Veggie Stir Fry

My mom is currently on a low-gluten diet and I'm not eating a lot of meat, which eliminates two of my family's standby meals--pasta and meat+potatoes. We decided to make this delicious veggie stirfry instead.

A few stirfry tips:
- Cut the veggies small--you want them to cook quickly and evenly.
- Put in the hardest vegetables first (like broccoli or carrots) and save the softest veggies for last (like bean sprouts or bok choy). This way they will all be fully cooked.
- Use a really, really hot pan, and stir often. Adding veggies in stages will help keep the pan hot.
- Good seasonings include: ginger, garlic, soy (or tamari to keep it gluten free), sesame oil and sesame seeds. We also used garlic chives for added flavor and vegetable.
- If you want a sauce, add a lot of wilty vegetables (like bok choy) to get extra water and thicken it with cornstarch.

Our stirfry included: green beans, carrots, garlic chives, celery, bok choy, cabbage and bean sprouts.

This are garlic chives. We cut them into 1-2 inch pieces
and added them with the bean sprouts.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing me at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Bargain Bin Produce

Our local grocery store has a fantastic bargain produce section we lovingly call "the squishy shelf". Most items on the shelf are between 50 cents and a dollar and range in quality from practically liquefied to merely suffering from a few cosmetic blemishes.

As Dan and I learn to save money and bargain hunt, we're trying to take as much advantage of the bargain produce as possible. Recently, we picked up several pints of blueberries for 69 cents, a bag of 15 apple bananas for 99 cents and several 2-3 pound bags of cherries for 99 cents each.

Of course, with this time of fruit, processing is necessary--nobody really wants to eat 10 pounds of slightly squishy cherries. Our solution? Make sorbet and fruit leather! We're also making dried cherries with our dehydrator, but that's a pretty specialized piece of equipment.

To make fruit leather, heat and then puree fruit, sweetening to taste along the way. (I also recommend adding acid. We have done a cherry-lime puree and we added lemon to our blueberry-banana puree. Apple cider vinegar in an apple puree would also be fun.)

Pour the puree into a parchment lined baking tray and put it in the oven overnight (or until leathery) at the lowest setting. We have a gas oven with a pizza stone in it. The pilot light heats the oven up and the pizza stone keeps it warm, so we didn't even turn the oven on. Other recommendations include inside a (closed, off) grill that has been sitting in the sun, or even just in a sunny spot in the yard (particularly if you live in a dry, hot environment).

We also tried drying fruit leather with our fruit dehydrator, which worked really fast. It's a lot more energy intensive though, and I would only use this strategy if were using the dehydrator anyways.

You can use any leftover puree to make sorbet! Unless you have a serious sweet tooth and heavily sweetened your fruit leather, you'll want to add more sugar in this round. It will help keep the sorbet soft instead of a block of fruit-colored ice. We used an ice cream maker, but there are loads of instructions on how to make ice cream without an ice cream maker. Just make sure you cool the puree down thoroughly before trying to make ice cream out of it.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing me at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Back on Track

Travelling for 24+ hours to get home really wiped me out. With jetlag dipping my energy levels down to zero just in time for my afternoon workout, my favorite form of exercise became napping.

Now that I'm adjusting to the 8-hour time change, I'm finally back into the swing of workouts. After taking Monday and Tuesday off, I decided that Wednesday also needed to be a short workout just to help shake off some of the stiffness. Thursday was also fairly short, but I got back on the rowing machine and continued to loosen up after so much time sitting on Monday.

30-minute run, including 1.5 miles on the track, 8' mile pace.
15 minutes of circuits (push-ups, pull-ups, bench pulls, step ups)
15-minute jog with Dan

20-minute jog with Dan
3x10' on the rowing machine at steady state pace.

I'm about to head off for today's workout: 6x800m on the track.

Do you take time off when you take long flights? How do you make sure you workout when you're travelling and jetlagged? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing me at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Home to an Empty House

Yesterday was full of travelling! We left Henley-on-Thames at 7 AM British time in order to get to the airport for our 11 AM flight. All went well with the flight and goodbyes were said to teammates in the Newark airport.

After a three hour layover, I caught a flight to Boston and then a connecting flight out to California. When we touched down at 11 PM California time, I had been travelling for 24 hours... and still had an hour to go.

