Thursday, December 30, 2010

Holiday cooking - and running...

Still trying out various vegan recipes, most of which turn out pretty well.  A couple which we all liked recently included a black bean burger (from 1000 Vegan Recipes) and a very tasty potato dish with white beans and black olives, from Vegan on the Cheap.  This is what they looked like:

 Black Bean Burger from 1,000 Vegan Recipes

Potatoes with white beans, tomato, olives & lemon from Vegan on the Cheap

On the running front I am thrilled just to be out on the trails again!  My monthly mileage is making a comeback too:  on target for 140 miles in December.  On Tuesday I ran 'fast' for the first time in months - fartleks with a few other Striders up and down Heights Ave (Reagan High School track gate locked).  It was exhilarating to push the pace a little bit and to feel my Vibram-clad feet grip the trail surface and propel me forward.  Nothing like a good 'fast' sprint (my mind is good at bracketing for age) to make you feel 10 years younger!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

California - the wiper blade tour part 2

I really enjoyed the couple of days in San Mateo, where we started our week-long trip to California.  Bill and Debbie live in a fabulous home just off Parrott Drive in a peaceful, green neighborhood.  Over the couple of days there I had the opportunity to run several miles in the neighborhood and I was struck by how clean, neat and orderly it seems.  Beautiful homes, manicured gardens and side-walks, a 25-mph speed limit in the residential area, some extraordinary shops (Draeger's Supermarket!!) and restaurants - it is no wonder that so many people would like to live in places like San Mateo and other similar neighborhoods in the Greater San Francisco area. Very desirable.

On our fist day, we drove out to Muir Woods National Monument just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  What a fantastic place - even on a cold, blustery day we were completely blown away by the stunning redwood forest, especially the Cathedral area.  My photographs do not even come close to illustrating  the impact this place likely has on even the most casual of visitors.

Our day outing to Napa Valley was cut short a little bit due to some road work on the 880 (I think) running alongside and eventually right by Oakland downtown.  Even so, we managed to spend quite a bit of time at three wineries (St. Supery, Trinchero, Chateau Montelena and Hall), enjoyed a bountiful array of tastings from Chardonnay right through to some luscious Cabernets.  A highlight was a tailgate lunch (delicious sandwiches!) in the St. Supery parking lot.

Meals in the area were at a quaint Italian spot in Sausalito and at a very good Indian restaurant on 'restaurant row' in San Mateo.  There were some great looking Japanese and Chinese restaurants and too many others to even mention - we really need to return to the area sometime soon.  When the weather is better!

The next day we collected a rental car at SFO Airport and set off for Morro Bay on the Central Coast. It turned out to be a long and arduous trip via the Monterey Peninsula and the famous 17-mile Drive through Pebble Beach Resort.  From Carmel (we did not have time for even the briefest of stops) the road traverses the Big Sur Region - more than 70 miles of ups and downs, tight left and right hand turns and knee-buckling drops toward the Pacific ocean. This is no place to be texting and driving!

We made several stops to take in the awesome views - a pity that the weather did not cooperate but nothing to be done about that. At least it was not pouring, mostly just a light drizzle with some fog... It was dark by the time we made a welcome stop at Anderson's Inn, a well-run small hotel on the edge of scenic Morro Bay.  Our over-the-water room had ample space, a fireplace, spa bath, luxurious double bed and free wifi.  Not to mention very friendly owners, a great restaurant downstairs (one of the better vegan meals I enjoyed during the trip) and definitely the best breakfast at nearby Frankie and Lola's. My potato and zucchini pancake was superb.  Definitely the way to go if you want to avoid all the more usual egg-laden (cholesterol) choices.

The next morning we pushed on further down the 101, all the way into Los Angeles, and finally down the 405 to John Wayne Airport to pick up our friends.  Driving conditions were perfectly horrid with rain squalls and poor visibility constant companions.  I was as tense as the steel blades on a new suspension by the time we finally made it to The Montage just off the Pacific Coast Highway.

