Archive for November 2010

Hot Salad

November 23, 2010

When the cold weather comes howling at my door, it’s hard to want salad.  Soup is usually the substitute, but there is something I crave and have to find a way to eat— baby spinach and wild rocket salad.  The other day I stood in front of the open refrigerator door, gazing at the full bags of greens, wishing I could come up with an amazing way to make salad hot.  I opened the produce drawer and poked around, pulling out a sweet potato, a crown of broccoli, a shiny red bell pepper, and some tempeh I had been marinating to make something called tempeh bacon.  (Tempeh bacon should in no way be confused with actual bacon.  The texture is completely different, and although it is both salty and sweet like bacon, that’s where the similarity ends.  I really like it, though, and have taken to keeping some tempeh soaking in the marinade in the fridge for a quick lunch.)

I cruised the dried fruit and nut cupboard and took out some dried cranberries and chopped walnuts,  Like starting a painting or a writing a good story, this salad came together with a tentative start and blossomed into one of the yummiest lunches I have ever made.  I ate the leftovers for lunch today, the greens a little bitter and crisp, the vegetables and fruit warm and sweet on top, the tempeh a crisp and chewy crown.

Hot Salad on a Bed of Greens

Hot Salad on a Bed of Greens ( for 2)

For the tempeh:

1 block tempeh, steamed for 10 minutes, cooled, and cut into 16 strips.   Marinate the tempeh in a scant 1/4 c low sodium tamari, 4 tbsp. pure maple syrup,  4 tbsp. apple cider, and 2 tsp. liquid smoke for at least 30 minutes, but overnight is fine.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add 2-3 tbsp. olive oil and swirl to coat.  Lay 10 strips of the tempeh in the skillet and cook over medium heat until browned, turn the strips over and brown the other side, about 10 minutes.  You can pour a little extra marinade over it after the first flip, and also more maple syrup if you like it a little sweeter.  Turn off heat and let sit, maybe turning once more until you are ready to eat.  (Save the other 6 strips to cook and add to rice and vegetables, or to make a roll up with greens, peppers, and sliced cucumbers.  They will be happy to marinate for at least a couple more days.)

For the green bed:

Wash and dry 6 cups mixed greens.  I use half baby spinach and half wild rocket salad.  Divide between 2 dinner plates.

For the hot salad:

1 peeled sweet potato, cut into medium dice (about 1/2 cubes)

1 c broccoli cut into small florets

1/4 red bell pepper, chopped into medium dice

1 small tart apple, peeled, cored, and diced

1 tbsp. dried cranberries

3 tbsp. chopped walnuts

3 tbsp. fresh sage, minced

leftover marinade from tempeh

6 tbsp. apple cider

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

While the tempeh is cooking:  In a large skillet set over medium heat, pour 3 tbsp. olive oil and swirl to coat pan.  Add the sweet potatoes and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring regularly.  Add the broccoli and bell pepper and toss.  If the pan starts to get dry, pour in a little of the marinade and some cider.  Cook about 3 minutes more.  Add the chopped apple, the dried cranberries, the walnuts, and the sage.  Grind in some black pepper and sprinkle with some salt.  Toss well.   Taste the sweet potato.  It should be a cooked but firm.  Add a little more cider and stir again.

To serve:

Spoon the warm vegetables over the two plates greens.  Arrange the five slices of the tempeh on top of each salad.  Serve with warm bread.

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All Hallows Eve

November 22, 2010

It’s  All Hallows Eve— better known as Halloween—morning, a Sunday.  I am running on a full tank of energy, no particular plan in mind, other than knowing I want to run long today.   The day is surprisingly warm for this time of year.  The sun shines on my face and in my eyes, dangling low into the morning air.  I run the long route of Marmion Way, turn onto South Street an then onto Eden Road.  I look out at Thacher Island and the Twin Lights, the two slender lighthouses back lit and dark.  The ocean is gentle this morning and round, full waves roll in on the sharp, rich brown rocks.  Each wave is touched by the light and becomes a translucent pale green curl, tricking my mind into thinking of summer and swimming.

