A View from the Top: Hustle Up the Hancock 2015

94 Floors. 1,632 steps. 22 minutes and 45 seconds. That’s how long it took me up get to the top of the Hancock Center on Sunday. I made it to the top.

Hustle 2015

The climb was both harder than and easier than I expected. Having picked up our packets and finding out we had wildly different start times – I had the “coveted” 7am start time and Rick was at 1:45pm – we had a bleary eyed beginning to our Sunday. We got to the Hancock by 6:30am, at which point I lined up by an escalator to wait for my wave to get the green light. Participants are released into the stairwells individually, so it was a few minutes after 7am before I stepped on the first stair.

The first thing I noticed: the riser height on those stairs was greater than the riser height on the stairs on which I trained. For 5’3” me, this was potentially a big deal. I had trained taking the stairs two at a time, but I had to revise that and began taking the stairs individually. I quickly realized that wasn’t going to work, as taking stairs two at a time uses your muscles differently than taking stairs one at a time. It wasn’t going to be enough to just admire the new definition in hamstrings and glutes – I was going to have to use them. I gave myself a few flights to acclimate to the height difference, then gingerly began taking every other step. To provide myself some extra balance, I gripped the handrail and used it to help propel myself forward with each step. Because I had not done this during training, this extra bit of power proved exceedingly beneficial.

It is, at first, disheartening to see climbers breeze past you as you struggle with your first few flights. It is less so when you later see those climbers fighting with every bit of strength they have to get up those higher floors. As with any race, pace was key. I started slowly. I continued slowly. I made my goal to keep going, to tackle one flight after the next, to just not stop. I distracted myself by counting my steps on each flight: two, four, six, eight…two, four, six, seven (the flights were uneven). I told myself to keep going just until the end of whatever song was playing on my phone. With each passing flight I felt more and more encouraged. By the 45th flight, I knew I was going to do it.

It is a funny thing when you complete a major physical feat that when you hear your name announced you feel the need to wave to the crowd, kiss your index and middle fingers, and offer up a peace sign. Or something. After 94 flights I’m not exactly sure what I did, just that I was surprised to hear my name as I came through that final door and I did some sort of waving thing while hacking up my respiratory system. I grabbed my medal and a bottle of water and sat down on the observatory floor to catch my breath.

I wish I had some sort of lesson to tie all of this into, but truth is that I trained for the climb, I felt confident going into it, and I did it just as well as I suspected I would. Perhaps that sounds a bit egotistical, but I think it’s a product of the fact that as I’m participating in more of these types of events, I’m getting to know my body and my physical abilities better. I know what is outside of my reach, but I also know that what I’m truly capable of. Maybe that’s the lesson. That and the view from the 94th floor is often so much more spectacular when you’ve worked really hard to get there.

Hustle 2015 (2)

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40 Days of Paleo: What I’ve Eaten So Far

Although I’m only two days into my 40 Days of Paleo experiment, the truth is that I actually started a couple of weeks ago. When the idea for the experiment popped into my head, I also thought, why wait until Lent? Why not start now? And so I went through the process of ridding my apartment of (read: eating) all non-paleo things I had stockpiled and started in on making recipes that followed the guidelines. I didn’t have much to go through – some green chili with black beans in my freezer, a few slices of bread, a quarter of a block of cheddar, two Kind bars. Just odds and ends that I didn’t want tempting me. I still have some oatmeal and quinoa in my cupboards, but I’ve never felt the need to dive head first into a bowl of either so I’m not terribly concerned about them. Oh, and I have copious amounts of liquor from parties past, but I so rarely drink in my apartment.

One of the main objectives of this experiment is to get myself to include more vegetables into my regular meals. I cook often and regularly bring my lunch to work, so I’m not totally starting from scratch and overhauling my eating routine. I’m just making tweaks that I know are easy, but that I fail to make in the name of laziness. I’m fairly lucky in that I already quite like vegetables – I just tend to forget about them when it comes time to fill up my grocery cart.

