Friday, February 22, 2019

Some Meatless Meals

I've been debating whether to make a post like this for awhile. I know there's nothing more annoying than someone going on and on about how they've given up meat, but after talking to Kristina, I decided this was worth a post.

For one thing, I'm not fully meatless, so I think the preach-factor won't be as high. For another, for the longest time the biggest deterrent to cutting meat out of my diet was not knowing how to replace it. I was scared of tofu.

Matt and I aren't eating red meat, chicken, or (most) dairy at home anymore. We still have fish and eggs, and we frequently eat meat when we go out. I don't necessarily feel any healthier having gone this route. I don't have more or less energy; I haven't lost or gained weight. I do feel a little better about my impact on the environment and animals, and I can finally eat the meals I cook without feeling nauseated, which is the most important thing.

I found the video below really helpful in figuring out what kind of tofu I like best and how to cook it.
This post is going to cover two ways I cook tofu and a brief recipe using meatless ground "beef". Also, before I get comments about how eating "too much soy" is bad for you, you should know I did my due diligence before introducing tofu as a staple in our diets. Here are two articles that cite multiple studies that debunk the myths. Basically, the amount of soy we're eating is totally fine; people who tend to get alarmist about "too much soy" haven't brushed up on their reading lately.

Bear in mind, too, that I'm cooking for a two-person household, so one block of tofu is enough for dinner, but if you're feeding more than two people you'd need to adjust.

Cooking Tofu: Prep

I prefer extra firm tofu. Cooked, it has a nice firm texture on the outside but stays soft inside. It doesn't dry out or get crumbly the way I've found super firm can.
When Publix carries it, I prefer this "tofu plus" variety of Nasoya.
To prep it, I drain the container and unbox the tofu onto a paper towel. I let it rest for a few minutes while I preheat the oven/pan, but I don't worry about pressing or draining it.
I usually cut it into 1"x"1 blocks. Any smaller, and they will get a little crispier. Any bigger, and they'll stay softer. It's really down to preference. Some people cut it into "steaks" (thin rectangles instead of cubes), but I like the texture of cubes better.

Cooking Tofu: Stovetop - 10 minutes

Spray a large nonstick pan with cooking spray and preheat it on medium-high heat. (You can probably get away without spray if your nonstick pan is still in good shape but mine is 9 years old and needs a little help.)
You want to put the tofu in when the pan is nice and hot and then leave it alone for at least 5 minutes. If you turn it early, it will stick. I cook the tofu in batches so it's not crowded in the pan. When the edges begin to brown, turn it and cook the other side for another five minutes.

Ideally you'd cook all four sides but I rarely do that. After cooking two, I toss it in the pan randomly for another minute or so, season it to taste (or add whatever sauce I'm using), and then call it done.

Cooking Tofu: Oven - 25 minutes

If I'm feeling lazy and am in less of a rush, I'll bake my tofu. To do this, preheat the oven to 375F. Place your tofu cubes on a parchment-lined baking sheet - no need to spray it!
At the halfway point, the tofu is starting to brown a little bit.
Bake for about 25 minutes, tossing halfway through.
Fully baked.
Serving Tofu:

You can serve pan-fried or baked tofu the way you'd serve any meat, so sometimes we just pair it with baked potatoes or rice and veggies, sometimes we mix it into pasta, or we toss it into a curry (my personal favorite).
Baked tofu in Indian butter chicken sauce
I like to go the "semi-homemade" route and use jarred sauces and steam-in-bag veggies to cut cooking times down.
Pan-fried tofu with rice and broccoli.
Now, for a recipe of a different kind.

Spaghetti Squash Using Beefless Ground 

Preheat the oven to 400F. While it preheats, line a baking sheet with foil (shiny side down) and cut a spaghetti squash lengthwise. It's easiest to cut the ends off to create a flat end and then stand it upright to halve it. Remove the seeds with a spoon.
Liberally oil and salt the inside of the squash and place both halves cut-side-down on the baking sheet. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, depending on the size. It's ready when a fork or sharp knife easily punctures it.
When you remove the squash from the oven, carefully flip it over and let it rest. It will need about ten minutes to cool enough to handle. In the meantime, heat your spaghetti sauce of choice in a skillet or pan until it simmers. Then, pour in your frozen beefless ground a little at a time, folding it into the sauce to coat it fully. Allow the "meat"-sauce to simmer on low-medium while you go back to the squash.
Use a fork to shred the spaghetti squash. You simply run the tines over the inside of the squash from top to bottom; the spaghetti texture will happen naturally!

Enjoy!
Finally, here are some brands I'm enjoying. Most vegan "meat" brands aren't gluten free, but we've found Gardein and Beyond Meat both offer some good options. They're in the freezer section of our normal grocery store. We're enjoying Earth Balance for our butter substitute, Follow Your Heart cheeses, Just foods for mayo (I'm interested in trying their egg substitute!), and almond milk in place of cow's milk.

