Monthly Archives: May 2012

Where Life has Value

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As my family approaches the one year anniversary of my Aunt’s stepping through the veil into Eternity, my thoughts go to matters of living and dying.

My contemplation of the subject was made more vivid last week, as the kids and I drove to piano lessons and saw the soldier lying on the pavement by the side of the road.

He wore a helmet and reflective vest over his uniform.

Time seemed to slow down as we passed the scene. Several vehicles were pulled onto the shoulder: Germans with hands covering their faces; people with arms around each other; and a group of soldiers huddled near their shuttle van.

Not half a mile later, the ambulance passed by, lights on, siren off.

It is one thing for a soldier to risk his life in a combat zone, but to perish on a sunny hill in the German countryside–the idea is jarring.

There are countries where women die in childbirth; where children die from lack of medical care; where men die from famine; where, as the cold saying goes, life is cheap.

In the Western World, death, for the most part, is neatly tucked away into sterile corridors; hidden beneath the hum of tubes and electronics and machinery. We are insulated, to an extent, from the harsh reality of it.

Death is shocking–and it should be. What a world we live in, where people must harden themselves to withstand the apparent cheapness of life.

It makes me wonder how many times a heart is re-broken before numbness sets in. And would I become numb to it too, if I were in a different situation?

Sitting here watching the long-setting May sun and listening to the birds call to each other from darkening trees, I think of my ever-cheerful, witty, intense Aunt Kathy and miss her.

And though my heart aches for the family and friends of the soldier who perished, I find myself thankful that I have feelings and emotions left to spend on fellow human beings.

May it always be that my heart remains a place where life has value.

I wish it could be so for everyone.

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Guilt-Free Fast Food: Keri’s Classic Tofu

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“It’s great that you’re so healthy: getting up early to run and being Sushi Girl,” my husband said, as I zipped up my neon sweater and strapped the water bottle to my hand.

Sushi Girl.

Unbelieveable.

I used to be the beleaguered Mama who, to save time, figured out the lowest possible setting to toast the waffles without leaving them frozen in the middle. On a good morning, meaning one in which I would have consumed 2 or 3 cups of coffee before the kids awoke, I would secure my Awesome Mama status by carefully filling the waffle squares to make blocky smiley-faces.

Now, I make things like sushi and tofu.

Many people say they don’t have time to cook healthy meals–and I can totally understand that. I remember tossing chicken strips into the microwave, and feeling it was a pain to have to turn them halfway through. What a waste of ten seconds!

Though my kids are now old enough to do things like chop veggies and do dishes, there are days when I’m pressed for time.

But gluten-free vegan cooking takes SO long, doesn’t it?

Not really.

Last night, I chopped up some peppers, onions, and tomatoes and threw them in the skillet with some crumbled tofu. I added black beans, chipolte spice, cilantro, and lime, and it came out a tasty Tex-Mex tofu, if there is such a thing.

I’ve perused a lot of recipes and have done a lot of playing around with tofu, and my family’s favorite tofu is also the simplest to prepare.

So, without further ado, my Recipe of the Week: Keri’s Classic Tofu

 The Mighty Block of Tofu: Organic, Extra-Firm

Step One: Press the tofu.

As usual, I learned this step the hard way; and there were many nights my son had to chisel a brown layer of tofu off my pan, but finally I learned three important things: 1) press the tofu well, 2) buy a REALLY good non-stick pan, and 3) give the clean-up crew a special allowance. My teenage son, who routinely has post-dinner kitchen duty, is thankful I learned these things.

I use two blocks of tofu for my family of 6, and there are no leftovers

Apparently there is a gadget called a ‘tofu press,’ but since I have no idea where to find one in Germany, I simply layer the tofu with wads of paper towels, then put it between two cutting boards with a weight (my mortar & pestle) on top and let it sit for as long as possible. If I have planned correctly, I will do this an hour before I cook. If I am in a rush, I gently press it down myself, and try not to squish it into a pancake.

Step Two: Cut into Cubes

Maybe I’m still a kid at heart, and slicing tofu reminds me of playing with play-dough, but this is one of my favorite parts of tofu-play.

Stand the mighty tofu towers on end

Slice into fifths

Stack the thin slices and cut into bite-sized cubes

Step Three: Adding Flavor

If you are not worried about sodium intake, you can, at this point, toss the tofu cubes with Tamari or Soy Sauce. I ran some ginger through the juicer and then tossed my tofu cubes with the ginger juice, which gave it a bit more flavor. Or, you can just leave the tofu plain. Because we are cutting back on sodium, I prefer to cook the tofu cubes with a green onion.

