Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dear Bus Driver

I'm generally a fan of buses. I think that you drivers are probably underpaid and have to deal with the tedium of driving the same route over and over again with little thanks from those who ride the buses. Buses are also often harried by impatient folk who don't want to get stuck behind them. But does that give you the right to mistreat a poor cyclist?

Yes, I realize you have a schedule to keep. And I know that bicyclists are slow, especially when grinding up a Fayetteville hill. And it's not so much that I mind being passed, especially given that most drivers wait until they can give me a wide berth before they pass me. But did you really have to scare me half to death?

Pushing up a steep hill is a lot of work when you're using your leg power. Often, that is distracting enough, since all my attention is focused on urging my body to keep pedaling and keep up a decent speed. I do try to pay attention to the cars on the road, and I stay to one side so they can easily pass me, especially since it's both foolish and dangerous to ride a bicycle on the sidewalks, especially Fayetteville's poorly maintained sidewalks. And no cyclist likes to feel that there is a line of impatient cars silently cursing her.

How would you like to be focusing on climbing the hill and suddenly feel and hear the swoooosh as a bus comes rolling by? How would you like to feel your heart stop as you realize that the bus is no more than a foot away, so close that the startling noise of a large vehicle passing you could possibly make you, say, fall down underneath that bus? How would you like to feel that while you did not fall and your stomach is flipping and your heart won't quit racing that you narrowly avoided a very messy end? All while trying to be environmentally-conscious and save money by not parking on campus?

You probably wouldn't like it much.

So, dear bus driver, please be kind to the cyclists out there. We will try to be kind to you when we're in our cars and stuck behind you or forced to make every stop along with you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Experiments in Meatless Eating

My new commitment to being a vegetarian has led me to explore various meatless recipes. I've never had a problem cooking without meat--I actually think it's pretty easy--but lately I've wanted to experiment with homemade meat substitutes.

I'm not fond of the idea of fake meat products. Most of them seem little better than processed junk food; they are simply vegetarian and marginally healthier. The high level of processing makes them undesirable in my opinion--the general idea being that foods with fewer ingredients are better, and one of the easiest ways to make sure something has few ingredients is to make it myself. My favorite vegetarian meatless products tend to be ones that don't have aspirations to be like meat, but are instead like the Gardenburger veggie patties: stuffed full of vegetables, mushrooms, rice, oats, and a little cheese.

This recipe for meatless BBQ balls popped up on Have Cake, Will Travel, a great little vegan cooking blog. Tonight, I came home feeling a little sick and a little tired, so I decided to try them out*.

I didn't have garlic powder or onion powder or panko bread crumbs, so I made some simple substitutions, and I think they worked pretty well. They don't taste like meat--which I didn't really want them to--but they are savory and rich and would make a good "meat" part of a meal (served with grains or on a sandwich). I used Ginger People Ginger Jerk Marinade instead of regular barbecue sauce, and I liked the flavor.

Here's the recipe as I made it:

Meatless BBQ Balls
adapted from Have Cake, Will Travel
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 1/3 medium onion, finely chopped (or to taste)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs--I toasted some stale wheat bread and whirred it in the food processor until crumby
  • about 1/4 cup barbecue sauce (or other sauce/marinade)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prep a baking sheet by placing a length of parchment paper. Mix all ingredients in a bowl--the mixture will be very thick. Shape into balls (I made about 9, using a small cookie scoop) and place in the center of the parchment.

Fold edges of parchment to seal the balls, and flip packet so that the seam side is down. (Don't do what I did, which is flip it quickly and make the balls roll all around in the packet. Let me know if you find a better technique.) Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown--you should be able to see through the parchment. Unwrap and coat in sauce and allow to bake uncovered for 8 minutes. Slather the sauce on if you think it needs more after you bake it a bit longer--I did, and let it bake another minute or two, and it was good. Serve on a sandwich or with some veggies and pasta.

*I often cook when I don't feel well. It distracts me and occupies my mind in healthy ways.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Return of the Apples

It's an event I look forward to each fall: which Saturday will I arrive at the market to find them waiting? It's always unexpected, but delightful when it occurs. Apple season has begun!

A freshly picked apple is a thing of joy. Crisp and sweet with a hint of tart, these apples are delightful. Most of them I eat straight, or with some peanut butter, but they do make great apple butter and pies. I plan on buying vats of apples to make Christmas gifts (along with all of the pickles I've been making).

