Form Follows Function

Jumping over fire with younger brother at Gladiator Rock n Roll Run

Jumping over fire with younger brother Daniel (left) at Gladiator Rock n Roll Run

Being a in the field of parks and recreation I have heard my fair share of professors define and redefine the meaning of leisure and recreation. The meaning, my personal interpretation, was stumbled upon in my quest to have fun and stay as active as I possibly can for as long as I can. I have always been a runner but maintaining the drive to log miles can be difficult especially when trying to jam eighteen credit hours and an internship in the mix. This is where the whole leisure concept comes in. There was nothing forcing me to run, I was free to do it for my enjoyment (which is an indicator of leisure) but it really didn’t feel leisure-like and the little boost of happy dancing endorphins afterwards just wasn’t cutting it.

Obstacle navigation Rugged Maniac

Obstacle navigation Rugged Maniac

So what happened? An abstract idea that became popular a few years back. People were actually paying to run, jump over things and get covered in mud. My first mud run was a 5k (just over 3 miles) called the Warrior Dash, the thrill of competition made it easy to push my limits and cut my pace time down as much as possible but still, it was expensive and I soon lost interest. A few years later, my little (by little I mean younger) brother finished up his military service and ended up right down the street. The final push I needed was here, sibling rivalry. There is something to be said for having people to compete with but as any good non only child knows, there is nothing more satisfying than kicking your siblings butt and taking full advantage of those well-deserved bragging rights.

My brother takes the lead on our first mud run of the season

My brother (right) takes the lead on our first mud run of the season

All joking aside though, mud runs keep me on my feet. My brother and I are in the beginning of our first full mud run season. We kicked it off with a 5k+ Gladiator Rock ‘n’ Roll Run. It gets a plus because of the intense trail run they threw in at Estrella Mountain Park. They had some fun obstacles, including a 14 foot rope climb which I enjoyed. Of course I kicked my brother’s butt and my six year old, cheerleading niece, who is still learning the rules of runner encouragement, kept reminding him I’d already passed. The best part was taking advantage of sagging sidelines, I ran back and did the last three obstacles with him again (shh). Our last one was the Rugged Maniac which lived up to its name after three full days of rain, thick mud and a chilly fifty degrees. We had a blast on the two story slide at the end and Daniel was able to close the gap without the prolonged incline runs of the last one. We shivered our way through a well-deserved free beer and headed straight for the Jeep for a warm change of clothes and the nearest establishment serving warm coffee. So far we have a Spartan race scheduled for February, Terrain Mud Run in March and Warrior Dash in April but still can’t bring ourselves to sign up for the twelve mile Tough Mudder. Did you know they shock people on that one?!

Preparing to slide through a very big mud puddle

Preparing to slide through a very big mud puddle

Mud runs have become a somewhat serious source of recreation for me. The anticipation of upcoming races keeps me honest with racking up miles during the week. My brother crossfits but keep in mind he hasn’t won a race yet. The majority of the time is spent running and so I do that the most with the occasional WOD (Workout of the Day) throughout the week to keep things fresh.  So I guess my leisure activities haven’t really changed much. I still prefer having a good time playing in the mud with my (not so) little brother. Just goes to show, form always follows function.

Our six year old niece loves to come cheer us through the mud!

Our six year old niece loves to come cheer us through the mud!

The Good FatBurger

Fat tends to get a lot of dirty looks and bad publicity but the truth is there are a lot of great fats out there waiting to be consumed and burned for energy. Sure, there are definitely a few, like hydrogenated ones, you want to steer clear of but you can do that just by reading  the nutrition label. As a vegan fat isn’t exactly abundant in my meals and there are times, especially when I’m training, that I seek it out every time I eat. Avocados are an excellent way to quickly bump up a meals amount of fat and calories and this burger is no exception.The Good FatBurger

The Good FatBurger

What You Need
2 slices of whole grain bread
1-2 Garden Burger Chick’n Grill (or other mock patty)
1/4 cup of BBQ sauce
1 tomato sliced
1 small avocado mashed

What You Do
1. Throw the patties in your toaster oven at the highest setting for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through.
2. Toast the bread slices.
3. Spread the avocado on each slice of bread, lay on two slices of tomato and then pour the BBQ sauce over the top.
4. Throw the patties on once they are done cooking and spread the remaining avocado in the middle.
5. Stack the sandwich up and slice it in half or eat open faced.

