Saturday, December 27, 2014

Our Week: December 20 through December 26

Here are some photos:

Saturday long run was 16 miles at a 9:30 pace.

Zoo Light Safari at the Birmingham Zoo.

Hoods up.

At my parents' house for Christmas.

My niece Josephine. 

Feeding my parents' Muskogee ducks.

Ready for Christmas dinner.

My plate, featuring butter beans prominently, of course.

Just baby things.

"Put this on your head."  Kills me every time!

A beautiful sunset on Christmas Eve.

Waiting for everyone to wake up on Christmas morning.

Very carefully opening presents. 

Headed out on the town.

Watching Weezer videos and drinking hot cocoa.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Recipe: Tamil Tofu with Raisins

This recipe comes from a co-worker in Saudi Arabia, who grew up in Sri Lanka.  It is rich with spices in a combination we don't often use for American cooking.  It is quick to make and the ingredients are cheap (less than $10, depending on local prices and how you purchase and stock your spices).  Our family makes a deliberate effort to limit the animal products in our diet, and this a favorite meal in the weekly rotation.  The recipe as given here is vegan, although you could substitute chicken or lamb for the tofu, if you are so inclined.  

Tamil Tofu with Raisins

1 package of tofu, extra firm or pressed at home
1 medium red onion, roughly diced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
3/4 cup raisins, plumped in warm water
1 T ground cumin seed
1 T ground coriander seed
1 T "Ceylon" or Sri Lankan cinnamon
1/2 t ground cayenne
about 1 T of vegetable oil (peanut, sesame, or your favorite)
6 oz coconut milk, fresh or canned
soy sauce

To press the tofu at home, remove and drain the block, wrap it in cheesecloth, place it in a dinner plate, and weigh it down with a cast iron skillet or stack of plates.  Periodically drain off the extracted liquid.  This should take about an hour, depending on the moisture content in the tofu.  Prepare the tofu by cutting it into 1/2" cubes and sprinkling about 1 T of soy sauce over it.  

Pressed tofu.

Prepare the raisins in a separate container by covering them with warm water for at least 30 minutes.  Drain off and discard the water.  

Prepare the spice mixture by adding all four spices, the onion, and the garlic to a dry Dutch oven.  I usually don't measure the spices exactly, but use a large soup spoon to measure equal amounts of cumin, coriander, and cinnamon.  And lately, I have been adjusting the amount of cayenne down, because my toddler enjoys this meal and he is still getting used to eating foods with a lot of heat.  

Ready to dry fry the spices and aromatics.

It's also worth mentioning that, although many recipes say "one teaspoon" of this or that spice, the quality and intensity of spices in markets can vary greatly.  Some bottled spices have been treated or processed with heat, which kills flavor, and they sit and age on grocery store shelves.  If you don't have access to a specialty shop or market, the next best thing is usually an Asian market or the bulk bins at a place like Whole Foods.  It can sometimes be economical to buy better spices in the exact quantity you need, and use less in recipes.    

Okay, with that said, stir and toss the spice mixture over medium heat until toasted and sticky, and the cooking surface is just beginning to smoke.  Add the vegetable oil and stir to coat the onions. 

After adding the vegetable oil.

After the onions begin to soften, add the coconut milk and soy sauce to taste to deglaze the pan.  And just a quick word about coconut milk (are you liking these digressions?) should try different types and decide what you like and what fits your budget.  We have found great "fresh" coconut milk in the refrigerated section of a local Asian market.  But I also love the price and fat content of the canned store brand from our local organic grocer, Earth Fare.  It is from cultivated coconut groves in Hawaii, so no issues with orang utan habitat.  I like that.  

Okay, turn the heat down to low and fold in the raisins and tofu.  Simmer 20-30 minutes covered, then serve over rice.   


With the tofu added.

I like to use sticky rice with this dish, because it holds up better under the thick coconut milk sauce, and it's easier for my son to pick up.  To get perfectly sticky rice, choose a shorter grain or "glutinous" type like arborio or Japanese rice and cook it either in a rice cooker or in a flat-bottomed pot with a tight fitting lid.  No peeking!


