Monday, January 31, 2011

(Mis)adventures in Veganism: My First Real Vegan Eating Out Experience

I knew this day would come. I had been telling myself that when it finally happened, I would keep my cool, play it on the down low and everything would be okay. And, yes, everything did turn out fine, but I don't think I realized how much of a challenge it could be to eat vegan in a non-vegan world. The day I am talking about is the day a vegan goes out for the first time to a restaurant with a group of people who are not vegan.

I know, I know... the world we live in is rapidly accepting vegetarianism as a mainstream way of life, and more and more restaurants are incorporating vegetarian options into their menus. But, veganism is a different ballgame. You have to question the bread they bring to the table, the dressing they put on your side salad, and the sauce they use to garnish your pasta. For a newly-converted vegan, this can be quite a novel experience. It was for me.

I went with my friend to Carino's Italian Restaurant. First of all, let me say that I am not the kind of person that likes to draw attention to myself. I am the kind of guy who, when he gets the wrong order, doesn't complain but rather eats the dish he is given. So, when my friend went to use the restroom to wash her hands, I used the opportunity to discreetly ask our waiter if there were any vegan options available. I assumed most Italian restaurants had vegan dishes, maybe a little pasta plate with some steamed veggies or some such fare, but when the guy solemnly shook his head no, I panicked. Should I just not order anything?

I feel like it's rude to go to a restaurant with people and not eat. It's also drawing attention and we can't have that. Plus, I was damned hungry - me not eating was so not happening!

Times like these are when you break out the iPad or iPhone . There is a wonderful app called VeganXpress that catalogs all the vegan items at various chain restaurants around the country. It also lists vegan-friendly food, beer, and wine. Unfortunately, I did not have my iPad on hand to check what I could eat. So I had to scrutinize the menu carefully.

I used my cell phone to check the message boards. On, I typed: "vegan options at Carino's Italian." informed me that "Carino's doesn't offer much for vegans (they do offer gluten-free options), but you can get a salad, and omit any cheese or grilled chicken, and get oil & vinegar for the dressing." Not too promising, but I could make do.

I asked the waiter if the kitchen could make me a dish with some plain old angel hair pasta, some artichokes, black olives, capers, and diced tomatoes, and absolutely no sauce. I also ordered a side salad with no croutons, cheese, or dressing, but rather a side of vinegar and lemon. When he brought me the salad and the sides, I mixed the vinegar with the herb olive oil they have on the table and the lemon and, voilĂ , a wonderfully good dressing! The pasta was delicious with just a drizzle of olive oil over it. When I left the restaurant, I was content with my meal.

There is a lesson here: American restaurants, especially those in Barbecue Capital, USA (also known as Lubbock, Texas) might not yet offer the most diverse vegan menu options, but if you are flexible and creative and you can keep your cool under pressure, then a perfectly satisfactory vegan meal is not too far away.

Vegan Chocolate

If you're looking for a bit of indulgence, here is your ticket: Go Raw Real Live Chocolate. It is vegan, made with raw organic cacao and raw organic agave nectar. This item is a bit pricey, at nearly ten bucks a box (six .3 oz pieces), but it might be worth it for the occasional splurge.

The chocolate tastes like fudge. When you pop it in your mouth, you get a soft, chewy texture that slowly melts in your mouth. As the flavors of the chocolate intensify, the true joy settles in. The product is not overly sweet (thankfully) and it does not have any of that bitterness to it that one comes to expect from non-milk chocolates.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Health Benefits of Flaxseeds

As a nation, we consume way too much omega-6 fatty acid and not enough omega-3. But, omega-3 is so important for our health for a number of reasons. For instance, omega-3 can reduce the risk of cancer. Several studies have shown the anti-cancer effects of omega-3. Omega-3 can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Lots of people get their omega-3 from fish and fish oils (eicosapentaenoic acid). As a vegan, I am finding flaxseeds to be a good source as well. Flaxseeds have a subtle nutty flavor. They are about the size of sesame seeds and they come in a variety of colors. Flaxseeds are rich in alpha linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat.