Calories from fat and grains are a vegan athletes best friend. Both the ACSM and the ADA agree that athletes should be eating 20-35% of calories from fat. So just remember, fat isn’t all bad and ‘fat free’ is to healthy as natural is to organic. Use your noodle, do your research and read food labels. Plus, now you know good fat tastes really good!

Cactus Jerky

Sedona BoulderingRecently I brought along some cactus jerky to try during a long hike in Sedona, Arizona. The only kind Whole Foods had was Hot & Spicy but I figured it was worth trying at least once. After some impromptu bouldering along the  base of a natural bridge I worked up the appetite and the courage to give it a try. The jerky was hot but the texture was perfect, you could suck on it forever unlike the seitan jerky I had tried before. The only thing I had to figure out was how to make my own version to avoid the burning sensation and watery eyes the dried cactus left behind.

I was thrilled to see cactus paddles for a $1.50 a pound at the Fry’s grocery store and got four good sized paddles to experiment with for less than four bucks. It took a little digging to figure out the best way to prepare them for the dehydrator. Paddles with Needles Removed

First, take a small knife or the sharp end of a peeler to remove all of the spines. Rinse thoroughly to ensure you got all of the needles off. Next is peeling the paddles, a true test of patience. I encourage you to turn on some good music and get comfortable. The best approach I found was to lay the paddle flat in your hand and use the peeler to get as much of the skin off as possible. Since the paddles aren’t smooth you’ll have to go back through with a knife to get the rest and then slice off the edges of the cactus. Be prepared for some slime, rinsing off the paddles can be difficult!

Peeling Cactus PaddlesAfter that preparing the jerky is a breeze. Just slice the paddles up  into one inch slices. Sliced Cactus

Keep in mind they will shrink quite a bit. Place the slices in BBQ sauce to marinate overnight. You can make your own or buy something like Annie’s brand.  The next day preheat the oven to the lowest setting, mine is 170 degrees. In the mean time cover two large baking sheets with parchment paper and lay the slices out. Bake for about ten and a half hours or until the strips are dry but still flexible. Store in an air tight zip lock bag.Preparing to bake cactus jerky

Cactus Jerky

What You Need
4 cactus paddles
2 cups of BBQ sauce

What You Do
1. Cut off all spines and thoroughly rinse.
2. Peel skin off of the paddles. Start by laying the paddle flat in your hand and using a peeler, peeling toward you seems to work the best. Take a large knife and carefully cut off the edges of the paddle. Go back through and remove the remaining skin with a knife then rinse.
3. Slice the paddles into 1-2 inch slices. (they will shrink)
4. Place the slices into a small flat Tupperware and cover with BBQ sauce, cover and marinate over night in the fridge.
5. Preheat oven to 170 degrees, or the lowest temperature possible. You can also use a dehydrator, they usually run at 135 degrees.
6. Cover two cookie sheet in parchment paper and lay slices out.
7. Bake the jerky for 10.5 hours or until dry but a little flexible.
8. Store in a air tight Ziploc bag.IMG_4459

An Ice Cream Float Worth Rooting For

Coconut Ice Cream and Beer FloatTemperatures are rapidly increasing in Phoenix and I’m willing to try just about anything to cool off in the desert heat. A friend of mine had posted trying ice cream in a good porter and I couldn’t wait to veganize her idea. The easy part was picking up a pint of my favorite SoDelicious chocolate coconut ice cream. On it’s own the chocolate peanut butter can turn into a pretty demanding addiction. Anyway, the hardest part of making this dessert is selecting what beer to use. I strongly suggest a pint of a good porter or stout that has some sort of coffee or chocolate involved in the brew. Add a decent scoop or two of ice cream into a bowl and slowly pour the chilled beer over top. Enjoy responsibly, don’t slurp and drive!

Coconut Ice Cream & Beer (-the root) Float

1 Pint of your favorite ice cream
1 Pint of your favorite brew (porter/stout work best)

Scoop the ice cream into a bowl and slowly add in the chilled beer.

Garlic Snips

parsnip2Mashed potatoes are nice but their high carbohydrates, über mushy, and let’s face it they’re just plain boring. So I decided to mix it up and swap out potatoes with parsnips, one of my all time favorite root vegetables. Now granted I wasn’t going for something amazing and truth be told I was out of potatoes and my parsnips were getting close to composting age but man are these delicious!

Garlic Snips

What You Need
4 Parnsips
4-6 Garlic Cloves (depending on your taste bud preference)
1 teaspoon of Earth Balance or alternative milk substance (optional)

What You Do
1. Fill large pot with water and bring to a boil.
2. Peel and cut parsnips into large chunks and throw them in the pot.
3. Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until soft enough to squish.
4. Remove from heat, drain the water and mash them up.
5. Add in Earth Balance/milk and enjoy.

