Adventures in Cooking

I’ve never been a good cook. I’ll go so far that I’m even working my way up to becoming a decent cook, but good? Not me. Realistically there are about a dozen or so non-crockpot meals that I can make reliably. I’ve come a long way from first grade where, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my reply was “chef.” 

Yup. I’m definitely shattering 6 year old me’s dreams.

That being said, I have been cooking more since I started P90X. The program has a nutrition guide and even a meal plan, but I opted to try to stick to the recommended ratios of protein, carbs, veggies, dairy, fruit, snacks, etc. The details would bore you, but suffice it to say, when it came to hitting my allotted proteins for the day, I was in trouble.

Enter breakfast.

Eggs and pork/turkey/meat have protein, as you might imagine. If I get up and cook myself an egg or two and have some bacon or ham or Scrapple then I head to work with 1/3 to 1/2 of my daily protein checked off my list. Lunch is often leftovers or a sammich, though my killer tuna salad (one of my 12 reliable meals) often comes with me too.

Dinner has become its own thing though. Maggie typically makes dinner, but I’ll usually make dinner about once a week. Maggie has been out of town in Colorado doing Figaro with Emerald City Opera and being awesome for the last 3 weeks, so I’m left to fend for myself. As you can imagine, I cycled through my usual meals pretty quickly.

And so I began to try new things. Sometimes I was successful. Sometimes I failed pretty spectacularly. What I feel is important is that I am trying. I made a fantastic chicken fried rice dinner once upon a time and I have yet to replicate that success (it always comes out soggy or slimy). Last week it was again slimy. I tried an omelette and turned it into a pile of scrambled eggs and grilled veggies with hot sauce on top. Recently, however, I have had two decent successes.

Yesterday I made this:


Grilled Tilapia and Peas over rice

I grilled the tilapia with some dill, garlic salt, and lemon juice alongside sauteed onions, capers, and sundried tomatoes. It came out really good. Maggie and I have done fish a number of different ways, but I’m pretty proud of this one.

Today, however was a trial. I set out to make General Tso’s Chicken since it is one of my favorite Chinese dishes and I have gobs of chicken in the house at the moment. We had the orange sauce in the pantry already, so I needed to pick up a few things for the recipe. No sweat.

There are grilled versions of this dish, but I wanted to be more authentic to the dish, so I opted to fry it. I have almost no experience frying foods, so this was going to be fun. First thing’s first though, I needed to make a marinade for the chicken. Easy, right? One egg white, some soy sauce, a little cornstarch… What could go wrong?

I went through 5 eggs, made the mistake of trying to substitute cornmeal for cornstarch (eventually figured out you can sub flour for it), and stepped on the cat (I was preoccupied and he was underfoot. I apologized and pet his head after I washed off all the chicken-y bits. We’re cool again). Two other mistakes during this process: 1) broke the yolk on one egg when trying to get the white out, and 2) added my wet ingredients to my dry and got mush (yeah, I got a big “told you so” from Alton Brown on that one).

Then came the pans. I put my garlic and ridiculously hot dried red peppers from the Mexican aisle at ShopRite (note to self: hubris is often painful and hot peppers are advertised as hot because they are, in fact, hot) in a pan and promptly burned them up. Take 2, lowered the temp to aerate them and everything was fine. I heated the oil for the now sticky marinated chicken and put them in one by one. I expected the oil to pop. I’m not a complete novice and I have worked in fast food, so I know that heated cooking oil gets a little jumpy. Apparently I had either too much oil or too high heat, because this stuff went crazy. I put the little splash guard thingy on there (and used it as a shield for the rest of the frying) and turned the heat down and it calmed.

From there it was smooth sailing. Dry the chicken, add to the aerated veggies and sauce, mix, put on top of rice and broccoli, and enjoy.


General Tso’s Chicken

And so, despite my setbacks and failures, I am eating actual food that doesn’t come from a box or a takeout menu. It’s healthier for me and it gets me my protein and veggies so I have enough energy to kick butt at P90X.

I’m looking for more ideas and recipes. Hit me up with links or recipes you enjoy that fall into the “novice to proficient” difficulty range. After all, the more I learn to cook, the less frequently I have to eat pasta and manwich and tuna salad (though, like I said, I make a killer tuna salad).


When I thought about doing P90X a few months ago I wanted to write out the routines on a calendar so I could cross them off as I completed them. Basic behavior modification. I asked my wife to pick up a calendar for me and when she asked what I wanted on it I told her “whatever is fine.” And so I have an “Extraordinary Chickens” calendar upon which I track my progress.

