Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cooking the Post Punk Kitchen way

Made a couple of interesting recipes from the Post Punk Kitchen over the last few days.  The Post Punk Kitchen website and Facebook pages are operated mostly by Brooklynite Isa Chandra Moskowitz, a pioneer of fun, creative vegan cooking - beyond veggie burgers and lentil stews.   With long-time collaborator Terry Hope Romero she has written several cookbooks including Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, Vegan with a Vengeance and more recently Veganomicon, which I use all the time.

The last two recipes I tried were  chickpea piccata and quinoa and broccoli with a raspberry chipotle sauce.  As is the case with most PPK fare it was good and healthy, not too difficult and relatively quick from 'mise en place' to food on the table.  Here are some photographs:

 Chickpea piccata over mashed potato and arugula

Quinoa and broccoli with raspberry chipotle sauce.  The purple cauliflower is from the Farmer's Market at Rice University - check it out every Tuesday afternoon.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The end of root canals

It dawned on me the other day that I have only been to the dentist’s office three times in the last two years+ and each time it was for a routine teeth cleaning visit. 

What a pleasant change that is.  Time was – not so long ago – when I had root canal treatments about as regularly as an avid runner buys a new pair of trainers.  I have so many root canals my dental X-rays look like the Mississippi Delta. One – the only? – good thing to come of this is that I found an excellent endodontist in the process. The guy is an artist -  I experience almost no pain - and he is fast.  In fact I put a stopwatch on him once – with his knowledge – and he finished off a simple one-canal treatment in about 20 minutes.   It takes rather longer to do the complicated treatment associated with molars which may have as many as four channels.  The piped classical music helps – nothing like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to make you forget that your jaw has been splayed open for 40 minutes plus… Fortunately there is no mirror so I can’t see my Hannibal Lecter–like reflection in it.  The doc and his assistant get paid to enjoy that dubious pleasure.

Which brings me to the downside to being on first name basis with an endodontist.  The money, as in plenty of mine becoming his. Endodontists don’t work for peanuts. They work for Chateau Margaux.  Let’s face it, I've paid several installments on Dr. Zamani’s Maserati. No kidding.  That is what he drives. And for what it is worth – he uses all Zeiss equipment to peer into those microscopically small channels inside my teeth.  Nothing like the best.  He also calls every time afterwards.  Better than I've managed with some old girl friends.

All of this begs the question as to why my teeth have suddenly become happy with their situation, compared with earlier years when they would regularly rebel about having to accompany me everywhere.  Couple of things come to mind, the one being regular flossing – literally every day – which I only started doing about 3 years ago.  Thanks to Christine (for a while our family’s dental hygienist of choice) for getting me on the right path.  

 Also I think that as a total percentage of my diet, I am consuming far less refined carbohydrates, such as sugar and processed flours.  Beans and chickpeas and brown rice and other whole grains as well as vegetables and fruit have largely replaced the pies, cakes, rich sauces and many other culinary ‘culprits’ (puff pastry!) which probably contributed to my previously poor dental health record.  Well, it is never too late to make a change for the better.  Sorry Dr. Z, you might have to settle for a Benz the next time around.

Chewing & losing weight

For the first time in years, I am chewing my food properly. A study which I saw in passing the other day, found that people ate significantly less if they chewed their food for 9 seconds (minimum) rather than the more usual 2 seconds. It takes your body a while to figure out if you are full, so eating MUCH slower (which happens automatically when you chew properly) prevents you from 'accidentally' eating more than you need... Also, chewing your food properly improves the entire digestive process and ultimately your nutrition.

I believe it was Gandhi who once said that one should 'chew your drink and drink your food'. I'm not quite there yet but it is worth thinking about

Down 2 pounds this week from 173 to 171. Additional exercise (twice weekly sessions with personal trainer and twice weekly group sessions doing 'abs express' and 'muscle blaster' workouts), are clearly helping. So is keeping a food diary.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

First Rice University track workout

On Tuesday night our running club moved our weekly 'Track Tuesdays' to the brand new artificial track at Rice University.  Massive upgrade from Reagan High School, except for the parking.  It is a bit of a hike from the free parking at Rice, to the track.  Good opportunity to warm up!

But really there is no comparison.  Most importantly we now have lights at night, so don't have to stumble around in the dark or worse yet show up at a locked facility as we did recently in the Heights.  Also, the track at Rice has more lanes, there are some real professional coaches around (we are going to learn a lot from them, no doubt) and it has a fabulous backdrop (Medical Center).  I will take my camera next week.