As I run along Pebble Beach, I see how low the tide sits on the sand and decide to make this long, easy run the best of the year.  I take the sharp curve up to South Street, then turn again halfway up onto Tregony Bow, a tiny side road that cuts over to Thatcher Road.  I run on the sidewalk for as long a possible.  When the sidewalk disappears, I run on the side of the street, keeping a careful eye for the Sunday drivers headed to church, or maybe out for breakfast.  I gallop along the road side of Long Beach, then along the estuary, looking for the egrets who may still be waiting around for the weather to turn cold before beginning their migration.  I see none, but the sun shines on the tall golden grasses that grow along the side of the road and down into the murky water.  When I reach the fork for Long Beach, I don’t feel ready to turn.  I continue on Thatcher and soon am sprinting along the parking lot to Good Harbor Beach.  I pass a couple of people walking along the side of the road and grin at them.  I keep running.

When I reach the spot where sidewalk resumes, I cross the street and go the rest of the way to Bass Ave.  I jump up and smack the stop sign at the end of the road.  I consider continuing to Bass Rocks and Atlantic Road in Gloucester, since I’m already most of the way there, but cannot stop thinking about running on the beach while the tide is in my favor.  I wrap my hand around the stop sign and fling myself around like a little kid.  I head back along Good Harbor Beach and this time when I reach the road to Long Beach, I head down to the sand.

The beach is almost empty; the tide is so low that I can choose between soft sand, damp sand, wet sand, and chasing the waves.  I do a little of each, breathing in the fresh salty smell of the ocean.  My sneakers sink into the soft sand and I push off into that softness over and over before darting to the edge of the water.  I zigzag around the waves, the joy of the run and the ocean and the sun overtakes me and I am a purely, completely present in this moment.  When the beach ends, I sprint up the little bridge that leads to Cape Hedge Beach.

The hedge of round popple stones looms high and I carefully pick my way up and onto the top.  I can see all of the beach from this point; there is more sand now than there has been all season.  The lifeguard chair is gone, taken in until next summer.  Driftwood logs are scattered across the hedge and the beach.  I can see the little pond behind the beach, and most of Laurel Acres on my left, the vast expanse of blue sky and sea on my right.

I am able to secure my footing easily and monkey my way down to the sand.  The slope of the beach is steep at first, and I run slowly and cautiously.  As the surface levels off, I pick up speed again, watching the waves, listening to the air move along the sand and water.  Gulls circle overhead, laughing their throaty calls to each other.  The stones that have washed up on the sand shine in the bright light, their shadows long in the autumn sun.  As I run, I am acutely aware of each stone, each shadow, each breath I take and hold tightly to this moment, savoring it like the last bite of a rich, dark chocolate, bittersweet and missed almost before it is gone.

I dog-trot up the ramp off of the beach and head home.  I think of other Halloweens, ones when my children were little and excited to dress up in their homemade costumes, ready to go out into the night to trick-or-treat.  I think about how long ago that time was, how one is already out on his own, forgetting about trick-or-treating until he has little ones of his own.  My daughter is really too old to engage in the tradition, although she would have been willing, had she been able to gather a group.  No one is willing this year, so she will stand in our doorway in the costume she made, doling out granola bars to the few children who come around our neighborhood.

I take the rest of the run easy, loping along the route I took out, staggering in the front door hungry and happy.  13 miles, 1:47′.  I look forward to this All Hallows Eve— sated, feeling hallowed myself.

Come to My Virtual Table

November 21, 2010

Okay.  I never should have mentioned the squash turnovers and pan-fried dumplings if I didn’t want to write the recipes down!  Emails, phone calls, even people I’ve bumped into on the street want to know how to make them.  Here they are. You can make the filling ahead, or  both recipes in their entirety  if you want to get a head start before the big day.  And if you decide to serve them on Thanksgiving, I will think of you at the table with me, sharing our new tradition of eating vegan, even on the holidays.

Squash Filling for Pan-fried Dumplings and Phyllo Turnovers

Ingredients:

1 medium-large butternut squash, washed, cut vertically, and seeded

olive oil for sauteing

1/2 a large sweet onion, minced fine

1 large, tart apple, peeled, cored and diced fine

1/4 c dried cranberries

2 tbsp. unsweetened, shredded coconut (optional)

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

5 tbsp. fresh sage, bruised and minced fine

1/8 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg

1/3 c walnuts, chopped fine (Trader Joe’s sells them already chopped fine— what a gift!)

3 tbsp. maple syrup

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, spray with non-stick cooking spray, and place the squash on it, cut side down.  Bake on center rack in oven for about 50 minutes, or until the neck of the squash feels tender when you press down on it.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.  When cool enough to handle, turn halves over and scoop out the squash.  Alternatively, peel the skin off the squash when it is cool enough to handle.  (Tip:  if the squash gets really cold, the skin is harder to peel off.  I usually do it as soon as I can handle it without getting burned.)

Place the squash in a large bowl and mash it gently with a fork.

While squash is roasting, prepare the remaining ingredients for the filling.  Into a large non-stick skillet set over medium heat, drizzle about 2 or 3 tbsp. olive oil.  Swirl the olive oil around the pan and add the onion.  Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the onion begins to turn translucent.  Add the apple, the cranberries, and the coconut.  Cook for about 3 more minutes, then add the sage, nutmeg, and cinnamon.  Stir and remove from heat.  Add the walnuts, salt and pepper, maple syrup, and stir again.

Spoon the ingredients from the skillet into the squash and mix gently until well combined.  At this point, you can stop and refrigerate the filling for up to 3 days.  Otherwise, proceed with the rest of the recipe.

For the Pan-fried Dumplings:

1 pkg. wonton wrappers from the grocery store (found near the tofu and soy cheese, etc., usually in the refrigerated produce section)

or

1 pkg. vegan rice wonton wrappers from an Asian market

about 1/3 of the recipe for the squash filling (you will use the rest for the phyllo turnovers)

1 small bowl of water

canola oil or safflower oil for frying

Method:

On a large, flat surface, such as a cutting board or smooth counter top, lay out about 1/4 of the wrappers.  Keep the rest of the wrappers under a clean, damp towel to keep from drying out.

Using a small spoon, place about 3/4 – 1 tsp. of filling in the center of each wrapper.  Working with one dumpling at a time, dip your finger into the water bowl and coat half of the edge of the dumpling.  Fold the dry edge over the wet edge and press firmly to create a seal.  Take the two corners of the dumpling and press them together until they are sealed.  Place finished dumpling on a wax paper covered large platter.

Continue making the dumplings until the first batch is finished.  Cover them with plastic wrap or more waxed paper and place in refrigerator.

Repeat with laying out the next 1/4 package of wrappers and so on, until you have used up all the wrappers.  Or you can stop when you have made half the package.  You can freeze the dumplings at this point* and finish them right before you are ready to serve them.

To Cook the Dumplings:

Heat a heavy, non-stick skillet that has a lid over medium-high heat.  Pour in a generous dollop of oil ( I use about 3 tbsp.) and swirl it around the pan.  Add some dumplings.  You should fill up the bottom of the pan, but the dumplings should not touch each other.  Cook until the bottoms of the dumplings are nice and brown, about 2 minutes.  Add about 1/4 water and cover the skillet immediately.  Shake the skillet to prevent the dumplings from sticking and continue to cook until the water is gone, about 2-3 minutes.  Remove skillet from heat, carefully remove dumplings from pan and arrange on a platter.  Continue to cook the dumplings in batches until your platter is full or until you have had enough cooking and want to eat some.

Serve with cranberry chutney and cashew cream for dipping.

