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Fruits and vegetables are important for a healthy body, but it doesn’t make sense to eat food contaminated with pesticides.

Some crops are more contaminated than others, so if you can’t buy 100% organic, pesticide-free produce, it’s good to know which produce is most susceptible to contamination. Some people go by a very general rule of thumb that fruits and vegetable with thick skin are safer to eat since they have a protective layer. This is not always the case though, and make sure you still wash your organic produce before you eat it.

The Environmental Working Group produced a list to help us shop in the produce aisle. If you don’t already buy all organic produce, The Clean 15 list shows the conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables lowest in pesticide residues. The Dirty Dozen list shows which to buy organic, if you can.

You can download the cheat-sheet here, if you want to put it up on your fridge or bookmark it in your phone.

I like to eat local, seasonal, and organic produce as much as I can, and here is why:

1.  No chemicals in my fruit bowl. Studies have shown that there are many pesticides on the market that are carcinogenic or that cause other serious health problems. Since pesticides are poisons designed to kill living organisms, I don’t want to eat them. It’s as simple as that.

2. Consider real costs. Currently, organic food is more expensive than conventional food, but that’s because we don’t take into account all the hidden costs. We pay for federal government’s subsidies for the production of conventional food, pesticide regulation and testing, waste clean-up, and the environmental damage. I know it can be difficult to buy organic when the budget is tight, but hopefully the pesticide guide will help you make choices.

3. Energy use. The large-scale farms are driving the business, not small family farms. The large scale modern farming technology uses an unbelievable amount of petroleum, and a ton of energy to produce fertilizers and harvest all the crops.

4. Support local economy. Eating locally, organically and in season cuts down on food that has to be transported from thousands of miles away. Local produce arrives at the market fresher and has more flavor than shipped produce. I live in California, and in Sacramento out of all places; there is no reason why I should not buy most of my food locally, and seasonally.

5. It tastes so good. When you bite into it, you can tell the difference. If pesticides are not used, the soil has to be well taken care of. Healthy soil = good food.

In addition to eating organic, I try to stay in season. By eating fruits and vegetables that are harvested in their season, you get the whole flavor and all the nutritional benefits. The strawberries don’t taste good in December, and why should they? It’s not their time. I’m learning how to be patient and wait for the seasons to bring in fresh and nutritionally dense produce.

Here is my winter fruit and vegetable seasonal guide. Of course, this is not THE complete list. The fruits and veggies with a * are especially peaking right now. Seasonality varies across regions, so it’s always best to look at State specific guides. You can find a full seasonal chart for fruits and vegetables, here. For a list of resources by State, check out Field to Plate

Winter Produce List (alphabetically)
citrus fruits
winter artichokes
*Asian pears
beets
broccoli
butternut squash
cauliflower
fennel
*grapefruit
*grapes
jicama
*kale
*meyer lemons
wild mushrooms
oranges
parsnips
*pears
*pomelo

You know what’s not in season right now? The weather! It was sunny and in the 60s today in Sacramento! Beautiful day for a hike 🙂

Something very unexpected happened today, so wonderfully unexpected that I’m still riding on the endorphins. Eric and I ran in the Lou Gehrig 10K this morning, our second year in a row. I have not been training for speed lately; just running for fun a few days a week. But today I felt good, my legs felt lose, it was a beautiful day, and I ran for a cause that is very dear to my heart. I got a PR and I finished 1st in my age group 🙂 It helped that it was a smaller race, but I will still happily accept my results.  See my post-race thoughts and results HERE, on my new Runs + Races page.

I thought it would be a good day night to share an important part of my training routine with you. So, I am happy to introduce you to the self myofascial release, or  Trigger Point TherapyI’ll call it TPT, for short. TPT helps me work through the tight spots in my legs, helps prevent scar tissue from forming, and keeps me from getting injured.

What are trigger points?

A trigger point is basically a muscle knot. When you have a trigger point, your muscle is in a spasm and is tender to the touch, which will likely put your running plans on hold. If you don’t take care of it right away, it will pull on your muscle and the surrounding areas, causing pain. It’s often difficult to locate exactly where the trigger point is located because it may set off a shooting pain that’s far from the trigger sight. If you don’t take care of these painful spots, they can turn into scar tissue. I find that I’m prone to trigger points when I’m not paying attention to my stride, overtraining, or not resting enough.

What can you do?