Some people take flaxseed oil, but the oil does not have all the nutrients that you find in the seeds themselves.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Last long run before Rocky Raccoon 100...

I wrote this as a status update on Facebook when I was feeling down during my long run. I think I want to keep it as a mantra:

It is both ignorant and selfish to think that my suffering is anything compared to what so many people in the world go through on a daily basis. Ultrarunning is not a chore, but a choice. A gift. Stay positive. Be strong.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Some inspiration... in Disney!

Remember "Hercules"? One of my favorite scenes is when the young Hercules leaves home to find his place amongst the gods. The song he sings on his journey is quite touching.

This song from "Mulan" gets me pumped! When the Chinese army captain, Li Shang is training his troops for battle with the invading Huns, he tells his men (and Mulan), that he is going to make men out of them. This song will "make a man out of you"!

This last song was not in the movie "The Lion King," but rather, in Julie Taymor's spectacular Broadway production. It also gets me pumped. It builds to a rather awesome climax. Have a listen!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fellow endurance warrior got her angel wings today...

On January 2, 2011, I posted an open letter from Lisa Smith-Batchen. In it, Lisa talked about her friend, Balei Chinski. Balei had been in the hospital since early December. She suffered a burst brain aneurysm and was in a coma for five days. When she finally came out of the coma, she was so weak that it was difficult for her to even talk. She would scream out in pain because her head hurt so much.

Those who loved her could do nothing to ease her suffering. Balei's mother, Cheryl, watched her little girl go through operation after operation, hoping things would change for the better. She watched her baby endure so much pain. "I am tired of fighting, but you know I will," Balei assured her mom.

Things weren't any easier outside the hospital. Cheryl lost her job. As a single mother, this was a devastating blow. She spent all her time by her child's hospital bedside. Soon, her and her three other daughters became in danger of being kicked out of their apartment complex. Now, they have hardly a dollar to their name.

Friends, sometimes in life it is impossible to understand how or why certain things happen the way they do. We ask ourselves all sorts of questions. Why me? What did I do to deserve this? We feel alone. Abandoned. Helpless in the struggle against insurmountable odds. But, we endure. We continue, strong in our faith that God will see us through the darkness.

Today, January 18, 2011, after 47 days in ICU and 5 brain operations, little Balei passed away. She was just sixteen years-old. This is a devastating time for all whose lives she touched.

I did not know Balei personally. But, Lisa often told me about her friend. She was and is such a powerful and vibrant life force. I call Balei our fellow endurance warrior. That she was. To run 100 miles is nothing compared to what Balei accomplished with her life: she has set for us an example of true faith and courage, an example that we should spend the rest of our lives trying to uphold. You know I will fight, Balei told her mom. This is real endurance.

Now, her family needs your help. Balei deserves to have a memorial service of dignity and grace. We are asking for donations. If you would like to to donate money to pay for Balei's funeral service, please mail a check or money order to the following address:

The Balei Chinski Relief Fund
Peoples Bank of Kankakee
315 Main St. NW
Bourbonnais Illinois 60914
Phone 815.936.7600
Fax 815.932.5559
I also ask that you pass this letter on to all of your friends and family. Let's support each other in these hard times and remember how precious life is and especially the people we love.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Protein Superstars of Veganism!

I'm already getting tired of the question - "Where do you get your protein?" And I've only been a vegan for 18 days now. The answer is pretty simple actually. Where? From plant foods of course!

All 9 of the essential amino acids necessary to build protein can be found in plant foods. Why do people just assume that animal protein is superior to plant protein? The amino acids in all animal protein comes from plants. What do people think the cow was eating?

Plants are pretty bad-ass if you think about it. We don't need any meat or animal products to get the essential amino acids. However, sometimes the protein in whole, natural plant foods are harder to digest than the processed or refined plant foods. This is where processed foods get to shine. Most people think that whole, natural foods are better for you, but in this instance, the processing of the protein makes it easier to digest than if it was unprocessed. Furthermore, these sources of protein are just as digestible as any animal protein.

