Friday, August 21, 2015

Pumpkin Waffles

"But guys, the plague of pumpkin and pumpkin spice everything hasn't even started yet!  Don't you want to wait until our nostrils and taste buds are assaulted by pumpkin spice Doritos, tampons, and toothpaste?!"  Ummm, how 'bout no.  Ubiquity breeds contempt, and in the fall, nothing is more contemptuous than the siege of pumpkin spice commodities that have NO RIGHT BEING PUMPKIN WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?  At any other time of year though, load me up, mofo.  These have an amazing crispy outside and a creamy pie-like inside, good with or without syrup.  To make them non dairy-free (dairy filled? pro-dairy?  legend-dairy?), just replace soy milk with regular.  Hypothetically could also be pancakes, though may rip a hole in the space-time continuum.  You have been warned.

Pumpkin Waffles

Makes 4 servings (1 waffle) at 315 calories / 15 g fat / 40 g carbohydrates / 6 g protein

Wet Ingredients
3/4 cup soy milk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 sugar or maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
Dry Ingredients
1 cup flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves

  • Start by pouring your milk substitute into a measuring cup. Add the apple cider vinegar to the milk and let it sit a minute. This adds a more buttermilk taste and interacts with the baking powder to give the lift you are missing from no eggs. Don't worry it won't taste like vinegar.

  • The next part couldn't be easier, plop in the flour first and the put all the dry ingredients after. Separate bowls and sifting is for people who don't have a stack of tumblr to read or daily quests to burn through.

  • Mix up the ingredients with a whisk. Avoid going at it like Ryu on a compact car, just enough to get it smooth, one or two times past just incorporated. You'll get something a little thicker than your standard batter. 
  • Waffle makers differ in how they cook, so follow your specific instructions/experience, but there are a few universal truths (no, no not the kind from the Church of Universal Truth). Give your iron plenty of time to heat up, use a generous amount of cooking spray on all the inside surfaces, then pour the batter in a gentle circle around the center of the iron. After that, press the iron down and let it cook without messing with it. 

  • How long do you cook it? If you have an expensive maker it will probably tell you with temperature sensing technology and on-board emf detectors when your waffle is done to precise crispness. If you're like me you have the thrift store model that's seen three generations of service. The best indicator, other than trial and error, is that the waffle is usually done enough when the wispy phantasmal steam has been fully exorcised from the interior. I was the old priest, Munchkin was the young priest.
  • Plate the waffles and try not to eat the first one before you have cooked the others. 

Vegan Superpowers 

There is some debate as to whether granulated sugar is truly vegan as some companies use bone char in the refining process. If you'd like to avoid that in your diet you can substitute maple syrup.

From a more general health standpoint you can improve the recipe by buying organic canned pumpkin to avoid problematic BPA interior can linings--I doubt you will gain much in terms of pesticide reduction. You can also cut the oil out of the batter and reduce the sugar at the cost of floppier waffle (you nearly halve the calories and almost all the fat), but I'd keep the spray on the waffle iron unless you want a catastrophe on a Battle of the Blackwater scale.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Eowyn Challenge

One does not simply walk to Mordor...

So of course, I have decided to run there instead!

Photo by Themeplus
 The Eowyn Challenge by Karen Wynn Fonstad is a distance challenge where you retrace the steps of Frodo and Sam, along with the rest of the fellowship, from Hobbiton to Mt. Doom. It has been a number of years since the huge surge of popularity of the movie trilogy, but I've always loved the travel descriptions from Tolkien's novels.

A goal is a great way to keep up an exercise program and not put off workouts. With my first marathon a little over six weeks away, I know I'll need something to keep me going afterwards. A great way to hold yourself to a plan is to make yourself accountable to others, so I am planning to keep updating on our twitter (@RedHealthPotion) as I progress along Frodo's path. I'll also toss in a few tips on endurance running that I have picked up progressing from couch to recreational runner. 