Chop the green part of 3-4 onions into little O’s and set aside

Step Four: Cook It

After nearly ruining many pans, I invested in a high-quality (meaning, German) non-stick skillet. We do not clean this puppy with soap (as my teen learned from my shrieks as he grabbed the bottle of dish soap while touching my new pan), but we merely use water on it. If parts of it get sticky, I’ll rub a little wok oil in it, to clean it.

Heat the pan on medium, until water sprinkled in it begins to sizzle;
then drain the tofu (if marinating) and add the cubes

When the tofu begins to brown, add green onion

I use a silicone spatula to gently flip the cubes
Cook in skillet, adding a little water if needed (to keep from sticking), over medium-high, until tofu looks golden

Step Five: Eat it

Serve tofu with your veggie of choice

A very simple way to do veggies is to chop mushrooms into quarters and toss into 400 degree oven with green asparagus (woody parts snapped off). Put the veggies in the oven while you cook the tofu–and it should all be done at the same time. 

Step Six: Feel Good

At first, cooking tofu may take longer than zapping dinosaur-shaped ‘chicken’ nuggets with invisible rays. But once you try tofu a few times, and use your own creativity and preferences, you will find that not only is it a quick meal, but it tastes good too. And you can dine guilt-free, knowing that your family is consuming something that will help prevent a host of diseases in the future.

Maybe it sounds entirely domestic, but it gives me joy to provide dinners that nourish and heal–and taste GOOD–rather than dinners that simply fill the belly.

The idea that every calorie counts is not accurate: in reality, it is the amount of nutrients in any given morsel that counts towards good health.

Guten Apetit!

Chocolate Cake and One Big Salad

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On Friday, I ran 11 miles, and on Monday, the eve of my 39th birthday, I ran 11.5.

Today I ate cake for breakfast. 

And lunch.

And hopefully, I’ll have some after dinner too. 

The cake is gluten-free, but it is one stick of butter and three eggs shy of Vegan. I just don’t see how anyone can get a gluten-free vegan birthday cake to taste good. But then again, I’m not a chef. I just have a cookbook fetish and a penchant for experimenting with ingredients.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman has a saying, which I forced the children to repeat in a propaganda poster on the fridge: “You can’t buy good health in a bottle; it must be earned.”

Sure, I had chocolate cake on my birthday, but I also had lean green as a late-morning snack. And though I nibbled bits of the cake when I got home this afternoon, I filled myself with a Big Salad, so I wouldn’t sliver the cake into nonexistence.

I do NOT want to be the Mama who doesn’t eat birthday cake–especially when tender young hands prepared it.

As the late afternoon sun hit our balcony head-on today, and the eggplants roasted in the oven for my birthday baba ganoush, I sat outside and knit some more on my scarf. It is nearly done, and I find it fitting that Libby, our youngest, will show me how to end my project tonight.

This is certainly a new stage of life for me.

It has been a great birthday, and as I stare at my calendar, packed with hopes and dreams and dates with people I love, I feel so incredibly blessed.

The future looks good from 39.

“Recipe” of the Week: Keri’s Big Salad

The salads I eat for lunch and dinner are so incredibly ginormous (as in, I can eat an entire head of lettuce by myself), that people stop and stare. Even my husband, who eats a ton of raw veggies before meals, took a photo of my salad one morning, to show the guys at work. So, I thought I would share what exactly I put into it.

Dr. Fuhrman has many sayings, one of which is: “Salad is the Main Dish” (also a propaganda poster on our fridge).

No matter what I make for dinner, whether it’s baba ganoush, vegan pizza, or lentils, we always have a huge salad first. Even the kids eat salad with dinner, though not in the SuperSized portions the adults have.

*This is just one example of REAL lettuce!

The Raw Materials

1-2 heads lettuce *Note: forget about skimpy iceberg–and DON’T EVEN buy the prepackaged junk, unless circumstances are dire. Get yourself something that looks like a farmer just plucked it from the ground. It MUST have dirt in it–and maybe even a few pebbles. I like to use one green type and one purplish type, of which I would know the names if I were an actual chef or even not so lazy.

1-2 red peppers

1/2 cucumber

1/2 avocado 

tomatoes–as many as you please

4 fresh black olives (I get mine at the Turkish market. Jarred Kalmata are yummy, but have high sodium–if that bothers you)

1 tbsp ground flaxseed

1/2 can garbanzos (I told you this was a huge salad)

1/2 red onion, finely sliced

2 tbsp pumpkin seeds (shelled, of course)

1-2 tbsp GOOD balsalmic vinegar (I invest in the sweet Italian stuff)

1/4 cup sprouts (my favorite are Wasabi sprouts–for the peppery taste)

Any other fresh, raw veggies you love, remembering the more colors you have in the salad, the better. And yes, the avocados, black olives, pumpkin seeds and flax have fat–but they  are GOOD fats; plus, they have so many phytonutrients that they are vital to a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet. Just go easy on them if you’re trying to lose weight.