Fortunately, there was a surprise waiting for me at the airport!!! Dan told me he was going to catch a flight down from Oregon on Wednesday, but he ended up booking a flight for yesterday and surprised me as I walked out of the plane. It was so nice to have him there after a really long, uncomfortable day of travelling.

It's always nice to have a man who still think you're beautiful even with bloodshot eyes and feet so swollen they look like stuffed sausages.

We arrived home to an essentially empty fridge as my parents have been off travelling Europe as well, so we had to make do with what we had. We were both too tired to do much more than munch on the two leftover apples last night, but breakfast this morning was a different story.

The only usable ingredients in the fridge were eggs, cheese and carrots (nearing their departure date). I considered omelets but the eggs were old enough that they were really better suited to baking, so I made carrot muffins.

I based the recipe off of my favorite muffin recipe, but with a lot of substitutions due to lack of ingredients. The fact that these turned out pretty well just speaks to the awesomeness of that recipe.

These are incredibly moist and very subtly sweet, with a tender crumb. The carrot flavor is very pronounced but not overwhelming. If you like raisins, a handful would definitely make these a lot sweeter. (I would recommend golden raisins.) Personally, I prefer savory breakfasts, so this was perfect.

After I'd already eaten two of them, I found almond butter in the fridge. A slather of almond butter would have rounded these out perfectly, making an incredibly nutritious breakfast.

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Not-Too-Sweet Carrot Muffins
makes 12 muffins


Training on my own

Yesterday was the official end to our season and the beginning of a new world--training on my own.

After spending the whole year with assigned workouts and a team to keep me accountable, I foresee it being somewhat challenging to go out on my own and maintain my fitness. In my year away from the team, it was disappointing to see my fitness disappear--and this time around I have much more fitness to lose.

I plan to transition my training to half running and half rowing-based exercises for at least the summer and then I will assess again in the fall. Dan and I are training to run a 5k in July (although I may enter the 10k race instead), probably this one. (I may also try to run the 5k next weekend. The entry fee is only $7 day of, so I can decide pretty late in the game if I feel like running.)

As I transition, I will be using this blog to track my workouts and log how my training and eating change over the next few months. I will also try to periodically post pictures as hard evidence of how my body has changed. I threw out all my size 6 jeans last week so I have no option but to stay thin!

Today's workout was a 45-minute jog, around 4.8 miles out and back, with some of my teammates, followed by core and stretching.

What do you do to stay motivated training on your own? Any suggestions?
Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing me at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Finding Umami

For much of my life, meat was a central part of every meal. I grew up eating a lot of beef and pork, including cold cuts for breakfast. And for much of my life I couldn't really imagine a meal without meat.

Let me rephrase that, I could imagine a meal without meat or a meat substitute. I have never minded tofu, and I learned to like beans a long time ago. But I could never have imagined a meal that didn't involved some sort of concentrated protein source or meaty flavor.

Not eating meat 6 days a week for 6 weeks changed that.

I'm not a vegetarian--I love bacon and sausage and marshmallows way too much. But while most Americans go meatless once a week, I probably only eat meat once a week. I eat meat substitutes maybe once a month. Here are some things I've learned:

1. Soy sauce! Mushrooms! Parmesan cheese! One of the things I've missed most is that really savory flavor. I've learned to add a dash of soy sauce, mushrooms or a bit of parmesan to meals to help bring that to plant-based dishes.

2. You probably get enough protein. (Yes, even if you're an athlete.)

3. Sometimes, you have to be a little bit more flexible. Generally, I'm a very stubborn person--I like things my way. Not eating much meat, I've found that I don't always get what I want for dinner. I went to a barbecue during graduation where more than half of the dishes served were meat dishes, and the remaining options were pretty uninspiring. This happens often.

4. Veggies are cheap. Even fresh ones. When I'm buying things at the grocery store, I find myself wondering whether spending $2 for a big bunch of kale is really a good deal, but jumping at only have to spend $3 for a small block of cheese. And the frozen ones are even cheaper--$1 for a pound of spinach. Sure $2/pound for green beans isn't a great price, but have you ever eaten a pound of green beans? That's a $2 meal right there.

5. It doesn't have to be fussy. Ok, maybe this follows from (3), but sometimes it's okay to have a salad and ice cream for dinner. Or buttered toast and baby carrots for lunch.

