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Secret Ingredients

November 7, 2011 Food No Comments

What I learned making dinner tonight:

Even the most bitter things will turn sweet and gooey if you supply a warm environment and check in to see how things are going every once in awhile. The secret ingredients are love and patience.

Here’s to caramelized onions and roasted garlic.

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ISO: Vacation Motivation

November 7, 2011 Fitness, Food 1 Comment

It’s the off-season. I look at it as a sort of license to slack off. To put on a few pounds. To do workouts that please me. To be [relatively] fat and happy. My body and I worked hard this year, and we’ll work even harder next year for Ironman Canada.

Enter: winter beach vacation.

Yeah, so… I’ve got about 3 weeks to get this off-season body in to some kind of beach-body shape. Also, we’ll be celebrating my 29th birthday while vacationing.

You’d think that the above statements would be motivation enough, right? I thought so, too. When this vacation idea first came up, I thought I’d easily be able to curb my carb-eating behavior. I would stop drinking wine mid-week. I would do crunches during commercials (<<– DVR = no commercials = WIN!).

It’s hard enough to break behaviors on their own. And at this particular juncture, I find myself with an even bigger disadvantage. In caring for all the small kids in my life, it’s like the noodles+cheez put on some sort of sexy dance that gets me to put them in my mouth. This is to say nothing of the alluring act of the Goldfish. Have you seen the colored ones? Or the s’mores ones? It’s like Cirque du Soleil avec Poisson. I’ve never eaten so much useless, nutrition-free food in my life as when I am in the company of children. I’d never buy the stuff to have at my own house, so it wouldn’t be a problem. It also doesn’t help that I hate to throw food away: “Two bites of PB+J left? I used whole grain bread and natural peanut butter… I’ll just eat it!

Alas, I realize this is just an excuse. I can make my own choices. And I have three weeks to make the right ones. Not the off-season ones. Not the I’m-a-three-year-old ones.

Speaking of choices… I’m considering this one: take a picture of myself every morning in a bathing suit. I don’t know about you, but nothing speaks more loudly or clearly to me than a picture of my gut/butt/boobs hanging out of a swimming suit.

Just sayin’.

What motivates you?

 

 

 

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On the Merits of Red Wine

August 26, 2011 Family, Fitness, Food, Fun 1 Comment

For a gal with all this Irish blood in her (I’ve got Sweeney, Leahy, and Sheridan in my family tree), you wouldn’t expect the sun to love me so much. And that’s a real blessing for me because I love it, too.

Which one of these is not like the others?

Being a triathlete, I’m in the sun a lot while training and racing. Even in the off-season, I love to bask in it. Sure, I slather my face and chest with sunscreen and wear a floppy hat or visor whenever possible, but I don’t do much in the way of sun protection other than that. I rarely burn, and it turns to a golden tan within 24 hours if I do.

Perhaps it’s because I drink so much red wine.

No really.

A study published in the May 11 issue of The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (and translated into common-speak by CBS News) reveals that “flavonoids help prevent the skin from forming reactive oxygen species. It’s these ROSs that react with UV rays to destroy cells and cause sunburn.”

In other words, with the amount of red wine I drink, I’M GOLDEN. 

I’m also digging what another study says about red wine being “exercise in a bottle,” especially during the off-season. At this rate, I can’t go wrong!

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Too Much Watermelon!

July 27, 2011 Food, Fun 3 Comments

I don’t know if you guys know this or not, but… I enjoy alcoholic beverages.

Also, day drinking.

What I hate is letting food go to waste. This must have come from my college days, as I watched my mother throw away enough food to feed a small country trying to get me to eat as a kid. These days, I’m just too cheap (ahem, frugal) to waste my hard-earned bounty.

But it’s sometimes hard to buy food for one or two people. I know the unit prices of our favorite items so that I can price-check at a warehouse store like Costco. In so many cases, buying in bulk is not in our best interest because the food won’t get eaten in time or is otherwise not cost-effective. Things that are worth it: sun-dried tomatoes. Things that are not: fresh tomatoes.

