Sunday, October 26, 2008

Adventures in vegan party planning

Rob’s big 3-0 is today and we’ve had a weekend of partying—vegan partying to be exact. On Friday night we had a big party at our place. Overall, it went pretty well I think. It was standing room only in our house for a while, and people seemed to be having a good time. I made a bunch of stuff to eat—all of it vegan. I got pretty creative, with a vegan cream cheese dip for apple slices and even a vegan ranch dip for veggies. I also had chips and chismol; bread and crackers with regular hummus or pumpkin-chipotle hummus; sugar cookies; pumpkin spice muffins; and chocolate cake. I had this grand master plan to get everybody, even the carnivores, to start talking about how great the food was, and then at some point during the evening to reveal my big surprise to everyone, “ITS VEGAN, ITS ALL VEGAN!” It didn’t quite work out that way. First of all, I wasn’t too suave about keeping the secret, because as people arrived I tended to tell them excitedly, “Welcome the party! We have tons of food and all of it is vegan!” And secondly, our house got so crowded and loud that I would have needed some sort of megaphone to make the announcement. But people did seem to genuinely like the food, and I think that my vegan chocolate cake turned out to be the best one I’ve ever made. This was all the more surprising since I did not measure any of the ingredients—I’d been rushed and just sort of threw everything into a mixing bowl and hoped for the best. The only mishap at the party (despite the fact people were packed in our house like sardines) was that at some point we ran out of beer. Last year when we’d had a party for Rob, I’d way overestimated the beer consumption and ended up with a ton left over. This year I guess I way underestimated it. Hopefully next year, I’ll get it just right.

Meli, preparing vegan delights (Yes, I am wearing a Christmas apron. And my Skinny Jeans)

Classy... We ran out of beer but had tons of wine left over.

Some of our fabulous vegan party food!

After the party, I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning cleaning (there were globs of salsa and bits of mashed vegan cake all over our house!). On Saturday afternoon we spent some time with friends, and then it was onto party #2 for Rob. This one was a family party, and Rob had decided that he wanted to have his family over to our place for dinner, cake, and ice cream. After much thought, I had determined that I would make ratatouille to put over pasta—its generally pretty easy to fix, and if I added enough eggplant (chewy in texture), maybe the meat-eaters wouldn’t notice it was vegan ☺ Now, I’ve made some pretty good ratatouilles in my day, but I am sad to report that this wasn’t one of them! I don’t know what my deal was—I guess it was just an off night for me. That, and I was operating on only about 4 hours of sleep and ended up being incredibly rushed at the end. The ratatouille was still pretty good, and Rob’s family, bless their hearts, wouldn’t stop raving about how wonderful it was. But it just wasn’t one of my best. They’ll have to come over some other time so that I can show them what I’m really made of!

Party #2 was also completely vegan, though I did set out cheese for anybody who wanted it. I’d also whipped up another vegan chocolate cake, because the one for Party #1 was all gone. This time I was more careful about measuring out the ingredients, but it actually turned out to be not as great as the previous night’s cake. I think its because I added too much vanilla. At least now I know for next time, right? In addition to the cake, we also had vegan ice cream. Rob had selected two kinds: Soy Dream Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Rice Dream Vanilla. Everybody tried some of each kind. I never was an ice cream person, so I can’t say how it compares to the real stuff. In my opinion, the vanilla was not that great, but the chocolate brownie flavor was fantastic.

After everybody left and I was putting stuff away, I found a container of freshly made basil pesto that I had completely forgotten to set out. I couldn’t believe I had forgotten all about it, since I’d made it from scratch just about a half an hour before everybody arrived. Although from what I hear, its not the first time that some portion of a Scho family dinner was accidently forgotten about and left in the refrigerator.

Today was Rob’s actual birthday, and at some point in the future, I’m sure he’ll blog about how he spent his day. As for me, I did my last 8-mile run before next week’s marathon, and then I tore down the garden because the forecast calls for frost tonight. I brought in a giant paper sack full of green tomatoes, in hopes that they’ll ripen indoors. Its so cold and windy today that I feel like I should be putting up a Christmas tree or at least drinking mulled cider. Unfortunately we don’t have any mulled cider. What we do have is a lot of leftover wine that people brought to the party on Friday night but nobody drank. That 2007 Beaujolais is looking pretty good to me, so we’ll have to see if it makes it through the night.