Like I said earlier, we're not planning to go fully vegetarian or vegan, but it's been really easy to make these small changes at home. I was always daunted by tofu and meatless meals; I thought they'd be labor-intensive and hard to shop for. It turns out the opposite is true. Cooking this way is faster and easier than cooking with meat in many ways. It was just a matter of taking the first step.

I hope this post helps anyone who's interested in trying some meat-free meal options but just hasn't known where to start.

ABK

Monday, February 18, 2019

A1A Half Marathon 2019

My memory is playing tricks on me, and that's one reason I'm grateful for this blog. Although I've run some iteration of the A1A race five years in a row now, I really thought I had run the half three times before this weekend's race - twice alone and once with Elizabeth. As it turns out, this year was only the second time I've run it alone, and my third time running it total.
In 2015 I ran the half for the first time. In 2016 I ran the full, choosing it because I remembered loving the half course so much every time I ran it...which I guess was just one time. In 2017 I ran the half with Elizabeth. In 2018 I ran the 5k. And now, this past weekend, I ran the half again.
The reason this has been on my mind is because I feel like I have a strong connection to this race, but I've kind of manufactured some memories of it that aren't entirely accurate. I knew, for example, that I once ran the half with a bad cold and surprised myself with my results; I didn't realize, though, that that happened the first year I ever ran it, in 2015.

I was thinking about this because I went into this year's race with a bad cold and some doubts about how I'd feel on race day. Luckily, the worst of my symptoms began to clear up by Friday and by Sunday I was breathing easy, and finally coughing up some nasty junk.

On the Friday before the race, we drove down to Boynton to see my sister and Gordon, who just got engaged. We enjoyed a late dinner with them and spent the night there. On Saturday, we headed down to Fort Lauderdale. As usual, the plan was to meet up with Oden, whose house we'd be staying at again, then grab lunch and hit the expo.
This year I signed "I'm back, baby!"
I'm not sure what it was, but the expo felt less exciting this year. Maybe I'm a little out of practice with big races or was starting to feel nervous, but the crowds and vendors had my hackles up, and I was happy to just get my bib, do a quick tour of the booths, and get out.
I took an unscheduled nap on Oden's couch before we went out to Glitch (a video game bar) for a couple hours and then grabbed sushi for dinner. I'm really loving these video game bars; I wish we had one near us!
Playing some classic Mario Kart. We also played on the new Nintendo Switch and it was really fun!
I went to bed around 10pm feeling fairly anxiety-free and slept like the dead.

Race day dawned early. I was up at 4am and avoided checking the weather. I knew it was going to be warm and humid. There was no point in worrying about it. I still hadn't chosen my full race outfit because of the forecast, but I had options. I had my usual breakfast (GF oatmeal with PB2 and honey, plus some coffee and a glass of water with Emergen-C mixed in) and got dressed. Matt and I left Oden's at 5am for the short drive to the start.
During the drive, my anxiety built. I was suddenly so nervous I was shaking. It wasn't just anticipatory anxiety; I was terrified. I couldn't pinpoint exactly where the fear was coming from; I was sure I'd be able to finish this race, and I truly didn't have a goal beyond that. Maybe it was the knowledge that there was a lot riding on it. It was going to serve as proof that I'm fully recovered from CECS. Maybe that pressure just got into my head.

Weirdly, once we got to the corrals, I felt better. This was familiar. I used the porta-potty, took some pictures, and got right back in line to use it again. I made the rash (but smart) decision to strip off my tank top. I was already warm! I didn't want to carry it with me the entire race.
I was self-conscious about running shirtless, but I also knew no one would care and it would give me a better chance at having a successful race. Then, Matt walked with me up to the 10:00 pacing area and prepared to leave.
My #1 fan
His plan was to go back to the house before the starting gun to drop off the car; then, he and Oden would ride bikes (well, the One Wheel in Matt's case) up to miles 4/6.5/11 to wait for me. So, I stood in the corral alone and put on my music. Talia by King Princess came on. I closed my eyes and started to focus.
Zoning in.
When I opened them, I had a feeling Matt was still nearby. I looked up, and there he was. He snapped one last picture, waved, and disappeared into the crowd.
This race is huge, so the start is pretty anti-climatic. After the gun, I walked with the rest of the crowd until we finally reached the start line, about 3 minutes later. Then, I started running.

The moment I crossed the start line and began to run, I was overcome with emotion. I immediately felt really good and steady; all my fears and doubts and overthinking stopped. I just felt wonderful. I'd been counting on this race to make me feel like the whole CECS "journey" is at an end, and I was hyperaware that the first step of this race meant I was finally, finally, in the last moments of that damn chapter of my running story. In a couple hours, two years of struggle would be behind me.