It now has 7 X’s on it 🙂

I made it through the first week of P90X and did pretty well. I’m still getting used to eating differently. I generally eat lots of carbs and not enough protein in any given week. I’m good with veggies and fruit though (thanks to my wife). In order to really have enough energy to do this program I need more protein. I don’t do any of the supplements or drinks. For one, they’re expensive, and for two, I’m not trying to build myself up to be this awesome bodybuilder or anything. Yes, I know I’m missing out and my body is probably missing out, but I take my multivitamin and now a glucosamine supplement (recommended by a friend since I’m having knee trouble this week). My nutrition and vitamin intake are in the spirit of the program and for now that is good enough for me.

My biggest hurdles so far in the program are yoga and abs. Abs are just plain brutal. I’m doing 12-15 reps for each exercise (instead of the 25) and it’s all I can do for now. As for yoga, I’m just not all that flexible and I have a belly, which gets in the way and has more than once caused me to fall over. Plyo isn’t the monster I thought it was. I can mostly keep up and I try to push myself a bit more each time. I’m getting better at pull ups and, honestly, I’m doing mostly adjusted versions of many of the exercises at the moment to get some benefit and learn the routines. It does me no good to do 3/4 a pull up without a chair when I can do 5-10 with a chair (and I always try to do at least one without the chair each time). That’s my best right now and I’m not sad about it.

Kempo X is probably my new favorite thing. I enjoyed the punches and kicks when I did P90 back in the day and this is a high pace version of that. I’m still learning form, but I can keep up intensity, which is something I can’t do on any of the other programs.

In other news, Fantasy Football starts up soon. I’ve tinkered around a bit this weekend and plan to read up on the guys this year during the week. I’m hoping to find enough people (read: people I know) to start my own league this year. I’m sure I can cobble together 7-9 people to make it happen. Updates on that progress later.

I finish my internship in <1 month. After that I will be finishing my dissertation and hopefully finding a job. I’m applying to a lot of places this weekend and next week. I hate not having a plan and feeling like I have little control over what happens to Maggie and the cats and me for the next 3-4 months. All I know is that by the end of the year I will be graduated. There’s also a small chance that we’ll all be homeless. Now accepting donations.


I’m as ready as I’ll ever be to start P90X. I went grocery shopping yesterday with protein in mind and I’ve completed the fit test (mark off that goal). I took my measurements, redid the fit test, and took before pics. The data is below. I’ll be keeping track of my progress on the P90 Series Progress Tab above. There is a subpage (scroll to the bottom) with my before and after pics.

My goal for this is to do my best. I know I can’t keep up with them on the video. I’m doing a lot of modified exercises with less weight and fewer reps. That is my best right now. I’ll add weight/reps and swap over to non-modified exercises as I am able. This is going to test me in so many ways. Physically of course. Mentally I will be fighting during the exercises to push through. But also commitment. I am notorious for procrastinating and letting one misstep completely throw me off. The pain and soreness I’ve managed over the last 90 days with running and the last couple of weeks with auditioning these routines. It is keeping up the momentum and recognizing that if I miss a day it is not the end of the world. My life will be changing a lot in the next 90 days (as you read in my last post). I managed to find time to run during my roadtrip, even resorting to running laps at a rest stop in one case, but P90X is a much more significant time commitment. I know it is not going to run smoothly given how up in the air my life is at the moment. All I can do is be flexible and do my best.

Before I post my measurements/stats, I would like to say thanks to everyone who has supported me along the way. My wife of course for her weekly praise (and for listening to me complain about being sore). My friends Jo and John for sharing their experience with P90X and advice on modifying exercises and nutrition. Thanks also to my friend Bethney and my aunt Suzanne for their support and advice for running. To all of my Facebook friends for their likes and support along the way, to all of my Fitocracy friends for their continued support, encouragement, and props; and to the handful of people who follow my blog.

Everyone starts somewhere.

P90X Day 0 (7/29/12):

  • Weight = 204.0 lbs
  • Body Fat = 27.3%
  • Waist = 43 in
  • Hips = 39 in
  • Neck = 16.0 in
  • Chest = 43.0 in
  • Thighs =23.0 in
  • Calves = 16.5 in
  • Bicep = 13.75 in (L)
  • Bicep = 14.0 in (R)

Fit Test Day 0 (7/29/12)

  • Pull ups = 3/4 (10 assisted)
  • Vertical Leap = 5 inches
  • Pushups = 30 (on knees)
  • Toe Touch = 6 inches from toes
  • Wall Squat = 90 seconds
  • Bicep Curls = 10 reps x 20 lbs
  • In and Outs = 25
  • Jumping Jacks = 2 minutes

And to wrap things up, I have another 7 word phrase to get me through P90X.