That’s all for now. Here’s a picture of a neighbor’s tree; I love how the tips of the leaves have all turned red, but the bases are still green. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese

So I recently tried nutritional yeast for the first time. I think its really great actually. During my several 40+ mile weeks of peak marathon training, my staple snack was a slice of whole grain toast with Earth Balance spread and sprinkled with nutritional yeast. Quite nice. I can see how people who are die-hard devotees to the S.A.D (Standard American Diet) would find it weird though.

I found a couple of recipes online for vegan macaroni and cheese using nutritional yeast, and I thought I would try it. Now, I’ve never been a fan of the traditional box made macaroni and cheese. I’m sure I’ve eaten it at some point in my life, but probably not for at least 12 or 15 years. Rob has a distinct aversion to macaroni and cheese because when he was 5 years old, there was an unfortunate vomiting incident that occurred immediately after he had eaten a meal of macaroni and cheese with red Kool-Aid. What has always puzzled me about this is that although Rob cites this incident as why he refuses to eat macaroni and cheese, he has no such aversion to red Kool-Aid.

At any rate. Rob went out to dinner with his cycling team last Wednesday, and I was left to my own devices for dinner. Since Rob wasn’t going to be around and I had an ample supply of nutritional yeast (I would assume that Rob’s macaroni and cheese aversion also extends to vegan forms of the dish), I decided to try it. I roughly followed a recipe that I found on a cool website called Your Vegan Mom, though I didn’t have all the stuff that Vegan Mom did, so I left some of it out. For example, I used garlic powder instead of onion powder, and I left out the paprika and nutmeg because I didn’t have those either. Instead I put in a little bit of tumeric because I had seen other vegan mac and cheese recipes that called for it. Despite my modifications to the recipe, it turned out pretty tasty. Next time, I don’t think I would add any mustard though. I think the main thing is to use plain soymilk and nutritional yeast, and then add whatever spices you think sound good

Here are some photos of the meal. For good measure, I also made a nice swiss chard salad.

Close up of the mac and cheese

And another photo of the salad, just because it was so lovely.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Save Kickapoo State Park

Rob and I went camping at Kickapoo State Park last Friday night. Kickapoo is one of the parks that is scheduled to be closed on November 1st as a result of irresponsible budgeting that has apparently left Illinois without enough money to keep its state parks open. Rob and I were both really upset about the park closures: Rob—because he spent a lot of time at Kickapoo while he was growing up, and me—because I just love trees. We both signed petitions protesting the park’s closure and wrote to the governor and other state representatives, imploring them to keep it open. As I realized how close November 1st is looming, I suggested that we go and camp there one more time. Probably not the wisest choice for someone who has been wearing 10 layers of clothing indoors for the past several weeks, but I thought I could handle it.

It wouldn’t be a Ragfield Family Camping Trip if it wasn’t pouring down rain though. I’m not sure if Rob and I have ever camped together when it wasn’t raining. For the most part it was just a light mist, and since I had doubled the already ridiculous amount of clothing I have to wear to keep warm, it really wasn’t that bad.

We Ragfields like to travel light.

As we settled down for the night, it was really nice to hear the rain drumming on the tent and the owls and other animals out in the woods. In the cold and the rain, I had thought that we might be the only people hard-core enough to camp, but quite a few people began showing up at the campground and pitching their tents. It began to get a little bit noisy. And before too long it became quite a bit noisy. In fact, it sounded like I was in the middle of a big frat party. There was shrieking, shouting, laughter, revving of car engines, etc. Rob, blessed with the ability to sleep through anything, was out like a light and completely oblivious. Not I. I was wide awake, cold and shivering, and kind of having to pee but not wanting to go out into the middle of the party. I watched the hours tick by. It was around 1am when I heard this (extremely loud and extremely drunk) conversation:

Dude #2: (laughing as if this is the most hilarious thing he has ever heard) DUDE, YOU SHOULD, LIKE, DRINK SOME OF (some other dude’s name) 600 CANS OF RED BULL. HE’S GOT LIKE 800 CANS.

