Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Penne and Chreese Review

I mentioned in THIS entry that I randomly picked up a boxed mac n cheese to try out.

Better yet, make that a dairy-free AND gluten-free mac.

I've made vegan mac n cheese before and think the results are pretty good.  However, I could not resist the lure of a box.

So here I am, boiling the gluten-free pasta according to the package directions...



Wash and strain.  The pasta didn't taste or smell strange at all... not like the first time I had gluten-free pasta...


I combined the powder from the baggie with some almond milk...


This is the resulting "chreese."


The nutritionals are not terrible, and the pasta was made from very simple ingredients...


Combined.  Don't be like me and make this in advance of dinnertime.  I ended up having to add more almond milk and reheating, though I think the same thing would have happened with the "real" boxed mac, too.


Here's the final product.  It actually wasn't bad...  It tasted a lot like the vegan versions I've made and is not sickeningly rich like conventional boxed mac n cheese.  I would actually make this again, though at about $3 a box, it IS a little higher-end. ;)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Synergy Kombucha

One of my peers in HRIS (Human Resources Information Systems) is on break (out of the country -- major jealousy here) for the next two weeks, which scares the heck out of me.  I perform some of the things he does, but he's like a Jedi Master that I like knowing is somewhere in case I need him.

Oh, the stresses of Corporate America.

I'm sure it will be no different from normal, when he's so busy that people often cannot reach him.

So yeah, I can relax.  Breathe.  Drink a kombucha.


What's kombucha?  Unless you don't read any other blogs of this genre, you've probably already heard about this fermented tea beverage.  I didn't try any for a long time because when I was first aware of its presence (maybe a year ago?), it was banned from Whole Foods for its small alcohol content.

And then, it came back.

At ~$3.79 per bottle, my second hesitation arose.  But I'm glad I finally succumbed to one, because it is VERY refreshing!

Pros:
- Refreshing and fizzy/bubbly each time you open the bottle, even if it's been awhile!
- Comes in many brands and flavors, though I've only tried Synergy so far.  When I'm less poor, I will try more flavors.
- Contains prebiotics to help with digestion and overall health.
- Comes in a hefty, hip glass bottle.

Cons:
- Don't be like me and open your first-ever kombucha while driving!
- Comes with icky stuff at the bottom that does the fermenting, so if you're turned off by the thought of drinking that (like me), don't shake this beverage.
- The cost, though it takes me a week to go through a bottle for some reason.
- Some people claim it tastes bad.  Sure, it's a little strange at first, but I would hardly agree that it tastes like socks. ;)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Marathon Training: Week 7

If you're following along, here is the seventh week of training according to the 4 Months to a 4-Hour Marathon book.  The paces below are specifically for the 4-hour goal.  If anyone would like the paces for 4:15, 4:30, 4:45, or 5:00, I can start posting them alongside my plan if you let me know.

I am also posting on DailyMile, but everything (and more!) will be posted here as well.  This "Marathon Training" series is an experiment for me both in fitness and in blogging, as I am going to go into more detail than in previous training cycles, documented on my Training page.

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Last Week in Review:

Here is the original schedule from last week and my comments/modifications.

I've also been doing a new strength training program, which actually cuts down the overall amount of time that I spend on strength (4 times a week for 10-15 minutes down from 4 times a week for 15-20 minutes().  I *will* do a follow-up post on that in a couple of weeks once I see if it is yielding any results.

The 14 x 400 on Wednesday was really tough... you see, I only have time to work out for an hour on weekdays mostly, so this run took up most of my hour, especially since I was running late that morning.  In fact, when the mid-week runs become longer (in a couple of weeks), it's going to be a pain to carve out that (slightly) extra time.

As for the 15-miler, these past few days in So Cal have been hot and humid, making this run a test for me.  I made it through all right, but it was tough, and unfortunately, my knee is still giving me issues whenever I fall out of form.