Michael Pollan has his food rules: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants

I adopted this for running: Run far, not too fast, rest occasionally

For P90X, I propose the following: Push yourself, not too far, eat healthy

Please feel free to comment with encouragement or advice below!

The next 90 days

A lot is going to happen in my life in the next 90 days. I will complete my internship year at Coatesville. I will be extremely close, if not finished with my dissertation. I will almost be graduated with my PsyD. Maggie and I will be packing to move or have already moved to…somewhere. I will tackle P90X.

Internship has been a great experience overall. I have grown so much this year and learned a lot about myself professionally. Admittedly I was slow to adapt to the program and had to relearn a couple of things, but my professional confidence continues to grow and I feel like I’m making a difference in the lives of many veterans.

My dissertation is stressing me out. I need 4 more participants and I am working to find them wherever I can. If you are yourself or know a gay male college student in the Philly area who might be interested in participating in my research on the coming out process, send me an email (jschwenker@spalding.edu) for details. Once I have the last 4 I can pull all my data together, analyze it, write it up, and get on defending to my committee. I’m ready to move this process along since my proposal was accepted by ISTSS for discussion at the 2012 conference in Los Angeles. Yay!!!

I’m not sure what our future holds. Everything is once again up in the air (or perhaps it has always been there). We’re currently stuck in PA paying really high rent while I scour the nation for a job or post doc that will take me ABD. Looking forward to a time when I can count on just a little bit more stability.

Finally, I have decided to tackle P90X. After 2 years of consideration and a lot of procrastination, I will begin the program next week. I’ve been auditioning the workouts the past couple of weeks, doing one to the best of my ability and taking a day or 2 off to recover. They’re difficult. No question. And I don’t think I would have made it through Plyo without having spent the last 90 days running and building up my stamina and leg strength. Plyo was rough, but I think the real challenges for me are going to be Abs, pull ups, and yoga.

I plan to approach this the same way that I did my running and, to borrow a phrase from Tony Horton, “do my best and forget the rest.” My goal is to complete the program. Do each routine from start to finish. Do all of the exercises. There are some exercises where I can keep up with Tony and the gang. There are others where I absolutely cannot, and that’s fine. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. I may not be able to do 25 of each type of crunch, but I am sure I can manage 10 and work my way up. The same goes for other exercises. I can do more than half of what they’re doing and work toward matching for the moment.

I plan on tracking my progress here for each of the phases (tracking my measurements anyway and maybe a few pics). I will be tracking my daily progress on Fitocracy now that I’ve managed to translate the P90X exercises into Fitocracy’s language. I have my calendar marked and my worksheets printed. I take my initial measurements tomorrow (Sunday) morning and I start fresh on Monday after work. All that is left is to do the work and stay focused, which applies to more than just my exercise.

Beyond 90

I completed my goal today of running 30+ minutes a day for 90 consecutive days. It has done exactly what I expected it to do: make fitness a priority. I had to change lots of behaviors in order for this to work and I kept it going even on days when I felt I couldn’t. Regardless of how the numbers come out, that is an accomplishment in and of itself.

As part of making running and exercise a habit, I had to first claim about an hour a day for those purposes. When I sleep for (ideally) 8 hours and work for 8 hours and drive for ~1 hour, that leaves me with ~7 hours to fill. Many things compete for those hours including work and school responsibilities, chores, leisure, additional travel, hygiene, and food. It was also very hard for me to get started on a workout when I don’t begin immediately upon returning home from work. I don’t have the discipline to do a workout before work, so after work was good. When it comes down to it, there was no excuse as long as I planned accordingly.

Stretching is also important. I have a brief routine now, but when I began I didn’t stretch enough and later I did a lot of extraneous stretching that took up more time (which I later converted into actual workouts by adding weights). Now I have about 6 standard stretches that I do before and after a run that take up about 5 minutes of time.

I met with some setbacks as well. Due to the nature of this goal, I left myself no off days. I augmented my running with time on the elliptical so that I could “run” without the footstrike. This helped me battle shinsplints and rest up between actual runs. As shinsplints got worse, I used the elliptical more. This was mixed blessing because I can run faster and longer on this machine, which gives me a false sense of accomplishment. Still, there’s something to be said for the confidence I got–false or otherwise.