The concept of trigger point therapy (or self myofascial release) is to massage those trigger points to release the knot. You can do this using a foam roller or other products, such as Trigger Point Therapy tools. The basic concept is to use your body weight to press your troubled muscle on top of the roller, and slowly roll over the specific area. This allows you to apply a lot of pressure to the hard-to-reach muscles comfortably, without using your hands.

My experience – ouch!

When I first started running, I suffered from lower leg injuries, which eventually led me to overcompensate, causing problems to other parts of my legs. My trouble spot was my right calf. I RICED and RICED. But Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) did not do the trick. I iced so much I gave myself freezer burns, elevated every night, and slept in my compression socks, despite the fact that I don’t like having my feet covered at night. Yes, being a rookie, I over-trained and did not give myself enough rest (more on that later), but the self myofascial release, with the foam roller and the TPT “footballer”, helped me heal much faster. By the way, I learned the technical term, “myofascial”, from my amazing pilates instructor, who convinced me to get my first foam roller, which I use almost every day.  But because my lower calf problem was so bad, I needed to target the lower part of my legs a bit more. That’s when I came across the TPT Starter Set, which included the footballer.

When I stood in line to buy my $70 TPT Starter Set, Eric thought that I was getting ripped off (and he had a point). The TPT starter set includes a block, a mini roller, which they call a “footballer”, and a little ball that looks like a tennis ball. The block elevates the lower leg, while the footballer massages the calf. The mini massage ball was supposed to be great for the neck, shoulders, back, calves, glutes and feet (which it was).

I had a good feeling about it. But that good feeling literally turned into a bad feeling when I gave it a test drive at Fleet Feet. As I put some weight on my calf and started to roll it back and forth on the footballer, I wanted to scream at the woman who insisted I keep pressing my leg over the mini roller and holding it in place. I thought this mini roller was going to make me burst into tears in the middle of the store. And while I like to think of myself as someone who has decent tolerance for pain, there was no denying that it HURT. But it hurt because I had a huge knot, probably with some scar tissue, that was inflamed and was literally twisting and pulling on my muscle.

So despite getting the disapproving head shake from Eric, I bought the TPT starter set. I started using it regularly, in addition to RICE, and the pain (slowly) faded away.

Examples of how to use

1. Sit on your mat and place the block by your feet. Put the footballer on top, stretch your right leg out, and place your right calf on top of the footballer. Place your hands by your sides on the mat to support you.

2. I usually start rolling back and forth from my ankle to the the top part of the calf. Once I find the tenderness, I hold for about 30 seconds.

3. I add pressure by placing the the other leg on top of the leg that I’m working. This may be too much when you are starting to use the footballer for the first time.

4. I rotate my foot inward to target the inner calf, and then outward to get to the outer, and roll the same way.

You get the point, there are so many other variations you can try with this roller.

How often to use?

I usually use my TPT footballer once a week, but if I start feeling any discomfort  from training, I use it every day. In addition to the TPT starter set, I use this foam roller.

You can find foam rollers that are inexpensive at your running store.You can also go a bit fancier with something like this.

I use the foam roller to target the IT band, quadriceps, hamstring and adductors.

There are many reasons I don’t get injured as much as I used to, including some improvement in my running form, buying shoes that fit, and resting. But targeting the sore and tight muscles in my body, and massaging them out before they turn into knots, definitely helps me prevent injuries and recover faster between runs.

Hope you try a foam roller at the minimum, if you haven’t already. I promise you, it will be so worth it!

Whether your new year’s resolution is NOT to skip breakfast, or even if you already eat your breakfast every day (good for you!) and want to spice things up, I have a recipe that will get you out of your breakfast rut. We all know that eating breakfast is good for us; it speeds up our metabolism, and helps us avoid those doughnuts in the conference room, but only a few of us eat it every morning. The only way I’m able to get my breakfast before I’m out the door, is to make it ahead of time. One example is my recently discovered grab n’ go mini quiches that take about 30 minutes to prepare from start to finish. Make these ahead of time and freeze.

This vegansoy free, and gluten free quiche recipe is a complete accident.  Linda gave me a bag of Lucini Cinque e’ Cinque (good thing I’m writing, and not saying these words out loud) as Eric and I were almost out the door after the Christmas weekend. She asked me to give it a try. And try I did.

For the non-Italians, Cinque e’ Cinque is a chickpea frittata, made of chickpea flour. Lucini has a line of this chickpea mix already packaged up with instructions on the back, so it’s extremely easy to make. You can find a ready-to-go bag of the delicious Lucini frittata mix at your local grocery, specialty store or you can buy it online. Check HERE for places to buy.

