Choose Your Battles

I tend to have a pretty low bar when signing up for road races. Sure, I’ll consider the crucial things, like whether I can actually run that distance or if I’m physically out of town. But mostly I’ll register for anything that crosses my path, especially if 1. The swag is good (see this weekend’s upcoming 5K) or 2. My running coach demands it.

IMG_3520

A little more petting, a little less stretching, please.

So when I first learned about the Fall Foliage Half Marathon in Rhinebeck that took place this past Sunday, the only race research I did was checking my calendar. Even though I wasn’t in half marathon shape when I signed up in May, I figured I could get there by October, so I filled in my info, forked over $75 and started the slow but rewarding process of remembering how to run. I trained all summer, then made my way upstate this weekend for what I assumed would be a walk in the park, considering I’d successfully run 12 half marathons before.

Turns out, I should have done a little more research.

Although this race was ultimately a success for me — I didn’t turn back at mile 3 in tears like I was very, very tempted to do — Sunday’s event was really tough, and it’s mostly my own fault: I didn’t pick the right half marathon for me. Choosing a race simply based on whether it’s close by and the calendar’s free neglects all the other important factors that can help you decide if a specific event is right — or wrong — for your individual needs.

Here are some race factors I wish I’d considered before picking the Fall Foliage Half as my flagship fall race:

  • Start Time. Nearly every race I’ve ever done (save for some NYC marathon waves because 50,000 is a lot of people) starts at the normal hour of 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. or mayyybe 9 a.m. That timing works for me because it’s the same time I do my own training runs, meaning I’ve already figured out what to eat, what to drink and how many port-a-pot trips I need to start the race feeling my very best. I hadn’t realized it when I signed up, but Sunday’s race began at 10 a.m. to allow time for NYC or Albany runners to get into town. While some runners might have appreciated sleeping in, the late start time threw me way off. I didn’t know whether to drink coffee or eat a full meal, or whether my Saturday carbs were still enough to power me through. Even worse: finishing a half marathon under the powerful noon sun is not fun.
  • Course elevation. A race along the Hudson River certainly sounds flat, but my god, this half was anything but. The rolling hills of the first few miles I could manage, but the mountainous out-and-back into a ravine was positively soul crushing, and had I known it would be so hilly, I might have passed on this particular event. I spend a decent amount of time running the Queensboro Bridge, so I thought I was hill-primed, but I was wrong and Sunday’s road did NOT rise up to meet me like all those Irish blessings promised.
  • Spectator Density. I pretend I run races for the BLTs I get to eat afterwards, but it’s really waving at strangers and high-fiving little kids that powers me through. The 2015 NYC marathon left me clutching my side in tears on the race course, but believe you me I’ll never forget the roar of the crowd. I know this about myself — I like races where people come out to watch — so signing up for a small race in a small town probably wasn’t the right move for me. Fortunately, my family knows me well and they were camped out at mile 2.5 with blasting music and a “You Run Better Than the Government” billboard. Flying past then was rejuvenating, but it made for a very lonely rest of the course.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad race — the foliage was lovely, the fellow runners were nice, the course wasn’t packed and the BLT was delicious at the end — and I managed to eke out another sub-two hour time despite some tough middle miles there. But I still struggled Sunday, and let that be a reminder to all of us: when it comes to choosing races, you do you.

Me?

Advertisements
Posted in Races, Recipes, Running | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Oh, Farro Farro

Nearly everything these days makes me feel positively ancient:

  • Re-listening to Rent and siding with Benny.
  • The unfair degree of hangover now induced by two glasses of wine.
  • Spotify putting the Dawson’s Creek theme song on a Good Times, Great Oldies playlist.
  • Realizing some of my co-workers are literally 30 years younger than me.
IMG_1745

But how are her benefits?

But while I wish “ancient” weren’t the right adjective to describe my taste in boy bands (BSB4Life) or my understanding of Snapchat (Is it a snap? Is it a chat?), I don’t mind it when it’s paired with my all-time favorite food group: grains.

That’s right, folks. Today, we’re talking about ancient grains.