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Our Week: December 13 through December 19

I'll start this off with the Strava screen shot of my Saturday morning long run.  This week had 15 miles on the schedule, and I paced a group of five people.  We had one person drop with knee pain, but otherwise everyone finished strong.  Check out the split for our mile 13!


Right around that point, a woman in the group said, "we're almost back!" and everyone sort of kicked into gear.  

As an aside, I'm still trying to get a handle on how to dress for longer runs, because of the huge variety in winter weather here.  Whereas last week's run was 60 degrees with hard rain, this week was around 30 degrees with wind and sun.  I wore a warm pair of Saucony fitted tights, a long sleeve Athleta half-zip, my pacer t-shirt, gloves, a fitted beanie, and a fleece headband.  I still felt chilled on my lower body, and my hands were going numb intermittently.  I'll get it figured out, but I will note that this week was unusual in that the temperature didn't rise with the sun.  The water and sports drinks at our aid stations were starting to freeze by the end of the run. 

On Sunday, I made six dozen Christmas cookies for the party sponsored by our church soup kitchen.  And I drank a Nut Cracker Ale to get me in the mood. 

Too many cookies.  Not enough beer. 

On Monday morning, we took W out to Crestline Bagels for some breakfast.  I knew that the rest of the week would be full of work deadlines, social activities, church work, and appointments, so I wanted to schedule some family time early. 

A bagel for everyone.

Working on restaurant manners :)

Nate requested one of our favorite meals - Tamil tofu and raisins.  I'll post a recipe later this's incredibly easy, cheap, and flavorful.  

Tamil tofu and raisins.

After our monthly La Leche League meeting, W and I finished up some Christmas shopping at Target.  W has gotten to where he likes to lounge in the cart seat and have a snack while we shop.  I got him his favorite veggie chips from Fresh Market as a treat. 

Kickin' it in the 'burbs.

Wednesday was the soup kitchen party.  Everyone's donated cookies looked gorgeous.

Beaucoup cookies. 

The community kitchens staff hired a professional photographer, and everyone agreed to the photos, so I took a few myself.  Of course, they are nowhere near professional, but this one really shows the size of the crowd. 

Such a great group of parishioners and friends. 

I was delighted to see that W is finally big enough to wear a pair of jeans we got as hand-me-downs from a second cousin.  They are toddler Wranglers from about 1974.  He is basically a tiny teenager in these photos, and I love it.   

He loves the stereo remote.

Like father, like son.
Thursday SUCKED because I had some painful dental work first thing in the morning, and had to work afterward anyway.  Ew.

On Friday night, I tried out a new pizza crust recipe, and I was incredibly pleased with the results.  I want to play with the mixing technique, and maybe the oven temperature, but I'll post a recipe as soon as I get the kinks worked out.  

I honestly wasn't prepared for how easy this dough was to handle. 

Finished product.  With German beer and some dried arbol chilies. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Marathon Training is in Full Swing


Our Week: December 6 through December 12

This week's post is a bit late, I know.  I had some trouble with the file transfer software I use for photos, but it's fixed now.

Saturday morning started out with the usual long run with the Birmingham Track Club Mercedes-Benz Marathon training team.  This week, it was 14 miles, and I paced for the 9:15 mm group.  I woke up at 5:00 am for the 6:00 am run, and the weather looked just fine while I was getting dressed.  The minute I pulled out of our garage, though, the sky opened up...thunder, lightning, torrential rain...UGH.  The first hour of the run was done in hard rain, and I didn't have a dry piece of clothing on me by the end. 

Some steep hills this week.

Saturday afternoon, we took W to the Bass Pro Shop (I KNOW) Winter Wonderland to have his photo made with Santa.  The photos at Bass Pro Shop are free, so I guess we should have been prepared for the two-hour wait.  Oh well, at least we have a good and patient child. 

So over it.

Extremely skeptical of the carousel.

Worth it!

Here's a photo that truly captures Nico's personality.  She is part border collie, so she's always on Orange Alert and slightly cross-eyed.  We love her.

Sunday afternoon laziness. 

My work schedule is a little non-traditional, and I often have Mondays free for outings with the family.  This week, we all went to Hop City to look for some Christmas-y wine and beer.  I tried Sweet Leif from Local Option brewery in Chicago.  It's a Belgian-style pale infused with Chinese Sencha tea.  Doesn't the label look totally bad ass?