The first leg of the trip is to journey from Bag End to Rivendell, so stay tuned for hairy-footed hijinks!

Photo by Rob Chandler

Monday, August 17, 2015

Inventory Item: Habit RPG

What is it?

Anyone remember playing those old 8-bit pixel video games and wishing they were real?  That's what Habit RPG is.  Only instead of quests like obtain and fly a zeppelin or kill the dragon plaguing the village of nosy loiterers, its cleaning up the dish monster of Washed-Up Lake.  I know, it sounds dumb, but bear with me.

First, you create a customized 8-bit avatar.  Then, by creating a to-do list and daily tasks and completing them, you get in-game money, experience, equipment, and pets.  You can join guilds and parties to take on quests for extra prizes.  You can also set up real life rewards to work towards in the game.  

I expected to try this out once for nostalgia's sake and never pick it up again.  The tongue-and-cheek humor and adorable graphics have kept me using it for everything from tracking healthy habits to managing chores.  We even started our own party, the Jaegermonsters (cause ve have nize hatz, ja?).  Habit RPG is available as a browser game, iOS App, and Android App

Why does it work?

Habit RPG is based on the same behavior principles that make video games so addictive: continuous, variable positive reinforcement.

Remember how people complained about how Diablo 3 was basically a pinata disguised as a video game?  You basically hit things with sticks to get pretties to fall out?  Did that stop you from playing it? Me either.   

This is because Habit RPG and Diablo 3 both give players randomized rewards for doing something, known in the behavior business as  variable positive reinforcement.

Experimental trials have shown that this is the most powerful way to get someone to do something.  So, if you find yourself spending hours ordering your Sims to do housewhork while your own dishes sit rotting in the sink day after day, Habit RPG may be for you.

BREAKING NEWS: Habit RPG just rebranded to Habitica, new name, same great app!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Strawberry Shortcake

Its summer, strawberries are cheap, and strawberry short cakes are NOM.  We made this recipe lactose free, but if you don't give a hoot about that just replace the coconut cream with heavy whipping cream.  And if you can't find coconuts hand picked by virgin Olympic gymnasts by the light of the summer solstice moon and hand whipped by your personal retinue of back-biting and scheming Downton Abbey-esque servants, store bought is fine.

Strawberry Shortcake

Makes 6 servings at 525 calories / 27 g fat / 60 g carbohydrates / 9 g protein

Strawberry Filling
1 lb strawberries, quartered
2 tbsp granulated sugar

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 can (14 fl. oz.) coconut cream or coconut milk (not light)

Coconut Whipped Cream
1 can (14 fl. oz.) coconut cream or coconut milk (not light)
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

  • Stick one can of coconut cream or milk in the fridge the night before. If you forget, like me, stick it in the freezer for an hour (don't let it explode though).
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • Wash, trim, and quarter the strawberries, combine with the sugar and stir vigorously. Slip it in the fridge till ready to serve. At the end of the recipe this will develop a syrup.

  • In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the room temperature coconut cream until it just combines. You want the dough to be a little lumpy- don't over mix.

  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, divide the dough into six parts, and scoop into roughly circular lumps. Put the sheet in the preheated oven and cook until golden brown, about 16 minutes.

  • While that cooks, open up the cold coconut cream can, scooping the solidified cream on the top into a bowl, discard any clear liquid on the bottom. Add the confectioner's sugar and vanilla extract, and beat with a whisk forever or on low with a hand mixer for around 4 minutes. It needs less time than whipped cream, if you've made that before. Stick this in the fridge till you're ready to assemble the dish, if it stays cold it will keep its shape for a week or so.

  • Remove the shortcake when they are done, and let them cool for about 10 minutes. Cut them in half with a serrated bread knife. Place a scoop of the strawberry filling on the bottom half, put about two heaping spoonfuls of the coconut cream on the filling, place the top half over that and top with more filling. Sneak a taste of cream that you accidentally spill on the counter.

Om nom nom nom!