*to freeze dumplings, freeze the cookie sheet with the dumplings on it.  When frozen, put the dumplings in a freezer storage bag.  They will keep for a couple of months before they start to suffer from freezer burn…)

For the Phyllo Turnovers:

1 pkg. Phyllo dough, defrosted overnight in refrigerator

olive oil

squash filling

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 ° F.

Open the phyllo dough and unroll it.  Phyllo usually comes in two individually wrapped plastic tubes.  Only open 1 tube at a time.  Place phyllo dough under a lightly damped dish towel to keep it from drying out.  There are a couple of different sizes of sheets of phyllo dough in the markets.  It doesn’t matter which size you buy, but you will have to figure out whether you will be cutting the dough into quarters or thirds.  Whatever size turnover you get is fine. (I am sure there are instructions for using the phyllo dough right on the box.  Go ahead and follow them if it’s easier. Just make sure to use olive oil instead of butter for the brushing)

Fill a small bowl with olive oil.  Have the squash filling close by.

Lay one sheet on phyllo dough on a large cutting board.  Dip a pastry brush into the olive oil and lightly brush the dough all over with the oil.  Place another sheet of dough on top of the first, being careful to line it up closely on top of the first sheet.  Brush lightly with oil.  Add a third layer to the second, and brush with oil again.

With a the tip of a sharp knife, cut the dough length-wise into three or four sections.  Spoon about 2 tbsp. of the squash filling at the base of each section.  Turn the bottom corner of the dough up and then fold at a 45 degree angle.  Continue folding the dough back and forth, corner to corner, as you would fold a flag, until you reach the top of the section.  You should have a small, plump triangle when you are through.  Fold the other two or three sections in the same way.

Transfer the turnovers to a lightly oiled baking sheet and brush them with a little more olive oil.

Repeat process with the phyllo dough until you have either used all the dough or all the filling.  You should have enough filling to finish off the phyllo.  If not, wrap the phyllo carefully in plastic and refrigerate for future use.

Arrange the turnovers close to each other on the cookie sheet, but don’t let them touch.  When your cookie sheet is full, start another one if necessary.

The turnovers can be baked right away for about 20-23 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp.  If you want to make them ahead, they can be frozen in the same manner as the dumplings, then heated from frozen right before serving.  They might need a couple of extra minutes in the oven.  They can also be reheated at the same temperature, but just for 10 minutes or so.

Serve with cranberry chutney, cashew cream, or cashew cream dolled up with some freshly chopped sage  for a little more “Thanksgiving” taste.

What’s Up, Doc?

November 21, 2010

I’ve been writing this blog for almost a year, beginning with writing mostly about running, then adding in recipes that have evolved in my experimental kitchen over the years.  I started adding in my fitness rules, some that I have figured out on my own, others that I have learned in the process of obtaining my personal trainer certification.  Somehow I overlooked writing about the most important fitness rule of all:  Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise or fitness program.

If you hire a personal trainer, that trainer will ask you to see your doctor for a note clearing you to begin a fitness program.  You should expect to have a full blood work up and physical, tell your doctor you are about to begin working with a trainer, and then give the trainer the note from your doctor.  The note should include any health concerns and activity restrictions.  The trainer will keep that letter on file as a safeguard to protect him or herself should anything unexpected happen during the duration of your training relationship.

Without a trainer, it’s easy to forget to see your doctor and get clearance to begin exercising.  What could happen if you are just walking a couple of miles a day, or lifting free weights, doing an aerobics video, or some core work in the middle of your living room?

The answer is—- you don’t know.  Anyone can have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a blocked artery, a subtle heart arrhythmia, or Type II diabetes and not know it, putting them at risk for a serious adverse reaction to a fitness program.  Although the side effects of exercise are almost always positive (weight loss, increase in strength, endurance, flexibility, improved mood, improved energy, to name a few), without being aware of the health risks that increase with certain medical conditions, exercise can have side effects you do not want, sometimes effects that place your overall health at risk.

