Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Tri Harder

If you're a longtime reader, you may have noticed I've posted more infrequently lately. There's a reason for that: In order to fulfill a personal New Year's Resolution this year, I'm training for my very first triathlon — a sprint tri in Central Park that takes place next month.

Now, maybe some people can complete an Ironman event in their sleep, but if you'd known me when I was a sprout, you'd know what a big deal even a sprint-length triathlon is for me. My high school class did not vote me "most likely to drop a lot of money on protein powder."

I was an arty kid. I couldn't even make it the one mile around the track for the Presidential Physical Fitness tests they administered every year in gym class. Just running a quarter mile made my lungs feel like they were burning.

But after college, a funny thing happened. I jogged a bit, and it wasn't so bad. No burning lungs. So I jogged a bit more. I thought I'd be the best I could be when I hit that long-awaited mile run, but it turns out I can now zip out for a 3.5-mile run before breakfast.

Chickpeas on the Run

So what made the difference? I credit two success factors: 1. Lack of judgement from gym teachers and classmates. 2. Not living with a smoker (Dad was a heavy smoker throughout most of my childhood).

And the best part? progress with running helped show that I wasn't athletically retarded (something I'd long believed). This year I enrolled in swim classes at the YMCA. And while I'm not a sleek dolphin in the water yet, I'm now proud to say I'm less of a sea cow.

A great benefit I've discovered about training for a triathlon is the diversity. If I have a blister from running, I can switch over to swimming. If my arms are sore from swimming, I can work on my biking. The built-in variety means I'm never bored. There's just so much to concentrate on.

That's also part of the downside of triathlon training. Even for a shorter-distance triathlon (like the sprint tri I'm working toward) there's a major time commitment to balance each aspect of the sport.

Aside from juggling the schedule to accommodate training, anyone attempting athletic events quickly finds that eating becomes a major planning factor. When do you eat? What do you eat? How much do you eat? In what form should you eat it? I must admit, I'm not really jazzed about eating (slurping?) those sugary little goo packets I see in sporting goods stores.

Additionally, many events start early. Should you wake up extra-early to eat so you have time to digest beforehand? When the event is long, as in the many hours involved in a marathon, how do you eat on the run (literally), without upsetting the tummy?

Luckily, those who work out tend to experiment and find their own solutions to these questions. And they're usually happy to share.

Dave's New Pizza Oven
Dave's New Pizza Oven

Just yesterday, I stopped by the Fort Greene Brooklyn Flea to chat with my friend Chef Dave Sclarow of Lunetta and Pizza Moto while he kneaded dough into crusts. (BTW, he's expanding into the Sunday Flea in Dumbo in a couple of weeks.)

He gave me a handy tip for even more simple smoothies: Instead of using an upright blender, use a big cup (or a mason jar) with a stick blender (aka "immersion blender"). Fast, easy and less laborious to clean up. Brilliant.

Smoothie in a Jar
Smoothie in a Jar

Dave offers this recipe for his workout smoothies: two ice cubes, half a banana, big scoop of peanut butter and soy milk. Sometimes he adds a little maple syrup if he wants it to be sweeter.

So today, I made my morning smoothie in a mason jar with a lid, and kept it cold in the fridge for my post-workout recovery drink. Slick.

One of his pizza-slingers mentioned that the sesame-seed & honey bars that are sometimes found in natural food stores make good workout snacks, too. A little protein. Some sugars. Easy to carry. A good option.

I've done posts on workout snacks before, but I'm always open to new tips and helpers. Drop 'em if you've got 'em!

Yours in good health,
Miss Ginsu

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7.12.2009

The Chowder Bowl

The Super Bowl is a copyrighted phrase owned by the NFL, so I guess I'm not even really supposed to mention those words together in this here blog post.

I somehow doubt the league will run me down with a cease and desist order. Even so, maybe I'll just call it "The Big Game" to play it safe. You'll all know what I'm talking about, no?

So I was thinking the other day... The Big Game is coming up this very weekend (February 3rd, for those of you who only watch this one game each year) and I know that our newest national holiday is pretty much locked down as far as the menu goes. At any party you attend, you're likely to find chips and salsa, chili, hot wings, pizza, enormous party-size sandwiches, chips, dips and beer.

Now, that's all well and good, but I think we've never had a better year to make a big deal about the bowl. Is your bowl going to be New England or Manhattan?

It's an age-old rivalry, and both sides have their raving fans. We've probably all seen some good performances and some fumbles. So much depends on the quality of the players, I mean... ingredients.

I'm referring, of course, not to the showdown between the Pats and the Giants, but to a far older and far more epic battle: New England Clam Chowder vs. Manhattan Clam Chowder.

Chowders are thought to come from coastal Brittany, and the word, of course, from the French chaudière, which was a cauldron. This makes sense in the same way that, for example, a tagine supper is cooked in a clay tagine and a casserole dinner is cooked in a casserole dish. There's some other linguistic explanation about chowder's origins in an Old English word, jowter, which means fishmonger, but I don't buy that for a second. A creamy seafood stew just screams out as the product of Northern France, doesn't it?

But I digress... let's get back to the battle at hand.

fresh clams at the market

Chowders can be based in fish, crab, scallops or clams, but the secret to quality in any chowder is fresh seafood. If fresh clams or good quality fish cubes aren't an option, consider frozen seafood.

Personally, I'd like to see a couple of heavyweights do a throwdown on this one. Here's a Manhattan Clam Chowder recipe from Emeril and a New England-style Chowdah from talented (and prolific) recipe author Susan Hermann Loomis.

May the best chowdah win!

Emeril Lagasse's Manhattan Clam Chowder

8 pounds quahog or large cherrystone clams, scrubbed and rinsed, opened clams discarded
4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch lengths
2 cups finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
3/4 cup diced carrot
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/4 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
1 cup chicken stock
3 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes or 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped and juices reserved
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt

In a large stockpot bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add clams, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Uncover, quickly stir clams well with a wooden spoon, and recover. Allow clams to cook 5 to 10 minutes longer (this will depend on the type and size of clams you are using), or until most of the clams are opened. Transfer clams to a large bowl or baking dish and strain broth through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl. (You should have about 6 cups of clam broth. If not, add enough water to bring the volume up to 6 cups.) When clams are cool enough to handle, remove them from their shells and chop into 1/2-inch pieces. Set clams and broth aside.

In a large heavy pot add bacon and render until golden and crispy. Pour off all fat except 4 tablespoons. Add onions, celery, bell pepper and carrots and cook for 10 minutes, until vegetables are softened. Do not allow to color. Add garlic, bay leaves, oregano, thyme and crushed red pepper and cook an additional 2 minutes. Increase heat to high and add potatoes, reserved clam broth, and chicken stock and bring to a boil, covered. Cook for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender and the broth has thickened somewhat. Add tomatoes and continue to cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add reserved clams and parsley and season with pepper and salt, if necessary. Allow chowder to sit for up to 1 hour to allow flavors to meld, then reheat slowly over low fire if necessary. Do not allow to boil.

fresh clams at the market

The Great American Seafood Cookbook by Susan Hermann Loomis

Creamy Clam Chowder (Serves 4)

3 pounds Manila, butter, or littleneck clams, shells well scrubbed under cold running water
4 ounces slab bacon, rind removed, cut into 1/2 x 1/4 x 1/4-inch pieces
2 tender interior celery ribs, finely chopped
1 bunch (about 5) scallions, trimmed, the white bulbs and light green stems cut in thin rounds
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 even pieces
1/4 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
Paprika, for garnish

1. Rinse the clams. Combine them with 1 cup of water in a medium-size saucepan. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook just until the clams open, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat. Drain the clams, reserving the liquor; discard any that do not open.
2. Remove the clams from their shells and reserve them, covered, so they don't dry out. Strain the clam cooking liquor through a double thickness of cheesecloth; reserve.
3. Render the bacon in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat until crisp and golden. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels. Add the celery, scallions, and potatoes to the bacon fat and sauté just until the scallions and celery begin to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the clam liquor and 1 cup of water. Cook until the potatoes are tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes.
4. Add the milk and cream, stirring occasionally and making sure the chowder doesn't boil, until heated through, about 10 minutes. Add the clams and cook until they are heated through, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. To serve the soup, ladle into 4 soup bowls. Top each bowl with a pat of butter, a shower of parsley, and a dusting of paprika. Pass the bacon separately. Serve immediately.

