The start of daylight savings time always leaves me depressed. I understand that it’s lighter in the morning, but as someone who is strictly NOT a morning person, I want my hour of light back in the evening. That was the perfect hour for sunset runs through the fall leaves, and today I am grieving my loss. Now I’ll have to drag my butt to the small gym at my apartment complex or attempt some of my fiance’s P90X videos, but just know that I will be silently awaiting spring and the beautiful runs that will follow. When I first started running I had to have my iPod because the sound of my haggard breathing started to mess with my head. I had to drown out all the voices inside my head that were trying to tell me I wasn’t supposed to be running, that I wasn’t made for it. But now, after almost a year of legitimate running, my breath is like my drum beat. I like to hear my breath and know its rhythm. I take my iPod with me only rarely, and instead I enjoy the sweet sound of nature: the rustle of leaves, the creaking of branches, and the amazing freedom of complete silence at times. So, I am mourning the loss of so many beautiful runs. I might be able to sneak a few more weekend runs at the park before the weather gets dreadful, but they will be few and far between.
One thing that makes the loss of my evening runs more bearable is the arrival of perfect book-reading weather. Fall and winter are the perfect time to snuggle under a blanket on the couch or bury yourself in your bed and pour over page after page. In celebration of book weather, I wanted to talk about two fabulous food/fitness related books that I’ve read recently. Oddly enough, they both have the word “Born” in the title, AND they’re both fabulously written creative non-fiction, which I’m kind of a fan of, since that’s kind of what I want to do with my life…
BORN ROUND by Frank Bruni
Frank Bruni was a foreign correspondent and white house reporter before being offered a job as a restaurant critic for the New York Times. One would think that a job offer like that would be hard to refuse, but because of a life-long battle with both his body-image and his weight, deciding to take a job as a food critic was a terrifying possibility for him. In Born Round Bruni chronicles his life of yo-yo diets and desperate attempts at athleticism in order to keep up with his figure. I might be slightly biased because Bruni happens to be a gay protagonist and I tend to have a kinship for gay males, but I loved both his tone of voice and the utter honesty of the book. There were so many situations in his book where I could have easily seen myself doing the same thing. He writes about being the chunkiest kid in his family, and always taking the most frits of his grandmother’s serving plates. He writes about how he latched onto swimming, not because he was passionate about it, but because it helped him to maintain his weight. He writes about being terrified to go on first dates, and desperately trying to lose a few pounds to impress potential love interests. Overall, it was a great read, and his slow journey toward a healthier relationship with food was a helpful nudge during a time when I’ve wanted to all but give up my quest for health. I am also working really hard to incorporate one idea he mentions in the book. While he lived abroad as a news correspondent in Rome, he took note that despite eating a diet laden with both bread and cheese, the Italian people were able to stay slender. Upon further observation, he noticed that it was simply that they took time to enjoy each morsel. They ate smaller portions and simply savored each bite. Over time, Bruni says he started to eat in the same manner, slowly savoring the things he loved, and even making a challenge to try and find new and exciting places to eat where his tongue was being surprised. It’s definitely something to think about, and overall I give this book four out of five starts on my completely arbitrary rating system.
BORN TO RUN by Christopher McDougall
I was somewhat skeptical reading a book about running. I thought that it would be over my head or that it would focus too much on training and elitist running information and that it might be terrible, but I had several people recommend the book, so I took my chances. When you have an Amazon gift card, it’s okay to gamble on a book. Thankfully, I was more than pleasantly surprised. I was taken in on the very first page. I can honestly say this is the best book I’ve read all year. Journalist Christopher McDougall does a fabulous job mixing in his own experiences running with historical anecdotes about distance running, ultra-marathons, sports medicine, and a small tribe in the canyons of Mexico aptly called “the running people.” He provides so much information, but weaves it in at the moments where it will make the most sense and help you to connect the dots from anecdote to anecdote. As a former journalism student, I read his words with awe. The foundational story for the book is McDougall’s interactions with a white man who runs the canyons of Mexico, and has been dubbed Caballo Loco (Crazy Horse). This mysterious man tells McDougall about the mysterious Tarahumara, the running people, and his interactions with the hidden tribe which is said to have fastest runners in the world. Caballo Loco’s aim is to organize a race pitting the best of the Tarahumara people against the best in US ultra-running. This frame for the story provides plenty of room for side stories, of which there are many. Obviously, the book aims to explain why we, as humans, were born to run. I won’t spoil the ending, but he makes a pretty good point, and it will probably change your ideas about the activity. This book gives running an almost magical essence, and if you’re anything like me, it will make you want to run. I give this book a fabulous five stars for being so damn awesome!
And now, if you’ve made it through my book reviews, I want to reward you with my recipe for Chicken Chili (or at least my current version). Fall is the quintessential time for chili cook-offs, but this chicken chili is a bit more health conscious than your average everyday chili, unless you douse it with loads of sour cream and cheese. Enjoy!
LAURA’S CALICO CHICKEN CHILI
- 3-4 boneless chicken breasts
- ½ cup of salsa
- 2 cans northern beans
- 1 can black beans
- 1 can pinto beans
- 1 can of corn
- 1 can Rotel
- 1 32 oz. can of chicken broth
- ½ of an onion, diced
- ½ of a bell pepper, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced (or a heaping teaspoon if you have a jar of garlic)
- Chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, seasoned salt, black pepper
- Possible garnishes: sour cream, cheese, tortilla chips, avocado
Cook the chicken breasts in a sauce pan, covered with salsa, chili powder, and a hit of hot sauce if you like things spicy. When the chicken is nearly done, add the garlic, onion and green pepper to the pan. Once the chicken is done all the way through, and vegetables have softened, turn of the pan, and pour it all into a strainer to get rid of any excess grease and chicken fat. Take the chicken out and cut or shred it into small, bite-sized pieces (I like to shred the chicken using two forks working against each other) before returning the chicken and vegetables back into a large pot. Pour in the chicken broth and turn the heat on medium. Add the Rotel to the pot, and start draining all the beans and corn. Dump in the beans and corn and stir. At this point, you can add as much of the seasonings listed above as you like. I start with chili powder and cumin as the most prominent flavors and go from there. Spice, stir, and taste until you have a flavor that you enjoy.
The best thing about chili is that it’s VERY hard to mess up. Try experimenting with things like a hint of cinnamon, adding celery or carrots to the pot, or changing the proportions of the ingredients. You can also substitute fresh tomato and green chiles instead of the Rotel, but using the canned stuff makes things go a little faster. I’ve made chicken chili tons of times, and it’s never quite the same, but it is ALWAYS delicious!