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: