Running Update and Produce Haul

November 4, 2011

Let’s talk running first, and produce second.

1) Running. I’m a little behind on updating this blog about my running. It’s been a week since I last wrote about running (at the end of this post), and during that week, I’ve gone running three times. Three times! I’m in training, after all – my first 10K is a week from Sunday, and I’m getting excited! You can read about the race here, and since there’s a fundraising element, it would ever so lovely if you could make a contribution. I’m running to support weSPARK, which provides support to cancer patients and their families. As I type this, I’m about halfway to my fundraising goal, so click here and chip in a few bucks, if you can! Every dollar counts!

Back to my runs: On Friday, October 28th, I went for a run that lasted 53 minutes, and 5.2 miles. That’s a speed of 5.88 miles per hour!  Then, on Monday, October 31st (Halloween!), I headed out with the intention of running all the way to the closest subway station (a distance of 4.8 miles, round trip), but about 15 minutes into the run, my side cramped up badly, so I switched to walking, turned around, and headed home. Between the walking and the running, I was on the streets for about 45 minutes, but I’m not gonna add this to my running chart.

Last night, I met up with my friend Tiffany, and we went running together. Tiffany is running the 10K with me, and it’s also her first ever race. Tiffany, though, hasn’t run in 10 months, so good for her for tackling something with so little time to prepare! We started at her apartment, walked a few blocks, and started running. We ended up running 43 minutes total. Our route:

That’s 4.7 miles! Tiffany did wonderfully. She took a few super-short breaks (while I jogged in place), but found her second (and third, and fourth) wind. She’ll complete the 10K easily. I calculated our speed for this run, and it came out to be 6.55 mph! That’s over half a mile per hour faster than my fastest run to date! Which means either my calculations are erroneous or Tiffany and I are well-matched to push each other while running!

Next goal: A practice run on some hills. There will be hills at Universal, and I don’t have much experience on hills.

2) Produce. I took Richard Simmons’ class at Slimmon, and afterwards, went about 5 or 6 blocks to the Whole Foods in Beverly Hills. This was my first time in that Whole Foods, and it’s a nice store, and I should know, because I spent entirely too much time wandering every aisle, because I had no idea where anything was. I came home with a boatload of produce. Take a look:

What do we have? Moving clockwise from the lower left corner: bean sprouts, holiday grapes (two bags), two heirloom tomatoes (stacked, one yellow, one purple); baby carrots, a container of pre-sliced celery, a bag of green beans, a tray of broccoli, a bag of kale salad, bananas, red bartlett pears, honeycrisp apples, red bell peppers, and 2 red onions.

I also bought a few more things that really excite me:

It’s the return of the BUDDHA’S HAND! This citrus fruit, which looks like the cross between a lemon and a squid, is one of the most bizarre and interesting items I’ve ever pulled out of the produce section. I bought one last winter when I was in Michigan, and used it a couple of different ways: as an ingredient in a chicken dinner, and I also candied it. This one’s gonna stay in a bowl on my dining table as decoration for a while, since I love looking at it, and I don’t know what I’ll do with it. Yet.

I also bought two of these guys:

The sign said “feijoas,” and that’s a word that I’d never seen before. I do love trying new things, so I bought two, but when I got home, they seemed awfully familiar. Their smell seemed familiar, specifically. I dug through the Keep It Up, David archives and realized that last year, I bought the same fruit at the farmers’ market, where they were called pineapple guava (see my post about them here). So, they’re not a new-to-me fruit at all – but they are tasty, and I’ll enjoy eating them.

Then there’s this guy:

This is a new-to-me type of produce. It’s called a Red Kuri Squash, and I’d never seen one or heard of it before. I love squashes, generally speaking, so I look forward to cracking this one open. I don’t know when I’ll get around to it – the good thing about squash is that they keep for months – but you’ll see the end result once I do!

Keep it up, David!

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Candied Buddha’s Hand. PowerFlex. Seckel Pear. Cheaters.

December 16, 2010

Today’s post is all about new things.  I have four of them to talk about, so let’s get going!

1) Candied Buddha’s Hand. It’s the second paragraph, and I already have to slightly clarify what I wrote above.  This first item isn’t so much a completely new thing, as I discussed Buddha’s Hand in this post, but I did made a new recipe using it, so I’m still counting it as new.