Rule #1: One serving of good fats a day will not kill you.

Rule #2: Eat as many raw veggies as you like! Stuff yourself! 

As Dr. Fuhrman says: the more nutrient-dense foods you eat, the more weight you will lose.

The Method

Chop your REAL lettuce, or rip it apart with your bare hands, and thoroughly wash it. Place lettuce in a salad spinner, being careful NOT to launch the top of the device across the room in a major lettuce explosion, which your little Vegan dog cleans up before you can stop him. (Yes, Pepin eats lettuce now).

Slice and chop the veggies to your delight. In my opinion, the thinner the onion slice, the better.

Toss the lettuce and veggies together in a big bowl, and drizzle basalmic over the top. Make a divot in the middle and pour in the garbanzos. Sprinkle flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and top with avocado and sprouts.

Or, just put it in your biggest plastic box, and hope the basalmic doesn’t leak all over the bottom of your cooler before you can eat it at your picnic. *Note: when toting the Big Salad to places outside the home, save the basalmic in a small, leakproof container and drizzle upon arrival. *Note: I DID indeed learn this the hard way after a basalmic-containment “incident.”

If after eating all of these veggies (Fuhrman recommends a minimum of one pound of veg a day) you are still hungry, eat the rest of your garbanzo beans, or grab some fruit. My favorite treat is an apple dipped in 1 tbsp natural nut butter. The key is to eat until you feel full.

Try eating a Big Salad before each meal (or before each slice of birthday cake) for superior health, shiny hair, weight loss, and/or to stop traffic.

Guten apetit!

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With Strings: Keri’s Running Gear Review

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From the upper room of our favorite restaurant at Rothenburg ob der Tauber, we flung open the windows so we could watch some dancers in the market square. The cowboy hats and boots should’ve been a warning, but we stood helpless, as if watching an impending train wreck, as the German group began line dancing to a song that contained the refrain “God Blessed Texas.”

“Achy Breaky Heart” broke the spell, and we hurriedly closed the windows before 90s flashbacks compounded my deepening culture shock.

By the time we left, the group had changed, and some adorable Mädchen and a guy in a bear suit were dancing to songs from the Sound of Music.

I wonder how the Austrians in the audience felt?

Despite the odd moments of cultural confusion, I do enjoy living in Franconia, Germany–especially now that I’m a runner.

The weather is usually cool, there are plenty of nice trails, and the scenery is spectacular. The only hard part about being a runner in Germany is that most of the running apparel for women is downright dowdy–and forget about finding a size 12 women’s running shoe.

Thus, I order most of my stuff online.

The packages, sadly bereft of brown paper or strings, still give me a little thrill. When I receive a package, I scurry away to my room before the kids can catch me. Running gear must be protectively guarded in this house–especially since my eldest daughter can wear all of my clothing, including my SHOES! And I have often caught, red footed, if you will, my younger kids wearing Mama’s Special Running Socks to PE class.

To quote from a famous movie about a talking llama:

NO TOUCHY!

Now with sounds of music bouncing around in your head, join me in a hum-a-long, as I present a few of my favorite things:

Raindrops on toeses…

Socks mean the difference between life and blisters. My favorites are the SmartWool Phd Running Light Micro Socks. These always keep my feet dry–even if it’s raining. If I see these on any of my children’s feet, I am provoked to rage befitting a Cinderella step-sister.

I am in love with Sir Isaac Newton–the inspiration for the Newton running shoes, which are a transition sort of shoe for those wanting a forefront running style with a bit of cushion. You can even insert your orthopedics, if you want. The 20 percent military/firefighter/police discount absolutely inspires customer loyalty, and was a huge reason I bought a second pair for trail running (which I’m currently testing).

Pictured below are the Newton Distance U (Universal) Trainers. They are very lightweight and flexible–though, you really do have to spend some time transitioning to a minimalist shoe. Now, I can wear these on runs of any length (and these will be ‘toeing’ the line in Füssen in July).

My leg (pictured above) shows my favorite winter running pants. Again by SmartWool, these are the TML Light Tights.

The only drawback is that these do not come in Talls. Also, the pants in the picture are an XL, which are sadly (or perhaps, happily) WAAY to baggy for me now. Second favorite is the Smartwool TML light pant, which I purchased in a size Medium–and again, is now too baggy (and a touch too short). [For reference, I am 5’9,” currently 143 pounds, and wear a size 6].

