It’s all hot air

New York – > Chicago
2.5 hrs
712 miles

This week has been non stop, even more so that usual. On Monday I flew to Chicago for a business trip and had the pleasure of staying in the beautiful Peninsula Hotel. Although it was a very short visit I managed to visit the John Hancock Observatory, go for a sunrise run by Lake Michigan, and take a couple of photographs of the fantastic Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park (also known as The Bean). I love this sculpture and it looked even better in the early morning, free from tourists with the sun shining on it.

Chicago makes me think of gangsters, the prohibition era and cold, snowy winters. But one thing I didn’t know was where its nickname, The Windy City, comes from. I presumed it was related to cold winds blowing from the Great Lake across the city. But it seems there are a couple of other possible explanations. The most interesting is that it comes from boastful, corrupt politicians. After the fire in 1871 much of the city was destroyed and a period of rapid rebuilding followed. Chicagoans were extremely proud of their new city and allegedly claimed it was better than New York. However, its likely that the name does actually relate to the wind from Lake Michigan. The ‘cool breeze from the lake’ was used as a marketing term to attract visitors to the city for summer vacations in the 1880s.

Posted in Running, Travel | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Three things

Tonight I ran 5 miles, learned where morals come from and made apple compote.

I remember only 1 year ago, 5 miles was the furthest distance I’d ever run. And here I am today contemplating a marathon. It’s fascinating how quickly our minds adapt to new ideas and our bodies allow us to do much more than first realized.

It’s also fascinating trying to understand why we think the way we do. Are thoughts predetermined by genetics or are we influenced by situations and people around us? For example, did you know that there’s a molecule in our blood which determines how moral we are? Huh? Me either. It’s called oxytocin and yes men produce it too. if you don’t believe me listen to Paul Zak on the subject.

On an unrelated note, have you ever made apple compote? A couple of weeks ago my roommate went apple picking and brought back more apples than we knew what to do with. So I decided that compote would be simple and light option to eat with yogurt for breakfast. I wanted an easy recipe and based mine loosely on this one but the balance of ingredients didn’t seem quite right so I altered it a little. It was quick to make and the most difficult part was peeling the apples.

Ingredients:

  • 8 apples, peeled, cored and chopped into cubes
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 5-6 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1-2 tsp cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves and all spice to taste

Directions:

  • Melt the butter in a shallow pan
  • Add sugar and mix into a sauce
  • Add spices and apples and stir
  • Simmer with lid for about 20 minutes or until apples are tender
  • Serve with plain yogurt or vanilla ice cream

Posted in Food, Mind and soul, Recipes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

26.2

As legend goes, the word ‘marathon’ comes from ancient Greece, where Phedippides is said to have run from the battlefield in Marathon to announce that the Persians had been defeated. After running the entire distance and proclaiming the news, Phedippides is said to have collapsed and died. Although his exact route is not known, the road from Marathon to Athens, around Mount Penteli, was roughly 40km or 25m long; it has since been expanded to measure the famous 26.2 miles we know and love. The myth may be unconfirmed but the story is certainly a warning to all who try to conquer it; marathon running is no mean feat. Despite this challenge, people have been running the distance and competing since 1896 when the marathon was introduced at the first Olympic games. The winner ran the course in 2 hours 58 minutes. It has taken a lot longer for women to be recognized in the sport and the women’s marathon was only introduced to the Olympics in 1984.

Today, 6th November 2011, was the 42nd New York City Marathon, one of the biggest and most famous marathons in the world. The race has grown from 127 runners in 1970 to 47,000 in 2011. I was really happy that I was able to participate today, not as a runner but a volunteer. I helped out at the pre-marathon dinner in Central Park yesterday and today at mile 12, screaming encouragement and handing out Gatorade to runners. Apparently 4,500 pounds of pasta was served at the dinner and 32,040 gallons of Gatorade handed out along the course. If you’re a statistic fan like me check out New York City Marathon by the numbers. Being part of today’s event and being able to make some of the runners smile definitely inspired me and I plan to run it myself next year, even if I do run at half the speed of the pros.

Here come the boys.

They were so fast that you can’t even see their faces clearly in my video. Today Geoffrey Mutai won the race in just 2 hours 5 minutes; a new course record and just 2 minutes away from the world marathon record, currently held by Patrick Makau of Kenya with a time of 2 hours 3 minutes. The women looked fantastic too, with Firehiwot Dado of Ethiopia winning in 2 hours 23 minutes.