Do you eat meat? Do you eat meat substitutes? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing me at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com. 

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Protein and the USDA

I don't know if you've seen the new USDA food guidelines, but it's now a plate with the different food groups shown in varying sizes. It's a good start to making a change, but there are a few major flaws.

First, the inclusion of dairy is basically excluding vegans from the recommendation. In addition, a lot of Americans are lactose-intolerant, preventing them from consuming a lot of dairy products. I know it says dairy for simplicity sake, but products like soy milk and almond milk should also be considered a part of the dairy category.

Second, I think there should be a bigger emphasis on whole grains, instead of just grains. I have always liked my pasta white (and probably always will) but I think at least half of those grains should be coming from whole grains, if not more.

Third, the separate protein section of the plate is only helping fuel a common misperception--only certain foods contain protein. Of course, this is true--only certain foods do contain protein. For example, table sugar doesn't contain protein.

The list of foods that do contain protein, though, is much more comprehensive that most people expect. For example, did you know that bread contains protein? In fact, it's the protein in flour that makes bread chewy (which is why you use high protein bread flour instead of low protein cake flour).

But let's do a little thought experiment about bread.

Nutrition Facts for 1 slice of white bread
For the sake of example, let's say you're a woman aged 18-59. According to the chart below, you'd need 2000 calories and 60 grams of protein.

{Image Source}
Also for the sake of example, let's say you ate nothing but white bread. To reach 2000 calories a day, you would need to eat around 30 slices of bread:

30 slices * 66 calories/slice = 1980 calories

How much protein would you get?

30 slices * 2g protein/slice = 60 grams

Broccoli is even better: 3g of protein in 50 calories! (Not to mention fiber, and vitamins.) This isn't perfect--both of these foods would leave you short in fats, which are an important component of a healthy diet. And fats add a lot of calories.

Still, 1500 calories of broccoli would provide more than enough protein for even a typical athlete (90g) and still leave a lot of room for olive oil. (It would also clean you out, with 150g of fiber.)

So next time you think you need to open a can of beans or add a piece of chicken to make sure you get enough protein, think again. There is protein in almost everything we eat, and it add ups fast.

And finally, the biggest problem with this new plate--where's dessert??!?!!!

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing me at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com. 

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To Shuck or Not To Shuck

We had a cookout after practice last night with grilled chicken, veggies and s'mores to round out the evening. We also had some of the first corn of the season! Yum!

I grilled corn quite a bit last summer, and tried it both ways--husk on and husk off.

Husk on, the corn seems a lot more moist, but it also takes a bit longer to cook and doesn't get those yummy char marks on the corn. (Yes, the same yummy char marks that also cause cancer.)

Husk off, the corn is incredibly delicious, but it cooks a bit less evenly and can dry out in the heat.

Today, we grilled the corn husk on, opened it, realized it wasn't all the way cooked, and put it back on husked to get char marks as it finished cooking. I think this is probably the ideal cooking method, but it's kind of a pain (literally--you'll probably burn your fingers).

How do you cook your summer corn? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing me at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com. 

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$12 a day

I'm not saying $12 isn't generous, but when you have a $5/day ice cream habit (fueled by all-you-can-eat ice cream in the dining halls), it brings your budget down to $7/day. Since I'm trying to also make up for the two or three days where we didn't receive per diem, my daily budget is really down to about $5/day.

If I had to buy everything from scratch, I almost certainly would fail to meet this budget, but I already had a lot of food stockpiled from the year. Here's an example of what I've been eating. Italics are things that I already had stocked in my pantry or acquired from kitchens or departing students.

----- ----- -----
Instant oatmeal + nuts + seeds + cinnamon, strawberries, banana + peanut butter

apple + peanut butter, chocolate chips

leftover gnocchi with kale and pesto
bread with cream cheese
bread with hummus or cheddar
chocolate chips

Carrots and hummus

During Practice

Rice with veggies

Free ice cream with chocolate-hazelnut fudge sauce

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Perhaps now you understand just how much I eat. This is a pretty light food day for me (other than the quantity of free ice cream consumed). I also eat a lot of fresh (and frozen!) fruits and veggies, which gets expensive.