Ancient grains seem to be the hot new thing for clean eaters everywhere, but there’s nothing new about them. This family of whole grains has been around for centuries, with most varieties largely unchanged for at least the last several hundred years, according to the Whole Grains Council (which sounds like a delicious place to work.)

After doing Whole 30 last year, I’ve tried to remove from my diet most refined grain products, like white flour and processed crackers. But I don’t want to drop whole grains altogether — I don’t seem to have a problem with them and they’re great for carb loading — so I’ve been working to replace old American staples like white rice and pasta with a rainbow of ancient grains, from quinoa to buckwheat.

Now I’ve tried several of them, and my favorite, hands down, is farro. Farro, which sounds like Joseph of Technicolor Dreamcoat fame’s boss, is a whole grain that’s nutty and chewy like an al dente wild rice or barley. It’s high in protein, iron and fiber, and it’s been popular for so long it has honestly been found in Egyptian tombs.

IMG_3160

Also in ziplock bags in my fridge.

If you can’t do gluten, farro’s not for you, since it’s an ancient relative of modern-day wheat and will mess with your Celiac disease. But if you can handle it, stock up on farro in your bulk food aisle or buy the packaged stuff from Bob’s Red Mill, and start throwing it into your soups, casseroles and risottos for an extra boost of nutrition when rice just won’t cut it.

It’s easy to make: add water or broth with farro to a pot at about a 2-to-1 ratio, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until grains are tender (about 30 minutes) before draining off any excess liquid. Then I partition it out in half-cup increments, pop in the freezer and defrost individual bags as needed for easy grain bowls, salad toppers or stuffed-pepper fillings at the blink of an eye.

IMG_3459

Mmm.

Maybe it’s an ancient grain, but eating it in a nutrient-packed lunch today made me feel almost young again.

Young enough to drink two glasses of wine without a hangover? Maybe not, but at least I’m now wise enough to remember sun protection the next morning is an absolute must.

IMG_3417 (1)

Keira and Lucille-ish.

Do ancient grains have a place in your kitchen? 

Posted in Food | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hot Mess: The Bronx 10 Miler

Say what you want about climate change* but it’s having a pretty horrendous impact on polar bears, Puerto Rico and my racing times.

*As long as what you want to say is “Wow, this is really terrible. What can I do to mitigate my carbon footprint?” and not “Huh? What’s climate change?”

The first two are hands down significantly more important (heck, I even covered polar-bear extinction for my college paper about a million years ago in what probably should have won a Pulitzer), but I’m going to write about the third one because 1. This is a running blog and 2. See reason No. 1.

For those of you living on the eastern seaboard, you probably noticed September was a little hotter than usual. How hot, you ask? In a month that’s usually a harbinger of cozy scarves and pumpkin spice and all the decorate gourds you could fancy, this September brought “super anomalous” temperatures that pushed the mercury into the 90s for several days running in what experts could only refer to as “extreme” heat.

Now that unusual weather’s great if you’re spending your morning on a leisurely hike in a shady Maryland state park with your dog’s aunt and uncle (previously known as my siblings), like I did last Saturday.

IMG_3216

“Um, Mom, is the bridge supposed to be swinging?!”

But when the heat hadn’t broken come Sunday — the day of the legendary Bronx 10 Miler, run exclusively on black pavement on not particularly tree-lined streets — all of us runners lining up at the starting line knew we were in for some pain.

Any runner worth her weight in salt (that’s soon to be sweated out) knows that working out when the weather’s hot is tough. That’s because excess sweating can lead to faster-than-expected dehydration, your heart has to work harder to cool down your body and, let’s be honest, most of us just mentally lose the will to live.

IMG_3231

“I give up.” Alternate caption: Keira returns!

So when the temperature rises, you do what you can to push through safely — drink at every water station, consume extra electrolytes to refill the ones you’re sweating out, take your turns wide in order to spend some extra time in the coveted shade and, sadly, slow your pace to run based on exertion, not time. Those kinds of responses help make sure you finish in one piece without landing in one of the course-side ambulances, but they sure don’t make for a stellar finish.

unnamed

I have bitchy running face but the blurry guy in front looks quite pleased.