I couldn’t help but think of something Prof. Pablo once told me: “Melissa, the world is full of morons.” Indeed. This was the moment that I decided I wanted to remove my name from the “Save Kickapoo Park” petition. I do want to save Kickapoo State Park, but not from closure. Rather, I want to save it from people like Dude #1 and Dude #2 and what sounded like 50 of their closest, drunkest, screaming, friends. And if closing the park would do that, then I’m all for it. I hate it when people trivialize nature. The trees deserve our utmost respect. The birds and deer and crickets and squirrels need their sleep. They don’t need irreverent drunk people (who apparently feel that “No Alcohol Allowed” signs are a big joke) disturbing the peace. I wish that people would learn to appreciate this planet.

Dude #1’s desire to stay awake all night kept me up all night too. I’m not sure that I slept at all. In the morning when I crawled out of the tent, I saw an empty “Budweiser” carton, and somebody who was sleeping inside a running car. Come on. Nobody is colder than me, and I managed to get through the night without going to the car and turning on the heat.

Knowing that this might be the last time for the foreseeable future that we’d get to be at Kickapoo park, Rob and I went hiking around on some of the trails. During our hike, we saw two deer. The deer stopped and we stopped, and we all just stood looking at each other for the longest time. They were really quite beautiful deer.

We headed home a little while later, and I forced myself to go out and do a 12 mile run. In general, the first “long” run of the taper can be quite grueling. I don’t know why, it just is. I was prepared for the worst this time, especially knowing that I had not gotten any sleep at all the night before. But it went by pretty well, so now I’ve got that done.

Dude, its like, getting late, and I’ve, like, got a lot of stuff to do tomorrow, so I’m, like, going to go to sleep.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Skinny Jeans

As I sit here and type, I am wearing my Skinny Jeans. I have to type fast in case they suddenly become too tight again.

Back in the summer of 2005, I was probably in the best shape of my life. I’d just run my fastest marathon ever, and I biked up (and down) Clingman’s Dome—the highest point in Tennessee and the second highest point east of the Mississippi. I was an animal.

Then I had to get serious about writing my thesis proposal and taking my pre-lim exams. I also had a more traditional 9 to 5-ish job as the undergraduate advisor, and I couldn’t take off and run whenever I felt like it. I went from 40-mile weeks to 20-mile weeks, and then even less than that. But I never stopped eating brownies. Needless to say, the Skinny Jeans became snug and I eventually stopped wearing them.

Then I went to Nicaragua. Did I mention how fond the Nicaraguans are of frying everything? When we came back for a brief visit over Christmas, I made the mistake of finding the Skinny Jeans in a box at my parents’ house and attempting to put them on. Yikes. I don’t think I could get them up past my knees. My mother said that they must have shrunk in the wash. “Have you been coming down to the basement and washing all the clothes that I am storing here?” I asked her. She paused slightly, then said, “…Yessss?” Actually, knowing my mother, I wouldn’t put it past her to do that. But it wasn’t helping me to be delusional.

And it didn’t help matters either, when we went back to Nicaragua and both Alejandra and Doña Argentina told me, “Melissa, estas más gorda!” It wasn’t really a compliment or a criticism, just an observation. I vowed that I wouldn’t let my newfound girth (and others’ observations of it) bother me, but it was quite an adjustment. I’d never been particularly lean as a kid, but for about the last 10 years or so, I’d been quite skinny, and I guess I’d gotten used to it. It suddenly felt weird not to think of myself as skinny anymore, but there was very little I could do about it. I didn’t have much control over what I ate at the field station, and generally after a long day out in the forest, I was hungry enough to eat whatever fried, greasy thing they put in front of me at dinner that night. Plus, the dry season was tough. Sometimes 1 or 2 little packs of Chickies (Lorna Doone type cookies covered in chocolate) were the only thing that could get me through the day.

When we finally moved back from Nicaragua, I sort of assumed all this extra weight would just fly right off me, as soon as I was back to my typical diet and running marathons again. But a year of going without brownies leaves you with no restraint. Every once and a while I would attempt to put the Skinny Jeans on, only to realize that I could not breathe or move while wearing them, much less let myself be seen outside the house. More than once, I put them in a pile of clothes to take to the Goodwill, but I always snatched them back, as if in some fit of nostalgic desperation.

