May 2: Vegetable stir-fry and updates

Well, I’m alive. It’s been so hectic, and not having internet at home makes it challenging to blog regularly. But all of that will change soon. So last I wrote it was Lent (where I was a vegetarian for 40 days and 40 nights, plus weekends) and I was an ice skating queen. I’ll start with ice skating. I finished my 10 weeks of group lessons April 14. I almost cried because it will be the last time I skate for awhile. The ice skating rink is located on the university campus where I work, and group lessons will not start again until June. I have several conferences I plan to attend, and with preparing to move to D.C. (via Georgia), ice skating is just on hold. I learned and became proficient in ice skating in 10 weeks. I can snow plow stop on my right leg (I do not hold my breath for learning on my left leg lol), swizzle forward, do one legged-glides on both legs, skate backwards (though not very well yet), and crossover with both legs. Not bad for someone who never donned ice skates before in her life!

The other update relates to the stir fry. I gave up meat (including fish) for Lent this year. It was a bit traumatic after the initial excitement wore off. I mean, what “sacrifice” should be fun and enjoyable, right? Other than the recipes I blogged about, I didn’t really try many new vegetarian dishes. After Lent, I started eating meat again, though I came to enjoy being vegetarian. It’s a learning curve creating new dishes or figuring out how to make favorite meals meatless. I even told my friends on Facebook that I would start having “Meat Mondays” instead of “Meatless Mondays”. Well, that didn’t last long. Not one to waste food willingly, I felt obligated to eat the frozen meat I had in my freezer, which was mostly chicken. Shortly after Easter, I bought some chicken stir fry with General Tso’s sauce from one of the dining facilities on campus. I was able to select raw vegetables from a veggie bar, choose oil or broth to cook the vegetables, a meat of my choice, rice or noodles, and a sauce. I watched the chef prepare my meal and thought, “That looks easy enough”. As with nearly all food made on campus, the stir fry was pretty much amazing. So, in April I began experimenting with stir fry dishes that I can cook without a wok.

The first attempt, I poached chicken tenders (poaching helps the chicken retain moisture) and used frozen stir fry vegetables. The poached chicken stock was used to cook the vegetables. I bought a bottle of General Tso’s sauce from Kroger. I haven’t cooked rice in over a year, preferring quinoa instead, so I used some whole wheat spaghetti noodles instead of rice. The meal was decent. The sauce had a nice amount of heat to it, which I enjoyed. I don’t like sweet General Tso’s; I might as well use sweet and sour sauce. Frozen stir fry vegetables are a no no.

Second attempt, I repeated the experiment (can you tell I’m a chemist? lol) with fresh vegetables: green beans, strips of red bell pepper, carrots cut into bite size match sticks, and bean sprouts. Love bean sprouts. In my pantry, I found some teryaki sauce that I had good experience with in the past. And I thawed out some grouper fillets. I cooked even more noodles because I knew all that I needed was fresh vegetables to take the meal up to restaurant quality. If only that was the solution.

I attempted to find lo mein noodles in Kroger because the spaghetti, while an acceptable substitute, was still spaghetti. And mentally, what I normally use to make Italian cuisine mixed in with Chinese cuisine just bothered me. After all, I wouldn’t eat stir fry with, say penne noodles. Well, with teryaki, noodle choice makes a huge difference. It tasted like spaghetti with teryaki sauce (yuck is right), and to make matters worse, I overcooked my vegetables *sigh*. I really tried to eat it. But I had to toss out that disaster last night so I could use the pot for my third attempt.

I gave up on spaghetti noodles and bought a bag of jasmine rice. I prepared as directed, though I added currants. In a large saucepan, I heated one-quarter cup of chicken broth until it started to boil. That morning, when I was up way too early for my own good, I prepared fresh vegetables (sweet yellow onion, green beans, red pepper strips, and carrot matchsticks). So, when the broth began to boil, I tossed the vegetables (~4.5 cups) into the hot pan. Unfortunately, one-quarter cup was not enough liquid. During experiment #2 I used one cup of broth; the vegetables released a lot of water, so I ended up with too much liquid. Apparently one-half cup of broth is the magic number. At any rate, I stirred the vegetables continuously until the carrots were just tender. I did not add any sauce to the pot, instead I just add sauce before eating.