Your doctor will let you know what is safe for you.  Your doctor will be happy you want to start to exercise because you are  actively seeking to work on your own health, and because patients who work on their fitness tend to be healthier overall, making the doctor’s  job easier in the long run.

So, although this is technically my 15th fitness rule, it is really Fitness Rule #1— Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

The reason today seems like the perfect day to add this fitness rule is that the first of the big holidays is Thanksgiving, just a few days away.  Then Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s come tumbling right behind being thankful, and before you know it, you are making another New Year’s resolution about fitness.  If you take the time to squeeze in your check up before you make that resolution, you can begin right away on January 1st— and feel confident that your body is as ready as your dream of improving your health.

Vegan Thanksgiving

November 19, 2010

I made cranberry chutney this week—- a double batch.  My mother-in-law found the recipe in the Boston Globe a few years ago, back when we ate turkey and all the usual Thanksgiving fare.  I have never really liked turkey, or much else of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but can’t get enough of the condiments.  I load up my plate with butternut squash, the “green ‘du jour'”, a little stuffing, and lots of olives, cranberry sauce and green tomato piccalilli.  My Nana’s recipe that my mom and I make each year is my favorite, and I could always eat a little turkey if it was buried beneath the sweet and sour family secret recipe. (My mom would never speak to me again if I shared it, but if you want a jar, it can be arranged…)

This year is different.  We are going to my sister’s house and joining her with her family and my parents for the holiday.  I offered to bring the vegetables and let my sister do the bird, the stuffing and the dessert, but she demurely declined, letting me know in no uncertain terms that she would be preparing the traditional dinner and I was welcome to bring whatever food I was comfortable eating.  No problem if there were duplicates.

I thought this over for a while, trying not to let my feelings get hurt— after all, she is not vegan, nor is anyone else who will be sitting around her table.  I was stuck, though.  Why would I bring “the usual” if she was already doing it?  And really, what is Thanksgiving if not about eating in celebration of being thankful?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that without turkey being the focal point of the meal for me and my family,  I didn’t have to make mashed potatoes, mashed squash, plain old green beans or peas, and stuffing.  Why not make something amazing, delicious, and special that reflects the way we eat?  I set out to test a few recipes in preparation for my family’s vegan holiday debut.

I cannot list all the recipes I have read and tried, although they were all tasty and would work for the holiday.  The criteria:  whatever I bring has to work with the condiments!  With my family’s input, I have decided to make cranberry cornbread, Tal Ronnen’s Corn Chowder (oh my goodness— rich, thick with cashew cream, zesty with chipotle pepper, satisfying with purple potatoes, and crisp, fire roasted corn),  turnovers made with phyllo dough and stuffed with roasted butternut, walnuts, apples, fresh sage, caramelized onions, and dried cranberries, and mini squash-stuffed pan-fried dumplings.  The cranberry chutney and piccalilli for dipping the turnovers and dumplings will be one part of the tradition we will keep this year, with the addition of a bit of cashew cream.  For dessert, I have decided on a pumpkin pie with a chocolate-lined crust.

So, menu decided, I called my friend Michelle to see if she was home.  I wanted to drop off a jar of the chutney.  She shares with me the bounty of her garden, tons of vegan recipes, and a deep-rooted love of good food and cooking.  When I showed up at her door, she ushered me in, insisting I try her latest Thanksgiving trial meal.  Maple Tofu with Stuffing and Apple Cranberry Chutney nearly broke my heart.  She placed the plate in front of me and I sighed, breathing in the sweet and savory cloud of steam drifting up off my plate.  She thrust a toasted slice of her homemade potato bread in front of me and I was in Thanksgiving heaven.  This meal tasted so delicious that I ate until it was gone, heading home a bit later knowing I would only be able to keep my family company at the dinner table that night— I was absolutely stuffed and happy.

I am duplicating that dinner tonight, beginning a week-long vegan Thanksgiving.  I am definitely thankful this year— to be invited to my sister’s beautiful home with all the family that I love, to be able to cook and transport a meal that I am comfortable eating, and finally, that I made that double batch of chutney.