Once I read the instructions on how to make this frittata, I knew it was a breakfast winner – it’s very easy to prepare and only calls for a few simple ingredients, water, chickpea flour, olive oil, and salt. But instead of making one big vegan quiche, I decided to make it in mini muffin tins so they would be easy to freeze and easy to grab for breakfast. I also chopped up whatever I had in the fridge to add different flavors to the minis – roasted peppers, olives, a red onion, pesto, basil, and cheese for Eric.

If you can’t find the Lucini mix, or don’t want to order it, don’t worry! You can use any garbanzo bean/chickpea flour (like Bob’s Red Mill) and follow the recipe below. As soon as I ran out of this stuff, I knew I had to make more. So I went to the store, bought some chickpea flour and made not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 batches, just to get the measurements right. So this recipe  is tried and true.

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups chickpea/garbanzo bean flour
3 cups cold filtered water
3 Tbls olive oil
2 tsp salt
Cooking spray

Directions

1. Preheat your oven to 500°, and spray a large muffin tin with cooking spray. In a big bowl, whisk the chickpea flour, cold water, oil, and salt. Whisk it really well – make sure there are no lumps when you’re done.

2. Pour the quiche mix into a liquid measuring cup (for an easy pour) and then into your muffin tins.

3. This is where you can either leave them plain (which will still taste great) or add some flavor! I strongly encourage you to do this. Just chop up whatever you want to use and add to the tins.

For starters, I added a chopped, sautéed onion to the mix itself so all of them had onions. But if that’s not your style, just add whatever you wish. Combinations I tried include:

  • roasted pepper, basil
  • pesto
  • olive, basil
  • basil, mozzarella (non-vegan for Eric)

4.  Bake for 14 minutes, then slightly open the oven door and bake for another 11 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven. Let them cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes before serving. They should be smooth and creamy on the inside.

5. Freezing – this is the best part.  This recipe will make 12 mini quiches. If you want to freeze them, take them out of the tins after 10 minutes, and let them cool completely. Once cool, wrap each one in plastic wrap and then put in a freezer Ziploc bag. Make sure to get all the air out of the Ziploc (I use a straw to suck all the air out, but that’s just me :)). Once you’re ready to eat, take out of the freezer and microwave for 2-3 minutes.

All wrapped up and ready for the freezer. “NV” denotes the non-vegan minis, so that Eric doesn’t eat all of my breakfast treats 🙂

Each quiche is about 110 calories and a great source of protein. A couple of these quiches with your morning tea or coffee and some fruit is the perfect way to start off your day.

Other ideas for serving:

  • add herbs to the mix and cook in a large pan so that the frittata gets crispy (and less creamy, like the quiche), serve as an appetizer or a side with dinner
  • serve a mini quiche on top of your chili, stew, or soup

Cheers to starting the day off right!

Home Sweet Home

Yesterday’s sunset view from the train.

Although the train ride wasn’t bad at all (aside from the fact that there was no Wi-Fi), it feels good to be home. Next time I do a 15 hour train ride, I think I will try the sleeper car – the entire left side of my body is really sore from tossing and turning all night. While I was on the train, I was mentally going over all the things I love about Portland:

  • tall lofty apartment buildings with store fronts on the ground level
  • 2 coffee shops per block, coffee shops in stores, hotels, salons, and just about anywhere you can think of
  • Living Room Theater; while sitting in a roomy and comfortable recliner chair, you can order from a full restaurant menu, order a drink from the bar, or enjoy a top-notch coffee
  • nutritional yeast as a condiment at a restaurant
  • bicycle fresh produce delivery service
  • food carts (we need more of these in Sac)
  • bike assembly area in the airport
  • TriMet public transit system
  • Powell’s Bookstore
  • food, food, and more vegan food
  • bike lanes

I’m sure Eric and I will be back. We want to explore the scenic and natural parts of the state and do some wine tasting.

Here is a little more show and tell from the trip.

My first “proper tea tasting” experience at Steven Smith Teamaker; tasting tea with the spoons and everything. The teas here were delicious.

Although we really don’t need more tea, we couldn’t help but get some to take back with us. Especially this Chai.

Lots of walking in the rain, and working up an appetite.

Stumbled upon an antique furniture shop, with imports from Turkey, India, Sweden, Morocco, France, Italy and more. Eric had a blast there.