Am I the only one who gets a sweet tooth and fills a plate with every kind of munchie in the pantry?

W is really starting to get around, and we've started putting him in this Christmas hat pretty much 24/7.  So I'll just leave you with this...


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Top Tips for Staying Fit While You Travel

This is the time of year for travel.  I just got back from a nine-day trip to the East Coast, and it really got me thinking.  

I am on the road approximately ten days each month, and this means a lot of hotels, suitcases, and waiting around in airports.  Sometimes, it can be very difficult to get a decent workout in, especially when it is so much easier to hole up in the hotel with takeout and premium cable channels.

This past month, I have basically put myself in a position where I can't skip workouts, because I am working as a pacer for the upcoming Mercedes Benz Marathon.  If I can't hit my pace times for those long runs, I'm SOL.  Working out while traveling it is!

1.  Plan your workouts in advance.

First things first!

If you want to work out indoors, make sure you will have access to a gym.  If you're staying in a hotel, check out online reviews or call the front desk to ask what equipment they have, whether it is in working order, and what the gym hours are.  

Hotel gym life!
If you are staying with family, or your hotel does not have a gym, don't lose hope!  Most locally owned gyms, and some chains like Crunch and L.A. Fitness offer free or low-cost guest passes.  I have had luck going to a nearby gym and asking for a tour and trial membership.  These free trials are oriented toward prospective new members, and often come with 2- or 3-day passes.  Another option is a week-long pass at a yoga studio or a single-visit pass at the YMCA. And don't overlook fitness channels on the hotel television! 

If you want to work out outdoors, do your research ahead of time.  I like to use message boards and online maps to look for hiking and running trails near where I am traveling.  Here are some good resources:  AllTrails, Every Trail, and Local Hikes (which is organized by U.S. metropolitan area).  Also check out the state and federal agency web sites for public lands near your destination.

A hiking trail near South Lake Tahoe, found via the U.S. Forest Service web site. 
Another good resource is a Facebook search for track or running clubs near where you are traveling.  In most major cities, running clubs sponsor group runs and publicize them as Facebook events.  This is a great way to see the sights in an unfamiliar place. 

On a group run to the top of Red Mountain in Birmingham, Alabama. 
Another great way to find running routes is with the Segment Explore function on Strava.   

A few Strava segments close to home. 
You can search by your destination, and sort by terrain type.  Detailed information shows you the course elevation profile, and efforts by local runners.

A popular route in Birmingham, with my PR shown on the right. 

I have found that Strava segment searches can lead you to the safest and best-trafficked running routes.  As a bonus, you can virtually compete for Course Records in a new area.  Although I'm sold on Strava, other fitness apps like Garmin Connect, MapMyRun, Runkeeper, and Nike+ have similar functionality.

2.  Take the right clothing and equipment with you.

Once you have your workouts planned, pack your bags.  If you have outdoor workouts planned, check an extended forecast for your destination.  Then, I like to use the What to Wear Tool from Runner's World.  You enter information about your run (your gender, time of day, intensity, temperature, wind, etc.) and it shows you the outfit you should wear.  I make sure I always have gloves, a light rain jacket, and a hat with a visor with me as well.

Traveling to New Orleans in summer means a sports bra and sunscreen.
If you have indoor workouts planned, pick sturdy gym clothes that can be worn a few times.  I like fresh socks, underwear, and bra for each workout, but I'll sometimes use gym shorts or tech shirts a few times.  In a pinch, you can wash some items in a hotel sink, so choose synthetic fabrics that dry quickly.  

If you are trying to save space in your bags, wear workout clothing and shoes onto the plane.  Or, get workout duds that can be worn as street wear.  I have seen cute things from Fabletics, Ink and Burn, and prAna.  You can do this with shoes, of my coworkers wears black and grey Nike Frees for workouts and with business casual outfits.

3.  Have a specific goal in mind. 

"I will work out every other day while I am traveling."

"I will get in one long run, and not worry about the rest of the days."

"No matter what happens, I will stay hydrated and stretch every night before bed."

"I will work out for at least 30 minutes each day."