I held back tears for the entire first mile.
The spot where Matt and Oden planned to set up shop. I would pass them three times on the course if they stayed in that area.
For the first three miles, until we reached the Las Olas bridge to A1A, I felt good, but already warm. For perspective, during training I was doing my long runs at 7am in high-50s, not breaking a sweat until at least an hour in. On race day, we began at 6am in 68 degrees and I was sweating by mile two. I was glad I ditched my top and kept reminding myself to just enjoy the run and not get in my head about the weather.
Heat and humidity aren't things I can control. There was no point in worrying about them anymore.
This race has amazing views!
Around mile 3.5, I remembered it was going to get sunny eventually and that I had forgotten to put sunscreen on my tattoo. I texted Matt, knowing I was planning to see him around mile 4. Sure enough, he and Oden were there waiting when I reached our first spectating point. I grabbed Matt's sunscreen, slapped it on, dropped the bottle near a cone, and kept going.
Around mile 6.5
My pace and GPS seemed to do something wonky in the nature preserve from miles 4-6, and I think I ended up wasting some energy there I should have conserved when I focused too much on what my watch read rather than how my legs and lungs felt, because shortly after I saw Matt and Oden again, things started to feel tough. I began eating my Gu at mile 7 and knew immediately I'd picked the wrong flavor for the day. Chocolate was just too much. I kept nibbling it until about mile 9, then ditched it at a water stop and made my first critical mistake of the race.

I grabbed a cup of water.

I had completed every long run of training without water. I was really well hydrated and had taken salt before the start. I didn't need water, but wanted to rinse my mouth. I should have just popped in my second piece of gum. The minute I slowed down to take a drink, I knew getting back into a rhythm would be tough; the mental seal was broken.
I took a second cup to pour over my head. At this point the sun was well up, but we were mostly in shade from buildings along the road. It was around mile 10 that those buildings clear because you're running along the beach again, and that was when things really got hot.

Between miles 10 and 13 I took a few short walk breaks and had some more water. I stole some ice from an open bag at one of the stops. I never felt bad about walking; again, I didn't have a real goal in mind. I saw the 2:15 pacer pass me but she stayed within view, so I had an idea that even if my GPS had gotten screwy in the nature preserve, I was still setting a good overall pace. My lower legs felt a little stiff in a very this is tough work why are we doing this kind of way, but not in a we are rocks that can't be run through and you're having a recurrence of compartment syndrome way.
My goal for this race was to run with joy and finish with a smile on my face. I admit there were times on the course that I lost the joy, but that's part of racing, I think. It's hard in the final miles of a tough race to keep gratitude at the forefront of your mind.
I saw Matt and Oden once more at mile 11ish and then watched them zoom by toward the finish line to meet me there. I kept plugging away. I admit I wasn't enjoying myself at this point. I was hot and achey and ready to be done. I remember thinking that I had zero interest in running a full marathon anytime soon. I had forgotten how tough long distance races can be!
Around mile 11
Finally, I entered the last turn to the finish line. I tried to urge my legs to pick up the pace, but I was totally depleted. The finish line has two arches, one at mile 12.9 and then the final one at 13.1.
As I came up on the final arch, I spotted Matt and Oden, and then saw Steph waving next to them. I found the smile I'd been looking for. I thought about the vascular surgeon who told me I should just find another sport. I sneered at him in my head. Never run again my ass I thought, and managed one final push.
Coming toward the finish
My time was 2:17:31. I had been on track for a PR in the first half of the course, but couldn't maintain that performance through the latter half. Still, I set a personal course record and ran with joy, and that's what I wanted from this race.
I was honestly too exhausted to feel many emotions right there at the finish. I was in a weird tunnel-vision headspace, and the bigger picture of the finish's significance had faded away to be replaced by my more immediate needs: to get water and sit down.
Soon after finding my wonderful cheer squad and taking pictures, things started to set in. I relived the highlights of the race in my head. I remembered the emotion at the start line. I felt the joy come back.
Honestly the prettiest medal I have, I think!
Best sister ever!
I have the BEST cheer squad! I do not take it for granted that they get up early every year to make this race special for me!
After a shower, we ended our celebration with brunch at our usual post-A1A spot.
Blueberry pancakes, eggs, bacon, hash browns...just what I wanted!
I am ready now to take some time to rest and be patient in deciding on my next running goal. Right now, it feels good to not have a whole batch of races lined up for spring. I want to bask in this moment and take my time deciding what comes next.
I'll finish this post by thanking everyone who has been following my training and cheering me on the last few months. It's been a long road, and I couldn't have done it alone. I love the running community!
ABK