These processed plant foods are the Protein Superstars of the Vegan World. Eat them and be happy! They are:

1. Tofu

Tofu was developed in ancient China from soybeans; the protein found in Tofu is easy to digest. Firm tofu has more protein than soft or silken tofu.

2. Veggie "meats"

Hooray for Tofurky and other meat substitutes! Not only do they taste really good, but they are fairly indistinguishable from the meats they are mimicking. Yes, some taste like crap, but there are some good vegan "meats" out there that are an excellent source of protein. One of my favorites is the Primal Stick. It is like a Slim Jim. It is great!

3. Refined grains

Who doesn't love refined grains in the form of white or whole wheat bread every now and then? I for one am a big fan of this Protein Superhero!

4. Lentils

If you don't like beans (for whatever reason... either they take too long to cook, they make you gassy, or whatever), lentils are the perfect source for protein needs. They are easily digestible and fast to cook.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rocky Raccon 100 Course Profile

This entry is part of an ongoing series of course profiles of different 100 mile races that I run. It will be divided into three basic sections: the physical (commenting on the physical aspects of the run, the training that is necessary, etc.), the psychological (commenting on the mental aspects of the race, and what the course entails on a psychological level), and the material (commenting on the gear you will need, supplies, etc.) Leave comments if you have run the course and would like to give advice on how others might better prepare for the race. These profiles are meant as a training tool for for anyone planning to run these races. They are my personal reflections on the race.

When: February 5, 2011
Where: Huntsville, Texas at the Huntsville State Park
Cost: Starting at $132
Type: Looped
Terrain: Flat and soft with with roots

The Physical

Rocky Raccoon is a fairly flat course. There are not a whole lot of hills here. The hills that do exist are gently rolling. Nothing like Cactus Rose 100. The trails are soft and covered with pine needles. There are roots on the trails, so watch your feet. There are also lots of wooden bridges on the trails. So, you will also be stepping on wooden planks.

The Mental

The course consists of five 20 mile loops. It's not an especially scenic course. Lots of woods. The view when you get to the lake is pretty nice, though. The good thing about Rocky Raccoon is that it is a huge event. About 700 runners come every year. So, you will have plenty of moral support out there. The aid stations are great. They are well-staffed and stocked with ultra essentials. That is both a blessing and a curse: the aid stations are nice to come across, but you might not want to leave. Seriously, don't stick around too long at the aid stations. It might help to have a pacer, but it is definitely not necessary in this particular 100 miler. You can get along just fine by yourself if you are adequately prepared. However, it can get pretty hairy alone on the trails at night, when you are going through the woods. One more thing about the trails - some parts have roots sticking out. It is almost inevitable that you will fall, especially at night. This can be quite psychologically taxing. Watch your feet on the trail, but be ready to fall down.

The Material

Take all your usual gear. A shoe with a good toe guard might be just the thing for when you stub your toes on those roots at night. Get a good flashlight, too. A headlamp alone will not reveal the relief of the trail; it will just illuminate. You need to be able to see those roots! Take a jacket for thee cold of night. You don't really need much for fueling. You could get by on just two water bottles. The aid stations are well-stocked and close enough apart that you can get by on just two water bottles. But veteran trail runners will probably want to take their own fueling needs. Most runners leave a drop bag at the start filled with clothes, extra shoes, medical supplies, etc.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A great vegan snack - Spicy Garbanzo Bean Bites!

It's movie night here in my apartment. I just ran 6 miles to the grocery store (this indigent college student has no car) and walked 6 miles back with about 30 lbs. of groceries in hand (not a fun trip), but it was so worth it because now I get to relish in what may be the best snack ever! These tasty treats are extremely easy to make, healthy, and can be seasoned however you want them. Then, you pop them in your mouth like popcorn!

Spicy Garbanzo Bean Bites

1 small baking sheet
1 can of reduced sodium garbanzo beans
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Seasoning of your choosing

1) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
2) Drain the beans completely and dry them with a paper towel
3 Spread them on the baking sheet.
4) Drizzle olive oil over them
5) Sprinkle your seasoning over them. You can use any kind of seasoning you want. They work well with Cajun seasoning. I used a sort of Italian herb blend of rosemary, black and red pepper, parsley and sea salt.
6) Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until crunchy.

