Thursday, February 26, 2015

Vegan "Easy Mac"

Wish that you could find  comforting dish to make on a weeknight that is as easy as Easy Mac, but without all the processed ingredients? Look no further! This vegan version of "easy mac" packs a nutritional punch with a serving of veggies and is ready in less than 10 minutes. The secret ingredient in our creamy, cheesy sauce is pre-cooked frozen squash to which we of course add nutritional yeast. This makes for an easy mac that's packed with vitamins A, C, and B, as well as fiber from the squash, and complete protein from the nutritional yeast. Yum! Serve it over some whole wheat pasta, add a salad, and you have yourself a meal in no time.

The secret ingredient!

Vegan "Easy Mac"

12oz package frozen cooked squash
1/2c nutritional yeast
garlic, salt, black pepper to taste
onion powder (optional)
1/2 box whole wheat pasta (You could also use farro, or any other type of quick cooking pasta or grain)

1. Bring water for the pasta to a boil
2. Microwave frozen squash.
3. Add pasta to boiling water and cool according to the directions.
4. Once squash is warmed through, stir in nutritional yeast and spices to taste.
5. Drain pasta and add sauce. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cranberry Scones

With all the stress and the snow, I've been back in the kitchen and while I haven't had much time to write a post or care about food photography, I've been back at it developing recipes. If you were in a Whole Foods in January, you may have noticed the Engine 2 Challenge posters that were everywhere, and these got me thinking. The Engine 2 diet promotes the usual whole food, plant based diet that I embrace, but also preaches the evils of fats/ oils and processed sugars. Naturally, I saw these posters advertising a challenge as a personal challenge to develop some new recipes! After several failed batches of "cupcakes" that attempted to use apple juice as a sweetener (pro tip: it doesn't work and messes up the consistency) I thought my oil-free, sugar-free recipes were doomed.

Then these scones surprised me! I planned for them only to be an edible, palatable accompaniment to my afternoon coffee, but when my fiancé tried one he begged for more. Success! With 5g of protein, 6g of fiber, and only 1g of fat, these scones make a great side to your afternoon cup of joe.

Cranberry Scones

2 1/2c whole wheat flour
1 1/2T baking powder
1/3c dried cranberries
1c unsweetened applesauce
1/2c unsweetened vanilla almond milk
Cinnamon to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425F.
2. Mix four & baking powder. Add cranberries and stir to coat. (If you don't coat your fruit in flour before adding in the wet ingredients the inside of the scone gets all gummy.)
3. Add in apple sauce and almond milk. The mixture will seem quite dry, but this is all part of the plan for scones. Once the dough starts to stick together kneed it a few times.
4. Form dough into an oval on a baking sheet and cut into 8 pieces, separating each a bit to make sure that each of the scones has plenty of room to bake evenly.
5. Dust the top with cinnamon and bake for 30 minutes, until edges just start to turn brown. Let cool (these actually aren't better when warm) and enjoy!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Weighing In on Making Weight

Well, here's a sticky topic. Making weight. As a lightweight rower, being able to make the scale say a specific number on a specific day is your bread and butter. If you miss that number, you have to sweat or you can't race. If you miss that number and sweat consistently, no one will want to row in a team boat with you. Since I wasn't very powerful in terms of the erg, I knew that I had to be a reliable average maker, and I was. Truthfully, I almost enjoyed this calculated game of roulette and when I started cycling, it felt odd to me to race without weighing in first. That said, I know lightweight rowers aren't the only ones who have a racing weight. Racing weight is a hot topic for cyclists too, and is especially important in the hill climbs that I love so much. Even recreational athletes want to get lean, so I decided that I should share some tips from my time as an elite lightweight rower.

Start Early. If you know you need to be at weight on a particular day, plan to be at weight 1 month ahead of time. Also, everyone's body has "sticky points." For example, every year it would take me a month to go from 130.8 lb to 129.8 lb. I knew this because I did it over and over again, and every year this would predictably happen as I approached 130lb, the lightweight women's maximum for most collegiate and national level races. Everyone's body is different, so make sure that you know how your body responds and leave time for surprises. Nothing saps your strength like trying to lose weight too quickly.