So, here’s what I’ve been doing so far:

I’ve already posted a couple of recipes that were easily paleo.

Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Mushroom Pork Marinara (no cheese, of course):
Spaghetti Squash

Roasted Sweet Potato Breakfast (for Dinner) Hash:
Sweet Potato Hash

I’ve also discovered that I like lacinto kale (aka Tuscan kale, aka dinosaur kale, aka not curly kale) and I sauteed some up with cremini mushrooms, onion, and garlic and topped them with a couple of fried eggs:
Kale Mushroom Hash

I’ve even tried my hand at a few paleo specific recipes. I, admittedly, need something a little bready in the mornings, so right away I tried PaleOMG’s espresso banana bread muffins:
Espresso Banana Bread

I made it into a loaf and omitted the chocolate because I’m not a fan of chocolate in the morning. Yeah, you read that right. Aside from wishing it had a little salt in the mix, it was fairly good and I would definitely make it again.

I know resisting pancakes after my Sunday morning group runs will be difficult, so I tried out this paleo version in the hopes that I won’t feel so deprived:
Paleo Pancakes

They were pretty good! And very filling. I topped them with a few walnuts and some warmed maple syrup. I think they’ll fulfill my pancake needs nicely.

And because I’m concerned about my overall desire for bread, I made this paleo version using almond meal:
Paleo Bread

It was…well, it needed salt, that’s for sure. I wasn’t entirely enamored of it at first, but warmed up with a little spread of butter and a sprinkling of salt, it wasn’t a bad thing to have with my evening tea. It’s not a substitute for bread, but it serves as a decent post-dinner snack.

I’ve been scouring paleo-focused websites and stockpiling recipes in preparation for this challenge and I’m a bit excited to get to try out a new way of cooking. I do plan to concentrate my efforts on incorporating plant life into my meals, as opposed to devising paleo ways of eating my previous vices, but for those areas where I know I’ll have trouble, this should help ease the transition. Ultimately, I don’t believe one’s diet should be about what you can’t have, but what you love. Figure out what makes you feel good and find ways to eat that as much as you can.

40 Days of Paleo

Several years ago I had the inspired idea to go vegetarian for Lent. Okay, technically it was pescatarian, because, like any good Catholic, I still had to have my fish on Fridays. No matter – the purpose was to see if I, a bacon-loving, sausage-pizza-craving, general fan-of-meat, could go without it. It turns out that it wasn’t that hard. For all I was concerned about the temptations of meaty pizza, you know what I wanted most? A simple turkey sandwich. What I wouldn’t have given for some deli turkey, with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mustard between two slices of bread. It turns out I don’t need meat that much after all.

So why am I considering Paleo now? Well, I have been having, let’s say, some issues figuring out the amount I need to eat. I know I gained a few pounds while training for my half marathon and although it probably wasn’t noticeable to anyone but me, it’s not a positive trend. As I’ve continued running and working out at a higher level than I have in the past, I’ve had more and more days where I feel like I just can’t get full. The way I’ve been eating isn’t working and it’s time to try something new.

Now, I don’t particularly put stock in one diet over another. I firmly believe that the best diet is the one that works for you, but Steve Kamb’s take on Paleo has always sounded exceptionally reasonable to me. More fruits and veggies, little to no dairy and starches, some quality meats? I can’t lie, regardless of whether or not our paleolithic ancestors ate that way, that makes a whole lot of sense. Scarfing down a block of cheddar because my entire day’s worth of meals didn’t satiate me does not.