A note about my shifting diet...

I just realized my diet seems to be shifting towards a higher-fat, Mediterranean-style (relatively unprocessed plant foods like nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados), vegan diet! Of course, I am making sure I am getting adequate levels of vitamin B12 (to reduce homocysteine levels)and omega-3 fatty acids (to reduce platelet aggregation). How this will affect my ultrarunning endeavors, I haven't the slightest idea. I feel like a mad scientist and the experiment is my body. I like it!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Veganism: An Evolution of the Heart (or, What I'm Learning About My Food)

This is going to sound like a hippie's rant, but I swear I do not own a tie-die shirt. I am not a member of PETA either. I am simply a concerned human being...

The more research I do, the more I realize that veganism not only makes sense from a health perspective, but it has the potential to be, if well-planned and intelligently put into practice, a solid ethical system and a more peaceful way of life.

Initially, my reasons for going vegan were totally selfish in nature. They were based on the fact that veganism can promote optimal health in a way that eating meat and animal-derived food products cannot. That is not necessarily the best reason to become a vegan, although it is certainly a step in the right direction.

A good reason to become vegan is that you want to be a caring, peaceful person - someone who refuses to participate in a system that enslaves (yes, enslaves), abuses, exploits, and slaughters millions of helpless animals every year for food and clothing. Talk about a holocaust... there is a holocaust occurring right now, this very minute, in every slaughterhouse.

Why do people think that slavery is a concept that applies only to humans? Why do people think that humans have the right to exploit and kill animals simply because they are of a different species? Ever heard the term speciesism? Speciesism is discrimination in favor of one species over another. It is a belief of humans that all other species of animals are inferior and may therefore be used for human benefit without regard to the suffering inflicted.

It is no secret what goes on in slaughterhouses. But, people don't like to think about that kind of stuff. They don't want to spoil their dinners. But, it is a reality. There is no denying the abuse and torture that goes on in these places. Watch the following videos and ask yourself if this is humane:

I do not believe these are isolated incidents. Not for one second do I believe that. I believe that all the animals in slaughterhouses and dairy farms are frightened and abused. They are in pain. And I refuse to be part of a system that practices that kind of behavior.

There are many reasons to go vegan. I can go on and on about how veganism is indeed the healthier lifestyle and can promote optimal health, reducing the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic illnesses, etc. I can debate about the evolutionary history of humans and whether or not we evolved to eat meat at all. But, in the end, it all comes down to personal choice. The best argument for going vegan is because you want to be a good person.

This is not the Stone Age. We are not cave men, and therefore, we need to stop acting like cave men. We have the science, technology, and resources to not have to rely on slaughtering animals for food and clothing. We even have the ability to make food that is vegan but that is practically indistinguishable in taste and texture from meat products! So why wouldn't we choose to do go vegan? Ignorance? How long can you feign ignorance? Laziness? What is the excuse?

It seems to me it is the only ethical thing to do.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A good reason to go vegan...

This documentary about how humans mistreat animals has blown me away. It will affect you, too, if you dare to look. It makes me glad I became a vegan. And it makes me feel like I am not doing enough to protect the well-being of animals who are treated so cruelly at the hands of man.

Be warned, the images in this film are extremely disturbing and upsetting.

Also, here is a very thought-provoking and challenging speech by student activist, Gary Yourofsky:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Livin' the Vegan Life!

Today is my tenth day as a vegan. The transition to a vegan lifestyle has been extremely educational and I can tell my body is quickly adapting to the change in diet. I will write more about this transition later, once I can better grasp the dynamics of the changes that are happening. Until then, I have posted the video below about transitioning to healthy eating habits. The key word, I think, is "transition." Make the change. Start today. You don't have to go vegan, but do something good for your body. Eat well.

Also, if you are interested in veganism, "Becoming Vegan," by Brenda Davis, R.D., and Vesanto Melina, M.S. and R.D., has been a vital part of my education on veganism. It is a wonderful book. Check it out.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


My friend, Aleia, was rummaging through her old picture files on her computer and she came across some photos of me when I was heavier (not at my heaviest, though!), before I lost 180 pounds. I don't recognize myself in them. I mean, I do and I don't.