The community on Fitocracy has been wonderfully supportive. Getting props and encouragement from people who are also working on fitness and running was very helpful. I learned a lot about stretching, running, barefoot running, training, resting, etc. It was also very humbling knowing that my personal best on any given day is someone else’s warmup.

I’m also very happy about the support I received from friends/family on Facebook. My RunKeeper app updates to FB automatically, so people see my progress each day and comment there as well. Between Fitocracy and Facebook, that’s about as close as I’ve gotten to having a running buddy, though I’m sure one day I’ll share the road with a dog 🙂

I started this goal to make fitness a weekly part of my life. Research shows that doing an activity daily for 90 days helps to change your behavior and instill a new habit or routine. Most exercise programs capitalize on this and Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous encourage attending 90 meetings in 90 days when first beginning to maintain sobriety. Now that I’ve completed this goal, it is time to consider my next goal(s).

I have yet to complete a trufax 5K or 10K. Those are definitely on my list. I also want to complete P90X, but I have a ways to go for that. I plan to take a week off to rest my legs before I do anything. During that week I’ll give some thought to what I’d like to do next. Once my legs are better and I can get 2-3 good runs in at a consistent 30 minutes without too much injury (still working on form) I’ll sign up and do my first 5K.

As for P90X, I need to meet the minimum requirements before I begin. I’ve finished P90 and done several weeks of P90M, but that was over 2 years ago. I plan to push myself with the Ab Ripper routines and do an amalgamation of P90 and P90M exercises over the course of 1-2 months to work my way up to the P90X minimum on the fit test (see below). I’m still out of shape, but I’m better off than I was 90 days ago 🙂

So, for now, rest and recuperation. Starting in about a week I will alternate running with general workouts at our local gym to build up strength with the goal of passing the P90X fit test. From there, I’ll start P90X for reals and run as often as time (and my body) allows.

I’ll take any/all advice and well wishing in the comments section (for the half dozen of you who read my blog). I’m excited about completing my goal, but I’m also excited about starting a new one.


Running total from 90 day goal:

231.46 miles | 49:20 h:m | 13:15 avg pace | 35,829 calories | 12.0 lbs lost

Past measurements from P90/P90M exercise (circa 5/31/10)

  • Weight = 207 lbs
  • Waist = 39.5 in
  • Neck = 16 in
  • Thighs = 24 in
  • Biceps = 14.5 in
Current measurements (7/7/12):
  • Weight = 200.0 lbs
  • Body Fat = 26.4%
  • Waist = 38.5 in
  • Belly = 45.0 in
  • Hips = 42.0 in
  • Neck = 16.0 in
  • Chest = 43.0 in
  • Thighs =21.0 in
  • Calves = 16.0 in
  • Biceps = 13.75 in

P90X Fit Test goals:

  • Pull ups = 3
  • Push ups = 15
  • Wall Squat = 1 minute
  • Bicep Curls = 10 reps x 20 lbs
  • In and Outs = 25
  • Jumping Jacks (heart rate) = 90 sec @ steady; 30 sec @ sprint
  • Vertical leap = 5 inches 
  • Toe touch = 6 inches from toes 


I am currently in Nashville preparing to gather data for my dissertation. Let me catch you up to speed.

I have 18 participants so far for my dissertation and need 7 more to meet my goal of 25. Trying to find people in PA has been largely a bust as only one person has volunteered despite completing the IRB process at 3 universities and contacting local groups for assistance. I am in Nashville today because of a plea for friends to find friends of friends who might be interested. This has led to a road trip from PA to KY to TN to NC back to PA. Presently I am scheduled to work with 4 people and hope to cobble together 3 more before the trip is through. I’m waiting to hear back from others, but I can’t say for sure how many people I will have by the time I return to PA on the 4th.

I’m ready to be done with this project. Very ready. Following this portion I have to score each data set, send it to my dissertation chair to have her score it as well, compare notes, input the data into a program, download that information into 2 stats programs (SPSS and Excel), tinker a bunch, confer with my committee, run analyses, tinker some more, write up results, run everything by my committee, finalize edits, defend, and make final final edits. All of this needs to be done before Sept 8th (and preferably before Aug 31st) so that I can graduate in October.

Deep Breath

And so I am traveling approx 1,900 miles across 9 states to hopefully wrap up data collection so that I can throw myself headfirst into analysis and writing.