Here’s a quick catch-me-up: a Buddha’s Hand is a citrus fruit that looks unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  I still had most of the one I bought at the beginning of the week, even after using some of it while making dinner the other night:

I looked around online to figure out what to do with the rest of it, and decided I would candy it, just like you can candy lemon slices.  First step: chopping up the Buddha’s Hand:

Then I made a simple syrup: 2 cups sugar dissolved over a low flame in 2 cups water.  (Yeah – not the healthiest recipe, especially for a weight-loss blog, but at least it’s fat free!)  I added the Buddha’s Hand to the syrup:

It simmered for an hour, until the white parts became translucent.  I pulled the Buddha’s Hand out with a slotted spoon, and laid it on wax paper:

It was really sticky, as it had been sitting in syrup for an hour, so I left it to dry overnight on the counter.  The next day, it was still kinda sticky, so, thanks to a suggestion from my mom, I dried it for an hour in the oven set to 200 degrees.  The end result?  Delicious!  The addition of the sugar took away some of the bitterness, and it also enhanced the lemony flavor.  Even my mom, who was not a Buddha’s Hand fan, came around a little bit, saying this liked it in this application slightly more than she did in my other creations.

Now I’m out of fresh Buddha’s hand, but I have a tin of the candied version of it!

2) PowerFlex. My friend Laura (who’s wedding I went to last weekend) is a member at the gym I joined for the two weeks I’m in Michigan, so we met up this morning to work out together.  It’s fun to work out with a friend, and we decided to take a PowerFlex class.  Neither of us had taken one before, and, actually, Laura had never taken a group exercise class of any sort before.  It was about 50 minutes long, and was a total-body weight training class.  We used a variable-weight barbell and free weights, and did a ton of reps of a lot of different exercises, divided into 4 or 5 minute chunks that each focused on a different muscle group: biceps, triceps, chest, shoulders, legs, gluts, abs.  The teacher (who’s name I didn’t catch), was really energetic and had a slight Russian accent, and the class was challenging – I have a feeling I might be a little sore in the morning.

I’d definitely take a class like this again, even though after doing 100 or so squats I don’t even want to think about doing another one any time soon.

3) Seckel Pear: After the gym, Laura came over for lunch and so we could hang out more, and being a regular blog reader and knowing my love of trying new things, she was hoping I might have something new for us to try.  I was prepared:  I had not one new thing, but two!  I’ll get to them shortly, but first: our meal consisted of sandwiches that I made using English muffins:

They have a couples slices of cold cuts (turkey pastrami for me, smoked ham for Laura), a little smoked Gruyere cheese, mustard, cucumber, tomato, and roasted red pepper.  The sandwich was accompanied by a bowl of the chicken noodle soup my mom made a few days ago:

She used a cooked rotisserie chicken from the supermarket, whole wheat pasta, and a mix of regular chicken stock and unsalted chicken stock, so hopefully they averaged each other out and made the whole affair low-sodium.

Then we tried the first new thing: a Seckel pear.  I found these at Kroger a few days ago (I tossed the receipt and can’t remember how much I paid), and they look like regular pears, but are about half the size.  I thought they were adorable.  Here they are, with a regular-sized red pear in there as a size reference:

They look like any other pear when you cut them:

They also taste like every other pear too, and I love pears, so I really liked the Seckel pear.  If anything, the flavor was a little stronger than in other pears – as if someone shrunk a full-sized pear down to half its size but all the flavor remained.

4) Cheaters. Now on to the other new item.  I saw this product in a store while I was shopping in Ann Arbor yesterday, and was immediately intrigued.  It’s called Cheaters, and it’s labeled as “Guilt-Free! Squeeze Candy”.  The package says it has no sugar, fat, sodium, or gluten, and it also says “19 calories never tasted so good!” – to which I thought, “we’ll see about that!”  They cost $1.59 apiece, and I bought all 4 flavors:

There’s a little glare in the photo, but the flavors are Blueberry Cobbler, Strawberry Cheesecake, Cinnamon Apple Pie, and Banana Cream Pie.

The package is a joy to read.  On the back of it, it says “Eat it slow, enjoy it more!”  It also says “Congratulations! You are about to experience great tasting dessert candy. It’s ALL PLEASURE and NO GUILT!”  They’re not shy about selling this stuff!

Laura and I decided to try two of the flavors (I’m saving the other two flavors for another day).  First up: Banana Cream Pie.  The pouch is designed so you squeeze it directly into your mouth, but since we were gonna share it, we squeezed it onto spoons.  Plus, you can much more easily photograph the contents when they’re on a spoon, as I did here:  Ladies and Gentleman, Banana Cream Pie Cheaters:

I won’t mince words – it was gross. Laura and I both thought so.  It was way too sweet and tasted like medicine.  There was a bitter aftertaste, and it coated our throats like cough syrup does.  We only tried a spoonful each before moving on to Blueberry Cobbler:

This one tasted like blueberry-flavored Listerine to me.  Yuck.  I actually had 2 spoons of it, but that was enough.  I will say that my dad tried both these flavors later in the day, and liked them, so at least someone enjoyed the experience.

