slowfoodfastpace

Eat to run.

Ta-daaaah!

I often use this blog to talk about the food on our table, but today I’m going to flip things around and show off the table it’s on.  I’ve actually been daydreaming about being able to write this post since Andy and I undertook this crazy-@$$ project back in February, in which we decided to make a dining room table.  When we moved, I was crazy about the idea of having a dining room with a big rustic, sturdy table that we could use for years and years to eat dinners, do arts and crafts, and for the kids to sit down at and do their homework in a few years.  But when I started shopping around online, nothing was quite right.  Of course there were some beautiful tables out there that did come very close to what I had in mind.  But I wanted this to be a table for everyone to use day in and day out… who wants shell out thousands of dollars on a table and then plop a two-year old down at that table to entertain himself, when he’s armed with a bucket of crayons and markers?  So we found this post about how to make a DIY table and decided to give it a go.  Turns out you don’t even need a saw to do this, because Lowes will cut lumber to size for you right in the store.   So after many nights and naptimes spent drilling, sanding, and finishing, here it is!  We are so proud of it and can’t believe we actually pulled it off!

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Rocking, rolling, and running

This post is a long-overdue shout-out to my little sis, Pattie, who decided we should run the Rock ‘n Roll USA marathon together last month.  I’m so glad she did!  It was great to get back in DC and do some running around… and the 20 miles I ran with Pattie flew by (she pulled away and left me flying solo for the last 6.2).  Having an amazing bud to chat and bond with as you pound the pavement is the best way I know to turn what could be a grueling few hours into a festive romp.  We were lucky enough to have our family there cheering us on at multiple spots, taking pics for us, and catching the layers of clothing we wanted to ditch along the way.  Having run and having spectated the big 26.2 many times, I’d say that along with volunteers, the spectators deserve a double dose of credit and appreciation.  They make the goofy signs and offer the needed encouragement and support that turns a crazy boring workout into a special and fulfilling memory. Which is why I’d have to hand the MVP award for this particular event to AC.  Spectating is one thing… going to see your wife at multiple spots along an urban course with a 2 year old and 8 month old in tow is quite another.  Just going to the grocery store with the little angels requires an arsenal of snacks and toys and a whole lot of planning.  But somehow he did it.  Seeing him and our tikes along the way was certainly the highlight of runner 1079’s whole weekend.

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From Russia with Love, Cream, and Chocolate

In In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan opines that once in a while, it’s fine to eat yummy treats like ice cream and potato chips under one condition: you make them yourself.  A good rule, because this foodie is actually cool with caloric bombshells, as long as the ingredients are pure, it’s not a processed and preserved version of the real thing, and the taste is worth it.  So don’t mind if I do, Mr. Pollan.  I churned out some White Russian ice cream last night and dark chocolate truffles for my book club girlfriends.  We were discussing Andrew Miller’s Snowdrops, set in Moscow, so I thought the peppermint chocolate truffles, dusted with powdered sugar, seemed an appropriate accompaniment for a book with that title.  And even if the Sochi Olympics weren’t going on right now, who doesn’t like the marriage of Kahlua, vodka, and cream in a White Russian?  Part mixed drink, part yummy dessert.  I used this recipe to make the ice cream, swapping out the rum for 2 TBSP of vodka and 2 TBSP of Kahlua.  The texture was perfect, though next time, I think I’ll add another tablespoon of each liquor.  I used this recipe as a guide in making the truffles.  I mixed it up a little bit, using Grand Marnier for a batch, peppermint extract in another, cinnamon in another, and a final batch that was just straight up chocolate and cream topped with coarse sea salt.

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Premasticated mush?