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1.31.2008

Going Bananas: The Mighty Morphin Power Smoothie

the mighty morphin power smoothie

It all started simply enough. Most consuming passions do. I had too many ripe bananas.

Normally, a quickie banana bread would solve the banana issue. But even a banana-loving person can only eat so much banana bread.

So I started freezing ripe banana halves and using them for breakfast. I'd just toss a frozen banana half in my blender with a cup or so of orange juice. Voila! Cool, refreshing smoothie.

So that's how it started:
Banana + OJ = Smoothie

After a while, I thought it might be nice to get some of the good enzymes from active -culture plain yogurt into my system. Started adding about a half-cup.

The new digestively correct version:
Banana + OJ + Yogurt = Smoothie

Over time, I wanted to reduce the volume of orange juice (so much sugar!) and I did some experimenting and figured out that soymilk helped keep my smoothies thin enough. (Milk curdles if you're also using oj. Not appealing first thing in the morning.) Substituting a tablespoon of peanut butter or Nutella for the oj made for veeeery tasty smoothies.

The improved formula became:
Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + PB = Smoothie

When I started making them for J, he wanted to add tablespoon of wheat germ (for additional vitamins and fiber). And since J is wild for berries, we also started adding in some fresh or frozen berries instead of juice or peanut butter.

The nutritious, collaborative recipe:
Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries = Smoothie

After J returned to a heavy workout program, he needed more protein. Meanwhile, I was doing more running, so I figured a protein + carb combo breakfast couldn't hurt. At that point we started adding some protein powder (a "designer" whey product, made using milk solids) to power the muscles.

The high-tech protein power version:
Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries + Protein Powder = Smoothie

After a while J read up on nutritional supplements for athletic recovery and got into L-Glutamine (an amino acid recovery supplement) and BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acid) powders. The glutamine doesn't taste like much, but the BCAA is seriously bitter. I continued pouring my smoothie at the high-tech protein powder version (above), before adding a little glutamine and BCAA into the blender for J's smoothie.

J's big muscle recovery smoothie:
Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Wheat Germ + Berries + Protein Powder + BCAA + L-Glutamine = Smoothie

Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee), the fruit of the Brazilian Açaí Palm, seems to go wherever Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners go. They suck on frozen packets of the stuff after practice.

So when J took up jits, we learned all about acai. It's high in fiber and antioxidants, and it seems as though it may also reduce inflammation in the body. Handy stuff. In our casual testing, J says he's able to work out longer without getting hungry when he's had an acai smoothie. And since FreshDirect delivers Sambazon pure acai packets along with delicious frozen sliced peaches, the smoothies have been very happy indeed.

The individually tailored potions:
Me: Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Berries (or Peaches) + Protein Powder + Acai = Smoothie

J: Banana + Soymilk + Yogurt + Berries (or Peaches) + Protein Powder + Acai + BCAA + L-Glutamine = Smoothie

These days, there's a minor panic in the house when banana supplies run low; It's funny to remember that the whole winding evolution was hatched by a surplus.

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10.20.2007

Top-Ten Real-Food Workout Foods

park-side power food

In elementary school, I was always the slowest kid at the track during the mile-run in the annual Presidential Physical Fitness tests. Every spring I'd see all the other kids perched at the edge of the track, pulling up tufts of grass while I puffed my way around the turns to complete those eternally long mile-long runs.

Even my most patient gym teachers grew drowsy watching their stop watches before I poked along into the final stretch.

Thus, it tickles me pink that I'm now a person who runs. I may even be so bold as to call myself a runner.

This month, in fact, I'm in training to run a jaunty little 3.5 miles for the gigantic JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge run in Central Park. I have an official number that'll be pinned to my tanktop. And I'm not just going to complete it, I'm going to run the whole thing.

Yeah, it's no Ironman, but I bet even old Mr. Wolf would be slightly impressed at my bookworm-to-budding-jock progress.

One of the things the newbie athlete (or honestly, anyone who has working eyeballs) can't help but notice along the journey to fitness is all the so-called "power food" on the market. Endurance workouts are undeniably hungry-making, and there's all kinds of products competing to fill your empty belly. Nutrition bars. Performance beverages. Magic athletic potions and powders.

