Thursday, March 31, 2011

Vegetable Frittata

I use downtime in lab to get caught up on news. Generally I spend about an hour or two browsing The New York Times most days a week. I'm in love. Lately when I've been scanning the Health section, the dinner recipes catch my eye and I end up reproducing the meal for dinner. This week: Spinach and Red Pepper Frittata.


Super tasty and full of protein and veggies, this is a great meal to make ahead of time and keep leftovers around for lunch during the week. I modified the recipe a bit to make it work for my tastes and my smaller servings needs.

The goods:
-4 eggs
-1/2 cup rice (or other) milk
-Handfuls of spinach
-1 red pepper
-1/2 medium onion
-Handfuls of mushrooms
-1/2 cup chopped broccoli
-Feta cheese

Optional: TJ's Newton's Folly cider, to drink while cooking

Start by steaming the veggies in a pan on med/high heat.
Add beaten eggs and rice milk.
Reduce heat to low/med heat. Cover with lid (this cooks the top!)
Let it cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until mostly solidified. Open the lid and sprinkle feta cheese on top. Replace lid and cook for another 2-4 minutes, until solid.
The result is an eggy, vegetable delight. Because it's so filling, it gives me enough slices to have over salad or in a wrap for lunch during the week.
20 minutes start-to-finish, with leftovers and using only one pan-- I'm seeing a lot of frittatas in my future.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Microbiology of Factory Farmed Meat

This is the second post in a series about the many factors that pushed me to go vegetarian and limit my animal product consumption. To read the first post about the environmental effects of meat and dairy production, click here.

Again, what I say here is what works for me and why I do what I do. I hope not to judge but to encourage discussion and critical thinking of our food sources and diet. My eating habits change daily and depending upon the news I hear that day-- I believe we should all strive to be aware of where our food comes and how it gets to us.

As a microbiologist, I'm hyper-sensitive to issues of infectious disease and strongly believe that it's the government's role to regulate and ensure food safety. With that in mind, today I want to discuss the Microbiology and Infectious Disease aspect of Factory Farmed Meat. (hyperlinked text are sources)
It's probably no secret by now that factory farming practices are dirty and incredibly wasteful. Still, the Food and Drug Administration alongside the United States Department of Agriculture are charged with the role to oversee and protect the production and marketing of any and all ingestible items in the United States. Sadly, the decisions made by these agencies and the issues that slide under the radar post severe risks to our health.

Because of tightly-packed factory farms, diseases can and do run rampant. Consider this: in a henhouse packed with 3,000 birds that can barely move, excrement, blood and other waste covers the floor. This gives bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter a free pass to jump between healthy chicken hosts. This same phenomenon can be found in pig and cattle farms as well. Indeed, this is how the 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu outbreak began. Frighteningly, most of this disease can be carried in the manure and finds its way to the human food supply due to poor sanitation conditions in the slaughter houses, with USDA investigators being actively discouraged to stop production even if they suspect of feces contamination.

The Bugs
According to the CDC, the top foodborne illness pathogens are the chicken-dwellers Campylobacter and Salmonella, and the beef-dweller E. coli O157:H7. These bacteria are all intestinal pathogens of these animals, that is, the disease can be spread from contaminated feces coming into contact with the oral cavity of humans or other animals. A statistic from 1999 estimates 76 million cases of illness, 325,000 hospitalizations and over 5,000 deaths are related to foodborne illness every year. In reality, this figure is much higher 12 years later in 2011 and often these illnesses go unreported.

  • Campylobacter is a chicken gut pathogen that causes campylobacteriosis in humans, which manifests as severe diarrhea and fever. The FDA acknowledges that 20-100% of commercial chickens harbor this bacteria! Gross.

  • Salmonella is another chicken pathogen that causes salmonellosis, an infection that causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It's estimated that there are 2-4 million cases per year in the US of salmonellosis.

  • E. coli O157:H7 is a cattle pathogen that causes severe diarrheal disease in humans, and can lead to the development of the kidney disease Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome. It's commonly found in contaminated ground beef and has lead to significant recalls just in the past year. Additionally, it's HUS from contaminated beef that killed 2 year-old Kevin Kowalcyk and lead to the push of food safety legislation known as Kevin's Law.
With all of this foodborne illness around, farmers and industrialists look for a cheap way to reduce the likelihood of disease spreading to their products. Rather than improve animal housing and sanitation conditions, the industry has turned to drugs.