Consider this an experiment, the point of which is to revamp my diet to squeeze in as many fruit and vegetables as possible. (It is not a license to Eat All the Bacon.) I expect there to be a learning curve, as I give up certain things that I love. Here’s what I anticipate missing most:

  • Cheese. Peace be with you, Smoked Gouda.
  • Peanut butter. But I get almond butter and cashew butter and, ooh, I think I’ll try my hand at making pecan and walnut butters! Maybe I won’t miss peanut butter at all.
  • Black beans. With scrambled eggs and corn tortillas, they’re my go-to for a quick dinner. I am half-Mexican after all.
  • Kind bars. They all have rice. Not Paleo.
  • Bread. Obviously. I will likely be ready to offer sexual favors in return for a good sourdough or pretzel roll by the end of this. Don’t get any ideas.

But, I don’t expect myself to be perfect either and will allow myself some exceptions. Here are the rules by which I will govern this experiment:

  • By nature of my new business, I’m going to have to taste the occasional baked good. But I will only eat them if I absolutely must taste them. This is my stance in general, so it’s not much of a deviation from how I would normally conduct myself around leftover product.
  • I also run a baking meetup group. Our monthly meetups will not be Paleo days.
  • If I go to a restaurant, I’ll do my best to choose something within the Paleo guidelines, but I’m not going to ask the server to list all of the ingredients and then balk when the chicken’s been dredged in flour.
  • If I’m at a friend’s place and spontaneously they cook for me, I’m going to eat what they offer.
  • I’m keeping butter and white potatoes. Both are on the Paleo fence. Coconut oil weirds me out, so for the small amount of Paleo baking I plan on doing, I’m just going to use butter. Potatoes are generally shunned because they’re not as high in nutrients as other vegetables, but they’re really perfectly fine as long as they’re not deep fried or covered in heaps of sour cream.
  • Alcohol. I don’t drink much to begin with and the only reason I’m keeping it is because Rick is visiting in a couple of days and I do plan on having several adult beverages with him. Life’s not worth living if you can’t enjoy a drink with your best bud whom you haven’t seen in three years.
  • Generally I visit my parents a few days before Easter. When I do go there, that’s when this experiment ends. I am going to eat the hell out of my mom’s homemade flour tortillas.

So that’s it. The goal of this experiment isn’t necessarily to lose weight, although I’m curious to see where my body fat ends up at the end of this, and it isn’t to eliminate any food allergies that I’m aware of. I want to see if it changes how I feel. I want to know if I can be full and satisfied without tipping the scales in the wrong direction. I want to experience foods that I might otherwise forgo because making a grilled cheese on a random weeknight is seemingly easier. Will I feel good? Will I feel strong? Will I feel happy? Who knows…maybe I don’t need bread as much as I thought. We shall see.

No Recipe Roasted Sweet Potato Breakfast (for Dinner) Hash

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day…just not in the morning. I believe my love of breakfast foods at non-breakfast times stems from my childhood when my dad would go on work trips and my mom would serve up omelettes filled with sauteed mushrooms and melted cheddar or swiss cheese. They were a rare treat and these simple eggy dinners set me up for a lifetime of loving breakfast for dinner.

I’ve gotten away from loving omelettes so much (maybe I just don’t cook them right), but I do still love a good scramble or fry up with potatoes, bacon or sausage, and sauteed veggies. After a long workday, this is a quick, relatively healthy option that never gets old for me.

Here’s what I’ve been doing lately:

Sweet Potato Hash

First, roast a sweet potato. Better yet, roast several sweet potatoes so you have leftovers and you can eat them with other things or just on their own as a snack. I cube mine up, toss them with a little olive oil on a baking sheet, and sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. I love the combination of sweet and smoky (think: candied bacon or chocolate and scotch), but you can always change up the spices for whatever you like best. Use cayenne pepper if you want a bit of heat, chipotle powder for some smoke and heat, cinnamon if you prefer to stay on the sweeter side, or add some herbs like thyme or tarragon to up the savory factor. Once the potatoes are all coated and lovely, I put them in the oven at 400F for about 30 minutes, giving them a nice toss halfway through. The potatoes are done when they are easily pierced with a fork.