My favorite pants for spring or fall have got to be the Kickbooty yoga pants by Athleta. Not only do I run in them, but I live in them. Ring my doorbell any day of the week, and unless they are in the laundry, my Kickbooties will answer.

They also come in happy Dr. Seuss sizes, like a Small Tall (*see Hop on Pop for reference), which, to my amazement, fits me now. I have these in dress blue & black–though the black ones are getting ragged after 2 years of nearly constant doorbell answering.

For those days that are coolish-warm, I like the Pearl iZUMi Women’s Aurora Splice Knicker. These are cute and functional, but they do tend to get warm in direct sunlight.

The Presto Bermudas, by Athleta, are quickly becoming my favorite short for warm weather long distance running. They cover the last remaining bit of fat on my legs, which makes me (and anyone running behind me) incredibly thankful.

Working our way up…I’ve always hated the cheesy, constricting, flimsy sports bras that you have to layer with a running shirt; so the Athleta tank tops with built-in bras are a dream come true.

I’ve got the Wildcard in two different colors. If you ring my doorbell any day of the week, the Wildcard will answer with the Kickbooty–if it’s cold out, it will have a shirt tossed over it.

The fabric on the Wildcard is a little thicker than the fabric on Athleta’s Vee Neck Racerback, which I also like, though it is second place in my book simply because it doesn’t look as cute as the Wildcard.

I realize it’s not all that ‘athletic’ to worry about cuteness; but just because I’m a runner doesn’t mean I have to dress like a man–or the other extreme I often see, which could accurately be described as ‘hoochy mama,’ which too frequently seems to be the only other option.

Athleta provides a nice middle ground for Marathon Mamas who want to look feminine without horrifying the spectators.

So, maybe I did a little too much investing in Athleta this season…

For those cooler mornings, I’ve got Athleta’s Longsleeve Wonder Wick-it Tee in white. I put it over my white WildCard, and off I go, perfectly color coordinated, which does not happen too often.

I’m thinking Athleta should sponsor me.

But I wanted to invest in a few quality pieces that will last, rather than a bunch of cheap workout gear that leaves sores on my body, like the Nike running skort I wore in my second marathon, or shirts that feel like bees are stinging my armpits, like the Adidas neuron-neutro-or-whatever tee shirt (I can’t even remember the name of it, since I ditched it after it bit me repeatedly on a 15-miler last year).

Adidas isn’t all bad. I do have one shirt that I love for colder weather, which the kids call my ‘Tron’ shirt because of the glowing piping on it. I LOVE walking through the house at 5:30 a.m. in the winter, glowing in the dark and feeling like I’m from the future.

Naturally, I had to purchase a Mens shirt because the Womens department only had frumpy or garishly trampy things.

Above is a picture of me this past winter staying cozy and tractor-resistant in the Adidas Supernova Half Zip top. 

On my head I wear Athleta’s burnout headband (pictured over my disheveled post-marathon hair above). It doesn’t keep out marathon sweat, but it keeps my hair out of my face. Headbands that are too tight give me headaches, but the burnout doesn’t dig in and fits well with my Oakley Flak Jacket sunglasses. While the Oakleys do fog up from time to time, they are indispensable when running through the buggy countryside or on windy days.

I do not dare step foot into the sunny German countryside without my Bug Block, by MadeOn Hard LotionThis stuff is the best! Since it is all natural, you don’t feel like chemicals are seeping into your body, PLUS, it endures the sweat and miles of a long, hard, summer run. In winter, I use the BeeSilk hard lotion on any exposed skin, as it creates a sort of wind barrier and keeps my skin soft.

And finally, I could not live without my Nathan Hydration Race Vest (1.5 liter). It is very lightweight and has room for my chia gels, apple slices, and my cell phone. I’ve even been known to stuff rain jackets, gloves, and hats into this thing.

It’s perfect when you’re on those really long, solitary runs. I’ve had to purchase a new bladder for it each season (this is the third) but it is a small price to pay. Hydrate or die, as my husband says!

The Nathan is certainly preferable to death.

Plus, I get a lot of really funny stares from farmers when I wear it.

For now, those are a few of my favorite things. There are bound to be more in the future. And if I can figure out how to get Lululemon to ship to an APO, I will give them a run for their money as well. I currently have more gear that I am testing thoroughly before giving a recommendation.

So remember…

When the run bites, when the tee shirt stings, when you’re feeling mad, simply remember your favorite things, and then you won’t feel so bad.

What are your favorite things for running or other activities?