Breakfast smoothie and fruit with a creamy cashew vanilla yogurt (which I am totally making at home). Absolutely delicious.

What’s a trip to Portland without visiting the breweries? I loved the Pumpkin Ale, but then again, I love pumpkin anything.

Caught in action – enjoying my Whole Bowl from the food cart. Eric had a Bratwurst with all the sides and we shared his hot apple cider.

Now, off to get this house in order. We don’t have a thing in the fridge and I’m going through apple withdrawals.

Oh and I just got my first birthday card in the mail from my parents and siblings in-law. It really made my morning 🙂

Happy 2012!

Happy New Year everyone! I wish you all healthful, blissful, and a peaceful year. Let us reach all of our health and fitness goals together and push ourselves beyond the limits we create. As soon as Eric and I greeted 2012, we ran the Portland 5K. I’ve done a 5K the first weekend of the New Year for the past 3 years, but doing it a midnight was a whole new experience.

This year has been such an eventful and action packed year. Eric and I got married, went on a honeymoon to Greece, moved into a new apartment. I started this blog, signed up to become a pilates instructor, and started on my goal to do more things that I love, without using the excuse of  “not having enough time”. It’s not that I now have more time in the day, but I cherish it more.  I try to spend it doing things I love, like writing, doing pilates, reaching new fitness goals, creating recipes, making more things myself instead of buying things I don’t need, and spending time with the people I love.

One of the things I noticed about being creative is that you have to work on it, like anything else.  You never know how creative you can be unless you just start doing things. Now, I try to do whatever is on my mind as soon I get inspired.  Those of you that read my blog, my family and friends, who are so supportive and encouraging, inspire and motivate me each and every day. I am so grateful to have such wonderful people in my life.

I think 2012 will be a year full of new ventures, new challenges, and rewards. My goal is to pay attention to the little things, stay aware, listen, and stay inspired.

This mini vacation to Portland has been so much fun and gave me those needed days of relaxation (and lots and lots of “dates” with Eric). I will share the rest of the trip on our 12 hour train ride home. Have a  wonderful January 1, 2012.

Exploring Portland

As soon as we got here, Eric and I loved it. What’s not to love? Coffee shops, loft-style buildings, creative and unique stores, and vegan friendly restaurants. People have also been very nice. Lululemon is my birthday present from Eric. So, while I was trying on a thousand running pants and tops at Lulu, Eric got the scoop on all the “must see” places from one of the employees.

We are staying at the Ace Hotel, a very trendy, eco friendly hotel, which has a coffee shop (the norm around here), a restaurant, which we enjoyed last night, and free bike rentals. I wish we could take the bikes out today, but it’s raining. Today may just be a walking in the rain, stopping at coffee shops, and exploring more of the city kind of day.

We spent the day walking around, stopping anywhere and everywhere. Bike shops, locally built furniture shops, breweries, cafes, and athletic gear stores. My favorite two stops of the day were the Yoga Peal studio, which was connected to an exceptional vegan and raw friendly restaurant, where we had lunch, as well as Oblation Papers and Press, a unique print shop, where I stocked up birthday cards.

We also visited Powell’s Bookstore, a Portland gem. Although it seems like Kindles and Nooks have taken over the world, books are definitely not obsolete in Portland. This independent bookstore started out as an ordinary small shop, and expanded to a 3 story building that now takes up the entire block. Of course, there is a coffee shop inside, and an entire wall of vegetarian and vegan books. I was a very happy camper.

And if that wasn’t enough, there is Powell’s Books 2 across the street. It wasn’t enough for Eric – Powell’s Books 2 has the engineering, construction, and mathematics collections. Enough said.

It looks like the sun is peering through the rainy clouds. Maybe we could take the bikes out after all!

See you in the New Year!

Vegan Kale Rolls

I love today! Eric and I both had a day off. We actually have the rest of the week off since we are going to Portland tomorrow.  I can hardly wait.

Breakfast was first.  Since we don’t have the same work schedule, we usually don’t have breakfast together. Today was a nice treat – we had vegan chickpea mini quiches, which I will be sure to tell you about soon. They are incredibly delicious and easy. You can freeze them and then simply reheat them in the mornings for a nutritious and healthy weekday breakfasts.

Now we are waiting. Waiting on our new computer to arrive! Drum roll please…..we are switching to a Mac. We bought it over Christmas weekend and waiting for it to be delivered this morning. I think Eric is more excited about setting it up ( I am told it will take all day) and I am more excited about using it.