Cheaters is made by a company called ICC Candy, and according to their website, they specialize in guilt-free candy.  I was poking around a little bit, and discovered they also sell a product called Sinfully Delicious Dessert Spray.  You have to go here and check out their sales pitch.  They look like bottles of Binaca, but instead of freshening your breath, they coat your mouth with little bursts of Milk Chocolate Turtle or Key Lime Pie.  Um, no thanks.  If I see those for sale somewhere, I’m gonna pass.

Four new things in one day?

Keep it up, David!


Buddha’s Hand

December 12, 2010

Get ready – this post is gonna be a bit on the long side.  But there’ll be lots of pictures!

I went back to Plum Market today, like I said I would in my post the other day, and came home with a Buddha’s Hand!  I had never seen or heard of this fruit before seeing it at Plum the other day, but it might just be the coolest thing I’ve ever picked up in the produce section.

It is so cool that I need to show another picture of it, from another angle:

Here’s the skinny:  A Buddha’s hand is a variety of citron, which means it’s a citrus fruit.  It dates back thousands of years, and was originally cultivated in the lower Himalayas, in what is now northeastern India and China, where it is still considered a symbol of happiness and good fortune.  This particular specimen, however, was grown in California, and cost me a cool $5.99.  Buddha’s hand is very fragrant, smelling like a very pungent lemon, and a lot of websites out there advocate using it for purely ornamental reasons, as the aroma can fill a room for weeks and I know I could stare at it for hours.

But today I wasn’t interested in staring at it.  I wanted to eat it.  I read that you can eat it raw, peel, pith, and all, and a lot of people online recommended steeping it to make tea, infusing vodka with it, or making jelly or jams out of it.  But all that kinda bored me, so I decided to build a dinner menu around it, which I mostly made up as I went along.

First up: A side dish.  Baby red and gold potatoes, coated with a quick spray of Pam, tossed with fresh thyme and dried rosemary.  Here they are, ready to go in the oven:

Next I started a sauce.  First 1/2 an onion and 3 cloves of minced garlic went into a pot with 1 tablespoon of olive oil:

Then I started mincing up some of the Buddha’s Hand.  Here’s another fun fact: a Buddha’s Hand doesn’t really have any flesh – it’s all rind and pith.  Here’s what the inside of one looks like:

A few tablespoons of the minced Buddha’s Hand and some mushrooms went into the saucepot:

After it had cooked for a few minutes, I added a cup of white wine, although I forgot to photograph that step.

Meanwhile, I prepped a steamer to make the rest of the meal.  I cut up some more Buddha’s Hand to flavor the water I was using underneath the steamer basket:

Next the steamer basket went into that pot, and first, I steamed three boneless skinless chicken breasts:

After they were done (about 9 or 10 minutes), I pulled them out and piled in some broccoli:

The broccoli only took about 5 minutes to cook, and then, everything was pretty much done!  I pulled the potatoes out of the oven (they were in there for about 30 minutes total):

Then I started plating.  Everyone got a chicken breast, some potatoes, and some broccoli.  Some of the sauce, which had simmered and reduced the entire time the chicken and broccoli was steaming, went over the chicken and broccoli.  I garnished with some parsley:

Finished plate:

The verdict?  Very lemony!  If you didn’t know better, you’d probably have no reason to think lemon wasn’t used.  The sauce was good, but not great – I think I used a little too much wine in it, but my dad didn’t think so.  My mom was not a fan of the Buddha’s Hand in any way whatsoever.  She said she liked every component of the meal except for the sauce, and was a sport and ate most of it, and then had a small bowl of soup to cleanse her palate from the Buddha’s Hand taste!  My dad, meanwhile, had only compliments about the meal.  He and I also tried pieces of the Buddha’s Hand raw, and it was very crisp and crunchy, like a lemony piece of jicama or something.

Oh!  I never mentioned anything about the wedding I went to last night!  It was a fantastic evening.  My friend Laura, the bride, looked beautiful, and her new hubby Chad is a really nice, personable guy – I actually met him for the first time last night.  All the people at my table were old friends, a couple of whom I haven’t seen in a few years, and there was great food (most of which I sampled, calories and fat be damned) and great music.  After the reception was over, there was a little after-party in the bar at a local hotel where the out-of-towners were staying, and there was a little after-after-party in one of the hotel rooms.  It was a late night (out until 4am), and a wonderful one.  I’m ecstatic for Laura and Chad, and was so happy I could be there to celebrate.

I slept in this morning until 10am, and shortly thereafter I hit the gym, and for the first time since my sophomore year in high school (1995!), I had an all-swimming workout.  Here’s what I swam:

  • 2 x 200 yards freestyle (400 yards total)
  • 2 x 200 yards IM (individual medley – butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle) (400 yards total)
  • 200 yards kicking with a kickboard
  • 5 x 50 yards freestyle sprints, with 10 seconds rest in between (250 yards total)
  • 200 yards freestyle (cool down)
  • TOTAL YARDAGE: 1450 yards (that’s 58 lengths of the pool, as the pool is 25 yards long).

