Making the Switch -- Stephen's Perspective

>> Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I'm currently reading Born to Run, Christopher McDougall’s exploration of the life and running habits of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, who are arguably the world's greatest distance runners. And I find myself questioning one of the fundamental principles I’ve come to believe as a long distance runner: the foot must be well protected and cushioned in order to run efficiently and economically.

As a high school cross-country runner, my weekly mileage rarely topped thirty-five, and my weekly long run never strayed beyond ten. Believing in quality over quantity, my coaches made every mile count. I went through pair after pair of Asics DS Trainer X, a fast, neutral training shoe.

Now I'm a twenty-something marathoner, and I’ve increased my weekly mileage from 35 to 55 and my long run max from 10 to 20. Likewise, I’ve increased the cushioning in my shoe and upgraded to the Asics Gel Nimbus, the "Cadillac" of all cushioning shoes. Pockets of pillow-y gel in the heel and alongside the mid made my feet feel safe, comfortable, and protected.

But I’ve wondered: Is wearing pillows of gel on my feet the only way for my body to train for a marathon? How have the Tarahumara Indians and elite Kenyan runners been able to compete and complete such long distances wearing only the soles on their feet?

I’m not saying I want to complete my next marathon barefoot -- at least not yet. However, I am interested in weaning myself off the plush cushioning I’ve relied on and investigating a more natural approach to running.

Enter the ProGrid Kinvara, Saucony’s lightweight, minimalist shoe to help runners ease into barefoot-style running. I write "ease" because the Kinvara isn’t as drastic of a change as the Nike Free series or the Vibram FiveFingers lineup, which allow the foot to flex its full range of motion.

Instead, the Kinvara strips away the hard plastic and gel found in many running shoes and relies solely on spongy foam. What I like most about it, besides its weight -- a light 7.7 ounces -- is the heel height, which is lower relative to the forefoot than a traditional running shoe. This translates to a more articulated mid-forefoot strike, which is arguably more efficient and natural.

After covering over fifty miles in the Kinvara, I’ve felt a significant change in how my body responds to each stride. A pronounced mid-forefoot strike coupled with minimal cushioning means that the force and weight of each stride is absorbed less in the lower leg muscles and more in the body’s best shock absorber, the arch of the foot.

In other words, for the first two weeks, my feet have felt tender and sore since they have been absorbing the extra weight, and my calves have felt tight because of my foot’s increased flexibility and range of motion. Beginning week three, I find my body adapting well and feeling more refreshed and efficient.

Once I run this pair into the ground, I hope to continue my journey of scaling down and enjoying a minimalistic style of running. Who knows, maybe this time next year I’ll be logging long distances in Vibrams!!! But more realistically, I think I’ll make the switch to Nike Free+ this fall. After all, the body is a delicate tool that responds best by making minor adjustments, not sudden jolts.

And my adventure is only beginning . . .

What is your experience with barefoot running? Or maybe not experience . . . but opinion? Seems like another way of running naked to us -- which also seems to be a good thing. We've been enjoying posts like Ashley's series on the Vibrams. But let us know -- what's your take? Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Portabellas with Peanut Sauce

My favorite Thai restaurant is in Ithaca, NY -- Thai Cuisine. It boasts the "best Thai food in New York State, including New York City," according to Getaways For Gourmets. Every Sunday, there's this amazing dim sum brunch. Basically, the staff members carry around a couple trays of freshly prepared items. Then, they allow you to choose what you'd like to munch on, leave you alone for a short while, and return again with yet another selection of small dishes.

The process goes on for as long as you'd like it to. The best part is the price -- each plate costs less than $5 (and typically less than that!).

Of all selections, I most enjoy the portabellas with peanut sauce. And now that we don't live in Ithaca, I often crave the mushrooms like crazy. So, last night I set out to create a similar dish in our own kitchen. Though I didn't have coconut milk, the results are remarkably similar to the real deal.