Whatever the finishing time, all the runners today are my heroes. Being able to run 26 miles is a great achievement as well as a mental and physical challenge, not forgetting the $30+ million that was raised for charity. I look forward to next year when hopefully it’ll be me pounding the streets, grabbing the Gatorade and refusing to give in until I cross the finish line.

Posted in Fitness, Running | Tagged | 1 Comment

All Hallows and butternut squash soup

One thing I love about Halloween in the States (as well as the fantastic house decorations) is pumpkins. New York magazine posted a great guide to squash, detailing varieties I had no idea existed. I hope to make something with acorn squash before the season ends since I don’t think I’ve ever tried it. Squash is a great source of antioxidants, Vitamin A and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. I decided to make a more traditional butternut squash soup on Saturday, to warm me from the cold icy rain and snow. I still can’t quite believe it snowed in October in New York! I took a recipe for Ginger Buttnernut Squash Soup and edited slightly adding carrots and replacing the chicken stock with vegetable. This recipe is really easy and made even easier by a trick of the trade. Instead of cutting squash raw, which is hard work, I pierced the skin of the squash and put them in the oven for 1 hour to cook and soften before chopping and adding to the soup.

Ingredients:

  • 2 butternut squash
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • cinnamon
  • ginger

Directions:

  • Pierce skin of squash with a knife and place on oven shelf for 1 hour on high heat.
  • Cook chopped onions, ginger, sugar and crushed garlic in a little olive oil with cinnamon for about 10 minutes until onion is tender.
  • Add vegetable stock with around 5 cups of water, squash and carrots and bring to boil.
  • Simmer for about 10 minutes and then blend.
  • Serve with chopped parsley and no fat Greek yoghurt.

Posted in Cooking, Recipes, Vitamins | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Pasta sans pasta

Curiosity killed the cat. And possibly my dinner. OK that’s a slight exaggeration but I’m not sure my latest food experiment was a success. I keep seeing Tofu Shirataki noodles in the grocery store and decided to try them. They are vegan, gluten free, low calorie and seem to be the perfect pasta substitute for a light dinner.

The verdict?

Looks just like pasta.

Tastes just like rubbery, manufactured fake pasta.

Here’s the score board:

Cook-ability: 9/10

They were very easy to cook: drain, rinse, parboil for 2-3 minutes, then drain and dry. Then they’re ready to eat as you would regular pasta or noodles.

Nutrition: 3/10

Although low calorie, in my opinion, these noodles also have few nutritional benefits. Half a packet contains 20 calories, 1g of protein, 15mg of sodium and a small amount of calcium and iron, compared with around 200 calories and 41g of carbohydrates from a regular serving of fettuccine. However, for a low calorie, low carb, gluten free dinner they make a very good pasta substitute. I did feel full after eating them but I’m not sure how long that will last.

Taste and texture: 5/10

The noodles had a horrible fungal smell when I opened the packet but after rinsing, as directed, this went away. I tried one of the cooked noodles on its own and found it rubbery like jelly. They are definitely more chewy than pasta and didn’t have much flavor at all. I don’t think I would eat them cold and definitely not on their own but, once I added my homemade tomato pasta sauce they were edible.

The company that makes the noodles, House Foods, is allegedly the largest tofu manufacturer in the US. Reassuringly it doesn’t use genetically modified soy and is also committed to a green environmental policy, having installed a rooftop solar electric system at its headquarters in California. So plus points for that but unfortunately not for the noodles. I may try them again one day when I’m feeling brave but don’t let me stop you, they seem to have an avid fan base as well as some haters – see the reviews on Amazon.com.

Posted in Cooking, Food, Nutrition | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Bento lunch delivery ahoy!

This.

Is a great idea.

I love New York because I’m constantly surrounded by intelligent, ambitious and inspiring people. And one of those is Aja Marsh, founder of North Brooklyn Runners and natural foods chef. I’m really excited about her latest venture to deliver vegan, gluten-free, lunch boxes right to your door. I managed to persuade a few of my colleagues (those that aren’t convinced they’ll die if a vegetable passes their lips) to join me in the first pilot run today. And the verdict was two thumbs up; everyone was very impressed and happy they participated. The ingredients were all organic and or locally sourced and the meal, which arrived freshly made in biodegradable plant fiber take-out boxes, included:

  • Late Summer Corn, Arame, and Cucumber Salad
  • Basil Green Beans with Roasted Tomatoes, Toasted Almonds, and Chili Flakes
  • Short-Grain Brown Rice with Cumin Roasted Chickpeas
  • Local Stone Fruit with Mint

In New York fast is the name of the game and healthy food delivery companies are rapidly becoming big business. I personally can’t imagine having all my meals made and delivered for me because I enjoy cooking and deciding what to eat each day (and typically these meal services don’t come cheap). But having another convenient, reasonable and healthy lunch option is definitely welcome. Most days I don’t have time to prepare lunch and there are few nutritious options near my office (aside from The Pump and Pret of course).  So, if today is anything to go by, I really hope this becomes a regular fixture, especially the green beans, which were delicious!

Posted in Food, New York restaurants | Leave a comment

Do something about it.

I spent the last week in August at Burning Man, a week long event in the middle of the Nevada desert. When I told people I was attending the event there were typically two reactions:

What the hell is Burning Man?

or

I’ve always wanted to go to that. Awesome.

So what the hell is Burning Man? Aside from gawping at various pictures of the event I really didn’t have much of a clue before I went. I only knew that I would be in the middle of a desert, camping, partying and experiencing a world very unlike my usual habitat. Now that I’ve been and experienced it for myself, Burning Man is still very difficult to describe because it’s really anything and everything that you want it to be. It’s an event for the senses full of art, music, and strange activities to participate in night and day, all organized by attendees just like me. It’s a party, an adventure, an excuse to wear strange outfits, drink all day and night, meet people, get in touch with your spiritual side, run, do yoga, relax, switch off from day to day life, slow down, misbehave, create and survive against the elements.

What impressed me the most about Burning Man was the amount of dedication and enthusiasm that people put into the event. Burners spend all year creating sculptures and cars, thinking up bars and unique event ideas especially for this week long desert extravaganza. Individually, each sculpture or idea is impressive, but the collective effort has a very powerful impact. Although one of the event’s ten principles is self-reliance, this is a place that only works because people come together to share their vision and their possessions with those around them, since money and advertising are left behind. The environment is completely opposite to the ‘every man for himself’, consumerist mentality experienced daily in New York. Despite all this Black Rock City actually reminded me a lot of my home; it was a melting pot of people from different places, with different goals and opinions and a host of non stop weird and wild activities in which to participate.

Before I left New York, I read a great article about leadership lessons that we can learn from Burning Man. Although it’s a little bit cheesy to say, I do think that Burning Man is more than a giant party; the culture it creates really inspired me and made me think a lot about my life in the “default world”. And I’m not alone in this way of thinking, Burning Man is a hot academic topic with PHD dissertations focused on the people and interactions.

Here are some of my thoughts or life lessons from Burning Man:

1. Do something. I really like this simple message. If you see a problem, fix it. If you have an idea, work out a way to achieve it and make it happen. If there’s something in your life that you don’t like, make a change. Innovate. Do something about it.

2. Slow down. Stop rushing around and make time to appreciate your surroundings. You may not be next to a beautiful sculpture in the desert watching the sunrise, but if you take a break and slow down you are sure to view something amazing or inspiring.

3. Watch the sunrise. Get up early, go for a sunrise run or find a cool spot to greet the dawn. I love watching the sunrise, it makes me curious about the planets and our universe. Not only is it usually a stunning sight but getting up early means you gain some extra time to appreciate the day ahead of you.

4. Live in harmony. Sometimes we become so wrapped up in ourselves, focusing on work, a new relationship or making money that we forget we are part of a community. Share, lend others your skills or knowledge and be part of something bigger.

5. Try not to waste resources. Think about what you really need before you take or buy something. Recycle packaging, clothes and furniture instead of throwing things away. Refuse extra plastic bags and boxes and use mugs and real cutlery rather than disposable whenever you can.

6. Take a trip back in time. Take a break from your computer, unplug the TV and switch your phone off for a day. Remember what life was like before these technologies that we take for granted even existed. Use an old fashioned map, ask for advice or directions and meet people face to face at the time you specified.

7. Be open minded. Embrace new ideas and opportunities that present themselves. Agree to something that you never thought you would be able to do. Run a marathon, jump out of a plane, volunteer, write a novel, make friends with someone that you have nothing in common with.

And finally

8. Evolve. The world keeps on changing and you should evolve with it. Stay one step ahead by being adaptable and constantly improving yourself.


Posted in Mind and soul, Travel | Tagged , | 1 Comment