Week of Aug 22 (Week 6)
Monday - jog 40 minutes
Tuesday - cross-train 30 minutes (elliptical)
Wednesday - 14 x 400 m (.25 mi), 2:00-2:10 pace (about 7.3-7.5 mph) (very sweaty and tough.. out of steam by the end)
Thursday - jog 30 minutes (treadmill while watching TV)
Friday - cross-train 30 minutes or rest (cycled on upright bike)
Saturday - 15 mi 10:40-11:10 pace (about 5.2-5.6 mph) (10:13 pace)

This Week:

The 16 repeats on Wednesday is the most I've ever done, but I believe this is the peak number before moving onto the next "phase" of training (you'll see that in about two weeks, since next week's repeats are the same -- ugh!).

My fear about running 17 miles is the cramping issue that I often have with my calves during really long runs like this one.  Therefore, I will really focus on my hydration and electolytes this week and hope for the best.  I've done OK so far in this department, but 17 is where I usually start having "the twitches."  I have compression sleeves, but I'm trying to hold off using them as long as possible to see where my natural "breaking point" is currently and then use them once I surpass it.

This is the point in training when I start feeling demoralized, not fit enough, etc. etc., and there are still another 9 weeks to go. =/  I hate that every time I get serious about training, I get injured, and I consider this program to be pretty fair to the point that I'm surprised I'm *already* having an issue.  I'll try to stay positive, though!

Week of Aug 29 (Week 7)
Monday - jog 40 minutes
Tuesday - cross-train 30 minutes
Wednesday - 16 x 400 m (.25 mi), 2:00-2:10 pace (about 7.3-7.5 mph)
Thursday - jog 30 minutes or rest
Friday - cross-train 30 minutes or rest
Saturday - 17 mi 10:40-11:10 pace (about 5.2-5.6 mph)

Have you tried compression gear?  What do you use them for (e.g., short runs, races, long runs, recovery)? 



To be continued...

Friday, August 26, 2011

Vega Optimizer Drink and Protein

The wonderful people at Vega sent me some samples of their Sport line.

The Performance Optimizer (below and on the right in the collective picture) is to be used pre-workout. Even though I wasn't supposed to try something new on a race day, I had a packet before my recent half-marathon.

When mixed with water as indicated, the powder kind of looked like that brownish stuff that doctors use to sanitize skin (peroxide??), which was off-putting.  However, the taste was slightly of berries and not bad, and honestly, its slight caffeine content and electrolytes seemed to have helped me during the earlier parts of the race.

Performance Optimizer



On the left in the above picture is the Performance Protein.  I took a scoop in a bottle and added water to it after the race for muscle-repair.  I shook up the greenish powder, and to my great dismay, I didn't like it at all.   I REALLY wanted to like it, too, because as you can see near the bottom of this post, it is nutritionally wonderful (20g of protein for 100 calories and lots of plant-y goodness).

Something about the spirulina made me gag, and it smelled like borderline spoiled milk.  This could just be me and my individual tastebuds talking, though, so since this is an otherwise great, gluten-free powder, this might work for you.  However, for me, I ended up spilling it all over my lap and seatbelt the first time I drank it in the car and gagged.

Performance Protein


I have been using the Performance Optimizer during my long runs, and so far they have worked pretty well.  I feel like I actually get a second wind if I drink enough of it.

However, I don't know what to do with the protein.  "The Ukrainian" asked me to leave the jar behind so he can try it, as he currently consumes whey protein.

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FTC Disclaimer: I was sent a sample of this product to review.  All opinions posted here are my own.
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(NOTE: I have been re-writing some of my reviews for clarity and detail.  The original post for this item is dated 6/14/11.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Amphipod Handheld Water Bottle

Last year, I (re-)reviewed another Amphipod product, the RunLite Hydration Belt, which didn't exactly work well for me over the long run (pun intended).