Within minutes we were relaxing at the bar, with superb views over the Pacific Ocean on our immediate left.  Dinner a little bit later at 230 Forest Avenue was excellent.  This chic bistro in the heart of downtown Laguna Beach has some of the best seafood in the area, and steak lovers won't be disappointed either.  Not really suitable for vegetarians but it really did not matter this evening.  The following day we rose late, lingered over The Los Angeles Times (what a paper!) worked out (5 solid miles on the treadmill with view of ocean) and eventually finding ourselves back in a restaurant. This time it was Sapphire Laguna, a trendy spot with a distinct international flavor. I opted for a Thai Chicken Lettuce Wrap with tofu instead of chicken, served with Green Papaya-Mango Salad and Peanut & Sweet Chili-Lime Sauce.  Fantastic. After lunch we opted to support the local economy, browsing the stores along Forest Avenue and the adjacent downtown area.  Lots of art galleries, gifts, shoes, clothing, surfing paraphernalia, a candy store, boutiques and more.  The highlight of our dining experience was that evening at The Loft at The Montage.  Kathleen enjoyed a trio of sushi rolls, Tom tried a local chili and Gwen did well with a nicely roasted chicken breast.  My Israeli Couscous topped with a deconstructed ratatouille was delicious and nutritious - can't beat that combination!

All too soon our California trip came to an end with an adventurous trip back to the airport.  Downtown Laguna Beach had experienced significant flooding earlier that morning, and we had to detour into the neighborhood above the Pacific Coast Highway, to later rejoin the PCH, run up to MacArthur Blvd and from there to the airport.  Southwest was very late getting out of Phoenix, so we arrived back in Houston that night almost two hours later than planned.  A fun and enjoyable trip - made all the more so by special friends and family.  

California - the wiper blade tour

Kathleen and I returned last night from a week with family and friends in Northern (San Mateo) and Southern California (Laguna Beach)   After several days in genteel, upscale San Mateo, very tony Napa Valley and oh so sophisticated Laguna Beach, it was comforting to get back to muggy, plain old Houston.  Yes our city has a glitzy edge to it, but you wouldn't know it if you had to judge it by Hobby Airport.  The place has about as much class as a city morgue.  Could they not possibly have built it to look more like a government building?  And the security screening process (on the way out on Thursday 16 Dec) was a complete disaster.  It took us nearly an hour to stumble our way through a maze of winding lines, like cattle in an abbatoir, being led to slaughter.  Honestly, if presented with a choice half way through I might have considered euthanasia rather than 30 minutes more in that interminable line, with no information as to the cause of the delay, no attempt at reasonable communication.  Just as well none of the TSA officials in the airport could read my mind, otherwise I would still be in a small cell with no windows.  And several guards.

Our first couple of days in San Mateo were fun - it was great seeing Bill and Debbie again and a day trip to Napa Valley was a blast.  More about that later.  In Laguna Beach we were the guests of our friends Tom and Gwen, sharing a fabulous 2BR suite at The Montage.  About as nice a spot as you can find anywhere, with service and food of the highest quality. Even so, as a whole the trip was marred by practically non-stop rain, sometimes of the cold variety.  In fact we never saw the sun for the entire week, except standing in the (short!) security check line at the superb John Wayne Airport (Orange County) on the way back yesterday.  Friendly staff, exceptionally helpful curbside check-in, even the TSA officials did not have a permanent scowl on their faces.  Memo to Hobby Airport management:  send someone over to SNA, and take some notes.  This is how a small airport can and should be run. 

So with the exception of a couple of short excursions in the rain - one to Muir Woods just north of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, and a few short runs in San Mateo, the remainder of the California trip was pretty much as seen from inside a rented white Camry, with wiper blades moving.  All my best laid plans for taking some really nice photographs came to exactly naught.  I snapped a few pics here and there and tried to make the best of it.  The famed 17-mile Drive from the Monterey Peninsula to Carmel just does not quite live up to expectations in the midst of a downpour.