Pumped

November 18, 2010

My client arrives this morning and I greet her at the door, two medicine balls, two short fitness bands, and two pairs of gloves in my arms.  I have warned her to dress in layers, as we will be going outside for a good part of our session today.  We walk to the stop sign at the top of the hill, sharing the load of equipment.

“Go!” I urge, and we begin a power walk interval to the little park by Old Garden Beach.  We drop the medicine balls, 4 and six pounds, and the bands.  She looks at me, a bit nervous and self conscious.

“Okay.  We’re starting with push ups, just to get warmed up.”

We both groan as we do as many as we can— not the girl push ups with our knees on the ground, but the real thing.  We go until I look over and see her straining hard.

“Okay.  Little break.”

I count to ten.

“Go again.”

And so on.  We do jump squats, then grab the medicine balls.  We slam the balls into the soft, damp grass until I can see the green mashing into the dirt.  Then we smash the balls to the left and catch them, them to the right.  We toss the six pound ball back and forth.

“Throw with the left, catch with the right.  Now after you catch it, go around the world.”

I demonstrate, twirling the ball around my waist after I catch it, then toss it back to her.  We toss and catch standing on one foot.  We toss and catch, pass the ball under one leg and throw again.

We race back and forth across the park, tossing the ball, dribbling the ball.  We do squat throws.  We get down on all fours, move to plank, then walk like that half way across the park.

We are both panting and laughing when a man comes along with two big dogs.  (I know, more dogs!!!  Sorry.  But it’s true.)   Off leash.  The dogs are friendly, but it’s time to go back to my living room and finish up the session with glute strengthening and Super-sets.

When we are done, my client is tired, but she hugs me.

“Thanks, Elizabeth.  I love being your guinea pig!”

I can’t help it.  I am pumped after attending a fitness conference hosted by Exercise Etc., Inc. in Natick, MA last weekend.  The hotel conference rooms were packed with trainers; it was the first time I have been in the presence of so many of my professional peers.  The presenters were knowledgeable, experienced professionals in the fitness and nutrition fields.  Armed with the newest information in the areas of exercise science and nutrition, each expert gave a dynamic two hour PowerPoint presentation.

I had to choose between two classes for each two hour session and had a tough time prioritizing which lectures to attend.  Because my clients are all women, I chose the ones most pertinent in training them, talking myself into attending “Boot Camp Workout Drills” because I knew there would be new, fun exercises to mix into my personal training sessions.  I was smart enough to bring my laptop; I would never have been able to remember even a fraction of what I heard, especially during the boot camp workout drills presentation, as it was participatory.  Just to see where I stood along side my professional peers in fitness, I turned on the recorder on my laptop and jumped (no kidding— there was a lot of jumping!) right into it.  Since I did not have time to run on either day, and also because the first day was all lecture, two hours of drills felt mighty good.  I realized a couple of things on a personal level.  The first is that I have a lot of energy!  The second is that, although I sometimes still feel like the little girl I was in gym class with Mrs. Hermann, I was able to see that I am equally as fit if not more so than my peers.  I did my “barefoot thing” and although some of the trainers seemed a little bit freaked out about that, I demonstrated that you can be barefoot, safe and fast all at the same time.

I know it will take weeks of reviewing my notes and listening to the recorded lectures for everything presented to sink in.  I came home totally wired, demonstrating the 30 second push up to my son, revving up my clients’ sessions right away with new moves and fresh ideas.

Fitness rule for today:  Educate yourself.  You don’t need a trainer or a conference to do it, although it’s nice to have one or both.  There are lots of resources on the internet and on the newsstand to help you learn what the newest trends are in fitness.  Learn what you can, implement it into your fitness life, and pumped will replace boredom every time.

The Dog Test

November 15, 2010

Except for the ones who are off-leash while I am running, I generally like dogs.  Well, to be truly honest, I like them from a distance.  And as a distance runner who is always working on improving my speed and form, dogs are part of the way I check in with how I am doing.  It’s all about what I call stealth running.

