Monday, January 26, 2009

Dominoes and Papa Johns ain't got nothing on me

We had pizza for dinner a couple of nights ago. I decided to use some of my leftover no-knead dough to just make a pie. That pizza was divine. The crust was crisped on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside. The herbed, whole wheat dough had a really nice complex flavor, and mushrooms are always a winner on a pizza if you ask me. The only thing that could have possibly been better is if I had sprinkled some garlic powder on the crust (but alas, we ran out last week). There was a downside (or potentially an upside, depending on how you view it) to the pizza dinner though. The apartment smelled like mushroom pizza for hours. Midnight snack temptations were lingering the air that night.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Sometimes it really sucks being a vegetarian and having an active lifestyle. I have to eat constantly, which unfortunately means either I (or Gen) have to cook constantly. So, we ran out of prepared food by mid-week as usual, forcing me to cook again. My 2.5h cook-a-thon yesterday yielded these fabulous dishes, which will hopefully get us at least through the weekend (when we'll be cooking yet more absurd quantities of food).

Fresh home-baked bread:
I'm really getting the hang of the no-knead bread. These are actually my 3rd and 4th loafs for the week from the original batch of no-knead dough. I was going to buy some clay tiles to put in the oven to simulate a baking stone, but I find that a perforated pizza pan works pretty well too. I get the oven heat baking the bottom crust and a neat dot pattern on the bottom of my bread.

Braised tofu:
Tofu and eggs in a delightful mushroom, black bean sauce with a hint of scallion. Yum, yum, do I sound like a restaurant menu or what? I like this dish because it's tasty, easy to make, rich in protein, and highly calorific (which I really need after a rough workout at the gym).

Spiced tofu stir fry
I found spiced tofu "threads" at the Asian market in town. I don't often cook with this ingredient, but I decided to give it a whirl this week. This dish has spiced tofu noodles with peppers and string beans in a positively delectable bean sauce. We've already put quite a dent into this dish. I don't think it'll make it past today.

Chickpea, red lentil dahl
Gen's usually better with the Indian curries, but this is one of the few dishes that I can make which scales up to large quantities. I also used dried chickpeas this time around (pressure cooked so that I didn't have to cook the dish for ages). I did accidentally use too much water, so the dahl is a little on the thin side; it's more of a chickpea, lentil soup with potatoes and other assorted veggies. Still tasty if not quite as hearty as I originally intended.

Lemon string beans
I had some ingredients to use up, so this is more of an afterthought dish. String beans, carrots and peanuts in a pseudo-Chinese lemon sauce. Very inauthentic (lemon sauce is something invented for the American palate). I think my version of lemon sauce tastes better than the restaurant version. Some fresh squeezed lemon juice and hoisin sauce combined with some fresh ginger and fresh ground black pepper makes for a citrusy, tangy, mildly spicy, and subtly sweet sauce which complements the crisp string beans and fresh carrots.

I also made a red bean (azuki bean) soup for dessert, but I forgot to snap a picture of that. My cooking (unsurprisingly) tends to be very Asian food biased. I find it a bit challenging scaling up the dishes to larger quantities, both because I don't have cookware or cooking appliances big enough to stir fry large quantities and because I just simply can't do that much chopping and food prep. Oh well. It looks like I'm going to have to get used to more casserole style dishes and learning to make the oven my new favorite cooking appliance.

Now that I've documented my cooking, I'm actually starting to get pretty hungry. It's time to eat!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

January habit forming challenges

I've actually been pursuing multiple challenges this month, which is generally not a good idea.  Splitting your attention too many ways and trying to institute too many lifestyle changes at once dramatically lowers your chances of successfully implementing lasting change.  I've justified the multi-goal approach by keeping my goals in separates spheres of my life (and also because some of my goals are inter-related so I necessarily have to pursue more than one at a time).  So, my habit forming goals for this month are/were:

1. Spend more quality time with Gen, and making sure to spend at least 10 minutes of mindful together time at the end of the day. (goal for my personal/home life)

2. Getting in at least 5 minutes of daily martial arts practice. (training goal)

3. Improving my handstand form and static hold time. (strength/conditioning goal)

So far, I've only been lagging on the handstand goal.  My handstand has definitely improved, but I'm not up to a 10s static hold yet or stable kick up into position.  My other goals (and other strength training) has cut into my handstand practice time.

Accidently, I added in a daily 5+ minute meditation goal for this month, but that seems to tie directly into my first two goals.  Gen and I have started a habit of a daily 10 minute meditation together at the end of the day as part of our time spent together.  And then mindfulness practice is a core part of my I-Liq Chuan training.  It was natural to just add that goal in, even if it wasn't initially on the list for this month.