So while we are waiting, I will be unpacking from Bakersfield, packing for Portland, getting all the errands done, and sharing this kale rolls recipe with you.

I made these for Christmas dinner as a vegan alternative to Linda’s cabbage and turkey rolls. We had fun cooking side by side, chatting, and sipping wine. I used kale instead of cabbage because it has a nutritional advantage over cabbage – kale is good source of  fiber, protein, folate, iron, and a very good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, calcium and potassium.

Ingredients
1 cup brown rice (half cooked, in vegetable broth)
2 big shallots
1 head of garlic
4 carrots, grated
6 baby potatoes, grated
6 sprigs of fresh parsley, finely chopped, or 2 tsp dried parsley
6 ounces mushrooms (favorite kind), roughly chopped
2 big kale bunches
15 ounce can tomato sauce
3 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup red wine
salt and pepper
Optional: 1 cup pine nuts

Directions
1. Roast garlic in a 400° oven for 30 minutes. Take out and let it cool.

2. Prep the vegetables and rice. Follow instructions for the type of rice you are cooking, but cook it in vegetable broth for only half the time. Drain the rest of the liquid. My brown rice usually takes about 45-50 minutes. I cooked 1 cup of rice in 2 cups of vegetable broth for 20 minutes. You want to make sure that the rice  half cooked, so it has a slight crunch.

While the rice is cooking, grate the carrots and the potatoes on the side of the grater with the largest holes. A 4 sided box type of grater works the best, but you can use any type you prefer. Roughly chop the mushroom to medium dice, and finely dice the onions.

3. Saute vegetables.  Heat a skillet on medium-high heat with olive oil. Cook the onions for about 3 minutes, or until golden. Add the carrots and potatoes, mix, and let them cook for a about 5 minutes. The goal here is to get the potatoes and carrots slightly crispy. Add parsley, and squeeze the roasted garlic out of the shells into your pan. Cook for about 5 more minutes, until the potatoes and carrots are about cooked half way. Remove from the pan onto a separate plate.

4. Cook the mushrooms. Once you removed the vegetables from the pan, add the mushrooms to the same pan and cook for a few minutes until they start to brown. The idea here is to use the vegetable drippings for the mushroom saute to give them more flavor. Then de-glaze with ¼ cup of red wine and cook for a few more minutes, until the mushrooms are done.

5. Prepare the kale. This is a 3 step process. Wash the kale, de-stem the kale, and dunk the kale into hot water for 3 seconds. Then, put on a plate to dry. To de-stem, you will have to cut the kale into two pieces, and remove the middle stem. Boil water in a big pot. Using tongs, just dunk the kale in and take it right out. This will make the kale easier to roll.

5. Combine. Add the vegetables, mushrooms, and the rice into the pan and mix all together.

6. Rock and Roll.  This could get a bit tricky. Think of it as wrapping a package. First, take two pieces of kale and lay side by side, one side overlapping another. Then spoon the mixture in the middle of the kale pieces.

Lay a third piece of kale perpendicular to the other two pieces, on top of the mixture.

Bring the top edges toward the bottom, then the bottom edges toward the top, and then flip to the other side and bring the two middle edges together. I know this sounds complicated, but once you start doing it, you’ll see that it’s not hard at all. It doesn’t really matter how you wrap them, as long as the rice mixture is secure in the middle.

7. Make the sauce and cook. The sauce is really simple. Just combine 1 can of tomatoes sauce with 1 cup of the vegetable broth and season with salt and pepper. Put it on the bottom  of your pan, and lay the kale rolls on top. Seal with a lid and cook for 25 more minutes on medium-low heat. You can also use a pressure cooker (like I did here), but you absolutely don’t have to. If using a pressure cooker, just cook for about 6 minutes.

8. Garnish. Serve hot. Spoon the sauce on top of the rolls and garnish with toasted pine nuts.The pine nuts give the rolls a nice crunch. To toast, cook in a 400° oven for about 4 minutes. After the first two minutes shake the baking sheet and cook for the remaining 2 minutes.

Kale rolls are a bit involved, but are great if you want to make a double batch for leftovers, or if you’re having people over for dinner. If you want to skip a few steps, you can always completely cook the vegetables and rice the first time around and just wrap the mixture into the steamed kale (without having to cook it in the tomato sauce). I highly recommend giving these a try though (whatever version you decide to make).

Our flight to Portland leaves really early tomorrow, so we have to be out of the house by 4 am. Did I mention how excited I am? 

See you in Portland!

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