Well, after being disappointed that I couldn't find one at my running store, I finally spotted a handheld version of Amphipod at Sport Chalet!  Of course, I could have bought it online for the same price, but I wanted to hold it before buying, ya know?

(Yes, we brought gummy candy into the sports store... consider it long-run carbo-loading.)


The 20 oz water bottle detaches from the grip, which also contains a small compartment for things (really only large enough for pepper spray or gel).  It's a bit tough to re-assemble after taking it apart, but this should get easier with time.


I typically fill mine with Vega Sport Optimizer!


It takes some getting used to, but it is a lot better than going without water, with a belt, or carrying a regular ol' water bottle like what I was doing for a while.  The grip is snug around my hands, and it really doesn't bounce enough for me to become bothered, nor do I hear a very loud slosh slosh slosh like when I use other hydration methods.  Also, no leaks!

It definitely holds more water than most hydration methods and is easy to take a sip from in the middle of running.   Its shape makes it easy to keep on your hand, though I tend to switch hands periodically to stay balanced(?).

I will probably bring this to my half-marathon next month(!), because I'm not too sure they will provide what I feel is "enough" hydration on the course.  In the meantime, I will keep training with it so it will feel like I'm carrying nothing at all!  Okay, so maybe I am too wishful in my thinking, but I think this was the best handheld water bottle I could have chosen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

SofSole Fit Insoles

I've seen SofSole products in stores before, but after some past experiences with insoles in general, I have only learned that they are great for making your running shoes feel fresh(er) for a short period of time.  However, they don't seem to make my feet feel like they are better off.

I'm pretty flat-footed.  I once got custom insoles made for me and was told by the person doing it that they might not help much, due to my low arch.  In a world of normal-arched people who run well, I sort of flap around in comparison.

SofSole Fit is a new line of insoles that are "custom made" for your foot.  I think I've seen similar for Dr. Scholl's before, in certain drugstores with kiosks that actually measure the pressure from your feet as you stand and then make a recommendation.


Anyway, I asked to try a low arch pair and also a normal/medium arch pair for "The Ukrainian" to try.  I figure that since my feet are so "messed up," he would be a better reviewer than me.  As a backstory to that, "The Ukrainian" did a thorough running shoe assessment once and was told he basically runs perfectly -- almost no pronation/supination (essentially, he runs with straight ankles), good stride, medium arch with even pressure applied to the floor as he stands.  He rarely gets injured and can run in many shoes, even ones that are sold at "regular" stores.

My overpronating, flat-footed self was a tad jealous. ;)

This is what "The Ukrainian" had to say (as verbatim as I could get it) about the medium-arch SofSole Fits:

"Actually, at first, they felt a little weird, like my foot was stuck uncomfortably in the shoes.  But after I started running in them, they actually felt really good, and I've been using them in my cheap [~$30] running shoes."



Here is an older pair of running shoes with the insoles tucked in there.

As for me, I had a little hard time getting these into my shoes, as they are not nearly as flexible as I'm used to insoles being.  Of course, I'm sure they need to be rigid (should I throw in a "TWSS" joke in there, or is that beyond the scope of this blog?) in order to hold the arch. 

I think these insoles have given my shoes new life, and they still feel supportive and comfortable to run in again.  For a while before these insoles, I felt my arch collapsing/aching during some runs, but these have minimized that.

As "The Ukrainian" said, one caveat (though this didn't bother me) is that the insole IS a bit thicker than the ones that come inside shoes by default.  So the shoe becomes slightly more shallow, which would bring your foot closer to the laces at the top.  I think that loosening the laces a tiny bit would counter that.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Vaska Herbatergent

A long time ago, I (and my sister) reviewed two fitness clothing detergents.

In the meantime, I haven't been using any special detergents for my workout clothes.  For one thing, I haven't been wearing my fabulous Nike capris in this hot weather, and for the most part, my clothes are not high-end enough to warrant special treatment.  I mean, if I break it, then I can get another one the next time I hit up an outlet, right?