While the potatoes are cooking, contemplate your veggies and/or meat of choice. If you’re doing meat, you’ll want to cook up a couple strips of bacon and crumble it, brown some sausage, or throw in some diced ham. For some added flavor, use your meat fat (mmm…meat fat) to cook your veggies. If you’re not using meat, a teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet should do the trick. Lately I’ve been eschewing the meat and just doing red peppers and onions. A variety of mushrooms would be fantastic as well, as would greens (spinach, kale, chard, etc.), and broccoli and cauliflower if that’s your thing. Shaved brussels sprouts might be good too, but I’m not of the brussels-sprouts-are-magic-veggie-candy troop, so I personally won’t be doing those anytime soon.

When your sweet potatoes, meat, and veggies are done, start on your eggs. Eggs take but a minute or two, so you can keep the other parts of the hash warm in the oven or on the stovetop without worrying about over-cooking them. Scramble up a couple in a skillet, fry them until the yolks are to your liking (I like them cooked medium, and then flip the eggs so the tops solidify), or do a poach if that’s your thing. And if that’s your thing, can you teach me to poach eggs? Because I love them, but have not yet mastered that.

Now, assemble your hash! Sweet potatoes on the bottom. Top with meat and eggs. Add eggs. Cover with cheese, if desired. And boom. Roasted sweet potato breakfast for dinner (or for lunch or for actual breakfast) hash. Enjoy with a cup of hot coffee, tea, juice, or a tall glass of water with your jammies on and your feet up on the coffee table because breakfast for dinner is one of the most comforting things I can think of. It never fails to turn my evening meal into a treat.

Why I Work Out: To Be a Badass

“Maybe you can do the recumbent bike? Or elliptical? Although, I can’t see you getting off on the elliptical.”

These were suggestions from my physical therapist on what I could do during the running break he was about to prescribe. After making a face and laughing at the accidental double entendre (I have the humor of a 15-year-old), I wondered what he meant by that. He must think I’m a lot more hardcore than I am, I thought. Of course, I recently suggested as much when I asked him about a pain I’d been feeling in my shoulder since starting wide-grip pull-ups.

“Is there any reason in particular why you’re doing these?” he asked, after explaining the pain as biceps tendinitis.

I answered, “To be a badass.”

My response was without hesitation and while I laughed immediately after saying it, it wasn’t untrue.

Here’s the thing: I love action movies. The more punches, round-house kicks, and general testosterone thrown, the better. Part of it is that, well, said movies often feature a nicely built, good looking gentleman as the protagonist and, also often, there is reason for said protagonist to be shirtless at some point in time. Here is one of my favorite examples of this:

I maintain that watching Jason Statham fight is like watching a well-choreographed dance.

While part of it may be that I want to get with the action hero, another part is that I want to be the action hero. How awesome would it be to have your body as your weapon, ready to take down any foe that comes your way?

Now, I was never an athletic child. I never played sports, I quit ballet classes because I was heavier than the other girls, and I had a pretty solid relationship with Dr. Pepper. I remember quite vividly being in high school PE class and while a friend showed me the proper hand placement for push-ups, the coach came by and told me to drop to my knees because girls didn’t do push-ups on their toes. Maybe that’s when my quest for badassery began, because when I embarked on my fitness journey in college, you better believe that doing full form push-ups was high on my list of goals.

Add to this that I am 5’3”. I am not the shortest person I know, but in any given interaction, I tend to be the smallest person in the room. Typically I don’t give this a passing thought, but there are times when I am hyper-aware of the physical inequalities between my interlocutors and me. This usually happens in the presence of men: I’ve found myself craning my neck upwards to talk to three 6’+ contractors in a work meeting; I’ve shrugged away from men literally twice my size, taking up half of my seat on the bus; I’ve had dudes step in front of me to board the el first, as if I weren’t even there. For as much as I know I can hold my own in a room full of men, there is still a part of me that knows I’m viewed as the wounded gazelle amongst a pack of hungry lions. It’s disconcerting, being made to feel physically inconsequential, and I don’t like it.