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Typically, I can’t be bothered to read much of another blogger’s adventures in parenting.  I have two little angels that are both still in diapers; at the end of the day, I don’t feel like reading you wax witty and eloquent about changing your kiddos’ diapers, feeding them, or anything else.  Nevertheless, this post by Nicholas Day kept me reading and clicking.  He mentions baby-led weaning, which means that from the get-go, your little tike eats what you eat, within reason.  It doesn’t quite mean you toss your infant some unshelled peanuts or share your tall cappuccino.  It does mean you offer a variety of typical, healthful, whole foods that conventional wisdom would proscribe until toddlerhood or later, such as chopped but not pureed fruits and veggies, legumes, meat and poultry.  While we have and do puree foods, usually mixed with breastmilk, for our kids at around 6 months old, the principles of baby-led weaning ring very true to me.  Specifically, feed your kids a very wide variety of healthful whole foods very early on.  They will get the hang of the necessary chomping and chewing very quickly, and they will delight you by developing an adorable affinity for healthful things they’re not supposed to like at their tender age.  Leave the processed stuff on the grocery store shelves.  Our two-year old scarfs olives, cashews, salmon, quinoa, chickpeas, and beef stew, among more typical favorites like bananas and strawberries.  Note: no matter what your nutritional philosophy, do take a first aid class and know how to prevent choking and what to do if a child is choking.  I want my kids to gobble up a variety of healthful unprocessed foods and enjoy their various tastes and textures.  So when they’re developed enough to handle solids, why oh why would I bring on the bland, processed, boxed and dehydrated rice cereal?  It makes no sense to this mama.

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Race against the clock

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The pic above is exhibit A in proving the case that I’ve spent more time crafting than running this winter.  It’s not all my fault.  I think I’ve also burned more calories shoveling than running so Old Man Winter has done his part in messing with my plans to show up for the Rock ‘n Roll USA marathon next month in top-notch shape.  No matter.  It’s water under the dam.  Or pages in the training log already turned. Or something like that.  It’s not how many times you fall face-down into a big giant snow drift, but how many times you pick yourself back up, right?  So I’m not sure I’ll be in shape to pound out 26.2 on March 15th, but one thing I like about this race is that you can register for the marathon but if you change your mind on race day, you can switch to the half.

The past two weeks have been snowier than ever in eastern PA, but I’ve actually been getting more runs in than usual.  A couple of Mondays ago, I realized it had been a full two weeks since I had gotten out for a run. There’s a type of runner out there, which I’m forced to realize that I no longer am, that just doesn’t let that happen.  Whatever.  If that lapse relegates me to official hobby jogger status, OK.  But I realized I could either let the string of 0 mile workouts stretch to two-weeks and a day or get out there and let my Asics take on the mean snow-covered streets without further ado.

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Product Review: Graco FastAction Jogger

Many thanks to JJ at bellyitchblog.com for connecting me with the opportunity to review of a piece of must-have gear for a running mama or papa: a jogging stroller!  Here’s the complete rundown on the Graco FastAction Fold Jogger Click Connect Travel System:

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OVERALL PERFORMANCE

This is a decent but not excellent stroller.  If you’re in the market for a stroller that you can jog with from the time your little one is a newborn well into toddlerhood, the Graco FastAction Jogger Travel System is a fair value that will give you some bang for your buck.  Like all joggers, however, it’s big and heavy.  More importantly, if you’ll be using the stroller extensively for running, you’re bound to notice some of the Graco’s shortcomings versus top-of-the-line jogging strollers.

How I wanted to love this stroller.  Why, I’ve wondered, can’t someone make a stroller that does it all?  Because I’d like to only own one stroller.  I want a stroller that I can run with and run errands with.  A sturdy little pram with a smooth ride, but not heavy or bulky.  I want a stroller that I can pop the baby’s car seat into as a newborn and that also works when that infant grows into a tot.  One other important rule I’ll require of these dream wheels: they can cost a bit more than a fancy dinner but should cost far, far less than a fancy vacation.

Alas, this stroller is not the Jack (or Jill) of all trades for which I’ve searched.  Or if it is, it’s master of none.  My main beef: if I’m going to own a stroller this big and this heavy, it had better be at the top of its class as a jogger, and this Graco is not.

VALUE

On paper, the Graco FastAction Jogger Travel System has a lot going for it.  It retails for about one hundred less than the BOB Revolution SE, yet it comes with a car seat, a base, a child tray, and a parent handlebar console.  If you buy all those things a la carte and trick out your BOB Revolution until it has all the same features as the FastAction Travel System, you will have spent roughly twice as much as you would have in opting for the Graco.

The glitch is that this stroller can’t hold a candle to the BOB as a jogger.  If you want something you can use to jog a mile or two once in a while on smooth and even terrain, and you don’t mind the small and flimsy canopy, then the Graco may be just fine.  If you’ll use it all the time, you’ll use it on uneven surfaces or downhills, you want the passenger shade and UV protection that comes from a larger canopy, or you’re inclined to spring for the smooth ride that comes from superior suspension, choose the BOB.