But watermelon. Sweet nectar of the warm-weather gods. Watermelon screams summer to me, even though I live in a moderate climate that feels like summer approximately 3.6 hours most days between May and September. Regardless, one of the simple pleasures of summer is biting into a fresh piece of watermelon.

I like buying a whole melon because I think they are fresher and it’s a better value, but in a household of two, it’s often too much for us to get through without it getting mealy. My solution: FROZEN WATERMELON CUBES.

It’s not a far jump from there to alcoholic beverages and day drinking (bringing it back around, you see).

The frozen watermelon cubes pretty much work as ice cubes, so I suppose you could add them to non-alcoholic beverages and/or smoothies. I haven’t tried this tactic, so let me get right to my point:

The Screamin’ Summer

A refreshing summer cooler, compliments of a popsicle +  frozen watermelon + vodka. This cocktail screams summer, and you’ll be screaming for more!

The basic version I’ve been making lately looks like this:

1 all-fruit lime popsicle (like the Fruit Floes at Trader Joe’s or Dreyer’s Fruit Bars)
1 cup frozen watermelon cubes (this is approximate)
1.5 oz citrus vodka (this is conservative)

Place all ingredients in a blender and let ‘er go until smooth. Pour into a 16 oz glass and add bubbly water/club soda to the desired consistency. Add a straw and enjoy!

The popsicle flavor options are endless, and the booze options probably are as well. Tequila? Ole! Rum? Arrgh, matey! I use cheap vodka and don’t notice the difference. Splurge if you want to, but it isn’t necessary.

To make the frozen watermelon cubes, follow these easy steps:

1) Cut watermelon into cubes. If your watermelon has black seeds, remove them.

2) Place on parchment-lined platter or cookie sheet and place in freezer. The parchment lining makes it easy to transfer without sticking.

3) Transfer to freezer bag for storage.

Greg and I have been enjoying these refreshing beverages on weekend afternoons. If you try these at home, let me know what flavor combinations you experiment with!

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Week In Numbers (and WWW: June 5)

June 13, 2011 Fitness, Food, Fun 4 Comments

Here’s a snapshot of how my week went, by the numbers:

Fitness miles achieved: 76.5

Peanut butter cups consumed: 18

Hours of sleep attained: 57

Showers taken: 3

Dogs petted: 6

Babies held: 4

Bottles of wine imbibed: 7

Hangovers suffered: 0

Anniversaries celebrated: 1

Birthdays celebrated: 2

Jobs applied for: 3

Jobs landed: 0

Dinners cooked: 7

Sunny days: 2

All in all, it was a pretty good week. My training is going well, especially considering I’m getting into the longer runs. My legs were tired on Saturday, so I took the day off in prep for a long brick workout Sunday. It went well! I’m glad I’m getting better at listening to my body rather than my guilty conscience…

I have a follow-up appointment for my shoulder tomorrow and will hopefully be able to test out swimming on Wednesday. To tell you the truth, it doesn’t feel any different (read: any better) than before the cortisone shot… so I don’t know what that means. I have followed the doctor’s orders and haven’t gone swimming or done yoga or any other strength work. I miss all of those things so much!

Stay tuned for an update on Argus this week as well.

Weekly Workout Wrap-up

Sunday – 10 mile run

Monday – 20-mile bike ride

Tuesday – OFF

Wednesday – 31-mile bike ride + strength/core

Thursday – 6.5 mile run

Friday – 9 mile run

Saturday – OFF

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Did you know? Strawberries

May 18, 2011 Food 4 Comments

Here are some fun facts about STRAWBERRIES, compliments of the newsletter that accompanies my CSA — Eat With The Seasons. I learned a few new things today!

For those of you with a Lucky Supermarket nearby, strawberries are on sale this week! Buy 1 package, get 2 free. Stock up! I got six packages for the price of two, washed and cut them, and have them ready to go in the freezer for smoothies. Yum!