No, not really.  I hand-wash my "high-end" (and some low-end) workout clothes to stretch their lifespan, as I am not made of money.  Imagine the pain of breaking a Lululemon item... I have not even step foot in that store in fear that I will want something!

For items like that, and I guess my current items, I was sent a sample of this Vaska Herbatergent in this huge box (overstuffed with bubble wrap, but I guess that is customary?).
  • Liquid laundry detergent uses real lavender and potent botanical cleaning agents to clean clothing and linens effectively without harmful chemicals 
  • Available in Light Lavender or Scent Free
  • $9.99 for a 48 oz bottle (32 loads)
 

This lavendar version (it also comes in unscented) smelled LOVELY!  I felt like I was using aromatherapy while I was washing my clothes (making it more fun?!), and best of all, once dry, it did NOT retain any strong smells like some of the other sports detergents I've used.  No residue, no feeling that my clothing fibers were being damaged.

And of course, it cleaned my clothing pretty well.  The water I was using to wash them got dirty much faster than usual, indicating that my clothes were getting clean.
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FTC Disclaimer: I was sent a sample of this product and was not compensated in any way for any particular kind of review.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mini Muffins

Bigger isn't always better.

Which is why I made these jelly muffins in our new mini-muffin tin.  Well, I should say "our," because it was part of my birthday gift to "The Ukrainian," but I feel that if I'll get more use out of it than he will.  Although, that depends on how one defines "use."

The baking scene:


Non-sequitur!  I pointed my camera upwards to take a photo of the new kitchen lighting.  It used to just be flourescent lights covered with clear sheets, but a plumbing issue from upstairs resulted in the need to change them out completely to this recessed lighting setup.  So handy!



Anyway, like the last time I made these muffins, I had to grind up flax seeds due to my stubbornness to use up what I have (whole vs. ground flax seeds).



I did blend it more after this point, but as you can see, it does get goopy like eggs, which is what the ground flax is used to substitute.

This time, I changed it up a bit by adding peanut butter in addition to jelly:



The batter for a dozen logically equals batter for two dozen smaller ones.  However, I only cooked these guys for half the time.  I think I could have left them in slightly longer, but they were done, and that's all that concerned me.

So cute!  No need for huge Starbucks muffins when you can take down, oh, 4 of these vegan ones...


I decided to murder one immediately:

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Marathon Training: Week 6

If you're following along, here is the sixth week of training according to the 4 Months to a 4-Hour Marathon book.  The paces below are specifically for the 4-hour goal.  If anyone would like the paces for 4:15, 4:30, 4:45, or 5:00, I can start posting them alongside my plan if you let me know.

I am also posting on DailyMile, but everything (and more!) will be posted here as well.  This "Marathon Training" series is an experiment for me both in fitness and in blogging, as I am going to go into more detail than in previous training cycles, documented on my Training page.

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Last Week in Review:

Here is the original schedule from last week and my comments/modifications.

1) Mix-up:
I had a tiny mix-up on this step-back week, and was supposed to jog on Thursday, which got swapped to Saturday. 

2) I need rest!
I swapped a shorter day for the long run because I REALLY need to sleep in. I've been waking up at 5:30 M-F and 6:00 on Saturdays for the past month, which is wearing me down. So that leaves me with 30 min of jogging that I will probably swap for cross-training or rest on Saturday morning.  I'm worn out, admittedly.  That long run, even as a step-back from last week's 13, took a lot out of me.  My left ankle is sore, but at least my right knee is better.

3) Lessons from the book:
I re-read the book again recently (the aforementioned one), and it did emphasize the importance of rest and keeping the long runs slow.  I don't know what to believe, but since I'm still not in love with running still, I will do what I can to get to the finish line.

