Mini Book Review: Weekday Vegetarian by Graham Hill (With Alex Estes)

Weekday Vegetarian is one of the first series of TED Books, based on the very popular series of TED talks (inspiring lectures from notables in technology, entertainment, and design). These books are meant to be based on the lectures that inspired them, short reads, and inexpensive–this one was $2.99 as an e-book from Amazon.

Hill’s idea, to convince people to give up meat only during the week, is simple. Much of the short e-book is aimed at presenting the good points of giving up meat: health benefits, ethics, resource management, etc. Unlike some other books on the topic, however, Hill is compromising. He recognizes that for some (like him), giving up meat completely is not an option. The book reads like a persuasive essay: persuade the meat-eaters that they can comfortably give up animals five days per week, and (to a lesser extent) convince the hard-core vegetarian that you can be a weekday vegetarian without being a fraud.

Obviously, I’m completely sympathetic with the book’s aims. However, this one was a bit of a let down for me. If you’ve done any research at all on vegetarian diets, a lot of what Hill has to say about the health risks of meat and the industrialized meat industry will not be news. On other subjects, I was disappointed by the lack of information presented. The “Doesn’t My Body Need Meat?” chapter deserved much more than 2.5 pages. There’s no mention of how vegetarians should handle hard-to-get vitamins like D and B12. Also, Hill concludes the chapter with a discussion of athleticism and diet, but he devotes more space to telling us what an Ironman Triathlon is than he does explaining the mechanics of how these athletes do what they do. Finally, I was also disappointed by the book’s recipes (which had been a main selling point to me). The recipe portion made it obvious that this is not really a book for the everyman. I have a feeling the average U.S. meat eater would look at a selection of recipes like “Asparagus and Morels,” “Inari Sushi Bento,” and “Dandelion Quiche” and immediately place an order for the meat lover’s pizza at Domino’s. Given that the book is so premised on “anyone can do this,” it seemed odd that the recipes weren’t more tailored to ingredients and dishes that would be familiar to carnivores or available on a budget. (I am 100% sure that “dandelion greens” are not available at my corner Albertsons.)

If you don’t know much about being a vegetarian or you really want to convince a meat-lover in your life to make changes, this book might be for you. It’s a really quick read, though: About half of the book’s 51 pages are recipes and resources and the whole thing almost has a rushed feel. I had high expectations for this one because it was advertised as a TED book, but the quality just seemed lacking. There are a few more in the TED series I’d like to read… but if they’re all as light on content as Weekday Vegetarian I might just save my three dollars.

It’s Time for the Olympics!

How much do I love the Olympics? The answer is very, very much. I watched the opening ceremonies last night with a friend and really enjoyed them. Frankly, I don’t remember much of the heavily praised opening ceremonies from Beijing, but the reason for that is because I was a little busy in the summer of 2008–while the Beijing games were going on I was in the process of moving from New York to Arizona, so there was a lot going on in my life at the time. I remember watching some of the games from a hotel room in New Mexico… but that’s about it.

This time, I’ve got my calendar marked for a few choice events. The times here are listed in U.S. Mountain Time, but check your local listings to see where these will be broadcast where you are.

  • Swimming: Swimming events will be broadcast on NBC in primetime from tonight (7/28) until 8/4. There’s no particular event that I want to see, though I just learned that there’s such a thing as the swimming marathon (which is really a 10K). The women’s swim marathon will be broadcast August 9 at 11:45AM and the men’s is August 10 at 12:15.
  • Triathlon: Unfortunately, the triathlon is on the NBC Sports channel, which I don’t get, so I will try to watch it online. Triathlon events will be broadcast at 4:00AM (!) on 8/4 for the women, 8/7 at 6:30AM for the men.
  • Kayak: You know I love to kayak, and kayaking finals will be broadcast 7/31 at 10:00AM, 8/1 at 2:30PM, 8/2 at 10:15AM, and 8/3 at 12:35AM on NBC.
  • RunningI mean, duh, you know I wouldn’t miss this. Track and field competition starts on 8/3 but here are a few marquee events:
    • Women’s 100m: 8/4 8:00PM (NBC)
    • Men’s 100m: 8/5 7:00PM (NBC)
    • Women’s 800m, expected to feature Caster Semenya: 8/8 1:15PM (NBC–I think, the web site says this is the qualifying heats but doesn’t note when the finals will air)
    • Men’s 400m, expected to feature Oscar Pistorius: 8/9 12:00PM (NBC)
    • Women’s Marathon: 8/5 9:00AM (Telemundo, practice your Spanish!)
    • Men’s Marathon: 8/12 6:00AM (NBC)