It's so weird seeing what I looked like back then. I feel like I'm a different person now. But, not so different. I still feel for that guy staring back at me in the photos. I want to reach out to him and tell him... What do I want to tell him? That it will get better. That there is a whole world of possibility out there that he hasn't even dreamed of.

Pictures like these inspire me to keep moving forward. Change is always a possibility. It's inevitable, in fact.

Here are the pictures:

Here is another "Before and After" that I have posted before.

Click here to read Part 1 of my post about my weight loss journey. Click here for Part 2.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Running in Literature: A Passage from "The Secret Garden"

Have you ever read "The Secret Garden"? I picked up the book out of boredom today and I came across a really great passage that relates to running. I know... It's all about running, right? Seriously, though, I think it's a beautiful description of what running can do to revive the spirits when you're feeling gloomy.

Here's the backstory: Mary Lennox is an ugly child whom nobody likes. Her own parents didn't even like her. Neglected all her life, she turns out to be a sour little girl. A real brat. When her family is killed off by an outbreak of cholera, Mary is sent to live with her reclusive, wealthy uncle on his big estate out on a desolate moor in England. While staying there, she roams the expansive gardens. As she's wandering, she starts to run. Here is the description of her exploration:

...She gazed out of the window across to the huge moor which seemed to spread out on all sides and climb up to the sky, and after she had stared for a while she realized that if she did not go out she would have to stay in and do nothing--and so she went out. She did not know that this was the best thing she could have done, and she did not know that, when she began to walk quickly or even run along the paths and down the avenue, she was stirring her slow blood and making herself stronger by fighting with the wind which swept down from the moor. She ran only to make herself warm, and she hated the wind which rushed at her face and roared and held her back as if it were some giant she could not see. But the big breaths of rough fresh air blown over the heather filled her lungs with something which was good for her whole thin body and whipped some red color into her cheeks and brightened her dull eyes when she did not know anything about it.

Isn't that a lovely description? So simple, so true. Anyone who is a runner can relate. You know the feeling. You know what it's like to have the wind blowing through your hair, to pump your legs and have your heart racing. You feel alive. You might not even necessarily enjoy the run. It may be tough as hell. You legs could be hurting; your lungs could be screaming.

Mary sure isn't enjoying it much. She's just running to stay warm. There have been many times when I have gone out for my daily run even though I was not feeling up to it. But, you somehow always ease into the activity. You loosen up and realize what an exhilarating thing it is to be alive and moving. The experience is transformative. It certainly was transformative for little Mary. The experience of running along the garden walls helped awaken a passion in her she had never experienced before in her life. How many of you have been transformed by running? How many of you have had this experience that Mary is having?

Just had to share the goodness...

If you would like to read "The Secret Garden," you can find the entire novel here.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fat, Cashew Butter, and Other Such Random Musings...

Fat does not necessarily make you fat. We all know that. And, we all need some healthy fat in our diets. It isn't bad for you, per se. But, it is easy to overeat it. Compared to the other macronutrients, fat should comprise a relatively small percent of your diet. As an ultrarunner, I like to stick to the 60/20/20 ratio. That is: 60% of my daily calorie intake comes from carbs, 20% from protein, and 20% from fat. I like this ratio. It works for me. So how do I get my fat?

Well, lately, I notice I've been relying heavily on cashew butter. I love the stuff. I eat it with just about anything. The thing about cashew butter is, it can be sweet or it can be salty. I used to smear some on some on whole wheat bread and squirt some honey on top, but since I turned vegan, no more honey for me. Insert sad face! Seriously though, you should try this magical, rich, creamy food.

Speaking of fat, have you ever heard of the website This is Why You're Fat? It is a site that features really fatty, really unhealthy food concoctions that people have made or eaten. Most of the food looks really gross. Some items look, I'm ashamed to admit, intriguing. Here are some of my favorite gross-outs:

Chocolate-covered bacon on a stick...