I've always thought an apple was the perfect travel food; they are sturdy, don't require peeling, easy to eat, and make a great (and filling!) snack. I toss a couple in my bag for work so that I'm assured of having a healthy snack on hand. This morning, I needed something more than the watermelon I had before I left home, so I whipped up a quick dip of peanut butter and Greek yogurt, and ate my apple with that.

Before I give you the recipe for the peanut butter yogurt dip, I wanted to clarify some reasons behind my switch to vegetarian. For the most part, I had been avoiding animal products that came from the factory farm system and opting instead for locally-raised meat, or at very least pasture-raised, organic. I found myself slipping into eating meat more often, however, that was not raised sustainably or ethically. I felt that removing meat would help me get back into that mindset of thinking about where my food comes from and eating a diet that is more sustainable for the earth and good for the animals. The animal products that I do buy (eggs and milk) come from local farms or are organic. Luckily, it's easy to find local eggs from pastured hens around here!

Anyway, now for a recipe. If you're looking for a healthy dip, this one's pretty good--it has lots of good protein from both the peanuts and the Greek yogurt, and adding Greek yogurt to the peanut butter cuts down on the amount of fat (especially if you're using low fat or fat-free yogurt), and the peanut butter flavors the Greek yogurt.

Peanut Butter Yogurt Dip
makes 2 servings
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp natural, unsweetened peanut butter
Honey (optional)

Mix together and try not to eat with a spoon.

I like a little less peanut butter, but the original recipe uses a one to one ratio, so feel free to increase the amount of peanut butter. I also like mine unsweetened, especially if I'm eating it with an apple, but it is very, very good with a bit of honey added in, especially if you're feeding the dip to small children or people not used to unsweetened yogurt and peanut butter. This makes about 2 servings for a light snack.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Taking the Plunge

Earlier last week, I decided I was going to be a vegetarian. At least for a while.

Most reactions have been along the lines of "Oh, I thought you were already one." Lance's reaction is "Sure, until I cook you lamb." He has been, so far, taking me seriously, so that's been nice. I think I'll still eat fish occasionally because if I'm in a sushi restaurant there's no way I'm not getting some sort of tasty raw fishes. No way.

Why did I decide to take the vegetarian plunge? Most of my friends know that I don't eat much meat to begin with, but I do eat it on occasion. With moving and various other social activities, I've been finding myself eating more meat than I like. Monday was the last straw--I ate chicken and dumplings because it was what was available for dinner, and it was so...unappealing. The thought of eating meat became unpleasant, and I figured I needed to cut down on eating meat anyway, so...


Luckily, it's an easy lifestyle change for me, since I'm usually about 90% vegetarian anyway. And to make life easy for Lance, I'll probably still eat food he makes that is cooked with turkey stock or lard because we make that stuff ourselves and we have it in our pantry/freezer as it is. So, really it's not that much of a change except that I won't be eating meat when I eat out, and I'll avoid it when I go to my parents' or Lance's parents'...but I'm perfectly willing to prepare my own food, or simply eat the vegetable parts of the meals. Yay for vegetarian experimentation!

Friday, September 04, 2009

My New Friend

Today, I found the best piece of exercise equipment that I have purchased, to date. This little device is my new friend--it releases tight muscles, helps relieve any residual knee pain, and feels amazing. It is a foam roller.

While oh-so-simple in theory, the foam roller works wonders. I have been fighting off illiotibial band syndrome (ITBS) since March, and I found a new ally in that fight. A few minutes with my newly purchased roller, and the pain in my knee vanished. It felt loose and stretched as though I didn't even run this morning.

A quick Google search turns up sites, videos, and vendors all focused on promoting this handy little tool. You can use it to release connective tissues and tight muscles (key to helping ITBS), or you can use it to create more challenging workouts. These videos show some of the varied uses of the foam roller--especially to help relieve ITBS.

I bought the damn thing this afternoon, and I'm already wondering why it took me so long to purchase one. The benefits to both my running and plans to increase my strength training are unfolding before my eyes. I look forward to enjoying the benefits in years to come. If you are someone who hates sore muscles or longs for a way to manage little pains associated with working out, the foam roller is for you.