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Food critic Tonya Kuxhausen writes reviews of meals she prepares for herself at home. Food is at the center of each article but the whole dining experience is considered and commented on. To paraphrase Socrates, an unexamined meal is not worth eating.

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Performance Breakfast

I had tried this breakfast before, but I wanted to test it today. I used to have only iced espresso in the morning before running - at home, iced with soy, a few quick gulps and I'm out the door. With my new schedule, I don't have to get up at 6 a.m. to run, and it feels like I have all the time in the world. I have to invent new challenges to keep myself interested - like running faster. Lately I've been experimenting with food and timing. I wanted to see if I could run faster or longer after eating oatmeal. It seems like an endurance food. In my world, it's all about performance.

I drink espresso iced year round. In the morning in the dead of winter, when the wind whips your face at the bus stop before dawn. I like it mid-afternoon in the summer, with the sun beating down on a humid day. And I like it everywhere in between. I make it four shots at a time and leave it in the fridge overnight. First thing in the morning, I drink two shots with about six ounces of soymilk, iced. I prefer to use a straw. I use Dunn Bros. espresso. It's very good. Some say it's too bitter, I don't think so. I think the coffee is rich, smooth, fragrant, and almost chocolaty. I like my espresso maker, and I think it's kind to the beans. I actually like Dunn Bros. espresso at home more than at the Dunn Bros. coffee shop I go to (but the pastries are better there). The soymilk is very important. My favorite kind is Silk brand original flavor, not vanilla, though chocolate is OK. Silk is so good and smooth - not chalky or beany like some kinds. It goes so well with espresso on ice. I'm always disappointed when I order soymilk at a coffee shop and they get out the Edensoy or West Soy. It can be so much better. Silk with espresso is one of my favorite things. Sometimes I can't sleep in because I'm so excited for it. I leap out of bed when I'm tired just for the taste and feel. Sometimes I try to make it last, but one of the reasons I like it iced is because you can drink it fast. You can slam it. You can drink it like medicine. Then you can have more.

The Menu (06-14-02)

Double espresso with soymilk, iced
Oatmeal with dried cranberries and soymilk

This morning I drank it on my couch. I used my favorite coffee cup: the cheap plastic glow-in-the-dark Halloween cup that Kelly gave me. It says "Skanky" in magic marker on the side. I sat down tired but excited. I enjoyed the morning light just barely coming in the window, stared at the boxes waiting to be packed, and sucked down the espresso. I bet total elapsed time from bed to couch was five minutes or less. The espresso felt like beautiful music, a refreshing winter wind, a smack in the face. Rrrr. It was cold, smooth, intense, almost shocking. I sat and thought about how much I love these private coffee moments, this taste. It makes me feel so alive. It's usually what I think about when I drink it. It's almost meditative.

These moments don't last. Sometimes I go for four shots to try to stretch it out, but not today. I wanted to get up and run right away, or get on my bike and head to the gym. Instead, I got out the oatmeal. I really like the Country Choice organic, old-fashioned rolled oats. The quality of the oats really makes a difference in the oatmeal - and old-fashioned oatmeal is so much better than quick or instant, and you really can tell that organic tastes better. Better flavor, better texture. I boil the water, shake in a little salt, add 1/2 cup of oatmeal, and a few handfuls of dried cranberries. Sometimes I slice up an apple; sometimes I add nuts like sunflower seeds or almonds. I think my favorite is the cranberries. They're sweet and pretty. The texture doesn't really change through cooking. They're still chewy and fresh, just nicely warmed and juicy. Dried cranberries are gemlike treasures hidden in the oatmeal. The oatmeal itself is delicious though. A firm yet chewy texture, you can distinctly feel the grain, not like the mush that is instant oatmeal. And you actually do have to chew it a bit. Sometimes I add some pure maple syrup. I skipped it today because I didn't want to spike my blood sugar before running, or bottom out before getting to the gym. The soymilk for oatmeal doesn't matter as much as it does for the espresso. I usually buy whatever is on sale for this (unless it's the dreaded Edensoy). I like to save the Silk for coffee. I think my favorite for oatmeal and regular dry cereals is Vitasoy original enriched - it's so creamy and high fat. But today I had Soy Dream enriched vanilla. It's decent, slightly more chalky than Silk, a little sweeter, maybe thicker. Anyway, it's good with the oatmeal. I don't mind the vanilla flavor with the oatmeal as much.

So, I ate this fast and I gathered my things for the gym and for work. I knew timing was crucial. I wanted to capitalize on maximum energy from the oatmeal, but I didn't want to run too soon and get a stomach ache. I got on my bike for a quick ride to the gym. The clock was ticking. I had planned to run at the gym, where I could easily track my speed and distance on the treadmill for the purpose of the experiment. I listened to Nevermind, my usual running soundtrack, while basically running as fast as I could. I had to work into it for a few minutes - it felt weird to have eaten and at first I felt sluggish. But by "Breed" (fourth song) I was doing comfortable 8-minute miles. The oatmeal felt good and I kept going. I think it worked. Toward the end of Nevermind, I was at 7.5-minute miles and I felt really strong; the running was effortless and fun. I stopped at 40 minutes because I ran out of time (had to get to work), not because I ran out of juice.