These are what I’m most looking forward to… but who am I kidding? You’ll probably find me parked in front of my TV for several hours a day between now and August 12. Feel free to let me know any events that you’re excited about or anything I’m missing!

Being a Running Nerd

It’s been a somewhat boring couple of days here in Chavalina-land, and I haven’t really been in the mood to do work all week. On Tuesday, I had a surprisingly good run managing a 9:50 pace doing 3.5 miles on a somewhat hilly route. I even banged out a 9:25 on a net-uphill first mile. That’s the good news. The bad news: My Garmin Forerunner 210 was flashing “low battery” most of the way. When I downloaded my run info and went to stick it on the charger, it made a bizarre beep and flicked off, never again to turn on. Say what??? Since the device is a whopping four and a half months old, it is still well within the warranty period. The nice guys at Garmin customer service have promised me a new (read: refurbished) Garmin in 10-14 days, but in the meantime that means some untimed miles and $7.00 out of my pocket in shipping costs. Amazing how attached to this thing I’ve become in a relatively short time, but I will say that wearing it does help me with my pacing and motivates me to run faster than I would otherwise.

In the meantime, I’ve been amusing myself by reading Hal Higdon’s Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide. I’ve had an older edition of this book that was given to me as a gift for a long time and only read bits and pieces of it. Reading it cover to cover, I give it high marks though I’m only about halfway through. I’ve followed Higdon’s 10K and Half Marathon training programs in the past with much success, and it’s nice to hear him elaborate in detail on how his training plans are developed. My old version of the book focuses exclusively on the marathon, but I see the new edition covers half marathons as well (and boasts 25% new material!). Higdon’s writing is very readable and structured so that it can be read all the way through or in isolated chapters as runners move up in skill or want to cover topics like long runs, nutrition, etc. If you’re like me and have spent years trolling the Internet for training tips and reading Runner’s World there may not be a whole lot here that is new to you… but at least it’s all in one place and it really gets me in the mood to run. So is there a full marathon in my future? Maybe someday. Never say never!

Movie Review Duo: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Snow White and the Huntsman

It’s a pleasure to get to watch and review recent films with two of my favorite leading ladies: Penelope Cruz and Charlize Theron.

First up: 2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Though I was a fan of the original Pirates film, I held off on seeing this one in the theater because the last two movies disappointed me so much. My complaints about those movies were similar to those everyone else seems to have: Too long, too confusing, too many characters and too much going on. Thankfully this installment, directed by Rob Marshall, addresses some of those issues. The central plotline involves Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) being brought into the involuntary service of the pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter Angelica (Penelope Cruz)—who just happens to be Jack’s former lover. Blackbeard and Angelica are seeking the legendary fountain of youth, and along the way they are trailed by the Spanish armada, the English navy, and Jack’s old nemesis Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).

The movie is enjoyable for what it is, standard Disney escapism. It is quite historically inaccurate and full of plot holes, but it also has some great special effects, action sequences, and riveting performances by Depp and Cruz. Really, Cruz steals the spotlight a little and makes me feel for Angelica despite some glaring inconsistencies in the character’s behavior and background. The movie is still a little over-long, and a poorly conceived love story between Philip (a clergyman played by Sam Claflin) and Syrena (a mermaid played by Astrid Berges-Frisbey) was the weakest part in the film for me. It seems the filmmakers felt they needed some sappy romance to make up for the lack of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan, but the movie could have been much stronger without it—especially since these two characters were not well-drawn enough to make me care. I hear a fifth Pirates film is in the works, and hopefully Cruz will be back. The story of Jack and Angelica is, to say the least, left unresolved here.

Here there be sequels.