The Drugs
Casual use of powerful antibiotics has long been looked down upon in science and medicine. Because of the nature of bacterial infections and antibiotics, their limited use is suggested as to not encourage the rise of drug resistant bacteria. This and other reasons are why strict regulation requires patients with infections to obtain prescriptions from a licensed physician.

It's surprising then to hear that the FDA estimates that over 28.7 million pounds of antibiotics were fed to livestock animals in 2009. To a microbiologist, this is absolutely frightening. By constantly challenging bacteria with antibiotics, the risk for mutations and adaptations within these bacteria greatly increases. Once humans become infected, our standard frontline treatments will be ineffective. This is an incredibly serious issue.

Unfortunately, there is evidence that resistance already occurring. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has been on the rise and continues to be an issue in the United States. It's estimated that drug resistant infections have lead to over 65,000 US deaths per year. Scary stuff.

Prevent Bugs and Drugs in your Food:
With all of this data, it's pretty clear that poor sanitation and the overuse of antibiotics is leading to very serious disease outbreaks in the United States. As a microbiologist, I stand in horror at the possibilities of drug resistant bacteria and the lack of viable drug options. For these reasons, I've made the decision to stop eating meat and avoid the risk all together.

If you do choose to eat meat, here are some things you can do to protect yourself and your family:
  • Make sure you're preparing your meat according to standard safety guidelines. This includes washing, cooking and saving uncooked meat. Find guidelines here.
  • Pay attention to food recalls and illness outbreaks. You can do this online or follow the FDA on Twitter.
  • Purchase organic or grass-fed meat. It's not a guarantee these animals are pathogen-free, but more likely that their living conditions are a little better and a little safer.
What do you think about foodborne illness and antibiotic use?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Washington Weekend

This past weekend was an incredible amount of fun. I love travelling and couldn't wait to get to DC on Friday. I started out really early driving in Michigan with a gorgeous sunrise. Later, I got a speeding ticket on this same highway. Oops...
I made my plane and spent Friday and Saturday getting ready for and running the National Half Marathon. After the race, I spent the rest of my weekend with my college girlfriends. I stayed with my BFF Ashton and spent time cuddling with her kitty Cicek while we watched Sex and the City post-race.
Later we dragged ourselves out of bed and went to see the cherry blossoms! They were in full bloom and totally gorgeous.
We took a giant walk that led us to the waterfront and around the monuments.
Later that night we hit up an art show in Columbia Heights put on by friends of Ashton. There was free PBR...
art on the walls...
and lots of fun to be had.
Sunday morning I woke up early and hightailed it to Baltimore for an insanely quick visit with my BFF Linnea. We started with a fantastic brunch in downtown Baltimore. Still looking to eat back calories from the race, I inhaled vegetable eggs Benedict with a side of potatoes, fruit and coffee.
Then we went back to her house to visit her gorgeous and and adorable daughter Sophie!
Sophie is already pretty good with my Blackberry.
Sadly I had to hop back on a plane to Michigan after only a few hours. My visit was so short and left me wanting more girl time! I'll have to visit again soon :)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

National Half Marathon Recap

At the beginning of this year I set up my running goals for 2011. First on the list: the DC National Half Marathon.

This was my second half marathon (my first was in Detroit) and I loved every minute of it!

Friday Ariell and I made it to DC and went straight to the expo. After picking up our packets we hightailed it back to our respective accommodations for the night-- we'd been carrying around our luggage all day.
I spent the weekend with my BFF Ashton (another post about our weekend coming soon!) and I got to her apartment early. I went to the local frozen yogurt place and had a pre-race mix of pb and cheesecake froyo with chocolate and berry toppings. Yummy carbs :)
Later that night I fueled up with salad, guac, crab chips and yogurt. We went to bed super early in preparation for the race the next day.
Saturday I woke up at 5:30am, got dressed and munched on a half whole-wheat bagel thin with chunky pb.
After some very packed Metro rides, Ariell and I made it to the race just as it was starting. We jumped into a corral and crossed the start line. My only goal for this race was to keep a consistent pace and to beat my PR from Detroit.

The first few miles were kind of rough-- I was tired and it was cold. Running in a new city is fun but also a little confusing. I had no idea where we were for pretty much all of the race! Regardless, my first few miles were steady. As soon as I saw the Capitol I started to smile and pushed on.
Mile 1: 10:12
Mile 2: 9:31
Mile 3: 9:09
Mile 4: 9:30
Mile 5: 9:40
Mile 6: 10:22 (shotblok stop)
Mile 7: 10:14

One of the best parts about running DC were all of the monuments! I was constantly entertained and in awe of the beauty of the city in the morning sunshine. I took a shotblok at miles 5 and 9 and that gave me great energy to keep running through the race.
Mile 8: 9:35
Mile 9: 9:18
Mile 10: 9:22 (shotblok stop)

At mile 10 I realized just how close we were to the finish! I picked up my pace and clocked that mile in under 9:00! Sadly I couldn't keep that pace for the rest of the race so settled back into a solid cadence.