  • Strawberries have more vitamin C than an orange. 8 berries contain 140% of the daily value! They are also a good source of folic acid, potassium and fiber.
  • Strawberry juice and honey will reduce inflammation or sunburn. Rub the mixture into the skin, and then rinse with warm water and lemon juice.
  • California grows 83% of the strawberries for the US, amounting to 1 billion pounds per year.
  • Strawberries are a member of the rose family, which is why they are so fragrant.
  • They can help reduce the risk of cancer and heart attacks.
  • Strawberries, which are rich in Nitrate, increases blood flow to the muscles by 7%. This helps prevent muscle fatigue and makes exercise easier.
  • Strawberries are grown in every state in the US and every province in Canada.
  • Strawberries are not berries or fruit, they are the enlarged ends of the plant’s stamen.

Caryn gave me a bottle of dark chocolate balsamic vinegar for my birthday, so I’ve been slicing strawberries and drizzling a little of this over them for dessert. It’s even more delicious with vanilla ice cream. This is simple enough for any weeknight, and elegant enough to serve to friends. Enjoy!

What’s your favorite way to eat strawberries?

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Balsamic Brussels & Beets

March 25, 2011 Food 1 Comment

Brussels sprouts and beets. It sounds like punishment, doesn’t it? I’m a fan of eating fresh, healthy food — but it has to taste good. Regular ol’ cabbage is not a favorite of mine, so you can imagine that I didn’t instantly fall in love with the little cabbage heads that are brussels sprouts. I tried a lot of different preparations and all of them still tasted like cabbage. Short of frying them in butter, what’s a girl to do?

I needed a full-flavor, low-fat hero to save the day.

Balsamic vinegar is one of my favorite condiments. So when I got a package of both brussels sprouts and red beets in my CSA, I thought I’d turn two not-so-favorite vegetables into something palatable by adding this sweet and tangy miracle ingredient. I had no idea how it would turn out, but hoped that the sugars in the balsamic would caramelize a little bit and add some depth to the bitter sprouts and bland beets. Also critical: slicing the brussels sprouts thinly, thereby creating ample surface area to soak up the delicious other flavors.

I love being right! I played around with this recipe a couple of times before sharing it with you, just to make sure I have the right amounts. This has become a household favorite, even for Greg. So delicious! So healthy!

BALSAMIC BRUSSELS AND BEETS
1 lb. brussels sprouts
3 small raw red beets
2 shallots
1 glug extra virgin olive oil (for pan)
1/4 c + 1 T balsamic vinegar (more to taste)
1 T brown sugar
1/4 c chopped peans
Salt & pepper to taste
1 dab butter
Optional: 2 slices cooked bacon or pancetta, crumbled

1. Rinse brussels sprouts well and pull off any nasty-looking leaves.

2. Cut off greens at base. If yours aren’t wilted like mine are, you can use them in another recipe. Scrub beets with a veggie brush to clean them. Use a box or hand grater to grate them into a medium-sized bowl. Take care not to grate your fingers and nails.

NOTE: Beets stain! Take care with your clothes, countertops, and hands!

3. Slice sprouts into ~1/4″ slices. Some leaves will fall off – that’s okay.

4. Mince your shallots.

5. Heat a large skillet on the stove. Add a glug of EVOO and let it get warm. Add the shallots and cook for a minute or two until they start to brown.

6. Add the brussels + beets and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally.

7. Add the brown sugar (1 T), balsamic vinegar (1/4 c + 1 T), and salt & pepper to taste. Stir to make sure everything is well-coated with the good stuff. Let the veggies saute for several minutes, softening as they absorb the liquid. You may want to put a lid on to steam them a bit.

8. Add the pecans (and bacon, if using) and stir to incorporate.

9. Just before serving, add a dot of butter and stir one last time. Enjoy!

Have you found a good way to eat brussels sprouts?

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What’s Cooking?

March 5, 2011 Food 2 Comments

Thanks for your comments and feedback on my love/hate relationship with food. It’s somewhat comforting to know that I’m not the only one with this problem!