Also, I appear to have already started on my goal of getting to bed earlier.  Gen needs to go to bed earlier these days now that she's teaching again.  If I want to keep up my habit of spending quality time with her at the end of the day, that means I also have to wind down my day earlier.  This earlier bedtime is (I believe) helping my training.  I wake up earlier and can thus get in some extra training time, and I'm getting more rest which is helping my body recover from my workouts faster.  I'm making faster progress on my weighted dips, dragon flags, and front levers than I expected.

It's funny how some of my goals are affecting each other.  It's complicating my 30-day challenge goal setting plans, but it's also fun seeing my goals approach completion faster.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Under Pressure

We've had our pressure cooker for a little over a month now, and so far it's been fabulous. Beans cook super fast (relatively speaking), which makes preparing red (azuki) bean soup or Cuban black beans much less time-consuming. Though lentil soup doesn't take that long to prepare normally, I can obliterate those lentils in the pressure cooker and have a red lentil dahl prepared in no time. If only the pressure cooker magically took care of all the vegetable chopping, I'd be able to free myself of a lot of my cooking duties. I have to say, the one downside to being both a vegetarian and living an active lifestyle is that I have to constantly eat (and consequently, constantly prepare food).

Anyhoo, Gen pointed out a funny misprint in our pressure cooker manual. According to the fine folks at Fagor, we can cook blueberries in our pressure cooker in a mere 10 minutes:

Thanks, Fagor. I never knew that blueberries were a vegetable, and that cooking them in my pressure cooker was even an option. You learn something new everyday. :)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Ok, the unthinkable has happened.  I've been a PC person for ages, and I probably will continue to use Windows in some capacity for the foreseeable future.  But I've taken a plunge.  Some might even argue that I've taken a plunge off the deep end.  I've switched to a Mac.

However, I didn't actually buy myself a Mac.  I bought the operating system and some carefully researched hardware and built myself a "hackintosh."  The system isn't quite as slick looking as a real Mac, but it did cost me a lot less money and runs pretty smoothly.

I used to make fun of Macs for being just a little too user friendly.  In some instances, they are still a little too user friendly.  Sometimes I really do want low level control of all the details.  But I'm finding myself enjoying the computer tinkering less and less these days.  Time is not a commodity of which I have large quantities.  While I like to tinker (it's the nerd engineer in me), more often I just want things to work so I can get stuff done.  Macs in their current incarnation (built on top of a Unix core) give me the famous user friendly Mac experience while still exposing tools that still allow me to poke around and experiment.

What's the experience been like so far in cheery, happy Mac land?  Surprisingly pleasant.  My biggest complaints at the moment are having to re-learn keyboard shortcuts.  The home and end keys behave differently (jump to beginning and end of documents, not just lines).  I have to re-map a lot of CTRL+key combinations to OPTION+key.  But the OS itself is gorgeous, hibernating the OS works a heck of a lot better than Windows, and things (so far) seem to just work.  I'm sure I'll find stupid little things that irk me as I get more familiar with Mac OS X, but so far I like having this fresh start on a new computer.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Shift reality to suit your needs

Picture of George Rousse "Bending Space"

No, I'm not endorsing a delusional denial of reality or questionable interpretations of facts to suit an agenda. Re-interpreting reality is often used as a propaganda tool by those espousing very strong viewpoints. It's quite a nifty trick actually, but ultimately, I'm not referring to anything quite so nefarious.

I was just reminded today of a positive thinking trick: "fake it 'til you make it." It's too easy for us to get frozen into inaction because of fear of failure or misguided belief that we aren't good enough to do something. The simple act of imagining and acting like we're confident and know exactly what we're doing often brings about the desired result. Inertia is the single biggest stumbling block to accomplishing something. To borrow a cliche from a Greek demi-god themed company, to effect change, we need to "just do it."

I wrote a post on my strategies to accomplishing New Year's goals (on one of my other web projects,, and the listed tips are all ones I use to help me achieve my goals. I forgot to add the fake it til you make it tip though. It's one I've been implicitly using but never thought of in those terms before.

Monday, January 5, 2009

30 Day Challenges

Yesterday, I posted my 2009 New Year's resolutions. Today, I thought I'd share some more of my goals for the year. These goals are secondary and goals which I'll be approaching more as 30 day challenges. Why 30 day challenges? Well, I got the idea from Zen Habits. Thirty days is long enough to develop a habit, but short enough that you don't get discouraged from even starting. I've managed to develop a few habits using 30 day challenges: drinking a glass or two of water every morning after I wake up, eating more frequent smaller meals, and doing warmup stretching and qigong exercises first thing in the morning.