My second movie treat of the week is Snow White and the Huntsman. In this new take on the classic story, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is the princess displaced and long imprisoned by the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who married her father only to usurp the throne. When Snow White escapes her prison in the castle, it sets off a chase through the magical—but at times frightening—kingdom. Snow White wants to avenge her father and reclaim her throne. Ravenna wants Snow White’s heart, which she believes will give her immortality. The Hunstman (Chris Hemsworth) wants to stick it to the queen after she double-crosses him, and Snow White’s childhood friend William (Sam Claflin, in a more well-developed role) wants to redeem himself for abandoning her years earlier. Ian McShane also appears here again as one of the seven dwarfs.

I really enjoyed this movie, to the extent that I’d call it one of my favorites of the year. Charlize Theron runs away with the show as Ravenna, a role in which she is not only gorgeous but is also thoroughly convincing as an embittered, devastatingly evil ruler. Stewart as Snow White didn’t do quite the same job of winning me over. Though she turns in a good performance as a warrior princess, I only saw flashes of the innocence and tenderness that are meant to be a part of Snow White’s character. Hemsworth is mostly doing what he does best in a reluctant hero/eye candy kind of role.

I thoroughly believe this woman would eat my heart, give the opportunity.

The romance between Snow White and The Huntsman is subtle, which I liked. The film also leaves some issues intentionally unresolved and is sure to create some after-film discussion with anyone you see it with. What really makes the film, though, are the little touches. In an era where we’re bashed over the head with 3D films, this movie uses great special effects, quality sound mixing, and impressive set and costume design to create a special experience. Snow White’s travels across the kingdom are epic on a Lord of the Rings scale, even though they did make the film seem a tad long in the middle. This movie should get Oscar nods for sound and costume design, if nothing else. It was also cool to see historical battle techniques employed here and I wasn’t surprised to see a lengthy list of historical consultants in the credits. (Not that I’m a nerd about this stuff, but I recently read about a certain tactic in a historical novel and it was cool to see it depicted on the screen here.) Hopefully, the recently breaking cheating scandal involving Stewart and director Rupert Sanders will not take away from the movie’s success. Regardless of whether the rumors are true, Snow White is an achievement worth seeing with a brilliant and enjoyably wicked performance from Theron.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is available on DVD. Snow White and the Huntsman is still in select theaters.

Dealing with Loneliness

Expo

The desert is like a metaphor for my social life. OMG

In case you haven’t guessed from my previous posts, or from the fact that I spend such an inordinate amount of time on my blog, my life here in Tucson is pretty lonely. I’ve lived here about four years now and I do have friends, but I feel like I haven’t established the kind of friendships I had back in New York–the kind where you know you have a handful of people you can text on any given weekend and someone is going to want to hang out with you and have a good conversation. I also don’t have any family here, and in four years exactly one person I knew from back home has come to visit. Especially during the summer, Tucson is kind of a wasteland. Roommate is gone, calls and e-mails go unreturned while people are on vacation or have better things to do, and no one–I mean no one–takes the initiative to call and ask me to hang out.

Reading the New York Times’ recent discussion on the troubles of making friends in your 30s and 40s comforted me a bit. At least I’m not the only one who’s noticed that their peers run off and hibernate as soon as they’re paired off. I’m also doing the right things to try and make friends: I’m active in a local Meetup group, I’ll be volunteering in a community program starting next month, and I participate in graduate student groups on campus. During the semester, I do a great job of staying busy. But, man, sometimes when you get home after a vacation or conference and there is no one to pick you up at the airport, it’s crushing.

Lester Holt and I are going steady.

One of the things I miss most about being in a couple is that, when you’re paired off, you have someone you can count on. If you don’t make plans for your Saturday night, the default is that you stay in… but you have someone to talk to. These days, my Saturday nights are spent at home watching Dateline, usually following the mystery of some lonely single woman who got murdered in her home on a Saturday night. Eeek!

I’m rambling a bit here, but I’d love to hear any tips or experiences you’ve had with loneliness that can get me through the next month before I go back to work (where people are forced to socialize with me… ha ha). I also started taking Lexapro this week, which my doctor thinks will help me some with my depression and my “why-bother-no-one-ever-wants-to-hang-out-with-me-anyway” attitude toward social relationships. If you know about that, I’d also be curious to hear about your experience. So far it mostly just seems to be keeping me up between 3 and 4AM, which is not actually a prime hanging-out time.

