Sunday, August 28, 2011

I Ran My First 5K!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've never been able to run before in my life. This June I learned how to run using the ChiRunning technique, which has been life changing for me. The technique makes running easier, prevents injuries, and has taught me how to mentally focus.

Back in June I signed up for Run Around the Square (RATS), a fun 5K race in Regent Square on August 27. I've trained for the race by running 3.1 miles or slightly more two days a week on the flat river trail near where I live on the Northside and one day a week doing the actual RATS course, which starts out in the Regent Square residential streets and then goes into Frick Park. Without trying to increase my pace, I've gone from an 11-minute mile to a 10-minute mile because my ChiRunning form has improved. And while the RATS course takes me longer because some of it is uphill, I did the course four times before the race so felt confident and ready.

Still! I've never been in a race before, and I had no idea what running with 1,500 people would be like. ChiRunning relies so much on mental focus, and I was extremely anxious that I wouldn't be able to focus with so many other people and distractions. When I met my sister, who was running the race with me, yesterday morning we were both so nervous we felt like we were going to be sick. But, we managed to smile at the start line.What a fun experience it was! I couldn't focus like I usually do on my runs, but I had no problem running it because of the energy and festive vibe. Throughout the entire route, people came out to play music for the runners. There were bands, a young girl playing a violin, a man playing a saxophone, and another man playing a bagpipe. And all along the course were the cheerleaders--people who came out to clap for us and encourage us, to tell us how much of the hill we had left and that cold beer was waiting for us at the finish line. I especially loved the fast runners who came back onto the trail after they'd finished to high-five us and tell us how close we were to the finish line. Thanks to everyone who came out to support us--it really, really helped me! I also really appreciated my husband getting up very early to be there with me, putting up with my anxiety-induced pre-race craziness, and taking pictures.

In addition to water stations, there was a beer and champagne station at mile 1. At the end there was cold beer as promised as well as fruit, Italian ice, hot dogs, cookies, and pretzels, with a happy and energetic crowd of more than 1,500 enjoying it all in Frick Park, where the finish line was.

My time was 32:48, which is a 10:35 pace. So, it's not my best run, but an improvement for me over past runs. I ran as part of a big mob the entire run, so it was hard to go my regular pace consistently. My goals were not to walk and not to finish last, and I met both goals. On the uphill parts in Frick Park, about half the people were walking. It was very tempting to join them, but I didn't. Once I got through the uphill section and started on the downhill part, I was able to pick up my pace.

Here is my sister and me, all smiles coming out of the first section of Frick Park.
We got separated going into the next section of Frick Park, and because that part was uphill, I couldn't wait for her without walking, which I didn't want to do. So I finished by myself. Here I am sprinting to the finish line.What a great feeling to cross that finish line! We got flowers and water as soon as we crossed.And we also had beer, which is crazy for both of us. I don't drink beer at all, let alone at 10 in the morning.But after achieving a huge personal accomplishment and participating in such a fun, supportive, fantastic event, the beer hit the spot.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Secret to Urban Gardening: Big Pots!

This summer I've spent less time cooking and more time eating whatever I've picked up at the farmers' markets. I think peanut butter & jelly on homemade wheat toast with sliced tomatoes, steamed kale, and watermelon for dessert is a completely respectable meal (that sounds better than, "I'm a little lazy in the summer").

We've also been eating from the veggie plants we're growing this year--one of my food budgeting goals. Every year I've tried to grow veggie plants, they've failed. Our last tomato plant looked ill the whole summer and spit out three tomatoes at the end of the year. We have a concrete patio for a yard, so I have to rely on potted plants, and I suspect my pots have been too small.

My husband's coworker gave us three plants this year (thanks, Matt!). We planted them in our biggest pots, which I usually use for ornamental grasses on the deck. I was a little sad to give up my grasses, but the pots were the solution!

This is our Fourth of July plant. The tomatoes are bigger than cherry tomatoes but still small and consistently delicious. It keeps growing and growing and has about five ripe tomatoes a day with about 20 more ripening. It became a super-performer only after I watered it with compost from the worm bin I keep in my kitchen, where I put fruit and veggie scraps.
This is our hot pepper plant. It also has a ton of peppers all the time. I've used them in salsa, and my husband grills or sautes them and puts them on burgers or hot dogs (he isn't veg).
Our third plant is some type of black tomato. A third of it got devoured by a tomato worm early in the season, and it hasn't been the same since. It's only just produced two tomatoes...but they are amazing!
It's nice to come home from work, walk outside, and pick these for dinner.
I also bought a basil plant from Trader Joe's. Basil is pretty reliable and has done well for me in previous years; it didn't disappoint this year. This basil is extremely fragrant and smells so sweet, I want to eat the leaves right off the stem. Unfortunately, the lettuce salad plants I got from Whole Foods did awful. They didn't last beyond my first plucking. I never replanted them into a bigger pot, so I guess that's why. (That's Rasputin, my formal feral kitty who plays catch with toy mice and hairbands and is a big, constantly attention-starved baby.)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Trio of Yum Yum Sandwiches

I have no idea why the author of Vegan Yum Yum would take down her website, stop posting on Twitter, and otherwise disappear from the vegan community. It's a shame, because her recipes are great! Last week I made three sandwiches from the book.

The first was the Pan-Seared Tomato and Rosemary Artichoke Sandwich.It was extremely messy but amazingly delicious. The messiness comes from a balsamic reduction (heat 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar on medium for about 5 minutes, until it reduces by half and becomes sweet and a little thick) drizzled over the sandwich. Sliced artichokes sauteed in olive oil with rosemary, pan-seared tomato slices, baby spinach, and some basil complete this sandwich. I very rarely eat white bread, so having this on white baguette bread was a huge treat for me. Two huge thumbs up for this sandwich!

The second was the Picnic Sandwich (sorry for the bad photo).The first step is making the spread, which is a puree of nuts (recipe called for pine nuts; I used walnuts) and sundried tomatoes in olive oil. Spread that on both sides of the sandwich, then top with zucchini slices sauteed with Italian herbs. Add baby spinach, and you've got another really awesome sandwich. She calls it a picnic sandwich because it can be wrapped up in plastic and sit for a few hours in a backpack and still taste good. This sandwich also gets two big thumbs up (the white baguette bread was awesome again).

The third was the Smoky Miso Tofu Sandwich.I first made a marinade from miso, lemon juice, sugar, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, and liquid smoke, brushed it on the tofu, and baked the slices for about 20 minutes.Next I made the Cashew Miso Mayo from Appetite for Reduction, which is a simple puree of cashews, miso, water, and apple cider vinegar. I spread the mayo on wheat bread, added the tofu slices, and topped it with baby spinach. This sandwich was just okay. I didn't love the tofu, and I usually always love tofu. And I think there were conflicting miso tastes between the tofu marinade and the mayo.

I'll definitely make the first two again. Until then, Lauren (Vegan Yum Yum author), please come back!