I sorta made up this workout as I went along, and I failed to note what time I started, so I don’t really know how long I was in the pool altogether (although I suspect between 45-60 minutes).  And while I felt sluggish and sloppy compared to when I was at my swimming peak 15 years ago (which is no surprise), I did feel wonderful afterwards.  I was exhausted and felt loose all over, and even a little sore.  I hit the hot tub for about 5 minutes, then headed back to the locker room.

Keep it up, David!


Plum Market & Dinner Salad

December 10, 2010

After the gym today, I headed to the supermarket to stock up on some veggies since my parents’ fridge was a little bare (they did have 6 cans of water chestnuts in the pantry, though – doesn’t everyone?).

First stop was Plum Market.  Plum is a small chain of three grocery stores, all in Michigan, and it’s a beautiful store.  My crappy cell phone photo of their produce department doesn’t do it justice:

I love that they’re locally-owned, with an emphasis on Michigan products and companies.  Produce signs, for example, list which city Michigan produce was grown in, so today, I bought roma tomatoes from Benton Harbor, which is where my mom was born and raised.

Another reason I love Plum and try to swing by whenever I’m in town is because they stock McClure’s Pickles – the best pickles ever!  I may be a little biased, because I’m friends with Bob McClure, one of the founders/owners, but still – they’re great, and The New York Times, Bon Appetit, and Martha Stewart Living (just to name a few) have all raved about them.  And Plum has a nice display (that I took a crappy photo of) right on the deli service counter:

You can learn more about McClure’s Pickles, and order them, here.  They’d make a great (and heavy) stocking stuffer!  Today, I picked up a jar of the garlic & dill pickles:

Mmmm… delicious!

While you can find anything and everything at Plum, including tons of rare, gourmet and specialty products (more on this later), it is pricey, in the Whole Foods/Gelson’s range.  Especially for produce – as you regular blog readers know, I love finding fresh produce at amazing prices (for example, my recent outing where I bought 11 different fruits and veggies for $6.16), and the buck doesn’t stretch very far at Plum.  I know, I know, I’m not in California anymore, where everything is grown within driving distance all year round, but still.  I don’t need to spend $6 a pound on grapes or $3 a pound on carrots.  The aforementioned tomatoes were $1.49 a pound, however (a pretty good price), and I bought a couple other things that were on special this week.

Luckily for me, there’s a Kroger (another grocery store) directly across the street.  I picked up some veggies there at better prices (50 cents for green onions, 83 cents for a pound of carrots, etc.) and headed home.

I made dinner tonight for my parents and me – big ol’ salads!  You salad lovers out there will enjoy this photo:

There’s 14 ingredients in that salad, and they are: green cabbage, spinach, orange bell pepper, tomato, cucumber, pickles (McClure’s Pickles, naturally), water chestnuts, scallion, pimientos (Spanish pickled red pepper), mushrooms, 2-3 teaspoons blue cheese, 10-12 croutons, 2-3 teaspoons garlic vinaigrette, and 3 oz smoked scallops.  The smoked scallops was something I stumbled across at Plum, and they were delicious.  Here’s the lid:

Plum also had a couple produce items that I’ve never bought before, so I thought I’d continue my tradition of trying new things and pick one up for the first time.  The first thing that caught my eye was the Buddha’s Hand.  Check this out!

It has these long tentacle-esque thingies – it’s like the squid of the produce world.  I had no idea what it was, and thought it was some sort of squash.  It was also $6, so I decided I’d go home, research it a little, and go back and buy it another day.   Turns out, it’s a very fragrant citrus fruit (if only I had smelled it, I maybe could have figured that out) that is basically all rind and pith, with very little flesh or seeds.  You can read more about it here – be sure to read the comments for more great ideas on how to use and eat it.

So instead of buying the Buddha’s Hand, I bought, for the very first time ever, Kumquats.  I’ve never had a kumquat before.  They’re little tiny citrus fruits, like mini oranges, but the size of a large olive:

Unlike oranges, you can eat the rind of the kumquat, which is a good thing, because they’d be a pain in the ass to peel, and there wouldn’t be much left.  Here’s what the inside looks like:

My dad and I tried them after dinner, and they were strange, but good.  The rind is sweet, like an orange, but the pulp in the middle is tart, like a grapefruit, but more potent.  My dad’s review is that they “are bursting with flavor.”   And they’re less than 15 calories apiece, if you’re interested in calorie counts, and a good source of vitamins A & C.

In a few days, I’m going back for that Buddha’s Hand!

Keep it up, David!