What you'll need . . .
  • 4 large portabella mushrooms, scrub and remove stems
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter (I used Justin's with honey)
  • 1 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower or canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon almond milk (or more, depending on your preferred taste)
  • Sesame seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder

Method . . .
  1. Slice mushrooms into 1/4-ish inch slices.
  2. In a large pan, spray with a bit of olive oil (or just lightly oil) and set over medium-high heat.
  3. Lay out mushroom slices on the pan and reduce heat to medium. Cook and gently stir until both sides are lightly browned (mostly, the shrooms will get soft and juicy). Set aside.
  4. In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk together the peanut butter, soy sauce, and oil. Then add the almond milk and whisk until smooth. Add the cayenne, ginger, and sesame seeds. Stir until well incorporated.
  5. Lay out mushroom slices on a plate and drizzle/top with a generous helping of the peanut sauce. Garnish with basil for extra tastiness.

Truth time: We didn't eat ours displayed this beautifully. Nope. That's all for show. Instead, we dumped a ton of the sauce onto the mushrooms and dug in immediately.

We've been on a quest to recreate many of our beloved weekend meals at home (because we go out to eat far more than I'd like to admit). We're getting pretty good at it, too -- enough that we're starting to prefer our twist on the dishes to the real thing.

So, here's my question for you: Have you cooked up any of your restaurant favorites at home? Were you extremely satisfied or horribly unhappy with the results? Leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Grilled Pizza Goes Gourmet

>> Tuesday, June 29, 2010

We talk a lot about grilling pizzas. And if you're looking for another good use for that pumpkin pizza dough, look no further. Tthis is the post for you. The first few times you grill pizza, it'll be difficult. If you have yet to learn this critical life skill, read about it in this post. The steps go on for days . . . and it seems you have to do everything at once.

But that's only partially true.

Once you get the hang of it, grilling pizza will be your favorite thing to do. You'll find yourself begging your roommate or significant other to charge up the grill on a Wednesday night, even though it takes at least a couple more hours to make a meal that way. You will no longer care, friends, because the reward tastes oh-so sweet. Or savory? However it tastes, it's GOOD.

Grilled pizzas can be the vehicle for your ultimate expression of creativity in (or outside of) the kitchen. And we've surely been getting adventurous with our grilled pizzas. Skipping the standard tomato sauce and mozzarella, changing up the dough recipe so it holds more moisture (and, therefore, won't immediately burn when placed atop flame).

It's all about thinking beyond the traditional. Thinking about what ingredients rock your socks off. Because if a certain combination sounds delicious to you, it's sure to please your friends, too.


Before you start your journey, you'll need to travel back to the Pumpkin Garlic Knots post and follow the instructions to make the dough. Better yet, get creative with this recipe, too. The pumpkin puree can be replaced by butternut squash puree. Sweet potato puree. Applesauce! Anything that has the same texture, composition, and -- of course -- wow factor. Technical reason: Adding puree ensures optimal moisture content.

Sauce is something we've often overlooked with pizzas in our past. And we're still experimenting with crazy combinations . . . but to get a start, just make the basic sauce below and add in a couple of fun ingredients to kick it up a notch. (To cook the sauce, just combine all ingredients and heat.)


What you'll need . . .
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Make your sauce more interesting by adding one or more of the following . . .
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup walnuts (food processed into a meal)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup, honey, agave or other sweetener
  • Try a pesto sauce!
  • Try some of these awesome recipes (including barbecue, peanut, and alfredo!)
  • Try NO sauce for a white pizza -- just drizzle with olive oil


I like to roast our grilled pizza toppings before placing them on the pizza because it means less time the dough needs to be on the grill (so less chance of over-cooking). And you need to do is slice, spread (on a cookie sheet), drizzle (with olive oil), and sprinkle (with salt and pepper). Set your oven to broil and roast while you do all your other pizza-related stuff.

