Monday, May 3, 2010


Yesterday's Washington Post Magazine had an article about a 51-year old who underwent intensive marathon training by a professional (a university track and field coach), and it got me thinking about the motivation behind entering and running marathons and other road races.

I have been running casually for six years now, and I have never entered a race, not even a 5K. And I have no desire to. I've considered it at various times, especially as I got faster and began to enjoy running, rather than seeing it as simply a way to lose weight. But I don't like running with other people. I don't even like coming across other runners in the neighborhood while I'm out running!

I know, this makes me sound very anti-social, but I don't think that's it. Running has become a meditative activity for me, especially since I ditched the ipod. Even on the rare occasions I take the ipod along -- usually to get rid of some annoying song I have stuck in my head -- I still find that I really THINK while I'm running, and think pretty clearly. It's truly my "alone time." And if I'm with someone else, I don't think it would be the same solitary experience.

I also found somewhat alarming the descriptions in the Post article about the race itself and some runners' experiences. Projectile vomiting at mile 13? That would pretty much be the end of the race for me! That's not to diminish the achievement of those who train and race and finish, but there are some of us who love to run, and who are very competetive, but don't have any interest in running a race.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Baking bread

Well, the bike-to-work season is progressing nicely, thank you very much! The DC weather has cooperated the last couple of weeks, and the cherry blossoms were beautiful! I rode past the White House this morning and saw throngs of people on the front lawn -- and then I remembered "Easter Egg Roll!" The kids must have had a great time -- the weather could not have been better!

On Friday, I baked a loaf of whole wheat bread, and it turned out particularly well. Probably the warmer weather. I've been baking bread regularly for the last year or so, using Peter Reinhart's whole wheat bread recipe from his "Whole Grain Breads" book. It involves using a "mother starter" to create a wild yeast starter, which is then combined with the "soaker" (flour soaked in milk) plus other basic ingredients (more flour, honey, oil, salt) to make the final dough. The final dough then rises once, is formed into a loaf, then rises again before it is baked.

I've always been a little frightened of yeast bread (I feel like the yeast can sense my fear...) so it's been a revelation to be able to make bread regularly, every week or so, and have it turn out. Some weeks are better than others, but I've so far not had a total failure. I did put some time into making the mother starter initially (Reinhart gives detailed instructions in his book), and you do have to remember to refresh it periodically. And the bread-making involves some planning since the wild yeast starter has to rise for at least 4 hours and the soaker has to sit for at least 12 hours. But I've come up with a system that seems to work.

The night before I want to bake, I prepare the wild yeast starter and the soaker. I leave them overnight, and by morning the starter has risen. I then mix the final dough and let it rise for a couple of hours, then prepare the loaf and let THAT rise for an hour, and then bake. You do have to be home for those 4-5 hours (although you can leave during the rising, of course), so planning to bake on a weekend or other day off is perfect. The satisfaction of eating home-made bread is really worth it -- amazing grilled cheese sandwiches!

Speaking of sandwiches, I just read a disturbing news item about KFC's imminent introduction of a new sandwich which involves cheese, bacon, and some sort of sauce pressed between two pieces of fried chicken. Can we even call this a sandwich, people?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bike-to-work Season

So, bike-to-work season is officially here! I calculated that this is the sixth year in which I have biked to work at least some days, essentially spring through fall. The 23-mile round trip does get easier every year, and I hope it is taking some of the stress off my bones and joints that must result from the constant, repetetive motion of running.

A few words about my bike -- I purchased it from a company called "Bike the Sites," which rents bikes to tourists here in DC. They are located at the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Ave. So I wandered in one day, hoping to replace my thirty-year-old brown Raleigh -- which is a truly beautiful bike, but weighs a TON. Their bikes are kept in good condition, since they rent them out regularly, and they often sell off bikes when they get new ones. So in 2005, I bought a Trek hybrid for $100. It has served me well these last five years, and I do get it tuned up regularly (which costs more than the bike did!).