4) Side-effects:
As I mention, I'm tired.  This is going to turn into a confessional, but I've been pretty dejected (and that could be an understatement) for almost three months now, so I constantly feel as though a huge tumor of stress.  Due to my inability to relax, I bought shower bombs (see Lush.com for their luxury bath products), lotions, sprays, a nice loofah, and whatever else I could to help.  With that not working, I have put on some weight (I think) and when I tried to buckle down, it just got worse.  As a side note, normally when I notice that I've put on a few, I can reverse it in a week by just being mindful of things like candy.  Not the case this time.  I also tried lunchtime walks and spending time in the pool.  I don't think I'm eating any more or worse than at other times in the past, but with this training going on, I can only conclude that this is evidence that stress = weight.

Week of Aug 15 (Week 5)

Monday - jog 40 minutes
Tuesday - cross-train 30 minutes  I forgot to note what I do on these days; on this day, I did Jacob's ladder
Wednesday - 6 x 400 m (.25 mi), 2:00-2:10 pace (about 7.3-7.5 mph)
Thursday - cross-train 30 minutes or rest  So I messed this up... I was supposed to JOG for 30 minutes or rest... did cross-training (cycling) instead, which counts for Friday, and I am NOT running on Saturday
Friday - cycle or swim 30 min -- basically did this on Thursday
Saturday - 8 mi 10:40-11:20 pace (about 5.2-5.5 mph) -- did this on Friday (10:06 pace) so I could sleep in a little due to fatigue lately


This Week:

This week made a sudden jump from last week!  Saturday's 15-miler looks daunting, and they took off 10 seconds off the maximum pace (11:20 to 11:10, not like I was running that kind of pace, anyway, but still!). And 14 repeats on Wednesday is the most I've ever done.  Let's just hope I start feeling better so this won't be so tough.

Week of Aug 22 (Week 6)
Monday - jog 40 minutes
Tuesday - cross-train 30 minutes
Wednesday - 14 x 400 m (.25 mi), 2:00-2:10 pace (about 7.3-7.5 mph)
Thursday - jog 30 minutes
Friday - cross-train 30 minutes or rest
Saturday - 15 mi 10:40-11:10 pace (about 5.2-5.6 mph)

If you've trained for a marathon, when do you start being freaked out/daunted by the long run distances?  Or for shorter runs, what paces freak you out?


For me, I get freaked out when scheduled long runs are 13 mi and above.  I get nervous about pace when I'm expected to hold faster than a 9:00/mi unless it's a 5k.

To be continued...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

CocoaWell True Energy

Cocoa is a wonderful thing, and not because it's behind most chocolate desserts.

As anyone who knows me personally can guess, I am often powered by such desserts.  If anything, it's good for mental well-being.  :)  Cocoa is known to have other benefits as well, such as:
  • decreased blood pressure
  • improved cholesterol levels
  • antioxidants
Of course, I can't keep eating chocolate things all day long (well, I could, but...), so if you've walked by a GNC lately, you've probably seen CocoaWell on their shelves.

Cocoa in pill form?  I'm sold!  I was sent a sample of these CocoaWell True Energy supplements to try.  When I opened the bottle, I actually sniffed it to see if it smelled like chocolate.  And to some degree, it did... or at least the closest I've ever experienced in terms of pills smelling like chocolate, anyway.

The pill is a pretty standard size.  I don't recommend leaving it in your mouth as long as I did, as the capsule is pretty thin, and I did NOT want to find out what the inside part tastes like.

Anyway, a serving is 2 pills.  Given that it contains tea extracts and associated caffeine, I only take this after long runs on the weekend, when I can get particularly sleepy for the rest of the day.  So far, they have worked wonderfully -- I had plenty of energy (or at least enough to negate some of the effects of waking up early AND running a bunch of miles) and did NOT feel jittery.  More importantly, I did not have trouble sleeping that night, which is a common thing for me with any type of energy-anything or even coffee after the morning time.

An added bonus: the caffeine seemed to prevent headaches that I usually get after long runs.