The verdict is that I have a triple; not quite a home run. The jasmine rice with currants is definitely a keeper. The blend of vegetables is definitely a keeper. I bought a handful of bean sprouts, but i forgot to add them. I’ll saute them up tonight and dump them in with the leftovers. Anywhoo, so how did I miss the home run? I need to add the different vegetables at different times. The carrots were perfect, but the onions were caramelized and the green beans where extra crispy, though a beautiful green color lol. It’s not anything to complain about since I’m the only one eating what I cook these days. I just wanted my third at bat to be a home run *shrug*. The taste was spectacular. Everything tasted so fresh. I had a variety of colors to appeal to my visual sense. The seasoned broth added great flavor to the vegetables. And there was no meat in sight.

I decided a few days ago that I am going to become a pescatarian. Ever since I began eating meat again last month, I have not felt well. It’s really hard to describe. I feel lethargic. I just feel blah. And I didn’t even notice that I felt better during Lent. It wasn’t until I asked myself what is different now that a month ago that it occurred to me: it’s the meat silly. So, I will try to find a home for the last package of frozen chicken breasts. I have a small package of stew beef that  I will use to make this awesome Moroccan-inspired beef stew (which is why I have currants) before the weather heats up too much. I do not intend to consume much fish (nasty toxic metals). On the rare occasion I want poultry or beef, it will come from animals that were fed a proper diet and treated well. I am hopeful for a future consuming more fresh vegetables and less meat.

March 11: Ice Skating (update)

It’s been seven weeks since I last went to public ice skating. I have taken 6 group lessons and signed up for the next session that includes 5 lessons. Two weeks ago I learned how to snowplow stop, so I felt confident that I would not be a danger to anyone on the ice. In the local community coupon book, the ice center had a buy one get one free admission coupon. I invited my friend Brittany (who introduced me to the wonder world of ice skating!) to accompany me to my first public skate since I began my lessons.

As it turned out, Brittany did not know how to stop! So, it was a good feeling to be able to show her my new skills considering she picked me up off the ice a few times several weeks ago lol. I won’t begrudge that she picked up snowplow stops much better than I did! The ice was not crowded, so it was good to just skate and have fun. We skated for 50 minutes non-stop before heading home. My legs were like jelly, so I knew it was time to end the adventure, though my mind wanted to keep skating.

Ice skating is SO much fun! I have already found an indoor rink in Virginia, so if I decide to continue lessons once I move, I have a place. I am in the process of learning to skate backwards, so hopefully in the next 5 weeks I will learn to do crossovers with both feet, snowplow stop with my left leg, and skate backwards. Thanks to ice skating my lower body is nicely toned. When I fell off the fitness wagon, ice skating was great cardio. I want to live in ice skates lol. My lessons are the highlight of my week! I regret not looking into ice skating lessons as soon as I started my job 18 months ago. I’ve made such amazing progress in 7 weeks, imagine what I would be able to do with more than a year’s worth of experience! Oh well. I won’t make that mistake with kayaking. In fact, I already found a company that offers kayaking lessons and  trips, and wait for it: stand-up paddleboarding! omg, bye bye gym membership!

January 27: Ice Skating Lesson 1 (falling, marching, and swizzling)

I am just returning from my very first ice skating lesson! It is only the second time in my entire life I’ve been in ice skates. I opted for hockey skates again this time until my balance improves a bit more. Six women of all ages comprise the Friday morning group. Two graceful seniors actually ice dance competitively, one woman ice skates competitively, two women wanted to practice some advanced skill, and the fifth woman is an advanced beginner. Then there is me: the total newbie.

The first 5 minutes of the lesson were spent warming up. Cassie, our guide provided individual guidance as we skated around two-thirds of the rink (the other third was occupied by tots learning to skate). I was instructed on how to properly fall. So, on my butt isn’t best because I could damage my tailbone. Makes sense. So, if I’m falling backwards, I first lean forward, open my arms and hug myself, tuck my chin into my chest, crouch into a ball, and fall to one side. Yeah, that felt way better than when I fell on my knees and my butt. I also learned how to rise from a fall: roll onto all fours, place one foot on the ice followed by the second foot while keeping your hands, then stand tall. Fear of falling gone!

After about 5 more minutes of warming up, Cassie instructed me to march in place to learn how to pick up my feet from the ice when I skate. I found a close spot to the wall and held onto it with one hand as I marched in skates for the first time. It’s a much more difficult to march in ice skates than it sounds! I moved away from the wall and eventually began lifting my back leg as I pushed off. I felt awkward at first, but I learned how to properly balance on one foot.

Apparently I was doing so well, that I was able to learn my first skill on my first day: the swizzle. Basically, I roll onto the outside blade as I move my feet out from under my hips and then roll onto the inside blade as I pull my feet back under my hips. It’s like making a football shape with my feet. I can’t yet swizzle and maintain any reasonable momentum, so I did three swizzles on each straightaway before returned to skating.

