I’m so glad to have my friend and colleague Karen Asp in the studio with me today. Karen is an Indiana-based journalist who specializes in health, fitness, nutrition, pets and travel. She writes regularly for numerous leading publications, including Harper’s Bazaar, O, Dr. Oz the Good Life, Family Circle, Cosmopolitan, Real Simple, Better Homes and Gardens, Delta Sky, Cooking Light, Eating Well, Weight Watchers, Yoga Journal, SELF, Shape, Prevention, USA Today and its magazines, Costco Connection, Woman’s Day, Runner’s World, Men’s Journal and Oxygen. Along with her writing accomplishments, she is also an avid plant-based advocate and competitive Nordic walker! Continue reading to learn more about Karen’s fascinating plant-powered life.
What made you want to become a writer, and what drew you to writing in the health field?
I’ve been drawn to books and writing ever since I was a kid when I would spend hours reading books and writing stories, journaling, etc. As such, it was a no brainer that in college, I majored in English literature and journalism (although I had no idea what I would do with those majors at the time!).
What drew me to the health field is simply my personal passion in health. I’ve been a fitness professional — certified group fitness instructor and personal trainer — for over 20 years and have been an athlete ever since I was young (back then, tennis was my main activity). That love for movement broadened into an overall passion for health, and I wanted to share that passion not only with people I taught and trained but also others, hence the reason I’ve focused my writing so heavily on health, fitness and nutrition.
What led you to a plant-based certification from Cornell?
Since making a pact with a cow in 2003 never to ever eat meat again, I’ve become very interested in plant-based eating, so much, in fact, that I count it as one of my passions in life. I love cooking plant-based meals and educating people about this way of eating. Obtaining the certification allowed me to expand my knowledge base about plant-based eating, which I hope to translate into other avenues down the road.
I see that you are a competitive Nordic walker! What made you interested in the sport?
Nordic walking is often used as dryland training for cross country skiing, which is my favorite activity, so it was a natural fit. I was introduced to the sport in 2005 by a pole manufacturer that wanted to spread the word about it through the media. I spent a weekend in Stowe, Vermont, learning from some of the top Nordic walking instructors along with members of the Canadian cross country ski team. At home, I then started experimenting with the poles, and I just fell in love with the sport. Not only is it a low-impact sport (but high-intensity should you prefer), it also works more muscles in your body than other activities like running or fitness walking. In 2007, I started competing with the poles, and have since earned five world records in the sport.
How do you train for your walking competitions?
In the same way that you would train if you were training for a running or walking event. The exact training duration and time will vary depending on what length of competition I’m training for, but no matter the distance, my training programs all include a mix of steady-state endurance walks, long-distance walks, tempo walks, and interval walks. I also do yoga or foam roll almost daily and total-body strength training at least two times a week.
What does your diet look like on a daily basis, and how does it change with your training?
I eat three meals and two snacks every day, and while I might need a little more nourishment during intense training, my diet really doesn’t change much. I love starting the day with half a grapefruit and a bowl of oatmeal, usually topped with nuts, flax seed and turmeric. Snacks might include a slice of toast with avocados and hummus, apple with nut butter, carrots with hummus, small bowl of granola with my homemade tofu yogurt, or even a small bowl of muesli with a non-dairy yogurt. Lunch might then be a salad with quinoa, beans, and all sorts of veggies; tofu scramble; or whole-wheat muffins with hummus and bowl of soup. Dinners then vary, depending on seasons and what I feel like cooking (i.e. hummus tortas, black bean tortillas, curries, pasta with bean meatballs, zoodles with lentil bolognese sauce, etc). The one constant is that starting in fall and going through spring, Sundays are always Souper Sunday in my house so I make a big pot of soup and serve it with salad or bread.
If I were to open up your refrigerator, what would I find?
Hummus, non-dairy milks (I alternate between soy and almond), non-dairy yogurt, tons of produce (think berries, grapefruit, apples, peppers, carrots, celery, cucumber, mushrooms, onions, spinach, kale, zucchini, squash and whatever is seasonal), non-dairy cheese (like Daiya when I want to splurge a little, even Miyoko’s, which I love), organic tofu, tortilla shells, whole-wheat bread and muffins, pitcher of iced tea, salsa, marinara sauce, all sorts of sauces for other things (like curries, for instance), maple syrup, ground flax seed, nutritional yeast.
Here is one of Karen’s favorite plant-based recipes!
Yields 2-3 servings
- 14 ounces firm (or extra firm) organic tofu
- Chopped vegetables (mushrooms, onions, peppers and spinach or kale are my favorites but you can use anything)
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp chili powder
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- Nutritional yeast
- Drain and press the tofu (I usually place linen towel over the tofu with a plate on top and keep it there for at least 15 minutes).
- Heat 1 TB olive oil or vegetable broth in skillet over medium heat.
- Add veggies and saute for about 5 minutes; then move to side of skillet.
- Crumble tofu and add to skillet, cooking about 2-3 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix seasonings in small bowl and add a splash or two of water; stir.
- Pour seasoning mix over tofu and stir into the tofu; then stir everything together.
- Add a few shakes of nutritional yeast to skillet and stir to combine.
- Add spinach or kale (and at this point, I'll add cherry tomatoes if I have them) and cook until spinach/kale is wilted.
- Serve either as is or over spinach leaves, topping with whatever you'd like (i.e. salsa, guacamole, avocados)