4.  Give yourself the extra motivation you need. 

Travel can be so disruptive, that you may need an extra "push" to make sure you get your workouts in.   Take your fanciest workout gear, or buy something new if you're feeling flush.  Set your sights on a really scenic trail, or a gym workout you have never tried before.  Convince a coworker to try a short run.  Find a luxurious local gym or fancy yoga studio where you normally wouldn't be able to afford a membership.  

A poolside treadmill in South Walton, Florida. 

5.  While you are away, remember that nutrition, hydration, and sleep are also important. 

Don't get too hung up on workouts.  Yes, it is awesome to get in a few really hard sessions while you are on the road, but don't forget to care for yourself in other ways.  Whether you are trying to lose weight, improve performance, or stay in shape for an event, keep watching what you eat.  Use your travel as an opportunity to stay hydrated and catch up on sleep. 

6.  Let your coworkers or family know your schedule.

All of your carefully made goals and plans are meaningless unless you have someone to hold you to them.  On family trips, I make sure my husband knows my plans for workouts or longer runs.  While we're scheduling the trip, we decide how much time and which days we need for workouts.  I'll usually tell him something like, "I need afternoon workouts on Monday and Wednesday, and then time for a longer run on Saturday morning."  This way, we can plan meals, child care, and other activities.  Exercise is just as important as anything else on your schedule, so you should treat it that way!

For business travel, I do something very similar.  I usually tell my coworkers that I will be up early to respond to emails and urgent matters, then I'll be in the gym until our breakfast meetings.  I am lucky enough to work and travel with people who make fitness a priority, so sometimes I even bump into coworkers in the hotel gym. 

7.  Use workouts as a way to help yourself through jet lag.

This is one of my favorite tricks of all time!  There is no worse feeling than traveling east and getting that afternoon "slump" when everyone around you is ready to head out for dinner and drinks.  Instead of passing out in your hotel room, have a cup of coffee and a quick workout.  I find it's always best to adapt to your destination time zone as soon as possible.  You can use a short cardio workout to wake yourself up and reset your circadian rhythms.

This same trick works in reverse.  If you find yourself wide awake when everyone around you is heading to bed, use a workout to burn off extra energy.  Then, take a relaxing hot shower and try to get some sleep. 

Late night gym workout to get back on Central Time. 

Remember, it's always best to adapt to new time zones immediately.  Whether you are at the beginning of your trip or returning home, always change your watches and clocks immediately.  Then, eat, sleep, and workout according to the correct time at you destination.  If you normally exercise at 8am, set a clock and work out at 8am local time.  It sucks for a day or two, but I promise it's the best way to adjust. 

8.  Any workout is better than no workout!

While you are traveling, you should focus on maintaining your fitness.  It's really not the time to bump up your mileage, set PRs, lift heavy, or exhaust yourself.  Sometimes, I even like to use travel as a little recovery, and focus on rest and injury prevention.  For a routine that helps with these goals, check out these easy exercises to improve running and prevent injury.

9.  But remember to stay flexible.

If you're traveling for work, remember that your job performance might have to take priority over workout time.  If you're visiting friends or family, socialization or other obligations are always more important.  So try to relax, and not put yourself into a position where you are feeling stressed about missing a workout.

Remember, even if you are forced to skip workouts for the entire duration of your trip, you won't get out of shape as quickly as you think.  Some studies show that even if you take 12 weeks off, you will keep 80% of your fitness!  Also, it won't take as long as you think to get back in top form...probably only half as many days as you took "off."

This book, Hanson's Marathon Method says that 1-2 days off makes no difference to training, and "training can resume normally without scaling back mileage or intensity."  If you take 7-10 days off (the normal length of one of my business trips), "upon your return to running, you should run easy for the same number of days that were missed."  Easy!

10.  Get right back on track as soon as you are home.

Finally, don't miss a beat once you are back home.  I'm betting that you won't even notice any days off or changes to your routine (especially if you are the type of person who read this post to the end).  Again, one of the best ways to get over jet lag is to go out for a quick run or hit the gym for some short, intense cardio.  Especially if you have crossed several time zones, you may not feel like sleeping or waking at the appropriate time.  Use a workout to burn off extra energy before bed, or to wake up and get energized before starting your day.

Good luck!