The magic moment came when I watched one of the ice dancers skate in front of me. She actually glided. She pushed off, glided, then pushed off the the opposite foot. Wow! I really was able to gain speed because gliding helped me find a rhythm. I was able to incorporate about three good glides before I came to a curve and had to spend some time finding my rhythm again. I guess tackling the corners is what I will work on in my second lesson.

By body is tired. Ice skating is a total body exercise! My arms actually hurt. It reminds be of ballet where the isometric arm work is deceptively effective. I’m really proud of myself that I’m learning to ice skate. I received lots of compliments on my improvement, and it was really good to hear coming from skilled ice skaters. I likely won’t be a graceful skater after six lessons, but I at least hope to be rhythmic with my skating. I will go skate one day after work next week to gain some practice.

January 20: Ice skating

Georgia born and Georgia raised, the closest I ever came to ice skating growing up was watching figure skating competitions on television. I had a childhood dream of being a figure skater, but I was more tomboyish than graceful dancer. I think I just wanted to compete for an Olympic medal. Anywhoo, living in a college town that has an NCAA championship hockey team, I figured I might as well give ice skating a shot since we have a rink on the campus where I work.

My friend, Brittany, texted me to invite me to “Midnight Skate”, which is held a few times a semester for the students. It’s $2 and includes skate rental. She kindly reminded me that ice skating was one of the things I said I wanted to try. I mean, how can I flake out after that?

Dressed in street clothes, my light but very warm running jacket, a hat, and gloves, I walked into the ice rink. There was a mat with right-foot prints to see what size skates you would need. The snugger the better, particularly around the ankles. I paid my two dollars, and traded my running shoes for a size 7 ladies hockey skates, and laced up. Hockey skates are apparently easier to learn to skate in than regular skates. I’m not really sure why, but I suspect the rigidness of the skates helps stabilize the foot and ankle, which I soon learned was crucial.

Standing and walking in skates is very similar to walking in high heels. It’s surprisingly easy, if not awkward initially. We arrived at the beginning of free skate, so it was not very crowded. That was a relief. I stepped on the ice, and Brittany’s first piece of advice was about posture. Stand straight and resist the urge to lean forward. I guess I thought I was going to be like Bruce Jenner out the gate lol.

Fear of falling and hurting myself filled my mind, but Brittany was a very good coach and told me not to worry and to balance on her. The first lap seemed like the longest. I stared straight ahead and didn’t pay attention to the skaters going past me. Evidently, ice skating etiquette says that the better skaters should avoid the less experienced skaters. And for the most part, people were mindful of that.

After three laps, I was balancing on my own and a wee bit faster. I was ready to squat a few millimeters to relieve some of the pressure on my knees and better stabilize my ankles. My balance continually drifted forward, so I was constantly correcting my posture. And the counter-intuitive advice makes all the difference in the world. Once I was comfortable with the micro-squat, I learned how to push off by turning the right foot out slightly then the left foot and alternating. Once I was able to put all the pieces together, I gained confidence and picked up speed.

The ice had started to become choppy on the straightaways and the teeth on the front of the blades was starting to catch. I caught one time and took a nasty tumble forward. I didn’t break anything, but I was a little bruised. Brittany and Jordan helped me up, because I was hopeless in that department, and dusted the ice off my clothes. Off I went. I fell once more, this time semi-backwards. Falling backwards on your butt is best. After the second fall, I took a break because I wasn’t comfortable enough with skating on the choppy parts.

The Zamboni cleaned the ice about an hour into free skate. I waited until the ice was carved a bit before going back out. We had  to skate the opposite direction which was harder for me. I loved skating on clean ice, though. The last 20 minutes before we left, I was skating on my own. Evidently, I improved pretty well for a first-timer. I’ve signed up for group lessons that meet weekly on Fridays for 45 minutes. SoOooO excited!

Ice skating is a great workout. I worked up a sweat just learning how to skate, so I can’t imagine the workout once I actually can skate well. My abdominal muscles and weird parts of my thighs and butt hurt Saturday morning, but it was totally worth it. In six weeks, I should be able to keep up during free skate and fall gracefully. I’m looking forward to continuing to skate outdoors on the Mall once I move to D.C.

Bottom line: Learning to skate was the best $2 I’ve spent in a long time, and I enjoyed myself so much that I’m taking weekly skating lessons for the next six weeks.