Fuel Your Training. We are athletes. The goal of training is to get stronger and faster, not to lose weight. Don't sacrifice your training. Eat to fuel your workout and focus on losing weight for the rest of the day. This is the concept behind energy neutral training. If you fuel your workouts properly, you will recovery more quickly and be less hungry for the rest of the day. Make sure that you're eating enough during your workouts. This takes personal experimentation: the moment your gatorade tastes like "liquid courage" or it becomes a drudgery to turn your pedals, you know that you are in the hole and should have had more snacks sooner in your workout. Follow up your workout with a recovery snack with a carbs to protein ratio of 4:1 within 20 minutes. A smoothie is a great way to get this nutrition as liquid is easier to digest.

Proper Nutrition: enough protein, iron, ect. I perform poorly if I don't get enough carbs, but many of my lightweight teammates could get away with fewer carbs but would perform poorly if they didn't get enough protein. Everyone's different. By carefully choosing nutrient dense foods, it's possible to meet your rebuilding requirements in macronutrients while still running a (slight) caloric deficit. This takes a lot of planning, but the Thrive diet has some good ideas to this end.
I'll confess... team USA lightweights did sometimes eat frozen yogurt for dinner. That's right, we replaced our lean protein & veggies with frozen yogurt. Sometimes this just had to happen to break up the monotony when there just aren't enough calories in the day for months on end. But don't make it a regular occurrence. And seriously, if you're going to be allowed to race even if you aren't at racing weight, eat your dinner first. Poor nutrition leads to underperformance and injury.

Sleep. Go to bed early and get enough sleep. Extra sleep will help you recover, and your recovery will need help if your body isn't getting all the nutrients it needs (see "proper nutrition"). Often times, we mistake tiredness for hungriness in the evenings and if you're sleeping, you can't be eating. Plus, no one likes it when you're hangry. Just go to bed so you still have friends when you wake up in the morning.

Water, Air, & Fiber. These should become your 3 new favorite food groups. Drink water, herbal tea, eat soups. Contrary to intuition, making sure you're hydrated will make you retain less water. It will also make you feel fuller; there's only so much room in your stomach. High fiber foods are great too, especially because high fiber foods like vegetables tend to be nutrient dense. Consider the nutritional profile of cauli-rice (recipe here. Did you notice that cauliflower is a complete protein?) versus brown rice and spaghetti squash versus whole wheat pasta. You're getting a lot more micronutrients and bang for your buck in terms of proper nutrition. Air is a fun one, and no, I'm not talking about the chocolate bars with air in them. I was thinking more of popcorn, which is my favorite snack ever. My current recommendation: buy a popcorn popper and some kernels then top it with siraccha. Trust me, this is awesome.

Salt: Be careful about limiting salt, but if you retain water at that time of the month and you need to weigh-in, making sure you're only getting 100- 150% of the "recommended daily value" can mitigate that.

MyPlate. Livestrong's MyPlate is wonderful. I've been a member on this site probably since it started and it made dropping weight so much easier. It's even great to just monitor what you're eating to make sure you're eating a balanced diet and getting enough of key nutrients. Two tips: 1) make sure that you put your activity level as "sedentary" or "lightly active" if you're going to add in your training separately to the activities section. 2) Make sure that it's telling you to eat enough. I started to notice that it was underestimating my caloric needs as I got into my later 20's. I guess it's because most regular people are softer at 29 than when they were in college, but most athletes are actually leaner, which means their basal caloric need is higher. So use your judgement, but either way 1500 calories is NOT enough to fuel serious training.

Try Vegan. A whole food plant based diet tends to be very nutrient dense. Vegan foods also tend to be heavy hitters in the big three mentioned above: air, water, and fiber. If vegan is a big change for you though, be sure that you're getting enough iron and B12: deficits of either of these nutrients, which can happen even in a well-balanced vegan diet, can severely derail your training. Another option is just to swap out one of your favorite staple foods. When I was rowing and it was time to make weight, I would always cut out peanut butter!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal

Surprise! Hello and welcome back... Energy Neutral is not dead. I've just been about as strapped as one person can be between simultaneously working as a professor at CMU and postdoc at MIT, all while planning my wedding and stubbornly putting in the groundwork training miles for my 2015 cycling season (in which I will ride for Breakaway Bikes p/b Felt and I aspire to earn my Cat 1 upgrade). If I find a free moment, I make something besides kale salad for dinner, but haven't found the time to write about it. In fact, I just realized that I never shared the recipe for the kale superfood salad that has been my dinner go-to for the last six months! (Although I did start a draft post about it back in July... hopefully I'll find some time to put it up at some point.)

