Getting Used to Autumn Running Again

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I love running outside in the summer, with the heat bearing down like thick molasses and sweat making my skin shine. There’s something about a blistering sun overhead and the smell of sunblock slathered all over my face that says freedom like nothing else. I also like winter running, bundled in extra socks, a hoodie, ear warmers, and mittens, when I sweat through all my layers as though it were summer again. Running during spring or autumn, especially autumn, is a much greater struggle.

Parkway in fall

Yesterday I went on a two-mile run along the parkway near my house. I started out strong, wearing a sweat-wicking turtle neck and long pants, carrying a cold bottle of water. The temperature hovered around 59 F, and the wind shook leaves down from the trees. About half a mile in, I was already huffing, despite keeping a slower pace than usual! The crisp air burned my lungs and I had to stop at the end of the first mile to stretch and regain my breath and take the above photo.

The return mile felt just as hard, with my legs stiff beneath me and the wind whipping around my head. I couldn’t decide whether I felt too hot or too cold. My Nike+ app showed my pace getting slower and slower, and I started to wonder why I had bothered to even come out and run at all. Oh yeah, because I’m planning to run a Halloween-themed 5K this Saturday and wanted to get in one last run before taking it easy for the rest of the week.

I don’t expect to set any PRs at the race, and I’ve decided I’m okay with that. I’m still getting used to the change in weather and I don’t want to push my body into injury. So, wind or no wind, chill or no chill, I will not worry about my pace or my time, but will focus on having fun and with friends, family, and my running community.

Restaurant Review: Corfu Grill

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Lately, Todd and I only go out to eat on Thursdays before my class at St. John’s University in Queens, and usually we just get something light and quick. But yesterday we decided to try out Corfu Grill, a casual Greek restaurant in Forest Hills that came highly recommended. I hadn’t originally planned to blog about it, so I didn’t bring my “real” camera with me, but the food tasted so good that I knew I just had to share this hidden gem. (I apologize in advance for the low-quality phone photos.)

The menu started with hot and cold appetizers, including feta and olives, hummus and pita, spinach pie, cheese pie, grilled octopus, Greek pizza, and chicken kebab sticks, among many other options. It also offered soups, salads, burgers, and sandwiches. Though the gyro sandwich and the veggie sandwich both sounded appetizing, Todd and I decided to go with full plates, which came with a Greek salad, tzatziki sauce and pita bread, lemon potatoes, rice, and lima beans. Todd got the Greek lasagna ($16) and I went with the pork souvlaki ($15). For pretty reasonable prices, we got more food than we could even eat!

Greek salad, Corfu Grill

We started off with the Greek salad, which featured kalamata olives (though I had been hoping for black olives), cubes of feta cheese, tomatoes wedges, crisp lettuce, and a tangy dressing. It was accompanied by triangles of pita and paprika-topped tzatziki sauce. The tzatziki sauce could have been a little creamier, but the cucumber and yogurt flavors were evenly balanced and perfectly cool and refreshing.

Pita and Tzatziki Sauce, Corfu Grill

I was already starting to feel a little full, so my jaw dropped when I saw the sheer amount of food on the entree plate. The lemon potatoes had just the right amount of zest and they nearly melted in your mouth with each bite. The lima beans and the rice worked perfectly together. The pork boasted a crunchy outside and a tender inside, and it tasted especially good when dipped in the tzatziki sauce.

Pork Souvlaki, Corfu Grill

All in all, I really enjoyed this meal, and I definitely plan to visit Corfu grill again. Maybe next time I’ll go with a larger group of people so that we can get some appetizers or dessert as well.

Photo Post

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Some pretty big life developments are in the works right now that I truly hope to get the chance to share with you soon. For now, because I don’t have a ton of time but don’t want to forget about posting on this blog, I thought I would do a short, fun photo post to give you a glimpse into my weekend. And I’m already looking forward to the upcoming weekend because I’m going apple picking! Hopefully that will lead to some great recipes I can share.

Last week, I dyed my hair an auburn color. I’ve previously had several different hair colors, but this might be my favorite so far:
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On Friday, I trekked out to Brooklyn after work to see Todd’s band, Friday’s Nightmare, play a show at The Knitting Factory. Before the show, we ate at the Meatball Shop, which was delicious. I had bratwurst balls with classic tomato sauce and a side of lemon-olive Swiss chard:

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Here’s a picture of the band performing:

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Good thing I ran 4.5 miles on Sunday, because the day before that, I stuffed my face with tuxedo cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory. I think I’ve had enough cheesecake now to last me the next six months:

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We were celebrating my parents’ wedding anniversary. Aren’t they just adorable? Still so in love:

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Book Review: MaddAddam

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I often myself so obsessed with an author that I hungrily read every work that author has written, looking for similarities and differences. I read Ernest Hemingway’s books in the order he wrote them. With others, like Ted Conover and Tim O’Brien, I started in the middle and branched out. Others I’m still working on: Haruki Murakami, Sarah Addison Allen, and Margaret Atwood, to name a few.