As it happens, every Tuesday there is an organic Farmers Market at Rice - from 3:30p to 6:30p I think - so it is a great opportunity to stock up on some locally grown vegetables and other good stuff, before going on to the track workout. On Tuesday I picked up some really nice beetroot, cauliflower and Swiss chard.  

Part of the deal (for the club to be able to run at the Rice track) is that the Striders will be supplying some volunteers for the three Rice University track meets coming up in the spring.  I won't be around for the first one in March but I am looking forward to assisting with the other two.  And I will definitely take the camera to capture a few images of speedy athletes!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

'Abs Express' and 'Muscle Blaster'

This is the year to get really lean and part of the plan of action (including of course dropping some weight) is to add some additional workouts to the near daily running.  It has become almost a cliche to talk about 'muscle confusion' but based on personal experience there is something to be said for the theory that the body or at least particular muscle groups adapt to certain types of exercise.  I am pretty sure that my legs have adapted to running up to 40  miles per week and that they handle this load  very efficiently while expending a minimum of energy.  So I burn fewer calories covering the same distance at the same speed than would a first time runner of similar weight.  Definitely not rocket science.

So what to do to 'shock' the body into burning a few more calories?  Surprise it with some new and different exercises.  Ergo the 'Abs Express' and 'Muscle Blaster' classes, which are offered by the Rice University Rec Center every Tuesday and Thursday evening.  Expect to find me there every Tue. and Thu. until the end of February.  In March I will be in Africa.  Last night I attended the first two classes.  There is no pre-booking or signing up.  You pick up a pass up to 30 minutes prior to the start of the class.  This makes sense as this reduces no-shows to an absolute minimum.

There were about 20 participants for the 45 minute Muscle Blaster and nearly 40 people for the 15 minutes Abs Express.  The instructor, a young guy whom I assume must be a Rice student, was knowledgeable and energetic - he had presented the same classes previously so we got into it right away.  The exercises were of the high repetition, low weight variety involving the use of a barbell, several different sizes of dumbbells, an exercise ball,  steps and a mat.  We did a range of squats, lifts, crunches, bends, calf lifts and stretches targeting all the major muscle groups.   Like all exercises of this type, you can work as hard as you care to by increasing or decreasing the weight load.  I thought the exercises were very effective and by the end of the hour-long workout I was starting to feel the burn.  Adding these workouts to my twice weekly hour-long sessions with a personal trainer on Monday and Wednesday ought to give those pesky muscles something to think about...

On the running front all is going well.  My wife bought me a RunLog and I have been using it diligently, jotting down all exercise as well as daily food intake. Not counting calories, just writing down what I consume.  Last week (ending on Sunday Jan 10) I managed 40 miles which is about as many miles I've managed over the course of 6 days (Fridays being a rest day) since early last summer.  The left knee injury now definitely appears to be a thing of the past but I will continue to use the Capsaicin two or three times a day for another couple of weeks or so.  I felt a little calf tightness developing over the last few days (especially after a 14-miler on Saturday) and will continue to use the foam roller twice a day.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Oscar predictions

We finally saw The Fighter (last night) so here are my Oscar predictions and some comments on my favorite movies of 2010:

Best Picture

The Social Network
The Kings Speech
The Fighter
Winter's Bone
The Kids are All right
True Grit
The Town
Black Swan

Of these movies the ones I enjoyed most were The Kings Speech, The Social Network, The Fighter and The TownInception was good too but it just went on and on...  Winter's Bone was beautifully done but a bit dark and depressing.  I expect great things from director Debra Granik in future.  The Kids are All right was superbly acted from top to bottom and I wouldn't be surprised to see at least a couple of best and supporting male and female actor nominations from it.  The Kings Speech had almost no shortcomings and is just a stunning movie from open to close, with great cinematography, an excellent script, and of course brilliant acting by both Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. The Town was amongst the most entertaining movies of the year with Ben Affleck doing a bang-up job as director, creating some nice tension and capturing bank robbery and subsequent shoot-out scenes with as much impact and realism as I have ever seen.  True Grit was enjoyable too but mostly because of Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges.  Overall the movie was too wordy for a Western I thought.  Nonetheless worth a trip to the theater!  If there was one movie I probably could have done without seeing this year, it would be Black Swan.  Just a bit too painful to watch Natalie Portman's character implode, in a sense.  She is excellent though and so is Barbara Hershey as the over-bearing mother, as well as Natalie's real or imagined rival played by Mila Kunis. 'The Fighter' is a terrific movie which never feels formulaic even though its redemption theme has been done many times before. It shines with several amazing performances including Christian Bale as Dickie Eklund, Mickey Ward's some-time trainer, Mellisa Leo as his controlling mother/manager and Amy Adams as his girlfriend. The hard-edged blue collar neighborhood setting, drug abuse and sordid family squabbles feel all too real.   Christian Bale is outstanding.

