Thursday, March 20, 2008

2008: A Push-Up Odyssey

I thought I'd say a little more about my push-up program since it seems to have caught the interest of a few people.

I'd been doing push-ups on my knees for years. Truthfully, I'd been doing most of my workout on auto-pilot, just like with those push-ups. 30 minutes on a cardio machine while I listened to music, read a magazine, or often did both simultaneously, followed by 20-ish minutes of weight machines. At the end of these workouts, I was never sore, and I often wasn't even sweaty. I had a mild amount of muscle tone and was a few pounds above where I wanted to be, but I thought I was exercising 5 days a week and doing all I could.

I don't buy into a lot of wedding hype, but around the time I got engaged (August 2007), I decided I needed to bust out of my fitness rut. Something I read a while back stuck in my head: the writer was saying he really loved to be truly sore the day or two after a workout. It had been a long time since I'd felt that and I craved it. I also wanted to figure out why my hours at the gym weren't showing real results. At the time I had a longer commute and going to the gym meant I got home around 8 pm. I didn't want to keep going if it wasn't worth it.

My gym was running a special on personal training sessions and I decided to buy a few with a trainer I'd observed. I'll call her Jane. Jane had a really muscular body that wasn't in female-weightlifter territory. She was slim but certainly not underweight. She looked strong and healthy, and seemed friendly. I bought 18 sessions in all with her. After each one, I was sore, sometimes painfully so for 2 full days. She re-introduced me to free weights, squats, pull-ups, and, yes, push-ups. We did them on my knees but at the end I told her I wanted to try real ones. My first set of push-ups was pretty wimpy but I made it through (and then collapsed in a puddle).

A few weeks later, I read something in Shape magazine about how doing push-ups on your knees is a very different exercise than full push-ups. They work different muscle groups (the magazine also has an amusing quote: "[Push-ups] seem punishing, but that's only because we spend so much time dreading them"). I decided I was not going to do knee push-ups again. I started doing 10 push-ups before and 10 after each workout. I got a few admiring comments from fellow gym-goers that increased my motivation and I decided to challenge myself to do 1,001 push-ups in a month. You know how that story goes. I've continued to do about 20 good push-ups each day, going down farther than I did during the push-up challenge. Once a week, I do 50 good ones, which definitely leaves me sore the next day.

I've come to see push-ups as emblamatic of the paradox of Americans spending lots of money and time on fitness but not being truly fit. As this excellent article says (and do watch the video too), "the push-up is the ultimate barometer of fitness." So many people (my former self included) put in time at the gym but can't do a push-up, full sit-ups, or a pull-up with assistance of less than half their weight. (I've resigned myself to never being able to do an unassisted pull-up, unless I quit my desk job and work out as much as Madonna.) I'm grateful that I've pulled myself out of my fitness rut and am making my workout time really count.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Two from Veganomicon

Sorry about the paucity of posts lately. The next two weeks won't be much better since I'm on vacation--but I'll be visiting two great food cities and will have lots to share upon my return.

I made two recipes from Veganomicon recently (HS gave me the cookbook as a Valentine's Day gift). The first, Quinoa with Black Beans and Mango, is shown below.

This was just a'ight. It needed more salt and the juice of a lime to perk up its somewhat bland flavor. I also threw some chopped up red cabbage in because, well, I had it. I'll make it again, but I'll also add avocado and a diced jalapeno.

I also made Seitan Piccata for a fancy dinner:

This was quite tasty and somewhat unusual. The sauce smelled a little funky in the pan but had a full, complex flavor. We used purple potatoes for the mashed potatoes--can you see the color? I'd defnitely make this again for company.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Get stuffed

I think Theresa is right when she says most people rotate through the same 9 meals again and again. I would like to think my number is closer to 20, and this is one of them.

They are tofu stuffed mushrooms, and they will always have a place in my heart because:
--they reheat beautifully
--they're satisfying; low in carbs, high in protein
--they look impressive and so are great dinner party or special occasion fare
--they are deliciously more than the sum of their parts

They have even temporarily fooled my cat, who thinks there must be meat in there somewhere.

Tofu-stuffed portabellos
3 tablespoons oil (vegetable or olive)
1 cup diced onions
1/2 cup diced sweet red peppers
1/2 cup peeled and grated carrots
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1 cake (16 oz) firm tofu, pressed
1/3 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon miso
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 to 6 large portabellos

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a frying pan. Add the onions, pepper, oregano, basil, and dill and saute until veggies are tender. Set aside.

In a large bowl, crumble the pressed tofu. Stir in the nuts, bread crumbs, tahini, miso, and soy sauce. Add the sauteed veggies and mix well.

Clean the mushrooms and use a knife to remove the gills. Discard the stems. Brush the remaining 2 tablespoon oil over the mushrooms. Spoon the filling into the mushroom cavities. Place the mushrooms in a baking dish and bake for about 25 minutes, until the filling has slightly browned.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


I made it to my goal of 1,001 pushups in February around 9pm on February 29. I did the last 10 pushups with Ceri. In February, I did between 20 and 40 "real" pushups every single day, even after I was in a minor car accident and had mild whiplash.

I did my first set of 10 "real" (not on my knees) pushups in recent memory in December or January. It was pretty tough at first but got easier quickly. I don't go far enough to have my chin touch the floor but that's something I'll continue to work on. I'm doing zero pushups for a few days to allow my muscles to rebuild themselves. Then I'll concentrate on quality rather than quantity during March. I can feel some new muscle tone in my arms but most importantly, I just feel more confident about my fitness level.

On another topic, shown above is our second meal of chickpea cutlets, with tomato sauce, parmesan, and basil on top. The yummy fried things are the best onion rings in the world. HS and I are seriously contemplating buying a Fry Daddy to try to replicate them--but that way lies madness (and sweatpants). The cutlets are flanked by two interesting salts we picked up. One is smoked and the other contains rosemary, sage, garlic, and pepper (can't find a web page for them but the brand name is Feast).

(Pushups completed: 1,001!)