Monthly Archives: November 2009

“Healthy” energy bars?

Runners run races for many reasons, but what gets most of us through them is the promise of something edible at the finish line. Today was no different, although in my case I was hoping most for plain old water. Mary Ann wanted coffee. I got water, she got coffee, and we both took a few of the “energy bars” laid out on the post-run table. True to form, though, neither of us ate them.

We did, however, read the ingredients. Eye roll. Double eye roll. Next to us, Abbie Fett, another Blufftonite, albeit a much younger one, was eyeing the ingredients of her own high protein, carb controlled bar that claims to “satisfy the nutritional needs” of athletes. Triple eye roll.

Okay, even the three of us — nonprofessionals — know that’s all bunk. A crock. A pile of…well, you get the idea. As any nutrition-conscious layperson who has done any amount of research on what’s good for the gut knows that while the protein blend may contain such healthy ingredients as soy and milk proteins, peanuts, nonfat mik and assorted vitamins, the rest of the stuff could easily counteract any good a body might derive from digesting one of these bars. Read on: malitol syrup, dextrin, malitol, maltodextrin, sucralose (various forms of sugar), fractionated palm kernal oil and partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Red flags all over the place.

That set off a discussion of the various “energy” bars we’ve found to be acceptable. One, they should have a minimum of processed sugars. Two, the minimal amount of ingredients is preferable. Three, they must taste good.

Over the years, we’ve each learned that homemade is still the best and — honestly — take very little time to make. Try one of these — feel free to vary yours with assorted dried fruits, nuts, and (unsweetened) cereals/grains.

Mary Ann’s energy bars contain only three ingredients — dates, dried cherries, and almonds. Moosh them all together into a bar or ball.

Abbie’s cereal bars include peanut butter, honey and cereal. Warm 1/2 c. peanut butter and 1/2 c. honey in the microwave. Add 1 c. cereal, put in a pan in the fridge and let cool and harden. Abbie says she sometimes adds raisins.

My own version dates back about 25 years when I began trying healthier, homemade foods on my kids. The added attraction of this is that kids LOVE to help make these. In fact, one of their babysitters once brought this and told them it was “edible playdough”. Mix in a large bowl: 1/2 c. honey, 1/2 c. peanut butter, 1 c. dry milk solids, 1 c. uncooked rolled oats. Knead until blended, shape into small balls. It was one way to be sure the girls got a good chunk of protein, dairy and whole grains each day. A friend told me that she makes the same version and rolls the dough into a cylinder and rolls it in crushed nuts (almonds, walnuts), then slices. 

Sure, all of these take at least a few minutes to prepare, and yes, you have to make sure you have the ingredients. But the amount of time is negligible — certainly less time than it would take you to drive to the store to buy that purported “energy bar”.  But if it’s necessary to buy one, be sure to read the ingredients — watch for trans fats (hydrogenated or fractionated are the key “bad” words), high sugar content, fiber, whole grains and a good balance of carbs and proteins.

Ikecomeback again…

A few weeks ago after the last dog-chasing incident, my cousin suggested that we rename the dog Ikecomeback — similar to the way that she renamed her daughter’s dog, Starbuckbequiet. At the time, I laughed. Well, laugh no more. He is now Ikecomeback.

Yes, we have had yet another dog-on-the-loose incident, but this time there was to be no chasing. We are chased out. Besides, the husband was temporarily disabled, so my attentions were elsewhere.

It happened in this way. Truly, it did. Finished up my run with Mary Ann, picked up the boys (husband and dog) for a short (10 minute) walk before getting ready for work. That was 7 a.m. One hour, one possible broken human nose, one bloody nose, one soon-to-be-sore 60-year-old, and one very tired, wet and muddy dog later, I finally got my hot shower. What happened within that hour was not pretty.

Just one block from home, husband slipped on the sidewalk, smacked his head, nose and neck (don’t ask, don’t know), and the dog was off on yet another exploration. Confused, I looked down and realized the leash was still in the husband’s hand, and dangling at the end of it was the collar, complete with tags. Houdini-like, Ikecomeback had somehow managed to de-collar himself.

This time, there was to be no chasing of the dog. I distinctly remember hearing someone say “Stupid dog”, but honestly, I don’t know who said it. All I know is that neither of us gave chase. Instead, I helped the limping, bloody man toward our house. Oddly, Ikecomeback really DID come back — if briefly. Led us home, then took off across the street.

Left the husband lying down, ice on his neck, a bunch of kleenex in hand, and drove around looking for a Schnauzer on the loose. A few blocks from home, I saw him trotting through someone’s yard. Remembering my boss’ comment that the chase was a game, I parked and sat on the curb.

Ikecomeback sidled over to me, but ran when I moved one inch. He stopped to bark at several dogs behind a fence, then ran through an open gate into a — fenced — yard.  About this time, my brain kicked into fifth gear and I slammed the gate behind both of us.
Still refusing to chase, I sat on a bench and prayed that the owners of the house were (a) not home, or (b) asleep.  I sat. I sat some more. Waited. Waited some more. Thanks to my four older brothers, I learned long ago to not give in easily. The dog trotted back and forth between the gate, an empty pond, every corner of the hard, scooting past me if I so much as peeked.
Midway through the standoff, the husband, roused by my phone call (yes, I remembered it this time), tottered up to stand guard at the gate. I suppose this could have gone on all day, but I had better things to do. So…thanks again to my brothers who taught me to be tricky, I threw my coat over the dog, grabbed him and headed for home. 
His punishment? Second bath of the week. I suspect he’s still sleeping off that one. 