In addition to dissertation stuff, I am seeing lots of old friends, meeting new ones, and seeing many family members. In Louisville I got to visit with mom and Alicia. I had lunch/breakfast with several Murray friends as part of a fortuitous reunion, as well as spend time with my brother, his wife, and two kiddos, meeting my nephew for the first time. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Murray/Mayfield. Now I’m in Nashville visiting more Murray friends and doing dissertation stuff. Tomorrow I head to NC to meet friends of friends and gather more data with the outside chance of having a meal with friends and/or family (time and schedules permitting). I’ll be spending the 4th driving north and getting back to PA around bedtime for work on Thursday, rounding out the trip bookended by Thursdays.

I’ve been running where/when I can and I am nearly finished with my 90 in 90. I have 5 days left and, unfortunately, I believe I have injured myself. I’m almost certain it is shin splints, which have plagued me from the start. Given the rigor with which I have structured this goal (i.e., no days off) I have scantly rested my legs other than to alternate running with elliptical work to minimize footstrike. I have decided that I will walk briskly my last 5 days, further minimizing injury, and will follow up my goal with at least 2 weeks of rest. More on that progress later. I intend to restart P90 by the end of July, but I need to make sure I haven’t injured myself more severely than I think before I start something as rigorous as P90. I plan to alternate that with C210K to keep up my running, opting for longer running periods but shorter bursts of running.

So that’s where I’m at right now. Pushing to get this project done and staying healthy. Wish me luck. The next step is graduation, jobs, and moving away from PA.

One Month

I have finished one month of running 30+ minutes daily. I keep daily/weekly/overall updates on my running tab at the top of the page if you want to follow along with my progress.

Here’s the results for 1 month:

Miles Run | Total Time | Average Pace | Calories Burned | Overall Weight Loss

70.21 miles | 15:39 h:m | 14.10 avg pace | 10,701 calories | 6.2 lbs lost

Not too shabby. I’ve lost over 8lbs but I gained some back this week. I’m not sure what to think of that. My “fat %” as calculated by my scale says I’ve gone from 30% to 27% in the last month (I’ve been keeping an eye on it, but not tracking it per se). Maggie says my calves are looking bigger, so maybe I’ve gained some muscle? Also, I only track my weight on Sunday mornings, not daily.

Also, also, I kinda ate like crap this week. Gonna work on that.

So what have I learned in the first month (28 days)?

Be Flexible

Stretching is of course important. I’ve added several stretches to my routine since I started and they seem to be helping. But stretching is not the only way to be flexible. Some days when I want to run outside the weather is bad. Some days people are hogging all the machines in the gym. Some days I just don’t have enough energy to do the run I set out to do. I used to sweat this sort of thing, but that’s why I set such a simple goal of 30 minutes. The how doesn’t matter to me so much as the how long.

Run Early

The later in the day it gets, the less I feel like running. I haven’t tried to run in the mornings before work, but I try to do earlier runs on the weekends and I usually run as soon as I get home from work. It keeps me from waiting too long. In the past, if I waited too long, I didn’t do my workout. That’s still the case, though I’m committed to this goal.

Hills, hills, hills

As much as hills sound like no fun, I’m having fun with them. Weird, right? I see hills as a challenge when I’m running in the park. I run up them at a steady pace. If I’ve been walking a bit, I run up the next hill. Downhill is less fun. I feel like I’m getting away from myself and my shins hurt more when I descend than when I ascend. I’ve gotten some tips from other runners on this, but mostly I’m trying to increase my leg strength and manage leg fatigue. That’s where I get myself in trouble.

On the elliptical it is a different matter. The elliptical I run on has hill settings that go from 1-25. So far, for me, anything 12+ is a workout. I always set the elliptical to either random or hills to try to simulate actual elevation changes. Lately I’ve been using the elliptical less for running and more for strength training and low intensity. I can get in 30 minutes easy. It is nice because of the lack of footstrike and since I’m running daily (rather than taking a day off here and there) I can use the low intensity to still get a workout without tiring myself out or injuring myself.

What Next?

I have about 2 months to go. From here I’m going to start looking into more strength training for my legs through exercises and stretches. I’m going to pay more attention to my appetite/food portions and continue to eat more veggies. I am also going to look into alternate routes to mix things up a bit.

So that’s my first month. Wish me luck in the weeks to come. I’m thankfully injury free and I’ve gotten past much of my shin pain. Looking forward to 2 more months of good running.