It took 2 marathons and a whole year, but I am pleased to announce that I can now comfortably wear the Skinny Jeans again! I don’t know how it happened, but one day I just put them on and gasped in disbelief when they actually fit! After this moment, I wore the Skinny Jeans for about 2 weeks straight without washing them. I was so afraid that a spin through the washing machine would shrink them and that would be the end of the story. But I finally bit the bullet and washed them (cold water of course, that’s how I wash everything); I hung them up on the clothesline to dry, and lo and behold, they still fit. In fact, I can say that they are even becoming a little bit loose these days.

The irony of all this is that whenever it was that I got these jeans, they were actually a replacement for a former pair of Skinny Jeans that had become too tight to fit. I distinctly remember going to the store, peering into the garishly lit dressing room mirror, and then grimly purchasing this pair of jeans that were the same brand and style as my former pair, just a size larger. But that was back in the day when I thought a container of light, fat-free yogurt was perfectly acceptable as a meal, and only weak women stopped for lunch.

Even though I work from home and rarely have anywhere to go during the day, I still find every excuse to wear my skinny jeans. In fact, its all I can do not to climb up to the roof and shout to the world, “World, I am wearing my Skinny Jeans again!” But I try to use restraint. Still, when everything seems kind of grim—my dissertation is a disaster, I’ll never have health care or social security or a real job—it is nice to have the small piece of comfort that I can face these challenges while wearing my Skinny Jeans.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

50-mile week

This past week I’ve run over 50 miles (I think it was actually probably closer to 51), which is the farthest I’ve ever run during one week. In fact, I’ve run about 96 in the last 2 weeks and taken only 2 days off. I feel pretty hard core.

Today was my last 20-miler before the Indianapolis Marathon on November 1. This means all my training is done, and all I’ll be doing for the next few weeks is trying to conserve my knees and running much lower mileage. Its always nice to end on a high note, but today’s 20-miler was nothing noteworthy. The weather was a lot warmer than I’d been expecting though. I actually had to change my route a little bit so that I could run back home and get more water when I realized I didn’t have enough with me to comfortably finish out the last 4 miles. Even so, I was pretty dehydrated when I finally got done.

Instead of getting my electrolytes back in order, I spent the rest of the day cleaning the house. And I’m not talking about light dusting or anything like that. I was on my hands and knees scrubbing things and moving random piles of clutter for about 4 hours. It would have tired me out had I not run 20 miles beforehand. The infuriating part is that the house is still not totally clean or organized.

I’ve been running fairly high mileage since August, and its been pretty intense for me. As you’re going through it, it compromises your immune system and makes you narcolepticly exhausted (at 3pm I fall asleep no matter where I am) and ridiculously hungry (I probably eat about 3000 calories a day). But in the end, it only makes you stronger—which is why I keep doing it, I suppose.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What $21.90 of local organic produce looks like

This morning I rode my bike over to the farmer’s market armed with a long list of fruits and vegetables to buy. As I was paying for my first set of purchases, another customer (an older lady) saw my arms full of kale, swiss chard, broccoli, zucchini, summer squash, and eggplant. “Are you a vegetarian?” she said in a somewhat admiring tone.

The farmer’s market in October is one of the best places on earth to be. Its practically bursting with beautiful green, red, orange, yellow, and purple things. I also bought some spaghetti squash, a butternut squash, a few pears and some bright red liberty apples. Its all so lovely that it makes me forget about how much I miss July. Sure, you can get watermelon and some early tomatoes then, but October is what its all about.

It was a rough night last night, so I was definitely happy to be out and about this morning. I didn’t feel so great before I went to bed, and then sometime in the middle of the night I woke up with a throbbing pain behind my left eye. Even though its been a long time since I’ve had a real migraine headache, that’s where it always hits. And as always, it was accompanied by several hours of nausea before I finally succumbed to a couple more hours of vortexing. It takes a lot for me to actually puke. There was more than one occasion in Nicaragua when we went back to the mainland over the weekend and I’d feel seasick until Wednesday, when I would finally puke. Luckily for Rob, he is blessed with the ability to sleep through just about anything, so my various nocturnal vortexes have gone largely unnoticed by him.