Which brings me to MaddAddam, the last installment in Atwood’s postapocalyptic trilogy of the same name. I’ve long considered the first book of the series, Oryx and Crake, as one of my top five favorite books of all time. It tosses the reader into a confusing world of genetic manipulation and dystopian horror, yet still manages to tell the poignant, heartbreaking tale of one of the last humans left on earth.

Unfortunately, MaddAddam fails to rank on my top five list—in fact, it doesn’t even come close. Although it continues the storyline developed in the trilogy’s first and second books, focusing on a group of human survivors who must coexist with and protect a bio-engineered humanoid species called the Crakers, the characters rang flat and failed to keep my interest. I continually confused several of them and felt disappointed that previously strong female characters devolved into weepy lovesickness, fugue states, and unabashed lust. I had been excited to hear that the creative protagonist of Oryx and Crake was making a reappearance, but I soon realized that he would have no real bearing on the story, nor would he ever return to the character that readers knew and loved.

To make matters worse, I really found myself flipping past pages every time the story devolved into reminiscence and backstory. Although this loosely (and too coincidentally) connected characters together, it made the book feel like a tour through the past, with the present just humming along tediously while it waited for us to catch up. With a slow pace that felt more like picking a scab than unraveling a well-wrapped gift, MaddAddam failed to deliver the characters, plot, or prose that I fell in love with in Oryx and Crake.

One recent development is that the MaddAddam trilogy will be developed into a television show for HBO, directed by Darren Aronofsky, who also directed Black Swan and Noah. Atwood herself will be a consulting producer on the show. In a recent interview, she quipped, “I think my role as a consultant is to stay alive until they finish it, so I can actually see it!” Even though I probably wouldn’t recommend reading MaddAddam (and probably not even the second book, Year of the Flood), I’m interested to see how Atwood’s speculative fiction plays out on screen.

Learning Yoga: Child’s Pose

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Sometimes I really appreciate the challenge of a strenuous yoga routine and the mental focus that it calls for. But other times, I rely on my home yoga practice to keep me calm, stress free, and sane. In those cases, I love gentle restorative poses like Balasana, or child’s pose. Getting into this fetal position helps stretch your hips, thighs, back, knees, and even arms; however, many instructional sites warn not to perform this pose if you have knee troubles, so make sure to be careful. This pose can be performed on its own, or before or after more difficult poses. Since I still consider myself a beginner yogi, I definitely like to fold into it when I get too tired to hold boat pose or chair pose any longer!

Child's Pose

Everything about child’s pose is delightfully simple, including getting into it. Kneel on the floor with your big toes touching. Sit on your heels and spread your knees. Inhale deeply, feeling the breath move through your torso and into your belly. As you exhale, lay your torso down between your thighs and rest your head on the floor. (If that’s too much of a stretch for you, put a blanket or a block under your forehead—remember, this is supposed to be a relaxing pose!) Rest your hands on the mat alongside your body, palms facing up. Stay here as long as your like, focusing on breathing deeply. If you want to vary the pose slightly, bring your arms out in front of you, palms pressing down on the mat, and lower your torso in between your thighs as you slide forward. Really lengthen your spine and sink into the stretch. This is called Utthita Balasana, or extended child’s pose.

Recipe: Butternut Squash and Mushroom Quesadilla

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I love receiving magazines in the mail and reading them cover to cover, ripping out any tasty recipes, cute craft ideas, or workout regimens. One of my favorite features is the “homemade upgrade” column in Women’s Health magazine, where they put a healthy twist on popular dishes. Sometimes their recipes are a bust, like a cauliflower- and bean-based sauce that supposedly tasted like Alfredo. (I’ll save the calories elsewhere and eat real Alfredo sauce, thank you very much.) But sometimes they are super delicious, like the butternut squash and mushroom quesadilla that Todd and I made last weekend in between browsing furniture stores and wedding venues.

Here’s the recipe, with a couple of minor modifications. (Note that this recipe makes two quesadillas, so if you’re only make one, you might want to halve all of the ingredients.)