Consider adding the following items (or combining a few!) . . .
  • Chickpeas
  • Radishes
  • Asparagus
  • Leeks
  • Kale
  • Carrots
  • Black beans
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Avocado (don't roast this one!)
  • Scrambled eggs (for a breakfast pizza)
  • Etc. to the MOON!
  • . . . and you need not stick with the standard mozzarella, think about slapping on some brie, cheddar, pepper-jack, gorgonzola, and other artisan cheeses!

Now I KNOW we're no the first people to top pizzas with wild ingredients. What do you do to make your pie special? Let us know -- we're always up for new ideas. Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Banana Ice Cream: Try II

After making my first batch of one-ingredient banana ice cream last week, I retreated to the kitchen Friday night to improve upon the texture and flavor. Not for me -- I quite enjoyed the thick, not-too-sweet chocolate chip-peanut butter and banana combination. Stephen, however, thought it wasn't quite authentic enough.

Well, then! I thought a particularly indulgent, Ben & Jerry's-esque variety might titillate his taste buds and change his opinion. I wanted to keep it vegan -- so when I got the idea to add crushed cookies to the mix, wheat-free, dairy-free Newman-Os were my first choice.

If you were skeptical before, you should definitely reconsider trying out this recipe. It's an awesome way to use up those over-ripe bananas (one reader mentioned that the browner the banana, the sweeter the result). It's inexpensive. It's healthy. And this version definitely satisfies even the most picky ice cream eaters.


What you'll need . . .
  • 2 ripe bananas, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 3 (or so) crushed Newman-Os
  • 1/2 tablespoon almond milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method . . .
  1. Chop bananas into smallish chunks (original post called them coins) and freeze overnight on a plate. I just put ours in a plastic bag.
  2. Once they have properly frozen, transfer to a food processor (I think a smaller one works better) -- add the almond milk, vanilla, and cocoa powder -- and process until smooth (to see the transformation, go to our first banana ice cream post).
  3. Then add the crushed cookies and pulse (you don't want to break them up TOO much).
  4. Enjoy right away. But it freezes well, too. Almost turns into a fudgesicle texture.

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Dessert Fries

>> Monday, June 28, 2010

I glossed over some of the good eats I enjoyed this weekend -- and there were a ton. But one of my favorites resulted from a creative change in ingredients because I forgot I didn't have something on hand. OK. What am I talking about??? I love the Nut Butter Parsnip Fries Angela (over at Oh She Glows) posted a while ago. I've made all different variations, including parsnip fries WITHOUT nut butter on them. When I craved the sweet and salty combo Saturday night but found I was missing plain almond butter, I got a bit nutty (pun most certainly intended).

So, these may not be the healthiest fries in the world. They're also not the most unhealthy. And despite what you may think (maybe something like: "Ew! Parsnips and chocolate?! Disgusting!), the chocolate isn't over powering. In fact, it adds this spectacular flavor note. It's more like a mole sauce versus a slice of chocolate cake. I added black and cayenne pepper for punch, too.

If you love the whole salty, sweet, chocolate-peanut butter combo, you'll love these kicked-up-a-notch parsnip fries. And they're not for dessert, really. I was just kidding in my post title. Enjoy as a snack or with lunch or dinner!

What you'll need . . .
  • 3 medium parsnips, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon dark chocolate almond butter (you can also mix in 1/2 tablespoon of cocoa powder into some almond butter, or just use plain for plain nut butter fries)
  • 2 tablespoons natural honey peanut butter (again, you can use plain PB)
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower oil (or canola)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Method . . .
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Lay out a cookie pan with a sheet of parchment paper (to avoid mess).
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the nut butters, peppers, and oil. Set aside.
  3. Slice your parsnips into fry-like pieces (thin, but not too thin). Place in a medium bowl and pour the nut butter mixture onto them. Mix with a spoon (or your hands).
  4. When they're well coated, transfer the parsnip strips to the cookie sheet and spread out to allow for even baking.
  5. Set the timer for 15 minutes. Then, when that 15 minutes has passed, take the to-be fries out and flip. Set the timer for another 20 minutes.
  6. Flip them again and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes -- they'll be slightly crisp. Slightly burn-y (but in a good way).
  7. Then enjoy!