On the positive side we finally made the drive along US Route 1 all the way from Monterey via Big Sur to Morro Bay (where we spent the night in a delightful small inn) and then on to Orange County on Route 101. We picked up a few good bottles of wine at St. Supery and Trinchero, and had a few more shipped from Hall's.

Here are a few pics from the first few days in San Francisco and the Napa Valley.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Recovered from knee injury

I liked writing the four words in the heading.  My left knee has been bothering me - to the point of making running all but impossible - since April this year.  December is almost gone and for the first time in months, I am able to run normally.  What a relief!  The knee has been getting better slowly over the last few weeks, for no apparent reason.  I have been running only in Vibrams for the last 8 weeks or so, and I have been applying Capsaicin (pepper extract) to the knee regularly.  Who knows - it might just be a case of the reduced running of the last few months doing the trick.  Either way, it really feels good to be out there again!  I might even enter a 5K one of these days just to test the waters on the racing front. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Month of soup part II

Today's installment for the 'month of soup' is a Moroccan vermicelli vegetable soup from 1,000 Vegan Recipes.  Nothing to it in terms of preparation - a minimum of chopping/dicing required.  Plus opening a couple of cans (diced tomatoes and chickpeas).  Instead of broth/stock from a jar (I like 'Better than Bouillon') I started with a vegetable broth from scratch.  A large onion, a couple of carrots, some celery, half a red bell pepper, some parsley, garlic and a handful of chives from the herb garden.  All that roughly chopped and into the pressure cooker with a good few black peppercorns, a bay leaf, a bit of salt and 2 teaspoons of soy sauce. Boiled it under high pressure for 15 minutes and then reduced it somewhat for another 20 minutes or so, before straining.  Practically any homemade broth is going to improve a soup and this was no exception.  It just adds another layer of flavor and depth and a bit of color. 

The vermicelli (I really like the fact that it comes in a 'use it all' 5 oz package) went in just a few minutes before dinner, with a sprinkling of fresh cilantro on top.  Voila - a very satisfying hearty soup loaded with nutrients with zero added fat and of course no cholesterol.  The only tricky part was finding one of the ingredients - za'atar - a spice mix.  It is optional and probably won't make a huge difference if omitted.  Found it a our local Mediterranean/Middle Eastern emporium - Phoenicia Foods.  What a place!  I picked up some harissa in a tube, black beans, dried garbanzos, fresh pita bread (right off the conveyor belt out of their oven) and had to fight the urge to get some marzipan.  Unfortunately this little treat has no place in my 'Bodyfat Blaster' program...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

BFB Day 5

It looks like the sudden rash of aerobic exercise - and more thoughtful dietary choices - are starting to pay off.  Weight down to 174 this morning and bodyfat percentage nudging downward at 23.4%.  No time for a run with Daisy this morning (teeth cleaning appointment at 0800A), but made up for it later with an easy 6-mile run along Buffalo Bayou. 

Starting today, I'm doing a 'month of soup':  for the month of December (festive events excluded...) our household will be having a different kind of soup every couple of days or so.  What doesn't get eaten will go into the freezer or be given away. 

Soup #1:  Minestrone Soup with tiny 'meatballs' from Vegan on the Cheap. Verdict:  fairly easy to make (not much prep), except for the no-meat balls but they added a nice protein punch and more flavor.  The soup was delicious, with good texture and layered flavor.  I made the recipe exactly as per the directions, just added a couple of tablespoons of fresh basil just before serving.

This is what it looked like:

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

BFB Day 4

Much cooler here by yesterday morning after a cold front blew through.  Made for a nice brisk 5-mile run with Daisy along the bayou - heart rate initially around 110, eventually settling around 125 to 130bpm. 

By late afternoon, it was off to Rice University's Rec Center for a mix of rowing (just over 7000 meters in 20 minutes), spinning (8 miles) and a mile on the treadmill.

Finally, I joined the Houston Striders for the first Tuesday track event at Reagan High School at 7pm. Warmed up (again) as it was below 50F by then, and managed 12 X 200 meter repeats at about 10K pace, with slow 100 meter intervals.