Ingredients
~1 tablespoon of coconut oil
~3 cups of crimini mushrooms
~1 sliced onion
~3 cups of butternut squash, sliced into thin cubes
~3 cloves of chopped garlic
~1/2 cup of sun-dried tomatoes
~Ground paprika
~Ground cumin
~Ground turmeric
~Ground black pepper
~1/2 cup of goat cheese
~4 whole wheat tortillas

Onions

Preparation Steps
~Heat 1/2 tablespoon of coconut oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, then sprinkle with paprika and give the onions 5 or 10 minutes to start browning.
~While the onions are cooking, put the butternut squash in a microwave-safe bowl and fill about 1/5 of it with water. Microwave for 5 to 8 minutes, then carefully drain the water out of the bowl.
~Add mushrooms, squash, and tomatoes to the skillet. Sprinkle with cumin, turmeric, and black pepper to taste. I’d probably estimate that we used about 1/2 teaspoon of cumin, 2 teaspoons of turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper.
~Once the mushrooms get soft and the squash starts to break apart when you stir it, spread the goat cheese on all four of the tortillas. I found that a little cheese went a long way, so even if you only use a little, you’ll still get that creamy flavor.
~Spread the filling on top of two tortillas, and place the other two on top of the filling so that it resembles a sandwich.
~Heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of oil in the skillet. Cook each quesadilla for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until as brown and crispy as you like.
~Optional: top with sour cream and guacamole for an extra hint of deliciousness.

Cooking Quesadilla

Going Green: The Changing Nature of Environmental Education

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I’ve only blogged about it indirectly, but I’m pretty big on surrounding ourselves with nature and becoming conscious of today’s many ecological and social problems, including global warming, pollution (both on land and in the oceans), sustainable living, alternative energy, food production and processing, and food labeling. Although I haven’t yet managed to live plastic free (so cool!), I have been trying to use more homegrown produce from my garden, buy locally at the farmer’s market, read environmental news as often as I can, and keep my carbon footprint to a minimum. I do believe that each of us can do a little bit each day to understand and protect the earth—and promoting “green education” in schools seems to be a good way to do that. So I wanted to share a short essay I wrote on the topic for one of the classes I’m taking.

Garden June 2014

My little garden is my first step in learning to live more consciously and to make nature a part of my daily life.

Green education, better known as “environmental education,” has grow since its conception in 1948, when Thomas Pritchard used the phrase to describe a study of the natural and social sciences. It gained momentum in the 1970s, with three international conferences on the topic; the most important resulted in the Tbilisi declaration of 1977, which defined environmental education as a multidisciplinary approach to teaching that should foster collective concern for environmental and ecological issues (Moseley, 2000, p. 23). In 1990, the National Environmental Education Act mandated that the Environmental Protection Agency create an Office of Environmental Education, which offers grants for environmental education projects, training and resources for teachers, and fellowships for students. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Education initiated the Green Ribbon Schools project to reward sustainable schools that promote environmental education in the classroom (Ornstein, 2012, p. 448).

Despite this progress, environmental education came under criticism in the early twenty-first century for its lack of rigor and its tendency to promote activism and idealism, rather than a balanced treatment of environmental issues (Holsman, 2001, p. 4). In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act ignored the concept completely. This sparked the “No Child Left Inside” movement to increase funding for environmental education and promote awareness of ecological issues among students. A federal bill of the same name, which encouraged the inclusion of such topics in elementary and secondary school curricula, arose in the Senate in 2009 but was never passed. A similar bill was proposed in 2013 but has since stalled in committee.

The green education movement first stressed conservation and “environmental consciousness”— a sense of responsibility to protect the planet for future generations (Schoenfeld, 1970, p. 5); however, as education turned increasingly to assessments, environmental studies adopted a more data-driven approach that encourages students to ask questions and develop the critical-thinking skills necessary to find answers (Roth, 2008, p. 212). Environmental education now stresses “environmental literacy,” which refers to a students’ ability to make informed decisions about environment issues (Ornstein, 2012, p. 448). One thing that hasn’t changed is the notion of creating an integrated curriculum that infuses environmental education into “classic” subjects like math, reading, and social studies.

Environmental education today utilizes an activity-centered, experience-based approach and focuses on local issues directly related to students’ lives (Roth, 2008, p. 452). This could take place inside the classroom through direct instruction or cooperative projects, as well as outside the classroom via trips or hands-on activities like planting trees. In New York, Environmental Education Centers, sponsored by the Department of Environmental Conservation, help organize student field trips, educator workshops, and internships. Grassroots organizations like GrowNYC have also emerged as strong proponents of environmental education. For example, GrowNYC organizes classroom visits by farmers and plants sustainable gardens in public schools.

As the call for environmental education continues to grow, there are several important questions to keep in mind: Should environmental education curricula be aligned across the nation? How can students attending inner-city schools get exposed to nature? Most importantly, how can teachers encourage students to care about environment, both locally and globally?

References

Holsman, R. (2001). The politics of environmental education. The Journal of Environmental Education, 32(2), 4–7. Retrieved from http://coekate.murraystate.edu/courses/edu515/Readings/PDF/EEPolitics.pdf

Moseley, C. (2000). Teaching for environmental literacy. The Clearing House, 74(1), 23–24. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30189626

Roth, C. (2008). Conservation education for the 21st century and beyond. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 17(3), 211–216. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41219413

Schoenfeld, C. (1970). Toward a national strategy for environmental education. The Journal of Educational Research, 64(1), 3–11. Retrieved from http://www.jstore.org/stable/27536048