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APPEARANCE

Aesthetically, the Graco is a snazzy ride (I tested the chili red model).  It’s gender neutral and looks to be made of durable material that would stay looking fresh after years of use.  Taking a closer inspection of the features of the stroller, some of the parts are plastic and cheap-looking or feeling, such as the snack tray, parent handle-bar console, and latches that attach the wheels.

SMOOTHNESS OF RIDE

The tires are large and inflatable and the decent suspension provides a comfortable ride on a level and paved surface.  I tried it on a paved exercise trail with our 15 pound five-month old in the SnugRide infant seat as well as with our 30 pound two-year old without the infant seat.  The ride was plenty smooth enough for both children on the trail, though it felt somewhat rickety on the sidewalk.

ANCILLARY FEATURES

The stroller has some snazzy little features that add comfort, safety, and convenience.  The handlebar console has two cup holders and a place for your smartphone that will come in handy if your tot, like mine, appreciates some tunes on your runs.  The storage basket under the seat is fairly large and accessible.  The stroller has a tether, which I consider a valuable safety feature, though the placement of the tether near the basket of the stroller is curious; it could easily attach to the handlebars instead and I don’t know why the manufacturer would unnecessarily use a long strap on any children’s product.  The locks on the rear wheels are well-placed and effective, though it would be handy to be able to fully lock and unlock the stroller in one place instead of on both the left and right wheels.  The stroller includes safety reflectors on the rear tires.

EASE OF FOLDING

The stroller does fold up easily but no more easily than the BOB or the Britax B-Agile, which I’ve also used extensively.  The one-second, one-hand fold is nice, though I’ve found that once any stroller is yours, folding it up becomes second nature in no time.  The FastAction has a kickstand, which can get in the way when you’re collapsing the stroller.

SNUGRIDE INFANT SEAT

The infant seat is fine.  The harness secures easily and my baby seemed every bit as comfortable in it as in the Britax B-Safe. However, the SnugRide is a popular car seat that’s been around for a while.  This is one of Graco’s bread and butter products, and they’ve had plenty of iterations on it to get it right.  So it was surprising to me that the handle bar and the canopy get in each other’s way.  This is annoying and not a big deal, although to boot, the canopy is neither taut nor sturdy-feeling.  The levers that secure the base of the car seat to the car’s latch system do not have the push-button feature that some car seats do; I consider this a nice feature, but it’s really just a frill that you’ll hardly ever appreciate unless you take the infant seat base in and out of your car regularly.

It seems that the arm rests and passenger snack tray accessories need to be attached for the infant seat to snap securely into the stroller.  This wasn’t clear in the user’s manual and the tray makes the stroller even longer when it’s folded, so that won’t make fitting in it your trunk any easier.

USE FOR TODDLER

When used for a toddler without the infant seat, the stroller does fine but has a couple of key drawbacks.  Compared to the BOB, in which the passenger is situated further back so that the sides of the stroller surround the child on the left and right, the child is more exposed in the Graco and it looks like the canopy on the Graco could be too low for a taller child (my child is about 34 inches).  The BOB also has a triangle of material between the front edge of the seat and the front wheel that is useful when your child ditches the toys and books and water bottles you’ve brought to keep him or her entertained on your run.  So for what it’s worth, it’s probably going to be a little easier for your kiddo to hurl things overboard in the Graco.

SHORTCOMINGS

An important reason the Graco disappoints as a jogger is the poorly-designed front wheel lock.  This isn’t obvious until you get a jogger out on a downhill (with precious cargo inside), or even just get moving at a steady clip, but the front wheel really should lock to give you maximum stability.  When you’re walking with a stroller, a swivel feature in the front wheel is convenient.  When you’re running, a sudden swivel caused by a pebble or bump on the trail can mean you wobble or lose control.  The FastAction has a lock on the front wheel but it’s useless.  When I locked it into place, it locked such that the stroller veered to the right.  On the BOB, there’s a dial that lets you calibrate the position of the front wheel so that it is straight and steers forward.  The Graco front wheel lock is plastic, as compared to the sturdier metal wheel lock and calibration knob on the BOB.