Spam fries...

And the best: deep-fried lard balls with powdered sugar sprinkled on top...

Now, take some time to recover. These are obviously NOT the kinds of fats you want in your diet. Try some cashew butter instead!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Stay away from the fried fish!

I was browsing the New York Times this morning and I came across an interesting piece in the Health section. The article was about how fried fish is seen as a culprit in the "stroke belt" phenomenon.

I had never heard the term "stroke belt," but apparently, you are more likely to have a stroke if you live in one of these eight Southern southern states: North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana. These states have a higher rate of cardiovascular illness than the rest of the United States.

Why? Well, scientists have analyzed the diets of people living in these states and compared them with the diets of people nationwide. What they found suggested that people in the South eat the roughly the same amount of fish as the rest of the country. However, they are 32% more likely to eat that fish fried.

As controversial as this finding may be (certainly there are other culprits than fried fish for the "geographic and racial differences in stroke rate"), I can certainly see how eating fried fish might not be the best for your health. When you deep fry fish, all the naturally-occurring omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce the risk of stroke are replaced with the cooking oil.

The American Heart Association recommends at least two fish meals per week. But, deep frying the fish defeats the purpose. You are destroying the nutritional value of the fish.

Is there a lesson here? Yes. Be conscientious of what you eat. Take care of yourself. Eat good, whole foods that you enjoy and that benefit your body. And while a little indulgence in your favorite foods, be they fried catfish or in my case bean and cheese tacos, remember that it all comes down to diet. You are what you eat.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A recipe for veggie tamales

Here is a pretty simple recipe for veggie tamales. A lot of it is improvised according to judgment and taste, so feel free to experiment. None of this is set in stone. For example, you can use a different vegetable mixture than the one used here. You can add carrots or broccoli. You can add cheese if you want. There is no end to where you can take it! This recipe is meant to give you ideas (not to say that the tamales won't be perfectly delicious if you stick strictly to this recipe). Also, these tamales are not made-from scratch tamales. We are using store-bought masa here. You can find many good masa recipes online if you want to make the tamales entirely from scratch. But, you can get perfectly good masa at a quality "molino," or tortilla factory. Note that some masa that you buy at the store is not vegan-friendly since some contain lard. This masa is vegan friendly. We are using olive oil here instead of lard. The finished product here is not vegan friendly however since we are using chicken stock to boil the tamales in. However, you may be able to use vegetable stock instead for a pure vegan product! Have fun!

8 pods chiles anchos (dried red peppers)

6 lbs fresh masa (you can buy this at a tortilla factory called a "molino")

1 large package of corn husks ("hojas para tamales")

A 1 oz. small package of chile powder mix (the mix has other seasonings than chile powder)

1 3 oz. bottle of plain chile powder


Black pepper

One cup of olive oil

6 Zucchinis

2 Green bell peppers

2 Red bell peppers

1 Bunch green onions

A half gallon of chicken broth


1. Prepare the chile ancho paste to season the masa.

The following can be prepared a few days before making your tamales:

Remove stems from each pod of chile ancho.

Tear open each pod and discard all the seeds.

Soak the hallowed out pods overnight in hot water to soften them.

When completely softened, discard the water and puree the pods and set the paste aside in bowl.

2. Spice the masa.

The following can be prepared a day or two before making your tamales:

*Note: this is the fun part. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty and don't be afraid to taste! Remember, none of this is set in stone, so feel free to add seasoning as you see fit.

Place the masa in a very large pot.

Add the pureed chile ancho, chile powder mix (1 oz.), half of the bottle of chile powder (1.5 oz.), and salt and pepper to taste.

Mix thoroughly with clean hands. Make sure to break up all those little clumps of masa. You want a completely evenly spiced and textured masa mix.

While mixing add about one cup of olive oil. Here, you want to get the masa to a soft and manageable texture, not too stiff and not too thin. Go by feel. If the masa seems to dry, just add more olive oil.

3. Prepare your corn husks.

The following can be prepared a day or two before making your tamales.

Open each corn husk.

