • Beurre blanc Ingredients:
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar (we used sherry vinegar, and less since it's strong)
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 2 Tbsp finely diced shallot (use some of the onion or leek if you don't have shallot)
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 6 Tbsp cold butter, cut into pieces
  • Polenta Ingredients (you need a double boiler for this):
  • 1.5 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  1. First start the polenta. Boil a few inches of water in the lower half of a double boiler, then reduce to simmer. Meanwhile, boil a quart of water in the top of the double boiler, placed directly on stove. Once it's boiling, whisk in cornmeal and sea salt until it's smooth. Place on top of the bottom part of the double boiler, still simmering, cover, and cook for a little over and hour or so until it's cooked all the way through. Stir every 20 minutes or so and make sure there's always water in the bottom of the boiler.
  2. For the beurre blanc, simmer the vinegar wine, shallot, and a pinch of salt in a pan and reduce it down to 2 Tbsp. Off the heat, whisk in the butter one piece at a time, to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. You can do this while you're cooking the vegetables if you want.
  3. For the ragout, chop the leaves off the chard stems and very roughly chop the leaves. Chop the stems into 2-inch lengths. Boil 3 cups water, add a little salt, and simmer the stems for 5 minutes, then add leave and cook for another 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  4. Heat 1 Tbsp each of butter and oil in large skillet that has a lid. Cook onion and carrots over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, then reduce heat to medium. Add wine, and when the pan is almost dry add 1 cup water and the asparagus. Season with salt, lower heat more, cover, and cook until tender, 6 more minutes. Add peas for 2 minutes.
  5. Heat the rest of the butter and oil in a wide skillet over high heat. When butter foams, add mushrooms and saute until browned, about 5 minutes. Then reduce heat to medium for 3-4 more minutes until tender. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Put some vegetables on each plate, top with chard and stems, some pan juice, some beurre blanc, mushrooms, and tarragon. Serve alongside polenta.


One Week Until My Half Marathon!

[Oats image]Happy holiday-weekend Sunday, readers!  I started my day with a smoothie (no coffee all weekend, thank you very much), this time with rolled oats in it. I got this idea from the blog Kath Eats Real Food.  I love getting lots of whole grains, and “add it to the smoothie” is pretty much the easiest way to get more of anything in your diet.  I didn’t taste much of a difference at all, maybe a little bit more nuttiness, but nothing major.  It did make the smoothie a little thicker and tough to drink though, so I’ll probably save this for the weeks leading up to races, when I’m trying to load up on carbs.

And what a convenient segue into what I really want to write about today: that the Maryland Half Marathon is next Sunday! To be honest, I have no idea what to expect in terms of time.  I’ve only run two official half marathons before, both as a means to get myself running again after a lot of time off.  In fact my fastest half marathon was actually run during the Baltimore Marathon, when I ran the first half in 1:35.  This is exactly the Boston-qualifying pace, but to qualify you need to maintain it for 26.2 miles.  In other words, you can’t die on the course after keeping it up for 16 miles, which is essentially what I did in that marathon, dragging myself across the finish line with a second-half time of around 1:49.  This, marathoners-in-training, is not the ideal way to run one!

At this point in my training– remember my goal is to qualify for Boston at the Wineglass Marathon in October– I hope to be able to run another 1:35 half on Sunday. If you’d have asked me a few months ago, I’d have said 1:25 or 1:30 were a reasonable goal.  But unfortunately, my knee issue has kept me from running hard more than twice per week.  It hasn’t affected any of my recent runs, but it has been hurting me some in between and I’ve had to be very careful to get a lot of rest between workouts.

So we’ll see what happens.  I don’t know anything about the course or, more importantly, what kind of mood my knee will be in on that day.  Race days have a way of dealing out surprises, sometimes good, sometimes very bad, so I won’t take anything for granted until 13 of the 13.1 miles are behind me.

[Matt on bike image]Since the race is next week and I ran 12 miles last weekend, I took it easy on the knee today.  Erin and I went for a bike ride in the morning, and it’s always a tough workout for me to keep up with Erin. Besides the fact that she’s just a better rider, my bike is totally nubbins!  It’s my dad’s old Schwin Montague, which I believe was pretty cool when he bought it in the early 90’s (it’s a mountain bike that folds up to fit in cars, planes, etc.), but now it’s a total piece.  Maybe I’ll be able to sell it as an antique when it’s time for me to buy a real road bike!

After our ride we went for a half-hour run with the dogs to wear them out, and my knee felt fine during that.  So I do have some confidence in it.  I’ll do one more track workout this Wednesday, and on race day I’ll just have to “dance with what I brung”!  Rest assured: whatever the result, I’ll have pictures aplenty.  And barring an emergency ride in the relaxi taxi, I’ll have another medal to hang on my wall.  And you never know– if the knee is kind, maybe a personal best half-marathon time.

[Dogs image]Ok, I have to run.  I’m baking some whole wheat and rye bread today and it’s just about done.  I never bake, so the fact that our house is still inhabitable is an accomplishment in itself.  Enjoy your Memorial Day, and don’t let anyone feed you fake food!  Come back tomorrow; I have what Erin and I both agree is our best vegetarian meal yet for you!