I see a lot of bikers on my commute with sharp-looking racing bikes, with thin wheels, which must be ultra-lite. They regularly zoom right past me. But I like the security of my fat wheels and heavier bike, even if it means more effort and time to get to and from work. I'm lucky to have a route that keeps me out of traffic for the most part as well -- I spend most of the 11.5 miles each way on the Capital Crescent Trail and the Rock Creek trail. And when I get up to the Lincoln Memorial, I cruise down past the Reflecting Pool and the WWII Memorial (a truly hideous memorial, by the way -- the WWII veterans really do deserve better), past the White House and up to the Washington Monument, then over to my office building. It's a really great commute, and makes me so happy to live in the DC area!!

I'll post again about the logistics of biking to work, which are important to make it a smooth commute that doesn't feel burdensome. There are a number of little things I've learned over the last five years of doing this that have really helped make the commute more enjoyable and less like "exercise."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I have to admit, I love running and am definitely a person who can easily settle into a rut. I have been known to eat the same thing for lunch for months at a time (bagel with hummus was the last rut, vegetable soup with tofu croutons -- which I will elaborate on in a later posting -- is the current one). But after having suffered some repetetive-motion-related injuries some years ago, I started bicycling to work in the spring-to-fall season.

We are lucky enough to have a great bike/walk trail system that allows me to do this without having to suffer the terrifying experience of biking on the street with the cars ... I once biked down Constitution Ave and really did not think I would live to tell of it. My workplace also has a fantastic arrangement for bicyclists, allowing us to store our bikes in a secure location during the day, and access to free showers (more about this in a subsequent post)

But the first ride of the season is always a little daunting. So this Sunday, with the 70 degree temps in DC, we rode from our house down to Georgetown to have lunch -- about 8 miles each way, three miles short of my work bike-commute -- and a steady (but not terribly steep) uphill ride most of the way home. I first patted myself on the back for having had my bike tuned up in late February, before it got warm and everyone else had the same thought. So because of that, the gears shifted smoothly, the brakes worked well, and all was good. The Capital Crescent Trail (built along an old railroad line) was packed with bikers, joggers, and walkers, but it was a lovely ride down ... and enjoyed a nice salad from Sweetgreen in Georgetown (with chickpeas, feta, and tofu) sitting on a bench overlooking the Potomac River (we think we saw Marine One go by at one point...).

And then, of course, the ride home. Which I always dread the first time of the season -- five miles of steady uphill, on a relatively heavy hybrid bicycle. But the winter running must be working -- it really wasn't that bad! It does seem to get easier every year. And, more importantly, it does feel good to move one's muscles in a different way for a change. Running is wonderful (did it this morning, in fact) but I truly see the value in cross-training when I ride my bike, even if it is only to make sure I can run for more and more years.

So tomorrow -- 40 degrees in the morning, which is a bit cold for me to ride a bike, although warm for running -- but I'm going to man up and ride in. Will let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I actually prefer the title "Snowverload," actually.

We are pretty much dug out (finally). Well, mostly. Our neighborhood does an admirable job of plowing the streets, since it hires plows to clean the streets and doesn't rely on the state and county plows (which were understandably overstressed). So in spite of the 30 inches of snow on Saturday, I went for a morning run on Sunday -- managed the full 4.5 miles, with a couple of slowdowns for patchy snow on the street, and a couple of stops to chat with friends and neighbors. Pretty amazing! And really beautiful, since the snow was still on the trees, but the sun was out and the sky was bright blue. So all in all, the snow didn't really affect my workout routine -- plus there was all that shoveling! Good thing, since I don't have a treadmill.