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FTC Disclaimer: I was given a sample of this to try and was not compensated for providing any particular opinion.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Vegan Mushroom "Pasta" and Salad

As I struggle on the "healthy eating" wagon, cooking always inspires me to make better choices.

I saw THIS spaghetti squash and vegan cream sauce recipe and could not help but attempt this normally heavy dish on a hot summer day.

This was my first time cooking spaghetti squash.  Check out that knife I used... to cut it open.  Definitely could have done better with a cleaver, ya know? ;)


Scooping out the seedy middle reminded me of Halloween.

And I also got to use something else I've never cooked with before -- shallots.

Now dressed in olive oil, garlic, and shallots, these puppies went into the oven for about 55 min...

Meanwhile, I made a simple salad.  Tomato, romaine, and some extras like this pickled radish.  I made this a while back because "The Ukrainian" bought radishes and didn't eat them (nor do I like them).  So I put them in a salt/vinegar/black pepper mix.  In other words, I saved those darn radishes' lives. ;)  Their second life is actually rather tasty.

I also added these artichokes.  I do NOT like this very much because it's packed in some sort of oil/goo, so I just wash all that off.

The squash out of the oven... a fork made it all strand-y.  Perfect!

Now for the cream sauce... here are the (vegan) ingredients, lined up and ready to go!

I used a huge container of mushrooms and proceeded to dump in the wet ingredients.  You can see the nutritional yeast in there... yum!

Once it cooked down a bit, I added the cornstarch (I used more than was prescribed in the recipe due to fear of water-y-ness.  I didn't have to worry, nor did I really need to cook this down for as long as I did -- nearly half an hour! -- before adding this cornstarch slurry.)

Here is the final product.  I liked this so much that I had to stop myself from getting seconds (I wasn't even too hungry to begin with).  It doesn't taste vegan at all, though the squash in place of the pasta makes this a light enough meal to enjoy during the summer.  I will definitely be making this (or some variant) again.

The things at the top are Trader Joe's lentil chips and hummus.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Day We Ate too Much Sushi

(NOTE: This is the last restaurant review I'll be doing here for a while, so I'm going out with a bang)

One random night a couple of months ago, "The Ukrainian" and I went to have sushi for our Friday night dinner (Ichima Sushi in Pasadena, CA).


The place was very busy, even though it was pretty large and accomodating. 

Let's just say that after the waiter got our order down, he asked, "And this is for two people?"

Why, yes.

I ended up trying a piece of most of the rolls, and I was already stuffed to the brim.  Since most of the rolls were fish (or imitation crab, which is essentially fish), I was able to try almost everything we ordered.

Ichima roll, which is wrapped in a rice paper.  This was my favorite roll, since it had three types of raw fish in it.  But did I bother getting a good picture of that?  Apparently, I was more focused on eating it. :$


Sashimi salad, whichi s one of my Japenese food favorites.


This was supposed to be a tuna tartare on wonton skins.  I didn't really like any part of it except for the tuna. ;)


A (spicy) crunch roll.


I think this was a rainbow roll, named because of all the different colors on top.


I think the below roll had eel, so I did not partake.  Let's just say that the food was coming so rapidly that I was quickly snapping these photos and trying to make room on the table!


This was a tempura-fried roll.  The pieces were huge and hearty.  I had a bite and was not very impressed.


Another tempura-ish roll, wrapped in a tofu skin.


When I ordered this Udon noodle dish below, I didn't know how much "The Ukrainian" had marked off on the ordering sheet.  I tried to scarf down as much as I could, but I admittedly could not conquer this one.


This pork cutlet came with my order, but I gave it away.


"The Ukrainian" is known for eating a lot of food, but there WERE leftovers.  A lot of leftovers.


Overall, the quality of the sushi was pretty good, and the menu here is rather extensive. I would definitely like to come back sometime, with a MUCH smaller order.  Strangely, in spite of our extensive menu "sampling," the bill was in the $80-range, which for the amount, was really good.  Obviously I made him pay. ;)