At any rate, I’ve felt pretty ishy today but I’m trying to recover enough so that I can do my last 20-mile training run for the Indianapolis Marathon tomorrow. This is my peak week of training, and I intend to get in a total of 50 miles. I am ridiculously overtrained right now, but I just need to hang in for one more day and then all I have to do is coast to the marathon.

Alright. Have got to rest now and soak up some October sun.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


When I lived in France some 8 or 9 years ago, I listened to this radio station called OuiFm 102.3. It was great. And luckily for me, they stream their broadcast live online, so I’ve been able to continue listening to it ever since. Its especially soothing while I’m analyzing data. In the long hours I’ve spent running tedious statistical tests, OuiFm has introduced me to artists such as Amy Winehouse and MGMT. In fact, the radio station tends to be quite repetitive, so on any given day of data analysis, I was liable to hear Amy Winehouse’s "Back to Black" and MGMT’s "Time to Pretend" about 5 times apiece. It really grew on me. I decided that if my great American novel (that I have not actually started yet) ever gets made into a movie, "Time to Pretend" would be on the soundtrack. I was later dismayed, when Rob and I saw the movie 21, to hear this song in the background during at least one scene. Maybe it had become too mainstream already.

At any rate, I’m going to shift gears here for a minute. This morning we had a neighborhood brunch (the ladies in my neighborhood get together once a month for coffee and chatting—its really quite nice). I am usually by far the youngest in attendance. There is one other couple across the street who are both grad students, but most of the people who live nearby are the age of my parents or grandparents. Whenever I show up at one of the neighborhood events, everyone is very excited and amicable to have somebody new and young around. (My next door neighbor tells me that you have to live here at least 10 years before everybody stops calling you “the new neighbors”).

So, vegan coffee cake in hand, I walked over to the brunch with my next door neighbor. The hostess for this month’s gathering was a lady named Mrs. G who is in her 80’s (or maybe even 90’s?). When we walked in, Mrs. G was delighted that I had brought the coffee cake. As I helped her set up in the kitchen, she apologetically explained that she was running behind schedule this morning because she and her husband had unexpectedly gone out of town the day before. She said that her grandson had called to tell her that his rock band was performing somewhere in Wisconsin, and he had asked if she and grandpa could come. They’d gone, of course, and they didn’t get home until 2 o’clock in the morning!

The brunch proceeded, and my vegan coffee cake was a huge success. I was relieved that it turned out so well, but my motivation for bringing it was more than just being neighborly: I always travel with something vegan so that I am sure I can eat. While we were all sipping our coffee, someone asked Mrs. G what was the name of her grandson’s band. “MGMT,” she replied.


My jaw must have hit the floor. I think I literally squealed, began jumping up and down, and said something to the effect of, “OH MY GOD, YOUR GRANDSON IS IN MGMT?!?!”

No one else had even heard of them, which wasn’t too surprising considering that I was the youngest person in the room by probably 30 years. Judging from my fanatic screeching, everybody else wanted to know who this MGMT was. They asked me what kind of music they played. I didn’t know how to politely say that the subject matter of the one MGMT song I know involves promiscuity (described with a rough term), cocaine, and dying young. Mrs. G led us over to her computer, where she went to the MGMT webpage and pulled up a video of one of their songs. “That’s my grandson,” she said, pointing to the cute one with the curly hair. She also showed me some pictures of him when he was a baby.

When I was getting ready to leave, she told me that her grandson had gotten them VIP seating at the concert. She said that the guy sitting next to them had seemed puzzled by their presence and finally asked, “What are you two doing here?” “My grandson is in the orchestra,” she had explained.

She thanked me again for the coffee cake and said that she would be sure to tell her grandson that I was a fan. Of course, now I'm an even bigger fan now that I know one of the guys in the band has such lovely grandparents!

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

October begins


In the beginning its all green, gray, blue, and gold, like the ocean. But in the end its red, brown, and orange. It reminds you that things can change so quickly and be so bittersweet. Amy will know what I mean.

October has always been my favorite month, but at this point in my life, I just miss July.

I planted irises today, so that they’ll be blooming when the weather gets warm again and the days are longer. It seems far away, but time passes more and more quickly the older I get. I suppose it will be here before I know it.

Thanks for reading.