For me, working out allows me to forget about these inadequacies. When I run 10 miles, I know I’m doing something that not everyone else can do. When I do planks and v-sits and hanging leg raises, I know I’m building myself up into something that will be harder to knock down. When I do a pull-up, I know I’m defying my gender norms. After all, women can’t do pull-ups.

I know I’ll never win a marathon or a pull-up competition or fight off seven bad guys wearing nothing but bicycle cleats and a thin layer of oil. It’s not that I need to prove myself to anyone else, but that I get great enjoyment out of proving myself to…well…myself.

And I think I am pretty badass. It’s pleases me to imagine someone else thinks so, too.

Roasted Spaghetti Squash & No Recipe Meat Sauce

Spaghetti Squash 6

I have a Bread Problem. There, I said it. I’ve always had a Chip Problem and a Snickers Problem…and a Dr. Pepper Problem…but somewhere along the road to becoming an adult I developed the need to eat all the bread in site. Not crappy stale sandwich bread, mind you, but a nice sourdough or baguette or pretzel roll. I could eat those until I burst. Accordingly, my bread problem translates somewhat to pasta. I don’t necessarily crave pasta, but when I make it I tend eat way too much of it and way too much of anything is not a good thing. Enter spaghetti squash.

Subbing spaghetti squash for pasta is hardly a novel idea, but it’s the kind of thing that you think won’t work until you try it and realize that it works quite nicely, actually. The squash’s delicately sweet flavor pairs well with the salty, savoriness of the meat sauce, and the texture adds just a bit of crunch to the dish. It’s a nice change to regular spaghetti and a good way to sneak more veggies into your dinner.

The sauce I made here is a variation on a recipe I found in one of Martha Stewart’s magazines. Now, I’m no Italian, but I think this sauce is pretty good. I call it “no recipe” because you can switch it up however you like and it should still come out pretty good. I used ground pork, mushrooms, onion, garlic, and a bit of anchovy because that’s what I like. You could put in eggplant, carrots, celery, zucchini, peppers, ground beef, ground turkey…it’s up to you.

For the spaghetti squash:

Spaghetti Squash 1

A nice 3-4 pound squash will easily yield you four or more servings. I find the smaller squashes easier to cut through, so in the future I will probably get two instead of waging war with my knife, pyscho-style, on one big ass squash.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and tendrils. Lay the squash flesh side down on a rimmed baking sheet. I add a little water to the pan just so the squash doesn’t stick to it. It works like a charm.

Spaghetti Squash 2

Roast in a 425F oven for an hour or so, just until you can pierce it easily with a knife. Once done, use a fork to separate the strands of the squash. It should resemble spaghetti pretty nicely. I like to put the threaded squash into a strainer over a bowl for a little bit, as it’ll continue to expel some of its own moisture (which would otherwise water down your sauce).

Spaghetti Squash 3

For the sauce:

Ideally you would do this all in one pan, but I don’t have one big enough, so I did it in batches. While the squash is cooking, chop up about half of a large onion, 3-4 or more cloves of garlic, and 8 ounces of mushrooms of your choice. I used cremini, but plain button mushrooms or a mix of exotic mushrooms would also be great. Put about a tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan and let that heat, then add the onion, garlic, and mushrooms. Saute until cooked down and the water they give off has evaporated. At this point I also added a couple of anchovies and let them melt away into the mushroom goodness. Trust me, you can’t really taste the anchovies – they just add a nice layer of flavor to the sauce.

Spaghetti Squash 4

Because my saute pan wasn’t big enough, I removed the mushroom mixture, then browned ½ pound of ground pork in the same pan. Once cooked, I added back the mushrooms, sprinkled over some salt, pepper, and a good handful of oregano (probably 1-2 tablespoons), and then added a 28 ounce can of tomatoes. You can use whole tomatoes and chop them yourself, or you can get diced and have the work done for you, or you can puree them in a blender or food processor first if you want a smooth sauce. I ended up getting “chef’s cut” which were like strips of tomato that I ended up really liking. (I like a chunky sauce.) Turn the heat on your pan down to a simmer and let the tomatoes marry with all of the other ingredients for 15-20 minutes.