Remove any corn silk (the hair-like fibers from the husk).

Soak the Corn Husks in a large pot with hot water. This makes the corn husks soft and flexible for when you spread the masa on them.

Leave them in the water overnight or until soft.

4. Cut up your veggies.

The following can be prepared a day or two before making your tamales:

Chop all the veggies to a desired size and mix in a large bowl. You can dice them up into small pieces or you can even julienne the bell peppers and zucchinis to about inch long.

Set aside or refrigerate until ready to cook.

5. Make your tamales.

Now that you have done all your prep work, you are ready to assemble and cook your tamales. This is a tough day. Spreading the masa on the tamales can be tough work, but it is well-rewarded work. One suggestion: the more people you can get in on this process of spreading masa and stuffing the tamales, the better. You can even make a party of the whole business. These tamale-making parties are called tamaladas. Sit around a large table with your friends and family and have a blast!

Drain the corn husks completely, stand them upright on drain board or in a pan so that all the water can come out. You can even shake them off to get rid of any excess water.

"Sautee" the vegetables in a non-stick skillet. Do not add any fat or oil; you won't need it. The vegetables will release their own water in which to cook. Just put the vegetables in a pan and set them at a low to medium heat. You want them tender but not too soft because they will get more cooking time when you stuff them in the tamales. Make sure most of the water in the pan is evaporated because you don't want the vegetables too watery.

In a separate pot, bring half a gallon of chicken stock to a boil. You will use this later to cook your tamales.

Take a corn husk and cup it in your palm. The corn husk naturally cups itself into a bowl-like shape. You are going to spread the masa on the inside of that "bowl."

Using a spoon, place about a golf ball size hunk of masa onto the corn husk.

Holding the husk in one hand, spread about a golf ball size of masa onto the bottom portion of the husk with the back of the spoon. The bottom portion is the wide part (do not spread any masa on the upper (tapered) part of the the husk). This is all about technique and judgment. You can place the corn husk on a flat surface and spread the masa like that, but you get more control when you cup the husk in your hand. Find out the technique that works for you. You want the masa to be spread with an even thickness across the bottom portion of the husk. How thick a layer of masa you want is up to you. A thicker layer will make a really fat, "doughy" tamale. I personally like the fat tamales, but you may not. Experiment. And remember, practice makes perfect!

When finished spreading, stack the husks with masa on top of each other.

Spoon enough vegetables, length-wise, on the masa, but don't spread the veggies all the way to the top and bottom of the masa. Rather, leave about half an inch on either side so that you can close off the tamale on both ends by pinching the masa together (see the next step). Refer to diagram below.

Roll the tamale up and fold the flap top-section of the husk (the part without masa) part down. Pinch the masa on the top and bottom of the tamale so that the vegetables are closed off and enclosed completely in the tamale. If you do not have enough masa to close off the open end of the tamale, feel free to take a little bit of extra masa in your finger to seal off the end.

Arrange all the tamales in a large pot, (teepee style), with the opened part of the tamale upright.

Pour the boiling hot chicken stock into the pot with the tamales. Maintain a boil. Cover and lower flame to where you can still hear the boiling sound. Cook for one hour on medium low. This is terribly important: do not uncover them until the hour is up. They will not cook properly if you uncover them.

6. Enjoy your tamales!

A Call for Help! Please read this...

The following letter comes from Lisa Smith-Batchen. Lisa's friend, a 16 year-old girl, is in dire medical condition. She may be dying. Read below to find out how you can help her and her family get through these terrible ordeals.

Dear endurance friends!!!

Please take a few moments to sit down and read this letter, it comes
with a very heavy heart and one I have been thinking about for several days.

On Dec. 28th I will have my foot operated on. During my 2,500 mile run
this summer it broke and a tendon was torn. I have spent 6 months in a
boot or cast to heal it and it has not healed. The lessons continue. I
have been a bit stressed out this part week thinking about being put to
sleep, the surgery and the pain of the foot coming back. It sure is
different for most of us when we are on mile 200 and the pain is something we
can bare because we are the one in charge and in control of it.
We are the ones who allow the pain and know what is needed to "just deal with it"

ALL of you have done absolutely amazing endurance events, you have
endured what most people can not comprehend and what most people would
never even consider doing.