Vegan Superpowers 

There is some debate as to whether granulated sugar is truly vegan as some companies use bone char in the refining process. If you'd like to avoid that in your diet you can make a few substitutions. You can use raw whole cane sugar or a similar organic sugar (check the package) with good results in the strawberry filling and the shortcake. For the coconut whipped cream I would recommend a thick syrup, like agave or maple syrup, and add a 1/4 tsp of cornstarch.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Inventory Item: Zombies Run: Couch to 5K and Season 4

Zombies, Run! from Six to Start was, in many ways, my gateway into health, and my experience with it is part of why I created this blog. Zombies, Run! is a run tracking program as it's core--a stripped down version of Nike+, Runkeeper, Strava, etc. On top of this basic feature you have two elements that make this a game. The first element is a sim-like mini game where you use the fruits of your exercise to put together a base and keep it from falling apart. The second element is that while you work out you are able to set up a playlist of music you love which is then shuffled between an evolving audio drama where you are the protagonist.

So how are the basic features, the stuff you need to actually get out and run? The app separates it's audio drama into seasons. I've been using the app since it first released and way back then it had a fair number of bugs. Now in the fourth season the game represents a massive amount of content and polish. In its current incarnation, the running features are the weakest point. To be clear it works very well at what it does, but is missing the frills of dedicated apps. We don't really have bluetooth connectivity for heart rate monitors or fitbit. There is an interval training workout, but this is a side feature and can't be used with the main plot line. Accuracy of the GPS, detail in the map, number of crashes, and flexibility of use with other apps has improved massively and I expect the last few bugs will be squished.

The base mini game uses the same kind of mechanics that has launched a thousand freemium games on the apple store--you gain resources from running and use these to make a bigger base. The bigger your base gets the cooler it looks and the more buildings you need to build to keep it up. If you wait too long between runs then the zombies will assault your base and start breaking things. This is a big draw for certain kinds of gamers, and gives the player another cue to go out and run. Just to clarify, it has a check-this-occasionally turn-based strategy feel as opposed to an arcade zombie blasting feel.

The best part of this game is hands-down the audio drama part of the game. The characters draw you into a narrative of your character being shot down in a zombie post-apocalyptic world and has to find a place in a small community. The people of Abel township are brought alive with excellent voice acting. Tensions are high right out of the gate (literally) as your efforts are the key to helping this community survive. The recent addition of "next time on Zombies, Run..." and recap features cement the urge to do another episode, worthy of a certain cable dramatic TV series. Snippets of the unfolding plot and weaved between your music, just around when you'd be getting bored. You can even elect to do zombie chases, where you have to up to pace in order to keep ahead of the moaning dead.

Overall, this app has a cocktail of features that are surprisingly addictive. That's good because the only way to access them is to get out and run. If you are living a sedentary life and looking to start running, its going to be really unpleasant to run, possibly for a long time. When I was pushing 270 pounds it was torturous at first, then it got easier by inches as the weeks went by. This app is great for giving you the slightest push to come back the next day and run, even when it's much easier not to. If I skipped a day, as silly as it sounds, I was worried about the people of Abel and knew I needed to get supplies before the next zombie attack. For me Zombies, Run! was an important part of my success in learning to run.

Though now I tend to use running apps with more features for workouts and heart rate monitoring, I still come back to this one on my easier runs. For 90% of runners, and 99% of runners going out primarily to lose weight, Zombies, Run! is a fantastic choice.

If you are interested in this application, there are two versions that you might consider:

Zombies, Run! 5K training is a good choice for a first-time runner. It doesn't have the base mini-game, but the running app and audio portions are identical. This takes you through some back story to the main game while following a plan to get you up to completing a 5K race from no experience. It does a few interesting things like getting you to play with pacing and stretches.

Zombies, Run! is the full app, and is currently free with an option to unlock all content for a subscription price. It will let you unlock one episode a week without the premium price, and you can run generic missions while you wait. This is a little slow, but there is enough content to keep you going, and there are hundreds of episodes now.