Milo’s Vegan Chili

Milo's ChiliThere’s nothing like a really good bowl of chili. Especially on a cold evening, which we are running short on here in Phoenix. In my mind a good bowl of chili is full of odds and ends and makes for the perfect end of week dish in order to use up any ingredients left abandoned in the fridge. I figured I had better share this recipe before the heat of the summer kills chili season!

Milo’s Vegan Chili
What you Need
1/2 cup chopped onion
4-5 chopped garlic cloves
1 cup chopped cabbage
1-2 large tomatoes chopped
1/2 cup chopped red pepper
1 can of: black, pinto, kidney and white beans
1-2 Moophrey’s patties or other veggie patty, crumbled
1 teaspoon veggie bullion
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3/4 cup stout (dark coffee or oatmeal works well)
1/2 teaspoon marjoram, thyme and sage
1/4 teaspoon smoked chipotle pepper
1 tablespoon of amino bragg
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup freshly chopped cilantro
Juice from 1/2 a lime

What you Do

1. Saute chopped onion and garlic. Add in cabbage and pepper, cook for 3 minutes.
2. Stir in beans, patty and amino bragg, let simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Stir in beer and seasonings, let simmer for 20 minutes stirring occasionally.
4. Remove from heat, stir in cilantro and lime
5. Let cool and serve!

Inclines, burrows and abundance

Top of Black MountainMy approach to hiking has completely changed this past semester due to a Biology class I’ve been taking dealing mainly with Arizona biomes, plant and wild life. My partner Kamerine wanted to check out Black Mountain in Cave Creek, a fairly short hike distance wise but with an incline that never seems to let up. Instead of powering up the hill I spent my time clumsily moving upward as my eyes wandered everywhere but where I was heading.

Damaged SaguaroI was surprised and the huge abundance of different plants that seemed to pack themselves around the narrow, weaving trail. There were tons of cacti ranging from tall saguaros to menacing hedgehogs perched along the trail edge. Though there were many healthy saguaros I spotted near the trail with scarring from old wounds. I remember my biology teacher had pointed them out on one of our hikes in Piestewa. He explained this damage is common in areas where people have easy access, inflicting damage via rock throwing or even a shotgun. Luckily wildlife, like the Gila woodpecker, are able to lessen the damage to the large cacti they call home. The native woodpeckers have an antibiotic in their saliva that protects the saguaro from infection and disease.

Pack Rat NestThere was also evidence of other animals within sight of the trail. Pack rats collect odds and ends for their burrows and are pretty easy to spot once you know what to look for. Just keep an eye out for a random assortment of cacti pieces and other dead plant material piled up. Though not credited they were probably the first to figure out a completely green way of keeping their homes cooled by digging underground, burrowing tunnels facing outwards, and keeping things covered with odds and ends they find in the surrounding area. Gila monsters and even larger desert tortoises have been known to drop in unannounced to cool off.  The rats will actually recover the whole unexpected guests make to keep the cold air from escaping their homes. I wouldn’t imagine the homeowners are too happy about visitors seeing as adult tortoises are pretty well sized and a Gila monsters consists mainly of baby mice and quail.

Male LizardLizards are also pretty common while hiking anywhere in Phoenix but I’ve also learned to take a closer look at these guys too. Well, mostly guys anyway. Male lizards are the ones that do the ‘push up’ stance if you get too close. It’s a way for them to show dominance and protect their territory. The males also have coloring one their undersides while the females don’t. The coloring usually comes from what they are eating and plays a huge role in sexual selection. The more colorful you are the better your chances of attracting a mate.

My point is there’s a lot more to our surroundings than meets the eye and being mindful while hiking can lead to some pretty exciting observations. Keeping an eye out for native plant and wildlife may take a little longer but it’s definitely worth it. I hope to eventually spot a Gila monster one of these days.

What a Teese!

Teese Variety PackI really enjoy getting emails from Spencer’s Market because unlike the Groupon and other mailing lists I don’t have to sift through the majority of deals that are definitely not vegan. There are a large variety of food products they email out and many of them I have never heard of before. What I like most about getting all of these ideas straight to my inbox is the creative weekends I spend in the kitchen trying to mimic the foods that intrigue me the most. Sometimes, I even end up with something  that actually works!