ALL of you inspire me and inspire so many to do and be better at most
everything life has to offer.

ALL of you have such talent to use your body, mind, spirit and soul to
move to places of the unknown.

My good friend Jim Simone who is one amazing endurance athlete
introduced me a friend of his Cheryl (a single mother) and her 4
beautiful daughters. They drove all the way from Chicago and spent a
week with us here in the Tetons.Needless to say if you met this
beautiful family you would fall in love with them as we did.

Balei, Cheryl's daughter who turned 16 on Oct. has been going through
the biggest endurance challenge of her life and she needs our help, her family needs our help..
On Dec. 4th, 2010 Balei complained on a headache and nausea. Hours later she was rushed to
University Chicago Corner Childrens Hospital. Balei suffered a burst brain aneurysm and was in a coma for 5 days
. In critical condition ICU Balie has gone through 3 brain surgery since then and the last one was today.
They discovered the fluid leaking from the brain was meningitis!

Balei nick name is Sassy, she is one of the most amazing, kind, giving,
generous kids I have ever met. She was the one at our home trying to
rally everyone to plays games, go on hikes, dance, sing and just live
life for the moment. I was so impressed with her ability to inspire and
get my 2 daughters to do about anything she ask of them!

The hospital staff says that Balei is the inspiration that keeps them
going right now...even when she is screaming in pain because her head
hurts so much anyone who comes into her hospital room she finds a place
to tell them she loves them, Merry Christmas.

Balie told her mother Cheryl "I tired of fighting but you know I will."

Balies voice is weak and most of the time very hard to understand her at all. I have spoken to her several times in the past few weeks even if they just put the phone to her ear so she could hear what I had to say. What I have said to Balie is that she is my hero, she is my courage. What she is going through and enduring is far greater then anything I have personally ever even been close to experiencing. A hero she is for her undying love, giving and inspiration to fight.

In the past few days, Cheryl, Balei's mother was fired from her job, she is about to lose the family's apartment and they have less then $100 to there name. Cheryl spends every waking moment with Balei and her other girls.

How can so much happen to one person and the family all at once? The
answer may never be known.

This morning I went for a walk at 2 am, I could not sleep thinking about my phone call the night before with Jim..the trials and struggles of Balei, Cheryl and their beautiful family.

It took me 40 min. to walk 1 mile because my foot is in so much pain and the limp has caused my hip to hurt.

Last night we got 1 foot of fresh snow, the sky was amazing. I fell to
my knees in the snow and just starting to cry. I thought about Mother Mary and reminds me of Mother Cheryl and Balei.

Sister Marybeth was the first person I called when I found out I have to have my foot operated on. Her words to me were short, sweet and full of wisdom, as always.

"Lisa, God has something else for you to do right now. Sit quiet and

It became clear to me this morning that my 2,500 mile run through the
USA was not over. Many more lessons to learn and so many children and
people to help.

I may not be able to run but I can sure continue to help and spread hope.

I am asking for your help! Helping one child at a time, one person at a
time. "Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much".

Help Balei and her family win this endurance race, help get the word out to all your endurance friends. Helping Balei helps me, it helps you, it helps all who step forward.

It helps us all come to realize that we are in this together and that we all do make a difference, we can make a difference.

When it is your turn for me to help know I will.

Consider sending this letter to all your endurance friends and ask them
to please consider making a donation of even $10 to help Balei and her
family right now.

The Balei Chinski Relief Fund
Peoples Bank of Kankakee
315 Main St. NW
Bourbonnais Illinois 60914
Phone 815.936.7600
Fax 815.932.5559
People can send tax DEDUCTABLE donations to the bank or contact them
for more info.

Or you can send a check to the Dreamchaser Foundation 100% OF ALL

po box 1200
Driggs, Idaho 83422
In the subject area write: Balei

Thank you for your consideration.

May your days be filled with love, joy, hope, faith and wonder

Lisa Smith-Batchen