On the cooking front, nothing very exciting so far this week except a really tasty wheat berry salad; found it on the internet - Ellie Krieger's Wheat Berry Salad.  I just lightened up a bit on the 3 tablespoons of olive oil, reduced it to just 1 and added a tablespoon of Dijon mustard instead.  I love the 'whole wheat' taste of wheat berries but have not found many good recipes for them.  This one is definitely a keeper.  

Weight down slightly again to 175 pounds; bodyfat percentage is 24.7%

Monday, November 29, 2010

BodyFat Blaster Day 3

It may be too soon to tell but my weight is down to 176 this morning, hopefully the start of a downward trend!  I don't think I've quite got the hang of the Accu-Measure fat measuring caliper yet; my bodyfat percentage seems to have increased slightly to 26%.  For now I will ignore the discrepancy and put it down to 'no change'.  According to the analysis at my lean bodyweight is 129 pounds and I'm lugging around a whopping 46 pounds in fat.  Ouch!

No time for strength workout today, but got some running in at least.  Started off this morning with an easy 5 mile run with Daisy along Buffalo Bayou. Rounded off the day with about 4 miles or so running (monthly pub run) with the Striders.  Kept the beer consumption to a minimum!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Good start to Bodyfat Buster program

I made a very good start to what is likely to be a 12+ week program to get my bodyfat percentage down to 12% or so.  On Saturday, Kathleen and I and Daisy ran 5 miles, and 6 more miles today.  I added another mile on the treadmill at Rice Rec Center as well as a total of 40 minutes on the rowing machine, about 13,000 meters or so total.  And for the first time ever 3.42 miles of spinning: the 'Coastal Run' course on an Expresso spinning bike.  Fun! I will definitely be doing more of that in future.

Plenty of strength training on top of that:  a mix of rear deltoid and pec fly exercises, shoulder presses, lat pulls, low cable pulls, cable push downs and lower back extensions on Saturday.  On Sunday, a mix of resistance band training and ab exercises including catch, reverse crunch, lying leg raises, toe touch, pullthrough, seated ab crunch, open leg balance, bike kicks, quadruped hip extensions and isometric back extensions.  All while listening to Grand Funk Railroad and then Emerson Lake and Palmer.  There's nothing like a musical nostalgia trip to make the muscles push through the discomfort zone.  Try hard enough and you can almost pretend that you're (still) in your 20's... As if.

On the dietary front the two days were mixed, at best.  On Saturday I got very close to my self-imposed 1800 calorie limited, until a late night mini-binge, coming home after a late movie.  The third and final installment of the Stieg Larsson trilogy: The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.  What a disappointment.  Boring boring, overly long, extremely wordy and totally not worth seeing.  A near complete waste of 142 minutes of my life.  Watching Noomi Rapace onscreen was the only redeeming feature of a complete disaster of a movie.  She is really something.

Sunday was pretty good too (oats for breakfast) but lunch was a slight bump in the road.  Kath and I went to Udipi Cafe on Hillcroft for their weekend buffet.  Ten bucks get you a superb variety of vegetarian options including a southern Indian version of what South Africans know as 'pap': a stiff maize meal (corn) porridge, subtly flavored and studded (in this version) with nuts.  Delicious!  We were the only two Anglos in a room of about 25+ Indians and most of them piled their plates with large helpings of this item.  Together with naan, some fried 'donuts' of sorts, various curries, salads, chutneys, masala and spring dosai, lentil soup and many others.  Both of us overindulged - but hey it's a buffet.  You're supposed to stuff yourself, right?  I'll be good tomorrow.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Measuring fitness

How do you measure fitness?  Endurance, speed, marathon pace, weekly mileage, race results?  As a group, runners probably don't think about this much.  We are runners, ergo we are fit.  We run marathons or races of some kind, which gives us a license to eat what and how much we want. Not so.  There are many runners who suffer from underlying (poor) health conditions mainly because of bad dietary choices.  Borderline obesity, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, the same diseases that affect the general non-running public, can and do affect runners who do not pay enough attention to their diets.