Things have been a whirlwind since I started making visits to CMU in September. However, I've been dreaming about writing a blog post and getting back to doing more cooking for a while. Finally, over Thanksgiving I found some time to throw some ingredients in a bowl and try something new. While visiting the farmers market with my Dad to pick up the last fresh essentials for Thanksgiving dinner, we noticed one of the stands was selling baked oatmeal, and boy did it look good! This inspired me to go home and learn how to make baked oatmeal. I first tried carrot cake oatmeal, which was good, but my real winner was my pumpkin pie baked oatmeal. In this, I have found my perfect breakfast! Throwing a piece of this tasty bar in my backpack to accompany a smoothie (in which I add extra protein powder. Oats are a complete protein, but the carb to protein ratio is a bit high) keeps me going through lunch and beyond. This is gluten free and packed with all the goodies that pumpkin and oats offer. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal

3c oatmeal (I used 1.5c quick cook and 1.5c old fashioned, just because that was what I had!)
1T baking powder
cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger to taste
1 can purred pumpkin (15oz)
1c vanilla almond milk
1t vanilla
1/4c maple syrup
1/4c walnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
2. Mix the oatmeal, baking powder, and spices in a mixing bowl.
3. Add the pumpkin, almond milk, vanilla, and maple syrup. Stir until all ingredients are wet.
4. Spray or grease a cassarole dish. Add the oat mixture and top with the walnut.
5. Bake for 30 minutes or until firm.
6. Cut, serve, and enjoy! Leftovers keep well for days, although it is unlikely that it will last that long...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Pesto Pizza

Growing up in my house, Friday night was pizza night! I think this stemmed from the days before the second Vatican counsel, when all Catholics couldn't eat meat every Friday: cheese pizza was one of the easiest pescetarian foods to come by when my Dad was growing up in Western Pennsylvania. These days I don't always eat pizza on Friday nights, but I do get indignant when free food around campus involves pizza for lunch on Friday. This is one of my many quirks that makes my parents refer to me as "Sheldon Cooper," although Sheldon's pizza night is Thursday.

In truth, eating pizza on Friday nights is logical and practical. Pizza makes an excellent, substantial dinner before a race or a long ride and there are plentiful leftovers for after the ride (or the rest of the weekend). Best of all though, pizza is easy! If you order take out, it's ready by the time you drive to the pizza joint. While it's easy enough to make your own, I find the mixing bowl required to make the crust can be prohibitive on a Friday night. Like everyone else, I'm often really tired and hungry on Friday nights so my favorite time-saver is a freezer pizza from Trader Joe's. A freezer pizza gives me 10 minutes to do my daily core workout while it cooks, but doesn't delay gratification and dinner beyond that!

Recently, I found Trader Joe's pre-made pizza crusts and decided that at $2.49 for two pizzas, it was worth a shot. I chose to top it with a basil pesto sauce, scallions, and tomatoes, which is my favorite variety of cheese-less pizza. Most pizzas that omit cheese leave me wanting, but this creamy, basil-y pizza is everything you want in a pizza. Give it a shot the next time you are looking for a quick dairy-free pizza option!

Get it while it's hot... this pizza goes fast!

Pesto Pizza

1 Pre-made Pizza Crust (I like Trader Joe's)
    Alternatively, to make this gluten free, feel free to use polenta as the crust, like in my Polenta Pizza.
1 large bunch basil
2/3c nutritional yeast
3T olive oil
salt (optional)
splash balsamic vinegar
water (to thin as necessary)
1 large or several small tomatoes, sliced
5 scallions or 1/2 onion, sliced

1. Preheat oven according to crust package directions.
2. In a food processor, combine basil leaves, nutritional yeast, olive oil, garlic, salt, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Food process into a pesto paste, adding 1T water at a time as necessary to thin. Taste your pesto to make sure you have enough garlic!
3. Slice tomatoes and scallions.
4. Top pizza crust with pesto. Add tomato and scallion slices.
5. Bake for 12 minutes (or as the package directs.) Let cool and enjoy!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

5 Things Lightweight Rowing will Leave You with Forever

Today's post is just a funny list that came to my mind. I still think about rowing often, but it seems that perhaps having to stop isn't the Fisher King's wound that I thought it was. I still hope to row again one day, but for now I'm very happy on my bike. Lightweight rowing though, is a very peculiar sport and every once in a while the quirky scars it's left on my personality still surface...