When a runner is out there on the street or the sidewalk, each footfall’s impact affects the whole body.  With each step, the brain is jarred in its cranial shell.  The joints get pounded, especially the hip, knee, and ankle.  To lessen that impact, the runner must land as softly as possible with each and every step.

With a traditional running shoe, the shoe causes a heel strike. The heel strike allows the runner a longer stride and perhaps an increase in speed.  Over time, that heel strike, which is not a natural body response to running, causes damage and injury to those joints and the muscles, ligaments, and tendons supporting them.  Listen the next time you see a runner coming up the street.  Chances are you will hear their feet striking the pavement well before you can see their face. Thunk, thunk, thunk.  The more expensive, cushioned and supportive the shoe, the louder the thunk.

Barefoot, or in a minimal support shoe, those muscles, ligaments, and tendons that are built-in shock absorbers are recruited to do their jobs.  Try running around your house barefoot— you will find your body protects itself by forcing you to land on your mid-sole to toe area of your foot.  The result is a shorter stride, but in time, learning to increase the turnover in that stride, the runner may actually improve in speed and find a lower incidence of injury.  You won’t hear much thunking in your living room if you try the barefoot test, and you won’t hear much from the runner who zips by in a minimal support shoe.

The job of the runner in a minimal shoe is to focus on the foot strike and the landing.  The softer the runner lands, the lower the impact on the body.  It’s a lot to think about, especially if the runner is trying to relax and unwind during a run.

So— back to the dogs.  I have been working on my foot strike for months and months.  I try to run as lightly as possible.  It’s challenging to assess my progress.  Other people out there— the walkers, the runners, the gardeners— are focused on themselves and their headphones, their fitness partners, their flower beds and their thoughts.  I usually wear headphones myself and although I don’t have my music too loud, I have a hard time hearing if I am making a lot of noise when I run.  The leashed dogs, the ones out with their kind owners on their early morning walks and enjoying the smells of the shoreline and the fire hydrants— they are my best measure.  Dogs are always listening.  They listen for other dogs, for squirrels, for mice rustling in the little wooded areas along the streets.  I don’t believe they are big thinkers.  They are present in the moment, sniffing and peeing and loping along, very aware of what is going on around them.

An older couple who live on South Street own two sheep dogs and walk them faithfully each morning.  They take the long loop from their house down Penzance Road, the dogs on fairly short leashes.   The dogs are slow and friendly, tuned into their walk.  Once in a while only one of the couple walks the dogs, but dogs are always together.  When I see them, I prepare for the test.

I approach from behind, easing my breath and running as lightly as I am able.  When I began to do this test, the dogs would turn their heads when I was still yards and yards behind them.  The owners never noticed me until I was quite close, maybe about 10 feet away.  I promised myself that by autumn of this year, I would be able to run quietly enough that the dogs would not turn their heads until I was almost beside them.

Last week, I spotted them by the two marshes before the beach.  I had just rounded the hill coming down from Eden Road.  I was sprinting the hill, trying to stay on the middle of my foot.  I ran onto level pavement and looked ahead.  This was it.  It was well into autumn, there were the dogs.  This was my chance.

I ended the sprint to control my breathing but continued to run at my normal pace.  I approached, working hard, even shutting down my iPod so I could hear my own steps.  Pretty quiet!  The dogs never turned their heads.  I was alongside them and only when I came into their line of vision did their great white muzzles turn to me in unison.

“Good morning!”

The owners, such sweet and friendly brief companions on my daily run both looked over to me, surprised.

“Good morning to you!  We didn’t hear you coming!”

“I’m working on my stealth running.  Guess I’m doing pretty well.”

“I’ll say.  Have a nice run.”

They always say that.  And also that they can count on seeing me no matter what.  They must think I’m nuts to be out there every morning in any weather.

As I wave my goodbye and turn my music back on, I congratulate myself on making my goal.  I finally passed the dog test.