You would think that vegetarians or vegans who exercise regularly would be even less likely to suffer from these 'couch potato' diseases.  Probably so to a degree, but not entirely.  Fat vegetarian is unfortunately not an oxymoron.  And vegans don't all have the body composition of waif-like teenage girls. Alec Baldwin is but one high profile vegan who is rather beefy, shall we say.  You only need to look around you at a vegan Meetup to realize that an ostensibly healthy diet does not translate into a trim, fit body. 

So what is one to do?  It would be wise to start with an annual medical checkup.  This is where problem areas first identify themselves.  Didn't know that you were pre-diabetic?  The results of a fasting blood sugar test will make you sit up and take notice in a hurry.  So would a realistic look at your blood lipid composition, cholesterol levels and many other indicators.  Just as important for us older 'athletes' is a colonoscopy or at least a flexible sigmoidoscopy at age 50 or even earlier depending on whether there is a history of colon cancer in parents and siblings.

And finally, you could invest a few dollars in an inexpensive fat caliper such as the Accu-Measure, to make a really honest appraisal of how 'fit' (or fat) you are.  If you are anything like the average American man or woman, your body mass index is likely too high.  I know mine is because I checked it this morning.  A whopping 25 percent.   Which for my age is in the 'overweight' category.  Yes I have some excuses, notably not being able to run as much as usual due to a balky knee, but clearly there is more to it than just the running.  Despite not eating any meat or dairy products and very little extra fat, my 'calorie in' and 'calorie out' balance is not right.  The remedy?  Start calorie counting with immediate effect and limit my daily intake of calories to 1800 until I can get the BMI down to 12%. I will be making a few more visits to the gym as well. Starting today!  

Monday, November 22, 2010

A 30+ mile week

First week totalling 30+ miles since July this year!  Knee still not 100% but I can detect slow improvement from week to week.  I am putting it down to the combination of capcaisin three times per day and running exclusively in Vibrams.  Also some foam rolling before and after most runs.  Haven't tried to increase the speed yet, all miles done at a very easy 10+ minute pace.  Speed can wait.  Just happy to be doing some half decent mileage for a change.  Hopefully it will help to whittle down the extra 10 pounds or so which I have accumulated around my waist over the last 4 months.

Next on the agenda:  Talk to a trainer at Rice Rec Center and set some body fat percentage goals for the end of January 2011.  Worked out at Rice for the first time last Thursday and I was impressed with the range of equipment; also the gym was not crowded at all at around 6:00PM which was surprising.  Will be back there on Tuesday.

Prepared the Pinto Picadillo from Vegan on the Cheap last night.  Interesting flavors but nothing like the real thing I'm afraid.  It was quite nice served with brown rice; also did some baked Asian-style marinated tofu.  Where do you get your protein?  Pinto beans + tofu + brown rice = probably more than we needed.

Lunch yesterday with friends at Goode Company Taqueria on Kirby.  Won't be going back there soon.  Literally nothing on the menu suitable for a vegan, except perhaps the tortilla chips and salsa.  I had to settle for a salad which despite our explicit requests to the contrary, came with pieces of hard boiled egg and feta cheese.  Their beans have pork in it, the rice has chicken pieces, they do not have veggie burgers or portabella fajitas, nothing... You'd think that a restaurant owner would try to maximize his/her profits by catering to all segments of the market.  Apparently not.   I called them this morning and spoke to the manager; apparently they are working on their recipe for portabella fajitas. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Joining Rice Rec Center

I will miss my trainer - Frank - at the Fast Results Fitness center down the road, but this is a recession.  There's no way I can rationalize shelling out from $65 to $85 per 1-hr session for a Personal Trainer, compared with $25 per month to join the Rice University Rec Center, with its superb range of equipment and facilities.  And should I need more help with training, a package of 20 sessions goes for $800, i.e. $40 a pop. Sounds more like it.