1. An uncanny ability to size up people on sight to know their height and weight. Especially if they are right around the lightweight numbers. I sized up my best friend in college to be 5'6" and 130lb and my best friend post college to be 5'5" and 125lb when I met them. The maximums for lightweight women are 130 for college and a 125 average international rowing. Coincidence? Perhaps. But I also chose to strike up that first conversation because I thought maybe I'd be able to row with them...

2. A deep relationship with your scale. It's not so simple as a love-hate relationship and it's not fear. The scale holds no power over your self esteem, but like a lover, your heart and mood are in its hands. You've had fights with The Scale and you might have spent hours hating it. Your Scale likely had a name and may have had a special box or piece of luggage that you use to travel with it. You swear that you will never weigh yourself again when you retire, and that may be true for months, even years... but someday, you will answer the siren call of The Scale and your relationship will be rekindled. It will never be the same, but you will also never be able to let go.

3. Knowing exactly how many calories are in everything. You might not think about it all the time, but God forbid anyone ever ponders, "I wonder how many calories are in this?" around you. You will know the precise answer.

4. An odd but comprehensive knowledge of how to drop weight and trick The Scale. You want to wake up two pounds lighter tomorrow? No problem! Don't eat any thing salty or with too much fiber in it and stop drinking water after 7pm. Done. Didn't work? Don't dismay! Just put on all of your winter running gear and go out for a run for 10 minutes (of course, use a treadmill/ elliptical/ erg if it's cold outside). If that still didn't work, you can always throw on a trash bag for the base layer or double layer your socks and/ or hat. And of course, don't forget to turn up the heat in your car as you drive to the weigh-in! Old, wise lightweights always tell you not to do these things and you know from experience that these tricks come with a price. But you still can't erase this knowledge from your mind!

5. A soft spot in your heart for early mornings. You may not be a morning person, but every once in a while, you find yourself pried early from your bed. In those dark, quiet hours you will enjoy your coffee and eventually watch rising sun and think about how beautiful it used to be shining over the water every morning.

Anything else any retired lightweights want to add?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Simple Zoodles with Tomatoes

Hello! There's been lots going on here with both research and summer racing season in full, zealous swing. But I'll leave that out for today to focus on... zoodles! My paleo friends have been talking about zucchini noodles for some time, but somehow I managed to overlook the trend. Until last week, when it hit me like a ton of bricks... I had been missing out! So I hastened over to Amazon and found this very simple, handheld spiral slicer for only $13.99. With so little to lose, I figured it was worth a shot: I would get a few good meals out if I didn't like it and could always upgrade if I found that I loved it. I was away most of the weekend, so when I came back on Monday and found my spiralizer waiting for me, I knew I had to try making zoodles immediately.

The spiralizer at work...
The concept of zoodles and a spirializer are very simple. You simply thinly slice zucchini into long strips and then treat it like you would pasta. You can eat your zoodles raw or lightly cooked, either way is delicious. Additionally, you have a choice of peeling the zucchini before spiraling or just leaving the skin on. As you can see, I chose to leave the skin on and I was really happy with that choice. One big bonus of zoodles over pasta, is that zucchini is really absorbent so it takes on the flavors of your seasoning very well. Additionally, one large zucchini will give you 4g good quality protein and 4g fiber, as well as a whopping dose of vitamins A, C, K, B6, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, and potassium. Whoa! For our first zoodle experience, I chose to keep it simple and just sauté some tomatoes and onions with garlic, olive oil, and nutritional yeast to serve over the top. This turned out to be a delicious, simple summer meal that I'm hoping to make again soon!

Simple Zoodles with Tomatoes

2 large zucchini
1/2 pint fresh tomatoes
1/4 onion
1/3c nutritional yeast
2T olive oil
garlic and sea salt to taste

1. Spiralize zucchini/ summer squash using a spiralizer or julienne peeler. 1 large zucchini (or 1.5 medium zucchinis per adult is a good serving suggestion.) If using a hand held spiral spicer like mine for the first time, be careful! When your zucchini stub gets lower than the top of the "cone" you are at risk for nicking your fingers, which I did.
2. Slice tomatoes and dice onions.
3. Add onions to skillet with olive oil, garlic, and salt. Sauté until they turn translucent, adding water as necessary so that they don't burn (it'll boil off).
4. Add tomatoes and sauté for a couple minutes. Add nutritional yeast, which should turn into a light, creamy sauce as it combines with the juice from the tomatoes.
5. Add zoodles and sauté for a minute longer. Turn off heat and serve. Enjoy!