Looking for more creative ways to use parsnips in your cooking and baking? Check out this post for parsnip dumplings. And check out Angela's original post for nut butter parsnip fries. As she writes, they will truly "change your life!"

Like what you just read? You can subscribe to the feed of these posts or follow us on Twitter or Facebook to be the first to know what the (never home)makers are up to. And we’ll love you forever!!


A Weekend Alone and Running Naked

Stephen spent the weekend in NJ with his family -- so I stayed alone for some much-needed home time. We've been away most weekends with racing, visiting family, and other misc. travel, and I'm completely exhausted. So, with my stretch of solitary time off ahead of me, I made a simple plan: Watch movies, eat good food, and get some rest and relaxation. And that's exactly what I did.

Friday night I stopped by Wegmans to get some supplies. I went a little overboard buying basically all of my favorite foods -- and far more than I needed for the weekend. So, we're eating like kings and queens this week. I became especially excited when I found this peach-infused drink by Dogfish Head. However, I thought it was beer . . . and when I got home found out it's not.

Then I made some crispy kale and pumpkin garlic knots with a side of sliced peaches. I don't remember if I've shared the recipe for Stephen's "crispy kale" before, but it's easy: Four handfuls of chopped kale, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce, sesame seeds. Heat the oil and kale over medium-high heat, cook for five or so minutes, stirring frequently. Add in the soy sauce, keep cooking over the heat for another 3 to 5 minutes or so. Take off heat and add the seeds.

I watched a movie (an oldie from 1986) called Lucas with Corey Haim (R.I.P.). I'm a sucker for older flicks -- especially ones from the 80s. Then I took a relaxing two-ish-mile walk . . . and after that somehow found myself elbow-deep in a Hulu-marathon of the Bachelorette. (Yeah. Guilty pleasure time.) I'm usually not into that kind of thing, but I can't resist the testosterone-fueled spats. And some of those guys are just ridiculous (like hair guy, the wrestler, the freakin' weatherman!). My favorite has to be Frank. But I always have fallen for dorks with glasses. :)

Saturday began with a nice 8-miler just before it became oppressively hot and humid. I've been having this problem when I run longer than six miles. Even if I eat breakfast, I've been starving! I must not be eating the right stuff, but I felt good regardless. No, I didn't run without my clothes on. But I've stopped taking my watch on a lot of my runs, so it feels that way sometimes. And I have a challenge for you all . . .

running challenge from (never home)maker on Vimeo.

Now, I realize I somewhat contradict myself in the video. What can I say? I get nervous on camera! I do wear a watch a lot of the time. That's where my watch tan comes in. But I've been turning it off. And recently I stopped wearing it entirely. Well, when I choose to go without a watch. I like using it sometimes, but for me -- seeing how long I've been running or knowing my pace just freaks me out. Mentally, I can't handle the run if I know I'm 20 seconds slower than I'd like to be. Or if I have a long run, knowing that I have 1-1/2 hours left. It's just discouraging. I'd love to get your thoughts on this!

The rest of Saturday was pretty uneventful. I sat on my roof for a while. I sorted out my cold-weather clothes to store away for the summer. I discovered that when it's outrageously hot outside and the air is on, I like to wear shorts and slippers. I made some super-indulgent banana "ice cream" with chocolate and wheat-free, dairy-free Newman-Os (recipe soon!). I watched an awesome flick titled TiMER -- seriously, if you have Netflix On-Demand, I highly recommend you watch this movie tonight!