Don’t believe me? Check my racing times. Even though this year I should be in better shape than last year, seeing as I’m spending more time running and less time planning a little thing called a (giant Irish) wedding, it took me 1:27:53 to cross the finish line, several minutes longer than in 2016 when temperatures were normal for this time of year.

That’s not unusual, since it’s generally recognized that higher temps mean slower times, but DANG it’s annoying. Ahh well, too bad there’s absolutely nothing we can do about climate change* impacting our race times and are just destined to get slower and slower as the earth warms.

How’d you fare in your hottest race of the season?

*Wait a second

Posted in Races, Running | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celery? More Like Hellery

I try not to get political on this blog, so I’ll leave her position on the minimum wage, carbon emissions and whether or not The Lion King is `gay propaganda’ out of here. But regardless of your personal leanings, I think we can all agree former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has the most controversial and offensive favorite food of all time.

It’s celery. Barf.

I know, I know, celery is supposedly “the healthiest food in the world,” and its marketing team has done an excellent job convincing consumers they burn more calories chewing it than they take in. But let’s be real here for a second: It’s terrible. It’s fibrous and stringy and smelly and gross, and unless it’s doused in ranch dressing or peanut butter or cream cheese with raisins, it should be avoided at all costs.

Much like trying to do floor stretches when you live with a needy Swiss dog.

At least, that’s my take. Apparently the rest of the world doesn’t despise celery as much as I do, making me wonder if celery is my cilantro — a totally innocuous flavor for most that for some reason tastes to me downright offensive. I can handle it raw, like in a tuna salad, but throw celery into a sofrito or a stock or a mirepoix, and I swear it overpowers the entire thing. Sorry, world: This vegetable gets no love in my book.

So imagine my distress when I opened my CSA two weeks ago to discover the biggest head of celery this blogger has ever seen.

Stalks have not been enlarged to show texture.

I pride myself in successfully polishing off each CSA fully before the next one arrives, so when I first saw that bad boy 11 days ago, I put my disgust aside and came up with a game plan to put it to good use. After googling “celery recipes for people who don’t like celery,” I decided to make several celery-starring dishes to hopefully discover I’d been wrong about it all along. I found these three, which seemed totally out of the box and maybe just the kick I needed to finally understand this vegetable’s appeal:

  • Braised Celery with Tomatoes, Chickpeas & Bacon (link)
  • Challah, Mushroom and Celery Stuffing (link)
  • Celery and Fennel Gratin (link)

They were going to be delicious! They were going to be life changing! They were going to change my mind about celery once and for all!

They didn’t happen.

My next CSA comes tomorrow, and for the first time this summer, I’ll pick up a new box with one giant, unused vegetable still sitting in my fridge. To be fair, it hasn’t gone totally untouched: in addition to the above photo shoot, I also tossed a handful of the leaves into a veggie broth this weekend as an act of good faith. Of course, that made the broth taste like death, in my humble opinion, and I immediately regretted the decision, but at least a little of the celery went used.

So I’ve got to know, good people: is there a way to cook celery that honestly tastes good? I suppose I’d scarf it down if I filled it with shredded buffalo chicken and blue cheese (mmm brilliant idea, Anne), but I’d love to find a use that doesn’t completely negate the health benefits of the ingredient itself.

How do YOU celery-brate this unloved vegetable?

Posted in Food | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

The Incredible, Edible Egg Substitute

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but the older I get, the more affinity I find with Disney villains.

  • Like Scar, I have less patience for idiots.
  • Like Shan-Yu, I’ve conquered Mongolia.
  • Like Cruella, I like to be covered in dog fur.

But the bad guy whose characteristics I’ve most embodied isn’t Hook (though I also hate ticking clocks) or the Queen of Hearts (though I’m also bad at croquet) or Snow White’s evil stepmom (though I also choose my apples carefully.) The villain I most resemble these days is none other than provincial French playboy Gaston.

Why, you ask? Because I. Eat. So. Many. Eggs. (Don’t worry, I skipped the rampant misogyny part.)