I have a hard time believing that convenient, inexpensive real-food snacks (such as a handful of dried prunes mixed with raw almonds) could somehow be less powerful for an active body than those nutrition bars that run between $1.50-$2 and contain:
Soy Protein Nuggets (Isolated Soy Protein, Rice Flour, Tapioca Starch, Malt, Salt), Milk Chocolate Flavored Coating (Sugar, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Nonfat Dry Milk, Cocoa Powder, Lecithin, Salt, Natural Flavor), Corn Syrup, Sodium Caseinate, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sweetened Condensed Milk, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Peanuts And Less Than 2% Of The Following: Butter, Lecithin, Gelatin, Salt, Natural Flavor, Ascorbic Acid, Magnesium Oxide, Ascorbyl Palmitate, D-Alpha Tocopherol Acetate, Niacinamide, Zinc Oxide, Fish Oil, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin, Vitamin A Palmitate, Thiamin Mononitrate, Chromium Chloride, Folic Acid, Sodium Selenite, Sodium Molybdate, Biotin, Cyanocobalamin.

I don't buy into products with yard-long ingredient statements, and I don't believe anybody's body really needs more high-fructose corn syrup. Thus, I offer my top recommendations for cheap, easy, tasty performance foods that are made out of genuine, old-school food.

My Top-Ten Real-Food Workout Foods:

1. Boiled Eggs. Mankind's original power food. Eggs come in their own biodegradable packaging, offer protein, iron and vitamin A and cost about 18 cents each for the high-end organic variety. Boil a few on Monday for workout snacks all week long.
2. Yogurt-Fruit Smoothies. A tasty, nearly-instant breakfast. Combine, in a blender, a half-cup of yogurt, a cup of plain soy milk, a half-banana (store the other half in the freezer for future smoothie action) and a tablespoon of peanut butter or a half-cup of any fruit you happen to have around. Throw in a tablespoon of wheat germ and a scoop of whey powder for a fiber + protein power boost if you're into that. Blend until smooth. Drink. And feel pleased you've avoided any sticker shock you might experience at the local Jamba Juice.
3. Fruit & Nut Bars. The Clif company recently produced a line of bars they're calling Clif Nectar Organic Fruit-Nut Bars. I'm pleased to report that they're tasty and the formula contains no high-fructose corn syrup... just dried fruit, roasted nuts, cinnamon, vanilla and the like. All certified organic, of course. That's great, but it seems to me that the cheaper route would be a DIY bar made of the same stuff. As it happens, others have already had this idea. So if you've got a blender, an oven and some plastic wrap or waxed paper for easy wrapping and transportation, you're set to make "power" bars on the cheap.
4. Juice + Water. Gaterade? Powerade? Vitaminwater? You're paying dearly for their national marketing campaigns. My co-worker, a Gotham Girls Roller Derby powerhouse, needs to drink a lot of water to keep up her speed and bruiser moves on the rink. She dopes that quart-size water bottle at her desk with juice to keep the hydration task more interesting. Do like the rollergirl and tip in about a half-cup for every quart of water. WebMD recommends you add a half-teaspoon of salt and/or baking soda if you want to give it electrolytes like the ones found in Gatorade or Smartwater.
5. Scrambled Egg Burritos/English Muffins. Fry or scramble an egg in a small amount of olive oil with salt and pepper to taste. Pile onto/into a warmed tortilla or a toasted whole-wheat English Muffin. Fast fiber + protein = yum.
6. Ripe avocados. A hyper-fast post-workout snack. Full of fats? Pshaw. It's all good fat. Do 'em up like my big, strong (and remarkably slim) boyfriend: Cut avocado in half lengthwise, remove the pit, sprinkle each half with salt and pepper. Scoop into mouth with a spoon.
7. Apple slices with peanut butter. Fuji apples are a good choice, and Smucker's Natural PB has a nicely roasty flavor.
8. Carrots with hummus. Vitamin A, protein, fiber and flavor.
9. Classic trail mix. Throw some raisins or dried currants in a little bag with your favorite nuts. Add some apricot pieces or coconut chips if you're feeling wacky.
10. Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans. A great source of protein with iron and fiber... but that's not why I eat 'em. They're deliciously addictive when drizzled with the slightest amount of good olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh pepper. Add a squirt of fresh lemon or some chopped cherry tomatoes if you're into it. Go fancy with some chopped parsley or diced cucumbers if you have 'em around.

Got a good real-food workout snack of your own? Throw it in the comments!

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6.13.2007