So, my 30-day challenge goals for this year are:

1. Go to bed earlier so I can get enough sleep and wake up earlier.
2. Get back into regular Chinese learning (like listening to ChinesePod, learning characters, etc)
3. Read up on anatomy and kinesiology
4. Spend at least 10 minutes a day of mindful quality time with Genevieve
5. Solid 10+ second handstand
6. Front lever static hold

Some of these goals I might pursue simultaneously; I tend to do a fitness goal and regular life goal at the same time since I consider them to be in different spheres of my life. At any rate, I'm sure the list will change (probably get longer) as the year progresses.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Resolutions for 2009

The New Year has past, and it's time again for some resolutions. I was actually pretty successful with my resolutions last year. I smoked the goals of jumping rope for 10 continuous minutes and dropping 1% body fat. I can now jump easily jump rope for over 20 straight minutes at a reasonable 120 turns per minute pace, though I'm usually skipping the rope at a much faster pace. I'm also pretty sure I dropped more than just 1% body fat since I dropped 10+ pounds and my abs started showing up. My bodyfat has been slightly creeping up again since I took a job that seriously ate into my free time, thus making regular exercise and a carefully planned diet much more difficult. However, I'm dropping that job since the job was sucking my will to live out of me, and that's never a good sign. I'll be starting this year with a really clean slate.

So what are my goals for 2009? I have quite a few goals for the new year, but the primary ones are:

1. Having more free time and me time
First and foremost, this year I want more time. My latest job required so many hours that I almost never interacted with my dear wife, my family, and essentially had no opportunities to develop a community of friends after moving to Lancaster. I also had almost no time to take care of myself (eating properly, exercising regularly, and just having down time to recuperate). It's no surprise I was miserable. Research shows that your happiness is closely tied to the quality of your interpersonal relationships and your health. My job was not providing me either of those things, gave me no fulfillment, and actively denied me the things I cared about. I quickly determined that the job simply wasn't worth pursuing any longer.

With more free time, I intend to re-incorporate all the little things that bring me fulfillment: checking in with my family and friends, spending quality time with Gen, my martial arts and fitness training, and stimulating my mind with things like learning Chinese. I know it can sometimes be hard to juggle the personal and working life, but I think I'll have a better handle on it this year. First off, the toxic job is gone. Next, I'm planning on instituting some new lifestyle design elements into my daily life. I've been motivated by reading The Four Hour Work Week, which has gotten me thinking about how I can rearrange my life to have both a successful working life and full personal life.

It'll be an ongoing experiment throughout the year redesigning my daily habits to fit my desired lifestyle. I've already tried a few things that I think will become permanent. I've dropped my random surfing. I now try to use the internet with more purpose and save the online leisurely pondering to for a select few blogs/sites/forums. That also means I'm viciously deleting feeds from my RSS feeder, because that is also a non-trivial time suck which gives me limited information given the amount of time I spend reading. I'll need to restrict the feeds I read to ones that give a lot of interesting/relevant information per post or friends' blogs. The other noise has to be filtered out. I've also decided to try restricting how often I check my e-mail. So far, I haven't really gone through any internet deprivation symptoms, and I've found that I can focus better on tasks I'm trying to accomplish.

2. Get back to consistent training
Having both moved and taken a new job at the same time, my martial arts and minfulness training has taken a big hit. I feel that my progress has seriously stagnated as a result. I really want to get back into daily personal training. Eventually, I'd like to up to at least 30 minutes each of martial arts and meditation training a day. I'm starting off with 5 minutes each daily and gradually working my way up.

3. Fitness Goals
I have a new set of fitness goals this year: 1. Iron Cross on the rings; 2. Weighted pull ups and dips at bodyweight; and 3. Double bodyweight deadlift. I still have to complete a few more goals from last year's goals, most notably my goals of holding a solid front lever and dragon flag. I'm not too far off from those goals, and I'm guessing that the time suck and energy suck from my last job prevented me from completing those goals. This year's goals should be more challenging than last year's, but I think they're completely do-able. I think the iron cross will probably be the most challenging of this year's fitness goals since it requires both a lot of upper body strength as well as elbow conditioning. I'm nearly halfway to my weighted pull up and dip goal (I can do 70lbs on each pretty consistently), and I think deadlifts should come quickly if I train smart (low rep 5x5 type strength workouts) and eat right.