Here’s another true confession: I hoard recipes. I didn’t realize that it was a problem until a friend wanted a recipe for such-and-such and I just knew I had pulled that very thing out of a magazine not long ago… So I went down to the basement where I store my cookbooks and sheepishly returned to the kitchen. I had a 4″ three-ring binder absolutely full of recipes that I had pulled out of magazines or printed off the internet. That did not include the more recent stash piling up on my microwave for quick reference. Or my list of bookmarked recipes. Am I the only one??

I really do enjoy trying new recipes — and these days, I almost never try something unless I have scoured the comments to make sure it’s fool-proof. I guess that makes my paper copies a little obsolete, eh? And while I do love a good recipe for inspiration, I am not afraid of the possibility of screwing something up if I make it up as I go. Like I said, I’m very fortunate for a non-finicky husband!

I promised to share a few of the things coming out of my kitchen recently, so here are two easy recipes as a start. I will provide more over the coming weeks, giving credit where credit is due — many of these recipes come from fellow bloggers I follow. You should check them out for more great recipes, especially if you are getting on the vegan and/or gluten free bandwagon! Also, you’ll see their food photography is MUCH BETTER than mine. One of the occupational hazards of being a food blogger is sacrificing a hot dinner for a photograph — I am not there!

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VEGGIE FRITTATA (compliments of a book club member!)
11 eggs (you could probably use Egg Beaters for some or all of this)
1 leek, thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh spinach (you could use frozen – thawed and drained)
1 ~1/4 lb. ball fresh cow’s milk mozzarella (I used 2 wedges Laughing Cow Swiss + fresh goat cheese)
Salt to taste
2 T butter

1. Preheat oven to 425. Saute the leeks in a little water by themselves until very soft, then add the spinach.  Cook until the water is evaporated and salt to taste.  Let cool slightly.

2. In a bowl, whisk the eggs until a bit foamy, maybe a minute.  Add the leeks and spinach, mix well.

3. In a frying pan (one that will transfer directly to the oven — cast iron works best) melt the butter, making sure to coat the sides as well. Pour in the egg mixture.

IMPORTANT: DO NOT MIX ONCE YOU POUR IN THE FRYING PAN – WILL MAKE IT STICK – THAT WOULD BE BAD.

4. Cook on the low while you break up the cheese and distribute on the top of the frittata. Then transfer to the oven and cook for around 15 minutes or until starting to brown on the top.  Take out and let cool before trying to remove from the pan.  It actually tastes best when just warmer than room temperature.

Substitutions: This is a versatile recipe that also tastes really good when made with potatoes, mushrooms, shallot or leek, really good with shredded zucchini.  Basics are just eggs, cheese, and something from the onion family.

This was served with dinner at book club, but I think it would also work well as an appetizer, if sliced into small enough pieces. Greg and I had this for lunch last weekend, then were able to reheat the leftovers for two breakfasts each. Yum!

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AMAZEBALLS (compliments of The Fitnessista, including all photos. Thanks, Gina!)

2 T vanilla or chocolate protein powder (I happened to have both on-hand, so I use one of each)
2 T almond butter
2 T shredded unsweetened coconut (Unsweetened is critical. I found mine at Whole Foods)
1 T honey (pure maple syrup or brown rice syrup would work)

Pinch of each: sea salt and cinnamon

1. In a small food processor, add the protein powder + almond butter + coconut and pulse until the ingredients are well incorporated.

2. Add the cinnamon, sea salt and sweetener (honey or whatever you decide to use) and pulse again. The mixture will start to clump together.

mixture

3. Add in 1 square of extra dark chocolate (break it apart with your hands), or whatever mix-ins you’d like to use. Dried berries would be delicious. Pulse together one more time to finely chop the chocolate, and assess the situation to see if you’ll need more liquid sweetener for the balls to stick together.

4. Roll mixture into 4 balls with your hands.

balls (2)

Save in an airtight container if you can stop yourself from eating them all on the spot. I keep mine in the fridge. They’re the perfect snack at only ~130 calories each, and I swear they taste like raw cookie dough!