Mile 11: 8:53
Mile 12: 9:29
Mile 13: 9:00
Mile .26: 8:22 pace

Before I knew it, I sprinted through to the finish line and completed my second half marathon in 2:06:32, a 14 minute PR from Detroit!!! I also managed to run the whole race as a negative split. I immediately found Ashton and Ariell and we snapped some photos.
The worst part of the day was the Metro ride back! It was really packed and my feet were super sore. Ashton busied herself by photographing my medal and I inhaled the post-race bagel, banana and chocolate milk handed out at the finish.
After showers and a nap, Ashton and I headed out to see the cherry blossoms.
And later grabbed a giant post-race lunch of Potbelly. I had a delicious veggie sub, chips and a cookie. This meal didn't stand a chance.
Finally we celebrated and went out to an art show for the rest of the night. Wonderful.
I had such a great time at the National Half and was so happy to PR! I continually am amazed by how much I love racing. Improving my times has become fun and addicting!
Did you run the race this weekend?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

FB: My First Half Marathon

This is the second in a series of 'flashback posts' where I post events and races from the past (before I had a blog) that I think are worth documenting and sharing publicly. With the DC National Half Marathon on Saturday I thought it was appropriate to reflect on my first HM experience.

After my first 5K, I was itching for something more. Faced with a summer of research and free time I took the plunge and signed up for my first half marathon, the Detroit Free Press Marathon and Half on October 17, 2010. I trained fairly diligently all summer, and before I knew it it was race time!

Before the race, I had just started in my fall lab rotation. Another grad student in the lab was also running the half marathon with her friend and sister and she graciously offered to drive and house me for the weekend. Thanks Becca! :)

Becca, Mario and I hit up the race expo the Friday before the race. This was my first big race expo, so we took it all in.
Driving home, I held my bib number in my lap and suddenly it all became real. I was going to run a half marathon!
Sunday morning, it was time for the race. We woke up super early and got dressed for the chilly Michigan morning. I ate a whole wheat tortilla with almond butter, and then we were off to the start.

The rest of my running crew and I parted ways at the corrals. With 15,000 runners just running the half marathon alone, I stood around feeling scared and unprepared to run 13.1 miles. Becca's words rang in my mind, "Once you start running, your body knows what to do." After a few minutes of Eminem music (I love Detroit!), we were off!
The first few miles were so fun. As we ran through the cold air, we approached the Ambassador Bridge between Michigan and Canada. Being one of the world's few international marathons, I was so excited as we ran over the bridge into the sunrise and into Canada.

Mile 1: 10:46
Mile 2: 11:39
Mile 3: 11:47 (hand cyclist crashed and there was traffic!)
Mile 4: 10:11
Mile 5: 9:50
Mile 6: 9:52
Mile 7: 11:10
After running through Canada for a bit, we took the mile-long underground tunnel back into America. This was hands down the worst part of the race for me. The tunnel was hot, dark and reeked of gasoline and fumes. I had no idea when it was going to end and just felt gross. I walked for 1:00 minute and pressed on.

Mile 8: 11:40 (walking break)
Mile 9: 11:01
Mile 10: 10:51
Mile 11: 10:21

After running through the historic neighborhoods in Detroit in somewhat of a haze, I woke right up when I saw the turn around point for the marathon and half marathoners. I knew we were close to the end, and I pushed forward. It was at this point too that I began to get emotional: I was going to finish a half marathon!

Mile 12: 10:21
Mile 13: 9:58

Total: 2:20:53
Finally, after 2 hours and 20 minutes of running, I crossed the finish of my first half marathon. I was elated and incredibly sore. Volunteers handed me a medal, a heat blanket and a bag of food and I set off to find my group. I hadn't run with a cell phone and ended up getting lost for a while. Thankfully a sweet Canadian girl on the sideline let me use her phone!
I found them, and was happy to hear everyone smashed their goal time. After showers and stretching, we finished the day at a creperie in downtown Detroit. Wonderful.

Completing the half marathon renewed my sense of determination and strength. I was so incredibly proud of myself and still am today. This race motivated me to sign up for another half and a full marathon this year. It truly was the proudest moment of my life and I didn't stop smiling for a week :)

What helped you believe in yourself?
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