And now you’ve made sauce. Taste it and adjust salt and pepper like a pro.

Spaghetti Squash 5

Put a nice bunch of spaghetti squash on your plate and top it with your meat sauce. If you’re me, add some cheese on top. I like cheddar because I’m weird and like cheddar on my pasta. I mentioned I’m not Italian, right?

Spaghetti Squash 7

This isn’t a time-saving recipe that you can throw together after work on a Tuesday night, but it does make a whole bunch that you can save for leftovers and even freeze. It’s well worth spending a wintry Sunday afternoon creating this hearty, healthy pasta variation. Trust me, you’ll want to make it again and again.

Grit: Do I Have It?

I stumbled upon this TED talk recently:

and it got me thinking about grit. Grit is not a new term to me. I’d read about it before on Nerd Fitness (which actually references that talk) and I felt pretty smug knowing that I had the trait that determines one’s chance for long-term success. I lost weight, didn’t I? I got through an extremely tough university at a young age, right? I went to grad school while working full-time and got my Master’s all because I wanted to, you know? I even trained for and ran a half-marathon. I have freakin’ grit.

Except, I don’t. This has been one of the harder things to accept about myself. You see, there is something we tell kids when they’re little and when they’re adolescents and when they’re young adults. Go to school. Get good grades. Go to a good college. Do that and you’ll be set. I believed this. And the worst thing about it? I didn’t really have to work that hard to get it done.

Don’t get me wrong, I went to one of the hardest universities in the country (we’re where fun comes to die, after all) and I worked my ass off to get through those four years with some semblance of sanity. But it was always a given that I would go to college and that I would graduate and, once I’d done my part, a satisfying career would be handed over to me. It was my prize. I deserved it. I believed that lie.

Perhaps because I never had to work that hard in school – I was always the “smart one” – it took me many years to figure out that I would, indeed, have to work hard outside of school. No longer does my GPA matter or the fact that I graduated at a younger age than normal or the name of the school I went to or the professors I had. Outside there is no security in knowing that if I follow the syllabus I’ll pass the class. I can do everything “right,” but the path to a fulfilling career is not linear. I have not known how to navigate that and I have spent many years with a decent “job,” but with nothing to show in name of “career.” I am thankful to have a job that allows me enough money to live in a safe area, to afford health care, to provide for some fun extravagancies, but I have never had the experience of answering the question “What do you do?” and feeling proud of the answer. I have always wanted that.

The truth, as I’ve come to admit to myself, is that I’ve never worked for it. Whenever I hear people introduce themselves with titles such as “forensic scientist,” “nuclear engineer,” “railroad architect” (yes, these are real occupations that people I’ve met have supplied) I’ve dismissively thought they were just lucky enough to do something that offered a livable pay, while all the things I wanted to do did not.

If “just do well in school” was a lie that was told to me, then “they’re just lucky” was a lie I told myself. It was a way for me to avoid the fact that I was afraid of what hard work looks like, afraid of having to ask others for help, afraid of failing. I knew how to put one foot in front of the other in a plotted out path, but I did not know how to cope with these intangible things. As I’ve worked on building a business from scratch, the past couple years have been an extended course in everything that makes me insecure. I’ve had meetings with people who have promised help, only to never hear from them again. I’ve had to admit I know nothing about things like insurance and licenses and I’ve had to ask around to piecemeal together what we need to do. I have before me the task of using an unfamiliar kitchen and figuring out the most efficient manner of production. And this is all without any guarantee of success. As our business opens and our orders start to come in, I am certain that my determination will be put to the test.

Do I have grit? We’ll see.