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Food: How I love/hate thee

February 28, 2011 Fitness, Food 3 Comments

True confession: I have a love/hate relationship with food.

When it comes to food, I fully believe that nothing tastes as good as fit feels, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the best part about my workouts is the calorie replacement. Does everyone know the basics about calories and weight? Let’s pause for a brief math lesson:

3500 calories = 1 pound

If you want to lose one pound, you will either need to consume that many fewer calories and/or burn that many more calories. It is almost as simple as that. All calories are not created equal, mostly related to how your body uses the calories. For example, these two things have the same 200 calories:

Starbucks Caffe Latte (16 oz)

Baja Fresh Chicken Taco (with chips)

That’s me being prejudiced because I don’t drink coffee! But of course, I could have pictured 2 small glasses of wine in place of the coffee. The point is, the calories from these beverages are largely empty. I KNOW I am consuming empty calories with the wine I drink. Sure, the latte has milk for calcium and protein. The red wine has antioxidants. But I also know I’m not going to get any real fuel from either of these beverages. I’d need a snack (read: more calories) of some sort to go with my empty beverage calories to get the same effect. I could eat the taco and chips and feel satisfied — and it only “costs me” 200 calories! So for me, drinking a glass of wine when I really need food is just “wasting” the calories.

When I’m looking for calorie replacement after…let’s say a bike ride, I could pretty much eat whatever I want to. Seriously. I went on a 3-hour bike ride on Saturday that included a lot of climbing. According to my Garmin (which is “calibrated” for me), I burned 2946 calories. This is ~3000 MORE CALORIES than what my body burns just walking around all day. I could eat this entire appetizer sampler from Applebees by myself PLUS 5 glasses of red wine and still be “in the clear” to not gain anything:

Applebees Appetizer Sampler

But I have found — the hard way, many times — that eating whatever I want just because the numbers say I can doesn’t mean that’s the right thing to eat. Junk food does not serve my body in its job of performing at a high level, which I ask it to do regularly. Junk food causes blood sugar spikes and crashes. Junk food largely does not have the nutrition needed to repair the damage I’ve caused during a hard workout. Junk food usually makes me crave more junk food. In the worst cases, junk food makes me feel so bad I don’t want to get up and work out tomorrow. So while delicious (hello Cheetos!), these are wasted calories.

Love/hate. *sigh*

The other thing about junk food is that a small portion usually adds up to a lot of calories (and fat, and carbs). I get more bang for my buck when I eat a “real meal” instead of snacking on junk food or splurging on too much food. Of note: I consider a good pizza choice as real food. Good carbs + protein + veggies = real! I am fortunate that I have access to a lot of fresh vegetables, I have the time and enjoy cooking, and I have a husband who will eat anything I put in front of him. A little planning ahead means I can come home from a bike ride absolutely starving and not make bad choices. It’s definitely a commitment, but both Greg and I have found that we feel and look and perform better on real food.

My friends and family often call me a “food Nazi” or admonish me for never enjoying myself and the food I eat. They are wrong!! Let me be clear:  I drink red wine (and beer, and margaritas). I eat chips. I eat pasta. I eat take-out. I eat chocolate. But I consider these “treats” and don’t eat them at every meal, every day. Part of the reason I work my ass off is to be able to eat the treats I want. And I do! Just ask my husband what my social calendar looks like! But it all goes back to that math equation: calories in = calories out.

How many calories do I need?
There are all kinds of calculators out there that will tell you what your basal metabolic rate is. BMR = the number of calories you burn without exercise included. It’s a worthwhile exercise — as long as you are honest with yourself about what you’re putting in and working out (pun intended!). I know there are apps for almost all mobile phones that will help you figure it out and track your input/expenditures with just a few clicks. I have found this is very handy when I’m on the go. Food eaten out of the home has a tendency to add up quickly! Here’s one I found for my Android phone that I am very happy with; the website is also fully-functioning via a home computer if you’re not a high tech mobile user. It even has a recipe calculator so you can figure out the nutrition facts for your own home cooking. According to this app and my desire to lose ~5 pounds before my first race, my calorie allotment is 1230 per day. I have to admit that I kind of freaked when I saw how low that number was. And then I thought, It’s no wonder I’m hovering at the same number! I bet I’m underestimating calories and therefore not losing.