Sunday I skipped my long run (ugh! more on that later, but after a season of racing half marathons, I'm mentally spent!). I cleaned the house and then got together for a "girls day" with one of my friends. We indulged in 50-minute spa pedicures. We made lots of good food. We played yard games. We posed for the camera. It was just the relaxation I needed! Then Stephen returned home . . . and though I rested all weekend, I feel like it went fast. Grrr! But it's not all bad. It's got to be that whole time-flies-when you're-having-fun thing.

How did you spend your weekend? I definitely disconnected from my online life for the past several days, too. So, I'll be catching up on comments and emails. Thanks for your feedback on Friday's Seven Year Itch post!

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The Seven-Year Itch?

>> Friday, June 25, 2010

I realized the other night that it's been seven years since my first road race, a 5K on a steamy mid-June evening in 2003. Wow. Seven years of racing under my belt . . . and eight years since I started running regularly. For someone from a previous background relatively void of physical activity, this feels like a tremendous accomplishment.

Here's me at my first race. I finished in 25:30. I loved every minute of it.

So, seven years. Am I now bored with running and racing? Nope. Our relationship is stronger than ever. And that's because we keep it interesting.

How, you ask?

I try my best to avoid falling into a rut. So, I vary my training from week to week. Running the same mileage would be dull and boring. Not only for my mind, but for my body. I also mix up my goals from season to season. Having a marathon goal in the fall, several half marathons in the spring, and then 5K and 10K races in the winter and summer months means different training and different intensities year-round. So, falling into a rut isn't really a concern. The frequent training plan changes keep the passion alive.

I celebrate our love. I take the time to really think about what running has done for me. It keeps me fit and healthy. It keeps me sane. It allows me to enjoy a ton of food :) There are so many reasons I love running, so I try to devote at least a few seconds each run to reminding myself of my affection.

I recognize that from time to time, I need my space. Yeah. Even the best of relationships have their issues. Whether it be injury or mental burnout, a necessary shift in priorities or a multitude of other things -- there are times when I just need a break. So, there are at least a couple weeks a year when I take it totally easy or even totally OFF from running. Though it may be difficult to stay away, the break allows me to refresh and remember why I love running so much to begin with.

I invest in our relationship. To me, racing is like going on a date with running. We set a time and a place, I get dressed up, there are drinks and food, and we ultimately share an intense experience together (kind of like making out? OK. I need to stop this analogy now . . . ). And sometimes it's fun to take these dates to exotic locations -- romantic getaways, if you will. Like Lake Placid. Or the city of brotherly love (well, Philly isn't terribly exotic, but you get my point!). Whatever keeps me pounding my feet on the pavement.

I experiment with new things. Yeah. That's right -- sometimes I get kinky. I make it a threesome and run with my husband, too. I try new routes in new cities or other locations I've never tried before. I sport a new bra, running skirt, or shoe. Basically, I keep an open mind to new things that might enliven or enhance my running. Sometimes all I need are a pair of new socks to get my sweat flowing.

I don't make running my entire life. I don't run and only run. It's not the only thing I do. Just like when you're in a relationship -- you need outside interests so that person isn't your entire world. So, I add in a little yoga or cycling to turn up the heat. I cook and bake. I take photos. I embroider and do other crafty things. I read magazines about topics that aren't related to running. I hang out with friends and family. I (very often) go out to eat. I try my best to make myself a well-rounded person, which -- in turn -- helps me keep my relationship with running strong.

Here's to another seven (and hopefully seventy!) years of running! And if you're looking to start your own relationship with running, we have a ton of posts that can help. Just head over to our running tips and tricks page!

And we just have to ask! How do you keep the fire burning for your favorite fitness activity? Please leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com. I'd even like to make this interesting. So, if you'd like to email us a photo of yourself running (or biking or dancing or doing whatever it is you to do stay fit) and tell us your top way to keep the romance alive, we'll post them here on the blog!

Like what you just read? You can subscribe to the feed of these posts or follow us on Twitter or Facebook to be the first to know what the (never home)makers are up to. And we’ll love you forever!!

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