The one that got away…again

I can probably count on one hand the few important times in our married life that my husband did not have a camera at his side. The day we got married. The day our daughter got married. The moment each of our daughters took their first steps (this counts as two). The day we saw a bald eagle.

You get the picture. I’m sure there were others; I just can’t remember them. Today as we set out on our usual Sunday morning walk, we checked our pockets for crucial items: dog poop bag (check), lip balm (check), tissues (check), pepper spray (check). All there.

Off we went on our usual route — our first time in two weeks that we had the nerve to take the route that passes by the home of the stupid pit bull. But with pepper spray in our pockets (as recommended by Everett, our favorite postmaster), we were confident that we could fight off whatever came our way. As it happened, said dog — as instructed by the county dog warden — had been confined to a dog run.

Along the way we saw the usual things…a couple of yippy dogs wishing they too could take a trek outside, far too many squirrels — each of which Ike thought looked interesting enough to chase, the only other couple in town that we see on most of our walks, piles of poop left behind by irresponsible dog owners, but not much of great interest. Certainly not anything that made us wish for a camera.

On to the Buckeye, hoping for a sighting of the great blue heron that sometimes roosts among the gaggle of geese and bevy of ducks that regularly populate the quarry. And maybe a white-tailed deer like the one Mary Ann and I saw on our run a few weeks ago.

As we passed the shelter house and shuffle board courts, something high in a tree caught my eye. A bird? A GREAT BIG bird? The husband, ever on the lookout for the heron, was busy looking at something else, when I stopped dead in my tracks. I’ve always wanted to say that. (Understand, I NEVER stop except for water or to pick up poop.) For a few seconds, I couldn’t speak. I was almost afraid to say the word. Somehow I managed to point — we must have looked like total idiots with our mouths hanging down to our toes. Wow. It took off across the water, gliding smoothly, its talons pointed like a ballerina.

Landing in a tree near the basketball court, it sat glaring at us, as if to say, Nanananabooboo. You forgot your camera.

Dang. No camera. No phone. Nothing. Nada. Just pepper spray and a bag of dog poop.

I knew what the husband was thinking. Could he run home fast enough to get the camera and get back before it left? Nope. But he considered it. Trust me.

The rest of the walk was hampered by the husband trying desperately to get another sighting of the bird — succeeding only in giving himself a permanent crick in his neck. It was the fastest walk we’ve taken in a long time.

After 30 years of living with this guy, I know him all too well. Important missed are not easily forgotten. Once home, he announced his plan to go eagle hunting. Grabbing his camera, he headed for the car. Would I like to go along for the ride? Why not?

We drove SLOWLY around the northwest side of town, combing the trees along the Riley, until we reached the Buckeye. The photographer took a long, slow trek around the quarry. Sensing this would be a long — and probably useless — hunt, I stayed in the car to listen to a book on CD.

Disappointed but insistent that the eagle MUST be in the nearby woods, he drove SLOWLY along the creek. Nada. The eagle was nowhere to be seen. The car finally got tired and took us home. 

Maybe now we’ve learned. Always tuck a phone in the pocket. Just in case. Because, as in the case of the “fish that got away”, no one will believe us.

The Deep Freeze

One day long ago, when my brothers and I were young, my parents purchased a large deep freeze. Oddly, it was the “junior” size but was long enough and deep enough that if we had filled it with water we could have swam in it. That, of course, was what we would like to have done with it, but unfortunately, the parents prevailed.

We anticipated its arrival as if it were a long-awaited Christmas present. I don’t know why we thought of this as such a big deal, but I remember its delivery as if it had happened yesterday. The truck pulled in, the men got out and somehow they managed to wrestle it (in parts, I think) into the basement “freezer room”. That is true. We actually had a “freezer room” located in our dark, dingy basement. The freezer filled about half of the space, and the rest of the room was taken up by some storage units that held — of course — empty freezer boxes.

Our summers were spent stringing beans, shelling peas, cutting corn off the cob, cutting up strawberries for freezer jam, and freezing whatever else grew in our massive garden.

Before the days of the Schwann’s man coming to the door with deliveries, my mother ordered frozen meat from some mysterious source. Large boxes filled with breaded veal patties — my favorite — would arrive, be labled and trundled off to the freezer room. By the end of the summer, the freezer was filled to the brim with food to keep our family of seven fed for many months. Along the way, our mother — the master meal planner of them all — would bake an assortment of cookies that would be stored in tins in the freezer.

No open cookie jars in our house — if we needed a snack, we could have saltines or fruit. No cookies whenever we wanted them. Or at least that’s what our mother thought. Little did she know that we were sneaking to the basement to snitch a cookie from her frozen stockpile. Until, of course, the day that she retrieved a tin for one of her “club” meetings and upon opening the tin, discovered it only half full. That usually produced one of her threats to lock up the freezer. We knew she was kidding, but still…it worried us.