I do this kind of thing at least once a year — documenting my food intake. Sometimes my method is as simple as a hand-written food journal. The business of underestimating calories is something I’m famous for… I want to think that I am infallible because of my level of working out/calorie expenditure. But, remember? All calories are not equal. I’ve been using the MyFitnessPal app since Friday, mostly eating like I normally would to get a baseline for what my normal tendencies are. Admittedly, when I think about having to add something to my list, I think twice about eating it. It’s a built-in checks-and-balances system! Because I don’t eat crap all day long, I can allow myself a couple of glasses of wine a day (usually one during dinner prep and one after dinner), and always allow for chocolate. My current go-to choice is the dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s. One serving of three mini cups is equal to 200 calories.

Yes, the same 200 calories in that latte and taco. But I have found that by the time I get around to eating the chocolate, I’m mostly satisfied. I just want a little bit of sweet and usually I need just one cup to satiate me.

Real food wins! Speaking of which, I’ve been cooking/assembling up a storm lately. I will share the kinds of things are coming out of my kitchen. It doesn’t have to be hard, or time consuming, or expensive. I promise!

Do you have any tips or tricks that help you stay on track? What is your biggest weakness? Mine is definitely the red wine!

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To Juice Or To Blend?

December 28, 2010 Food No Comments

Today I found myself with time on my hands and a crisper full of aging fruits and vegetables, so I decided to conduct an experiment. As my family and childhood friends can attest, I love kitchen experiments!

Especially ones that involve “power tools.”

Greg and I bought this high-end Omega juicer last year and we juice the shit out of things. Because we belong to a CSA, we often find ourselves with too much produce, and a quick way to get through a bunch of it is to juice it and drink it. We’ve tried everything! The best mixes contain a mixture of fruits and sweet vegetables like carrots, spinach, and beets. The worst ones contain mushy fruits like bananas and peaches. This baby was also instrumental in creating the best homemade margarita — fresh lime juice is key!

While fresh-squeezed juice is great, I know I’m grinding out a lot of the good stuff in the process. Did you know that OJ with pulp contains 30% more anti-inflammatory flavonoids & cancer-fighters than the pulp-free type? You can imagine our delight, then, when we stumbled upon the Ninja Professional blender. It’s almost as powerful as the Vita-Mix and a fraction of the cost (especially if you have a 20% off coupon at Bed Bath & Beyond!). Let the experiment begin!

I set out to disprove this hypothesis: simple juice is more desirable than blended whole food

Both the test and control group used the exact same amount of the exact same foods:

Control Group: The Juicer

Juicing alone netted 1.75 cups of juice and the waste you see in the right-hand bin. The juice tasted great!

Test Group: The Blender

Blending netted 3 cups of output and no waste, but the consistency was more like “relish” rather than anything you could drink. On the up-side, I was very impressed with the way the blender handled the job. I didn’t have to cut the fruit or vegetables into smaller pieces and everything was completely raw. Its blades worked to get everything into uniform consistency with very little effort on my part.

TEST RESULT: I could not disprove the hypothesis. Blending alone was not sufficient in producing a drinkable output. Boo.

Since both products tasted good on their own, I improvised! I added all of the juice to the “relish” to see if I could produce an overall consistency that was more palatable. It was still a little thick, but it would suffice in a pinch. It was like a thick smoothie. Pros: very little waste from all those fruits and vegetables and no sugar added!

For the final product, I added about a cup of 100% juice apple cider that I had on-hand. The final product netted a total of 6 cups of very healthy fruit/vegetable juice and very little waste. Greg and I are set for the rest of the week!

Cheers!

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