Vegan Mac and Creamy Cheddar TeeseAnyway, though I don’t usually order anything, when I see something that is a good deal and that will liven up my cooking and baking a bit I go for it. When I saw the variety pack of a vegan cheese brand I hadn’t tried before I figured it was worth a shot. For thirteen bucks I got to try a 10 oz. package of Nacho, Mozzarella, Cheddar and Creamy Cheddar vegan cheese. I was surprised that the package arrived with no cold packs and googled Teese to make sure it was safe to consume. No worries, it definitely is and the way they make and package it makes for a long shelf life that doesn’t require refrigeration until it’s opened.

That night I whipped up a batch of vegan Mac and Cheese to try out the Creamy Cheddar. I cut the cheese, in the sense that I added in a 1/2 cup of unsweetened coconut milk and a tablespoon of Earth balance. The sauce was pretty good and I actually it can go without the milk next time. The Teese is definitely different than the Daiya version though. I refrigerated the Mozzarella so I could shred it for pizza and it didn’t really melt as much as it got ‘poofy.’ So, it depends what you’re using it for and what textures you enjoy. Each flavor of cheese seems to have its own consistency so it should be fun experimenting with adding them to different recipes.

Hiking Humphrey’s Peak

Hiking Humphrey'sA last minute trip I took before the semester was Humphrey’s Peak in Flagstaff, Arizona. My girlfriend and I were drawn in by the 360 degree view from the top and of course an escape from the record breaking heat we were getting in Phoenix. The view comes at a price, a 3,333 foot elevation gain over less than five miles.

Grouse on a logI do have to admit I wasn’t in the greatest shape where as Kam had been logging miles regularly. The first couple of miles were tough; between my fitness level and my asthma I was breathing pretty hard. A good distraction was the grouse we ran into about halfway up, I was surprised at how big they were! We stopped for a snack at a rock slide that went halfway down the side of the mountain.

Pesky SquirrelThere was a squirrel eying my Lara Bar, I kept having to scare it off because it was getting uncomfortably close. Once we got up past the tree line it got a lot easier and the walk along ridge wasn’t too bad. Watch your step though, there are lots of loose rocks and it’s easy to slip.Kam enjoying the view

The view from Humphrey’s Peak is absolutely amazing. Be sure to watch the skyline, we were due for a storm and up that high it would be dangerous to get caught in one. I felt like you could see forever and having the clouds so close to eye level was an awesome sight.Top of Humphrey's Peak

We wanted to stay longer but the rain clouds were creeping their way from Snow Bowl up the mountain. It started sprinkling our way back down the ridge. Luckily it didn’t start down pouring until we hit the treeline. Unlike Kam I’d left my rain gear at home and was really regretting it. The trees provided a decent amount of cover and the farther in we got the drier it became.
Rain on Snow Bowl

It was amazing to me how much difference a few hour drive North from Phoenix made. The air was a lot cooler and we were in a full on forest packed with trees. The shaded hike was definitely a nice change of pace from the 115 degree Sonoran desert we’d been hiking in.

Stir Fry Tofu Cabbage Wraps

Stir Fry Tofu Cabbage WrapsThe past few months I’ve been trying to keep local with my produce and it’s led to some majorly delicious dishes. Cooking seasonal veggies definitely forces you to think outside the box. These Stir Fry Tofu Wraps are a great example of how forced creativity leads to some pretty tasty things. Especially when it involves fresh cabbage, one of my all time favorite veggies. If you haven’t tried local produce I’d encourage you to give it a shot. The veggies taste a lot better and last way longer than the store bought ones.

Stir Fry Tofu Cabbage Wraps

What You Need (feeds 2)
3 garlic cloves minced
1/2 cup onion chopped
6 ounces of xtra firm tofu
1 cup of shredded cabbage
1 ear of corn, kernels cut off
1 tablespoon soy sauce (or amino bragg/tamari)
1/8 teaspoon of salt & pepper, thyme and sage
4 tortillas

What You Do
1. Heat up a skillet and add 1 teaspoon of olive oil.
2. After the olive oil has heated up on low heat, add in garlic and onion. Cook on low for about 60 seconds or until starts to brown.
3.  Add in soy sauce. Crumble and add in the tofu. Let cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Throw in the shredded cabbage and let cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Add in corn and let cook for another 2 minutes, stir in salt, pepper, thyme and sage.
6. Remove from heat. Let cool for a few minutes.
7. Prep the wraps, spreading on a little vegenaise and sprouts.
8. Add in skillet mix, fold and enjoy!

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