Generally, I eat very plain and simple foods that are carefully selected and well prepared, but don't make any restrictions beyond that. (Bring on the ice cream! As long as it's made with cream and sugar.) This is especially true now that I'm making everything myself--simplicity is wonderful.

How would you describe your eating habits? Plain and simple? Lots of lowfat/nonfat foods? Full of spices? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing me at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com. 

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Everyday Veggies: 20 Minute Dinner

Our meal contracts ended at the end of the semester (almost three weeks ago). Because we're on campus training, we are given per diem to pay for our food.

Our budget for this week is $12/day. I know this seems like a lot, but with no cooking equipment, and very few resources (like olive oil, or spices) this is a pretty limited budget. It feels even smaller when you need to eat between 3000 and 4000 calories a day just to maintain weight.

So I've been all about cheap, easy, fast meals. (When it's 95 and you finished practice at 7PM, easy and fast are key ingredients.)

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20-Minute Dinner: Rice and Veggies
serves 2 (generously)

big pot
frying pan

1c white rice ($0.50)
a large bunch of kale ($2)
0.5 small head of purple cabbage ($0.50)
pre-chopped mushrooms (or you can chop your own)  ($2)
0.25 medium onion (optional) ($0.08)
olive oil (as much as you can pilfer from the public kitchen)
chili flakes, or whatever other spices you find in the kitchen

1. Put the rice and 2c of water into a big pot. (Use more rice to stretch this meal even further.) Turn it to high.
2. Remove the stems from the kale. Keeping them separate, chop the cabbage and the onion.
3. When the rice boils, turn it to low and add the kale to the pot. Put the lid on.
4. Heat olive oil in a frying pan. When it's hot, add the spices and onions. Cook 2-3 minutes, then add the mushrooms and cabbage. Continue cooking until the mushrooms and cabbage are softening, about 5 minutes. (If you like well-cooked mushrooms, add these before the cabbage.)
5. Add the mushrooms/cabbage to the big pot. (The rice should be finished cooking at this point.) Mix everything together and enjoy.
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This would also be good with some romano grated over the top, or with frozen spinach instead of kale. The spinach would be a lot cheaper.

Still, $5 for two very generous servings was a great deal. (More rice would have made it an even cheaper meal, albeit less nutritious, by stretching it to three servings. Unfortunately, it was the last of my rice.)

The meal was capped off with raspberry sorbet from the The Bent Spoon and chocolate-hazelnut fudge sauce, courtesy of the public refrigerator. (Everybody has left for the summer--these were clearly abandoned by their previous owners.) Free dessert! YAY!

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing me at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com.

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A Long Overdue Update

It's been almost a month since my last post, but lots has happened.

Academically, I finished my last class, took my last final, turned in my last project and GRADUATED! Graduation here is a three day affair, involving baccalaureate, class day (with class speakers and honorary class member awards) and commencement. This year, it was disgustingly hot--we're talking 95 degrees, sitting in a black polyester gown in the sun. Gross!

The weather was especially gross because we were also still training! During finals, we raced at the regional championships, Eastern Sprints. And we won!

We didn't have a bucket of Gatorade.
Dan also got to come watch races and take pictures. He got a ZipCar membership, rented a car and drove down, which was awesome.

Three weeks later (last weekend), we raced at the national championships. We had hoped for 1st place, but come in 2nd after a very close race with Stanford. It was disappointing, but it was also a phenomenal race. After falling pretty far behind them in the first half of the race, we had a spectacular sprint to finish 0.68s behind them, with over 7 seconds between us and the third place crew.

Among all of this, I also entertained two families (mine and Dan's), got sick, packed up our stuff to get moved across the country, changed rooms, and cooked for myself.

I know most of you probably cook for yourself on a regular basis, but I promise it's much more challenging when you have to use a communal kitchen. It becomes even more challenging when most of your cooking equipment (including all of your good knives) are on a truck driving across the country. I'm currently cooking with one pot, one knife, two hot pads and whatever I can find in the kitchen.

I'm still on campus now, and still training. As a result of our undefeated regular season and our win at the regional championships, our program's alumni association has sponsored our boat to race at Women's Henley in England. We've been enjoying the hot weather and empty campus.

As you can tell, I've been quite busy. Now that life is starting to settle down a bit, expect more regular updates!
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