I have recently discovered I have a bit of a macho streak, and it was certainly well-fed the last couple of weeks. Even this morning, I got a "you're so brave!" shout-out from a woman walking to the Metro. I said to her what I've generally said to people when they are surprised to see a runner in the snow or even just in the cold -- once you're out there, it's really not that bad! In fact, in can be downright exhilarating. But I have to admit, I enjoyed that little ego-stroking, and it made me feel really tough.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Yoga Every Day

Well, almost every day. Last year I took a yoga class three times a week for six months, and really liked it. The strength and flexibility benefits were slow, but definitely noticeable. And I think the time spent breathing deeply is important. However, it was just too time-consuming to go to an hour and twenty minute class three times a week. So after my six-month membership was up, I decided I would try to do yoga at home for 30 minutes or so three times a week.

Well, that was almost a year ago, and I haven't been doing a very good job of keeping it up. At most I do it once a week, and many weeks I haven't done any yoga at all.

So I've decided I will try to do 15-30 minutes of yoga every weekday. I've been doing it as soon as I get home, before I look at the mail, or read the paper, or start making dinner. I change my clothes and roll out the mat in my bedroom, and start. I am very much a creature of habit and routine, so I'm hoping that if I start doing this regularly enough, it will "take" and I'll keep it up. And the fact that it's not particularly time-consuming helps a lot. It's also a nice de-stresser at the end of a usually stressful day.

One thing I am looking for is sources of yoga poses, so I don't get into a rut of doing the same routine every day. Yoga Journal has a build-your-own-routine feature on its website, so I will be trying that, and there are also some yoga routine iphone apps which I want to check out.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My First Vegetarian Cookbook

In 1985 or so, I bought a cookbook by Madhur Jaffrey, titled "World of the East Vegetarian Cooking." It was the first cookbook I ever bought. I was enticed by the lovely drawing on the front -- an Indian woman in a green sari, with a long, thick braid, sprinkling spices into a karhai (i.e., a wok-like dish commonly used in North India). Madhur Jaffrey, who has written numerous cookbooks, veg and non-veg, grew up in India and therefore has a different perspective on vegetarian food and cooking than many Westerners. To her, it is not about sacrificing anything. It's not about "I can't/don't eat x, y, and z."

It's about the wide variety of food that IS available to you. The introduction itself is wonderful to read. Jaffrey talks about how she and her friends are baffled by people who ask what vegetarians eat -- there is so much wonderful food out there. -- and goes on to describe dishes that will make your mouth water. One of the best aspects of the book is that it brings together vegetarian recipes from different parts of Asia, where vegetarianism is not viewed with any sort of skepticism, or really with any sort of opinion at all. I saw this myself on a recent trip to Southeast Asia, where most people are non-vegetarians, and fish is commonly eaten. When I informed people that I don't eat meat or fish, but egg was OK, everyone was immediately understanding and prepared vegetables and noodles or rice, sometimes with tofu or egg mixed in, without comment or attitude or judgment. This is probably because many Buddhists are strict vegetarians -- although many are not as well -- and the people in Southeast Asia are used to the idea.

One thing about Madhur Jaffrey's book is that many recipes have ingredients that can be difficult to find, especially if you don't have access to an Asian grocery store -- like blocks of tamarind, or chickpea flour (both of which are easily found in Indian grocery stores, or hard-t0-find lentil varieties. But in spite of that, there are some terrific recipes that I have turned to again and again. The best has got to be the Delicious Spicy Chickpeas, which Jaffrey modeled after the chickpea dishes sold by street vendors in Old Delhi. Another is, surprisingly, the Ginger Limeade, made with fresh grated ginger. She also has a lovely Indian-style tomato soup (she correctly notes that Indians love tomato soup and have adopted it as their own).

Overall, this is not the cookbook I turn to most often. But Jaffrey's writing is wonderful, and it's worth reading some of the introductory paragraphs before her chapters and many of the individual recipes. She talks about friends and relatives who make the particular dish, and where and when she has eaten it. But for a more generally useful vegetarian cookbook, I have others I prefer, like Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone or Crescent Dragonwagon's Passionate Vegetarian.