Along the way, my mother discovered 7-layer cookies — a very simple recipe involving 7 ingredients that produced the most wonderful — but definitely unhealthy — concoction. Oddly, the recipe contains the one ingredient that we hated — coconut. Fortunately, the coconut was nearly indistinguishable in taste because of the richness of the other ingredients. Butter-saturated graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, walnuts and sweetened, condensed milk made mincemeat of the coconut.

Still, I could eat them only if they were frozen, so I learned to sneak quietly to the basement for one when she was teaching piano in another part of the house. The plinking of the keys usually drowned out the squeaking of the old wooden basement steps.

Sadly, sometime in my youth, my mother discovered that she had a family predisposition to high cholesterol that she unerringly passed on to most of my brothers and me. Unfortunately, that was the demise of the 7-layer cookies. Not one of those seven ingredients appeared on the surgeon general’s list of okay foods. Especially not coconut.

Years later, I resurrected that recipe for one of my daughters’ school functions. Since my kids and husband share my dislike for coconut, we made them without the coconut so they technically had to be retitled “6-Layer Cookies”. Lo and behold, no one missed the coconut; the cookies passed the test and became an all-time favorite. Unfortunately, my own cholesterol remains a medically and dietary unsolvable problem so they’re not consumed on a regular basis.

Recently, though, my mother unearthed her recipe and the two of us agreed it was time to share it with the rest of the world — high cholesterol counts notwithstanding.

We recommend ditching the coconut. And if you use dark chocolate chips and walnuts, at least you’ll have included a smidgeon of antioxidants which, as we we now know, makes chocoholic tendencies acceptable.

7-Layer Cookies
1/2 c. butter or margarine
1 c. graham cracker crumbs
1 c. coconut (optional)
6 oz. semi-sweet (or dark) chocolate chips
6 oz. butterscotch chips
15 ounce can sweetened condensed milk (MUST USE THIS)
1 1/2 c. finely chopped nuts (walnuts taste best)
Melt the butter in 9x15x2-inch pan. Spread graham cracker crumbs over the melted butter. Sprinkle coconut (or not), chocolate and butterscotch chips over evenly. Drizzle the sweetened condensed milk evenly over all, and top with nuts. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Cut into squares immediately. Yields 3 doz.


In the 30+ years I’ve been running, I’ve (literally) run into a skunk, nearly run into a deer, been flashed by a strange man on a country road, run off the road by a crazy driver who had it in for runners, “accompanied” by countless loose — but friendly — dogs, yelled at by teenage boys, and stared at by unbelieving passersby. On a frigid, snowy day, when it was safer to run than to drive, a man in a pickup gestured wildly at me as if I should get off his road.

But nothing…nothing…not even the flasher…came anywhere near as frightening, confusing, or angering, as today’s encounter with a loose pit bull. I now understand the stories I’ve read about pit bulls attacking and killing small children. It can happen.

On the whole, loose dogs just annoy me. Rather, the owners who let their dogs run loose annoy me. But scare? Rarely. On the other hand, I’m glad Mary Ann wasn’t with me today. She’d have been hysterical.

As it was, Fred, Ike and I were out for what we thought would be a long walk on a beautiful, sunny and warm morning. Ten minutes into our walk, we were approached by a white dog with a brown eye patch. That’s what threw me — the pit bulls I’ve seen in the past were ugly and this one was pretty. Looks are deceiving. She first sniffed noses with Ike, who was his usual friendly self…until the other dog got a bit more aggressive to the point where we realized we needed to rescue Ike.

Fred managed to shove the dog aside and pick up Ike, but that just made the dog mad, so he jumped up at Ike. Since he couldn’t reach him, he turned his attention on me.

Silly me…thought my usual stern “Go home” would send her off in another direction. That just seemed to make her more interested in gnawing on my leg.

About that time, I recognized that this was no friendly dog trying to play — she was downright mean — but I kept thinking he’d lose interest. When he nearly knocked me over, I started looking for a tree to climb or an unlocked car. We both headed for the nearest house — we knew the owners — but they didn’t answer the door. I heard a loud knocking but realized that was just my heart pounding as I tried to ignore the fact that a 75-pound dog was doing her best to corner me.

The mind does strange things in this type of situation. Mine was racing, moving from a memory of my dad handing me a spray bottle of ammonia water as I headed out for a run, to “where are the cops when I need them”? Fred seemed mute but determined to keep Ike safe.

Luckily for us, our knight in shining armor — Jayne McGarrity in her big silver Lincoln — came by and stopped long enough for us to jump in — even as the stupid dog continued to go for Fred’s leg. It didn’t end there. The dog chased the car down the street. My usually non-violent self wished fervently that the dog would somehow wedge herself under the nearest tire.

For us, it is a story that ends safely but will continue to haunt me until I hear from the police that they located the loose dog and reported it to the county. What worries me is that I’ve since learned that the owners have four young children. The family “rescued” the dog but leaves it tied on a clothesline. How is that rescuing a dog?