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The other place where the FastAction Jogger strikes out is the canopy.  It’s not large enough to completely shade your child.  While somewhat useful, I wouldn’t consider it sufficient protection from UV exposure.  If heading out on a sunny day with this stroller, slather on the sunscreen or have your babe don a hat and long sleeves.  The mesh window that’s designed to let you peer in and check on your passenger is too small to be useful, and I found myself simply pulling back the canopy to check on my toddler.  The canopies on both the BOB Revolution and Britax B-Agile pop open easily with a quick flick of the wrist or tug forward; the Graco canopy is flimsy with a little too much slack when expanded and doesn’t really feel like it’s snapped into place.

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Short folks like myself (5’ 1’’) may find the handlebar placement on this stroller a little too high.  This matters because you need to bear your weight down on the handlebars to lift the front wheel off of the ground to clear a bump or an incline.  The higher the handlebars are, the harder this is to do; it’s more difficult on this stroller because there’s no bar between the two back wheels on which you can press your foot to make lifting the front of the stroller easier.

While some consumers may appreciate the kickstand, I didn’t like it.  I found it to be clumsily placed and think that storing the stroller upright with little ones around who could topple it over on themselves is dangerous.

SUMMARY

The Graco FastAction Jogger Travel System is a good jogging stroller, but in this mama’s view, it’s just not the best.  However, this is one of many, many pieces of baby gear you’ll ever buy, so it’s nice to have an option by a reputable manufacturer at this price point.  It’s a solid option if you’re in the market for a good jogger but aren’t inclined to shell out for something higher-end.  If the BOB is a Lexus, this stroller is a Chevy.  It doesn’t measure up to the very pricey competition but it does have some helpful bells and whistles and it’s going to get you and your little guy or gal where you want to go.

Disclaimer: I received a FastAction Jogger Travel System at no charge in order to write the above review.

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Kickin’ some asphalt

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That’s what my little sis did at the Philly marathon last weekend.  The race didn’t put that saying on their shirts this year, but they have at least once in the past, and I love it.  How sweet it is to train hard and kick some asphalt on race day, but it’s maybe even sweeter to support someone you’re closest to as they do that.  It was Patty’s first marathon and she welcomed me to jump in and keep her company between miles 17 and 23.  We ran through Manayunk, a cute and hip little ‘burb full of bars and furniture stores.  On race day, it was also full of fantastic crowd support, with folks giving the runners gummy bears, brownies and beer.  I was so proud of Patty… she nailed this race.  She did more than five 20 milers leading up to the race, including a 24 miler!  (I was afraid she might get injured, but I suppose you can play with fire like that when you’re a 22 year-old spring chicken.)  She had more than 16 miles under her belt in the pic above, but she looks like she’s half way through a festive 5K!  Also, she negative split the race, running the first half in 2:04:38 and crossing the finish line in 3:57:38.  Who does that in their first race?!  Going out too fast is a total rookie mistake (that I think I’ve probably made in every marathon I’ve ever run) but she paced herself like a pro.  Way to go, sissy 🙂

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Great heights

Normally, I am a planner with a capital P and I love routine.  When it comes to training, I like to have a target race and plan out months of long runs leading up to that race.  At the beginning of each week, I like to take stock of whatever else is going on and figure out what kind of runs I can shoot to get in and when.  But sticking to a detailed training plan hasn’t been working out so well for me these days.  And that’s not all bad.  When life gets busy and my best laid training plans go awry, I land at a crossroads where I can either take myself too seriously and get grumpy about workouts that could have been or just chill out and be happy and grateful for whatever it was that was more important than my run that day.

This weekend was a serendipitous reminder that it can be fun to be impulsive about running once in a while too.  My little sis, Pattie, is training for her first marathon and she spontaneously invited me to go on a twenty miler with her this morning.  I’m not really in shape to do a run that long and I hadn’t planned on that workout but I didn’t have a good reason not to just go for it anyway.  It was a great time.   Not a great time as in: our splits were amazing; but a great time as in: how often do you get to spend a beautiful October morning bonding with your amazing little sis and just enjoying the meaningful conversations that happen so easily when you’re just pounding out the miles and huffing and puffing together.   When she mentioned the run, my mountain goat of a sibling didn’t mention that she was scheming to have us run up a GIANT hill between miles 8 and 10.  We ran through Lehigh University and then up to the lookout point at the top of their campus.  I’m glad I didn’t know how trying the climb would be ahead of time and that my butt and quads would be screaming.  But I’m also glad we did it.  I took the two pics above when we saw deer and when the view of Bethlehem below us was especially stunning…  and yeah, I guess stopping to take those pics did afford us a couple of seconds of rest on the climb.