Onward and upward, I hope!

A Personal Best and A New Recipe

Yesterday I had an unscheduled rest day when I got to the gym and the pool was closed “until further notice.” What? So much for the world-class athletic facility… maybe a higher power is trying to tell me that I’m not cut out for swimming?

The upside to this is that I got to run this morning on fresh legs after an extra day’s rest, and what a run it was. I shocked myself by running my fastest mile of the year, 9:17, even faster than what I was running in New York. Not only that, but here were my splits for the first 5K of a 3.4 mile run:

Mile 1–9:17

Mile 2–9:24

Mile 3–9:32

.1–1:00

Martha’s, unsurprisingly, looks better than mine.

That amounts to a 29:13 5K, a personal best for me. Sometimes things just come together. I rewarded myself for my hard work with a chocolate-cinnamon gelato this afternoon and an Indian feast for dinner. I had garlic naan with punjab eggplant from Trader Joe’s and Creamy Spinach Curry, an Indian-inspired dish I got from Martha Stewart’s site via my friend over at She Runs, She Eats. The dish was good, but I feel like it’s missing something seasoning-wise. Maybe I’ll experiment with this one… I have plenty of leftovers! Hopefully all that iron and protein will help my muscles recover. A super-fast training run is great, but my easy run tomorrow may hurt!

A Visit to Tohono Chul Park

Well, there’s definitely a pattern to how popular my posts are. Race reports and photo-heavy posts = good, swimming and generally everything else = meh. So, here’s a post with lots of pictures to satisfy the masses.

Yesterday I visited Tohono Chul Park here in Tucson. This park is located on the north end of town, just outside Oro Valley, and is known for its gardens. I’ve been wanting to visit ever since a guy I was seeing last spring suggested it. Since they are doing a free reciprocal membership with the Tucson Museum of Art through September 30, I got to go for free. Yay.

The gardens are definitely the highlight. Unlike the Tucson Botanical Gardens, which I saw in May, most of the plants here are native to the Sonoran Desert, though they are not necessarily all native to Tucson. Other than that, though, the landscaping and the facilities are very similar to the botanical gardens. Ample signage provides information about the plants and animals, an old home on the property houses art displays and a gift shop, and the place is very small and walkable.

Another similarity to the botanical garden is that there is plenty to do to amuse children. An educational facility is on site and there is also a fun children’s patio with fountains, things to climb on, and whimsical bird houses.

You can see some wildlife here; I saw a zebra-tailed lizard, a couple of other small lizards, some quail, and a javelina. In that respect it was a decent outing, but keep in mind that I could also see a lot of these same critters on a trail run and not pay $8 to do it. What was interesting were the in-park exhibits featuring desert tortoise and two threatened fish species, the desert pupfish and the topminnow. I wasn’t aware how endangered Arizona’s native fish have become with riparian areas drying up. The desert pupfish only has one known remaining habitat in Arizona, at Quitobaquito Springs in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Seems like a false advertisement. Once again, deprived of a rattlesnake sighting.

While the gardens are lovely and fun, this is not the place to come if you want to hike. There are three trails, but the longest of them is only a half mile. I hiked that one, the Desert View Trail, and while it did offer some nice views it wasn’t really challenging. I was amazed at how many benches and ramadas could be crammed into such a short space, and that took away a little from the natural environment.

The trail is also well groomed and lined at intervals with these engraved stones with random quotes about the desert. Honestly, I thought this was a little cheesy.

Also a distraction is that the park is so closely nestled into a busy area. I got most of the way through the trail before I arrived at a spot where I could get a decent landscape photo that didn’t include apartment buildings, a church, or a view of the New Balance store across the street. But… OK, I guess this is a pay-off.

In sum, I recommend this place if you want to get out into the desert without really getting out into the desert. This is a suitable outing for kids, older folks, or if you’re in town for a visit and want a condensed activity. At Tohono Chul Park you can get your exercise, see some critters, view the artwork, and even grab a bite to eat without getting too far out of town. And you’ll likely be done in a couple of hours. Check their web site (see above) for hours, information, and special events.