If you haven’t watched Beauty and the Beast recently (cough cough fool), I’ll remind you that a line in Gaston’s big showstopper goes a little something like this:

“When I was a lad I ate four dozen eggs

Ev’ry morning to help me get large.

And now that I’m grown I eat five dozen eggs

So I’m roughly the size of a barge!”

Gaston’s 60 eggs a day IS a bit excessive, but I’m definitely eating more than that each month. While in childhood my egg consumption peaked around Easter time and Sunday morning breakfasts, my adult self has found eggs aren’t just for special occasions. At about 70 calories apiece, they’re packed with six grams of protein plus iron and nutrients, so if you don’t have cholesterol problems or follow a vegan lifestyle, they’re a great, inexpensive way to fuel up.

I eat eggs all sorts of ways — quiches, breakfast burritos, over grain bowls, mixed into cookie dough — but most of my eggs are made into veggie frittatas. No normal person has time to fry up an omelet before work, but you can cook a 10-egg frittata on Sunday night, cut it into five pieces, and heat it up at work for an easy, protein-packed breakfast on the go.

That’s what I’ve been doing every single Sunday since I finished Whole 30 more than a year ago, and it’s helped me avoid the sugar-laden cereal wall at work and start my days on a positive note. So imagine my horror when I opened the fridge last past Sunday to find the egg drawer bare.

I debated a grocery run, but with no cash in my wallet and a lonely bernese begging me to stay home, I decided to forgo my normal Sunday routine and search for something else protein-packed for my weekday breakfasts instead. I dug through my fridge drawers looking for chicken sausage or smoked salmon or anything remotely resembling an egg, but the only protein source I found was a block of extra-firm tofu.

Challenge accepted.

Although the tofu didn’t do much for Lucille, some quick googling revealed vegans have been making breakfast dishes with soybean curd for decades. Like eggs, tofu is high in protein and low in calories, making it a good base for my emergency mock frittata.

After draining it (note: something it took me years to understand was critical to proper tofu preparation), I added some soy sauce and cornstarch and spread it into a cast iron pan already full of caramelized onions, sautéed peppers and — fine — several tablespoons of bacon grease. (Hey, I said it was vegan inspired, not vegan.) Then I moved it to the oven to finish, like I would a traditional frittata.

Voila.

It may not look like much — tofu frittatas don’t look very yellow unless you add turmeric — but it tasted delicious. Sure, that was probably mostly due to the bacon grease and roasted peppers, but I’ll take whatever wins I can get.

Have you ever worked tofu into your diet in surprising ways?

Posted in Food, Recipes | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Carrots: Part II

No to toot my own horn, but I feel I’ve written a handful of moving and memorable blog posts these past five years. There was the August 2013 entry about embracing change. The October 2016 one on street harassment. The inaugural post in January 2012 that started it all.

But for all the thousands of words about hope and persistence and determination I’ve written on these pages, the blog post I get the most comments about — hands down — is this one on how to use up a surplus of carrots. #deepstuff

Don’t believe me? My 90-year-old grandmother (now hours from 91!) emailed the evening I published to propose a carrot, walnut and raisin slaw. I also got a blog comment praising juicing and another suggesting carrots may help regulate excess estrogen. The post even made its way into a me-themed Cards Against Humanity (er, “Hum-Anne-ity”) deck, designed by my thoughtful sister for my bachelorette party last November.

IMG_2672

(My maid of honor beats your maid of honor.)

I thought I’d said everything I had to say about orange roots in that original 2016 post. But just this week, I tried preparing carrots in a whole new way. I thought about keeping the news to myself, but who am I to deny the people what they want? So here’s another carrot recipe blog post, brought to you by everyone’s favorite vegetable.

This week, I made carrot pasta sauce. And DAMN it was delicious.

IMG_2648

And you know something so colorful has to be good for you.

I got the idea from my aunt on a recent 20-hour stopover in Rhode Island. She’s been making a tomato-free sauce this summer from a night-shade-free cookbook, and it sounded like a perfect way to use up the hundreds of thousands of pounds of CSA carrots (perhaps an exaggeration but I can’t be sure) sitting at the bottom of my fridge.