Here’s the elevation map from the Garmin showing the steepness of the aforementioned ascent:

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Oko-what??

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I tried a wonderful new recipe tonight, which came to me by way of my little sis, who tried it at a recent dinner party.  Even if it didn’t taste delicious, I’d like it because of its exotic-sounding, multi-syllabic name: okonomiyaki.  This entree had everything I look for in a dinner.   Simple, healthful ingredients?  Check.  Lactose and gluten-free?  Check.  Takes under 20 minutes to make?  Check.  My two year-old will eat it?  Check.  To achieve gluten-free status, I had to swap out the regular flour for gluten-free flour and use GF soy sauce, but no other tricky adaptations were necessary.  The three members of my household who eat solid foods give it a thumbs up, and my little man was running around saying “Japanese pancakes” after dinner.  I hope those pancakes will be starter fuel for a week of quality running.  Last week got hectic and turned into an unplanned training hiatus, but sometimes those can be injury-prevention in disguise.  I had a great run this morning on very fresh legs and am going to try and log some big miles this week and then back off a little next week leading up to the half-marathon on the 20th!

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Take your acesulfame potassium and…

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For a blog with “fast pace” in its name, it’s taken quite a while to go live with this latest post.  Among other things, I blame the delay on what at least one mommy blogger calls “sleep regression.”  This is a technical term for when your toddler very suddenly decides that sleep is something that happens to other people.  But not to him, and not to anyone else in the household if he can help it.  But hey, I suppose the name of the game with enjoying running or blogging or about anything else is being able to scale the obstacles that you didn’t see coming.  Right?  Maybe?

In honor of the impending government shutdown, I thought I’d write about a food labeling issue on which the FDA asked the public for comments earlier this year: whether flavored milk that uses artificial sweeteners has to explicitly say so on its label:

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Federal regulations currently require the labeling on the left; industry has asked the agency to allow the less informative label on the right, arguing that the “reduced calorie” language is a turn-off to some consumers, especially children.

I’m sour on artificial sweeteners for a few reasons.  In a sentence, we’re healthiest when we eat simple, unprocessed, real food.  Things like aspartame and sucralose are synthesized substances; they’re not food, so I don’t want them in my diet.  I know these things have been approved as safe — a particularly comprehensive collection of articles and studies supporting their benefits and safety is provided by the Coca-Cola Company here.  That’s fine, and I’m all for keeping Diet Coke legal, I just think it’s even safer and more healthful to leave those chemicals in their bottles instead of ingesting them.  Non-nutritive sweeteners strike me as similar to pharmaceuticals; they’re chemicals concocted to serve a specific purpose that are probably safe for most people when used as directed.  I just don’t want acesulfame potassium in my milk any more than I want ibuprofen in my soup or acetaminophen in my smoothies.

Intuitively, if you buy into the notion that your body tends to crave what it needs, it also seems like artificial sweeteners mess with the role of taste buds in our digestive systems.  When you need calories, sweet, calorie-dense foods are particularly appealing.  It seems plausible to me that zero-calorie sweeteners may rewire your body’s association between sweet-tasting foods and the energy they provide.

Speaking of burning off energy, I ran my first post-pregnancy race this weekend.  My sis and I ran a hilly 10K in Bethlehem in a race that was part of the weekend’s Celtic Classic Festival.  I aimed to run 7:00 pace and ended up running slightly slower.  I was happy with the effort — I’ve been getting out and training when possible and while I can imagine how fun it would be to be even speedier, I know the workouts I have been doing made a difference.  It was a good weekend for comeback races for runners from all ranks.  One of my favorite runners, Desiree Davila, returned to marathoning in Berlin on Sunday, marking a comeback to the distance after the injury that kept her from competing in the London Olympics.

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