And the Oscar goes to:  The Social Network. Such a good story, brilliant script, plenty of intrigue, great photography & direction, impeccable ensemble acting.  There is nothing not to like about this movie.  I would be surprised if it does not win. 

Best Actor:

I would think Colin Firth as King George VI in The Kings Speech.  The man is simply brilliant as the Brits would say.  Every bit as good as he was in last year's A Single Man, a stunningly shot and very under-rated movie, by the way. The way in which Firth owns his character's stammer and his palpable emotional and physical struggle to overcome it, is flat out amazing to watch.  Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) will probably garner a bunch of votes too.  Unfortunately for him I think the role of Mark Zuckerberg - who was portrayed in a rather negative light - does not lend itself to acting pyrotechnics, as he is a very low-key individual both on and off screen.

Best Actress:

Annette Bening and Julianne Moore both shone in The Kids are all right.  I have to give Ms. Bening the edge though: she was fantastic and displayed the most impressive range of 'genuine' emotion I have seen in years.  My nod definitely goes to her.  Two other very strong performances which I think merits recognition were Natalie Portman in Black Swan (total immersion), and Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone.  In fact if there is a surprise choice, it might very well be Ms. Lawrence.  She's definitely got some serious acting chops and we'll be looking out for her movies in the years to come. 

Best Actor in a Supporting role:

In my estimation, Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech) has got this one.  He was spot-on as the irreverent and unorthodox speech therapist.  However Christian Bale (The Fighter) was scarily realistic as the crack-addled older brother; it would not surprise me if he got the nod.  Two other strong contenders are Jeremy Renner (The Town) and Andrew Garfield (The Social Network).  Garfield was  a revelation as Zuckerberg's one-time Facebook founder-partner. Mark Ruffalo had a great role in The Kids are All Right and made absolutely the most of it. 

Best Actress in a Supporting role:

Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) should be the prodigious favorite.  She was mesmerizing in the role of the 14-year old girl intent on finding and bringing her father's killer to justice. Melissa Leo was perfect as the controlling mother-manager in The Fighter. Helena Bonham Carter also did a bang-up job as the wife to King George VI (Colin Firth)

Best Director will likely go to either Christopher Nolan for Inception or David Fincher for The Social Network.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Goodbye and hello!

Goodbye to 2010 and hello to 2011 of course.  From a running perspective 2010 was a forgettable year for yours truly due to the knee injury.  I was pretty much in a holding - hobbling - phase for much of the summer and early Fall.  Pretty solidly back now so time for a few goals for the year:

Post more frequently this year.  Over the first two full years of this blog, I posted 73 and 75 times, respectively.  Maybe that is my blog writing limit - I hope not.  A twice weekly frequency ought to bump that up to near 100.  Let's put that down as goal #1.

Set a new 5k PR.  I was hoping to give that a shot this year.  It never was on with just one good leg.  So reset and try again in 2011.  The spring will probably be too soon (need to lose some weight first) and I am likely to be in Africa for practically all of March.  So most realistic shot would be early Fall of 2011.  

Run some different races.  That shouldn't be too difficult.  Plenty of opportunities around here.  Might start with the Rockets Run 5K on January 22.

Pick up on my French language lessons again.  It is about time to tackle the Rosetta Stone French lessons again, before the last go-round sinks totally below the level of recall.  Perhaps I will finally build up enough courage to join a French conversation group.  Don't bank on it.

Add some new cross-training workouts.   From next week (Tuesday and Thursdays) I will be doing a 'Muscle Blaster' and 'Abs Express' group program at the Rice University Rec Center.  So if I can stick with it at least for January and February (March will be a washout), that ought to be a good start.  

Find my long lost abs. I've written about these elusive muscles a couple of times before.  It is a matter of uncovering them - I know.  So we're really talking about several sub-goals including losing some weight and significantly reducing my bodyfat percentage from the current 22% or so (in my hands the fat calipers tend to give erratic readings?) down to about 12%.  Probably too ambitious a goal but it is now or never.  

And finally...

Chew my food.  One of the most interesting 'diet-related' snippets of information I came across in 2010 was a reference to significantly lower food intake by persons who chewed on a mouth-full of food for 9 seconds instead of the usual 2 seconds.  I'm definitely guilty of the latter so I will print out this list to constantly remind me to slow down and give those molars the work they were designed for.  I paid the endodontist dearly for most of them anyway (enjoy your Maserati Dr. Zamani) so I might as well get my money's worth!

Best wishes to you and yours for 2011!!