So as from tomorrow, it is goodbye FRT, hallo Rice.  Big advantage to being a Rice employee spouse.  Of course it is a longer trip to get there and back, but Kathleen and I are planning to work some gym time into our weekly running schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when we run in the midtown and Heights area.  I guess we will see how it works out.  It might be fun to run out there on the weekend as well.  Maybe stop at Jenni's Noodle House on the way back...

Looking back on my 96 PT sessions (starting in December last year) with several personal trainers, I think the overall program was a qualified success.  I'm far from buff, but not a sack of potatoes either.  If it weren't for the 20 pounds or so of excess blubber around my middle (mostly) I might actually be able to locate my long lost abs.  As I wrote in an earlier posting, they were last seen around 1978.  Barring some major change of course, I fear they may never be found,  gone forever like gas at a dollar.

Of course hope is central to the human condition.  Were it not for hope, and the seemingly inextinguishable belief we all hold that tomorrow is going to be better than today, it would be very tough to face adversity and the daily blows we take to our psyche and our physical selves.  So yes, even well into my middle years (pun definitely not intended) I still believe that those pesky itinerant abs are going to see the light of day again.  They are there, just waiting to be re-discovered like a species once thought to be extinct.  No need for an expedition into the Amazon to find them either.  Just some will-power, and several more miles per week running (knee permitting) should do the trick.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Lemongrass Noodles with Mock Duck

I did say that I was going to prepare the Lemongrass Noodle Bowl with Mock Duck - it turned out quite well too.  Other than the faux duck, the only 'difficult' ingredient was the lemongrass itself - because I had to drive about 3 miles to an Asian market to find it.  The rest was quite simple:  prepare a marinade and marinate the 'veggie duck' for a couple of hours.  Prepare the broth, cook some sliced onions, ginger, lemongrass in the broth, strain it, and keep warm.  Then prepare the noodles, fry the mock duck and assemble in bowls, with lots of herbs and other veggies for color and contrast.  The recipe is on the PPK site.  Photograph tomorrow.

Couple of good workouts today:  Ran an easy 6 miles with Daisy on a very cool and rather damp morning, lots of squirrels and bunny rabbits along the trail on the edge of Buffalo Bayou.  Average heart rate just over 120bpm with a couple of stops here and there. I really don't want to jinx it but the knee seems to be slowly getting better, despite increased mileage... Last week I managed about 27 miles which was probably my highest week in more than 4 months. 

Over lunch time, 50 minutes or so workout with Frank at my local 'Fast Results Fitness' studio.  The place is looking really good nowadays, here are a few pics:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Life in the big city

What do I like about living in the big city?  You can take in a performance of Madame Butterfly with world-class singers like soprano Anna Maria Martinez and tenor Joseph Calleja.  Fantastic.  Have a very late dinner at Piola's in midtown - Italian-style pizza with the best crust you might ever bite down on.   Or enjoy a superb glass of wine for only $5 at Vintropolis in the Carillon Center on the west side of town.

Better yet, discover a little mom and pop joint on Wilcrest called San San Tofu.  It is a restaurant with one of the best (and cheapest) vegan buffets in town.  It is also a grocery store of sorts. Where you can buy a bewildering variety of rice and noodles and lots of really interesting food to go, like faux barbecued beef, lemongrass 'chicken' and an astonishingly good  vegetable soup.

What really made the trip out on the Beltway to Wilcrest was finding some frozen 'veggie duck'.  I have a recipe here from the Post Punk Kitchen for Lemongrass Noodles with Mock Duck.  It calls for canned mock duck; which you can likely find somewhere in Houston.  Even so it was a pleasant surprise to see several packets of frozen 'Vege Duck' in the freezer at San San Tofu.  Coming up tomorrow?  Lemongrass Noodles with Mock Duck...

Four miles early this evening along Buffalo Bayou with Kathleen and Daisy.  Knee seems to be improving in small increments week by week.  Is it the Capcaisin?  Is it running on the Vibrams exclusively?  I guess I might never know, but whatever it is, I'm keeping on doing it.

Tent duty today at the HMSA 25K but took my camera along a shot a few pics here and there.