I didn’t follow a recipe, but I know enough about flavor combinations to build something delightful. First I sautéed onions in olive oil til translucent. Then I added several cups of coin-sized carrot slices. When the carrots started to soften, I threw in copious garlic, an ice-cube or two of frozen chicken broth, stems from a wilting parsley bunch, and plenty of salt and pepper to taste. I deglazed with rosé — because, you know, summer — and let everything cook through. I then moved the pot contents to a blender, added some starchy pasta water to thin it out, and blended until it was sauce consistency.

And then I tossed it with buckwheat noodles, roasted up some Italian sausage and fennel, and called it lunch. And, my god, it tasted so good. Who knew carrots were living a double life as secret pasta topping?

Kind of like Keira’s secret life as a personal-masseuse tester. It’s a tough job but someone’s gotta do it.

IMG_2619

“A little to the left, please.”

How are you using carrots these days? To store your fine jewelry, perhaps?

Posted in Food, Recipes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“Don’t Reward Yourself With Food: You Aren’t a Dog.” (Or are you?)

I could point fingers any number of directions, but I most blame my tendency to reward myself with food on Pizza Hut’s early 90s BOOK IT! reading program.

My fellow Millennials know the drill: you’d read five non-homework books a month, have an adult drive you to your local Pizza Hut franchise and collect a personal pan pizza to reward your extracurricular scholarship.

Of course, this wasn’t the only place I was rewarded for good behavior with delicious, pepperoni-topped calories. From infancy through college, I was subconsciously taught food is an appropriate payment for a job well-done, and I bet you were too:

  • Finish your dinner, get dessert
  • Visit the doctor, get a lollipop
  • Win the canned food drive, get a pizza party
  • Perform a successful Christmas concert as first-chair clarinet, go out for ice cream with your dad because first-chair clarinetists tended to have very few friends

(I’m just kidding. Even nerds have friends!)

Old habits die hard, and I find I still reach for consumables as reward well into my 30s. Made it through a tough workday? That calls for take-out. Took a hard yoga class? I deserve a bagel. Raced a 10k? Let’s get softserve.

IMG_2320

(To be fair, this was an ice-cream themed race, so they kind of forced it on it.)

Food-based rewards make sense when you’re training, say, your Bernese mountain dog to use stairs, but they aren’t the healthiest choice for someone trying to cut calories, rein in mindless eating or — mostly importantly for me — rewire an emotional attachment to food.

IMG_2272

Lu’s favorite reward: coffee, two sugars.

So this summer, I tried an experiment. I’ve been trying to break my 2 p.m. dark chocolate addiction for months years ever, but after six hours at my desk, I always feel I’ve “earned” my sugary (antioxidant-filled!) treat. So I hit up the bulk food section at my office, inhale a half cup of almondy goodness and then find myself wondering the rest of the workday whether that was really the best use of my calorie deficiency.

Looking to break the chains (#redrising) of sugar addiction, I decided to see if anything could overpower the pull of food as a reward. So I went to Runners World’s website, found a cool tank top I’d been eyeing for months, and ordered it for myself. And when it arrived in the mail, I did the unthinkable: I didn’t open it.

Instead, I told myself I could have the shirt if I went all June long without touching the almonds. And you know what? I did it! And it wasn’t even that hard. Knowing I had a reward — a non-food one — waiting for me if I pulled through, I was able to beat the craving and make it through the month. (Of course, July marked a massive backslide, but baby steps.)

A running shirt worked for me, but it might be a different non-food reward that inspires you to make a change. Maybe you promise yourself a massage after a month of marathon training, or a manicure if you eat all your veggies this week, or you buy yourself a bouquet of flowers for taking the stairs, or treat yourself to a bubble bath for a day without sugar. Find what works for you, and give it a try.

Who know? You might break a habit once and for all. And if you don’t, at least you’ll have a cool new tank!

 

IMG_2228

Running IS a natural high! Thanks, shirt!

How do you reward yourself without reaching for a New York slice?

Posted in Food, Weight Loss | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment