Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer in Full Swing and Menu Planning - July 20

Summer is here! It's seriously time to start enjoying the warm weather - and we have been doing our best! Whether it's menu themed or activity related, we are trying to capture all the offerings of our short summers and make some happy seasonal memories. 

It's been a while since I've mentioned pilates classes, but I'm still a once-a-week regular with my close group of friends. Last week, Baby J wanted to show off her new skill on the reformer! She also loved the mirrors and was curious about that cute baby staring back at her ;)

standing by reformer

Our dinners last week were jam packed with vegetables, and this broccoli and roasted red pepper salad not only looked delicious, but had plenty of taste and flavor. It was pretty hearty on its own, but we placed it over whole wheat pasta for a very filling meal. It also made for a perfect outdoor concert picnic meal, since it was easy to pack and only required a fork to eat.

broccoli/pepper salad

This wasn't a dinner item, but it was pretty fantastic and shockingly easy, so I wanted to share it.  My SIL sent me this recipe for Greek Yogurt pancakes, which packs a serious amount of protein. I used full fat plain greek yogurt (Fage), but you can use any flavor of yogurt you want. Big Girl ate about three of them, so I consider them a success. (Note: there is no added sugar in these flapjacks, only what's in the yogurt, which isn't much.)

protein packed breakfast

dense and delicious

Before I share this week's menu plans, here are some summeresque photos from this year's first trip to the beach. Unfortunately, I did not run there this time, but plans are in the works for a beach run soon. Big Girl loved the sand and (cold) water. So did her sister. It was a great time for all.

braving the chilly water

proud to stand in the sand

lovin the waves

beaching with my girls

Ok - menu: 

Sunday - we returned home in the evening so dinner was ordered in. Luckily this makes for good leftovers, which have served us well for lunches. 

Monday - last night was another panzanella salad (really just onion, tomato, basil and some bread) along with veggie burgers from Morningstar.  I admit, I fell for the "free sample promotion" at a recent art fair. We tried them there and thought they were pretty good, so I went and bought some. We went with the spicy black bean and tomato basil pizza burgers (black bean was better). It's not the greatest dinner, but in a pinch, it's not the worst. I'm trying to think of toppings that would enhance the patties (raw veggies piled high, a spicy mayo, sliced tomatoes, sour cream??). Next time we will build a better better. 

Tuesday - zucchini and carrot a scapece (though I used yellow squash instead of zucchini) and I plan to serve these vinegar and herb-marinated veggies over whole wheat pasta with a bunch of wilted spinach thrown in along with some freshly grated pecorino cheese. Had I thought it through better, I might have added onions to the mix. Still could. 

Wednesday - we will have a full day playdate with our besties and I plan to serve a taco dinner. The veg version will include a bean spread (black beans, jalepeno, cilantro, olive oil, cumin) and the meat version will be ground beef with taco seasoning. Toppings will include cheese, scallions, avocado, shredded lettuce, tomato, and sour cream. There will be a choice of soft or hard shells. I hope the kids have fun with this. 

Thursday - Stick visit!! I'm super psyched for Mama L to join us for a few days with her two awesome kiddos! Seriously, I can't wait. I've picked two dinners to share that I hope will be well-received. For Thursday I will do another rendition of the grains and greens dish that I absolutely loved last week. To refresh memories (mainly mine), the greens are chard and kale with our homemade cashew sauce, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and some peppers (mildly sweet ones b/c that's what they had). These will be served over soba noodles. Edamame might make a nice appetizer for this meal. 

Friday - pizza! I just refreshed my pizza dough supply last night, so we are ready to decorate. I'm thinking of a straight up cheese pizza for the kids and maybe roasted red pepper and goat cheese for the adults. I don't want to overcomplicate the toppings and I want to keep it vegetarian. There will likely be some greens for the a simple side dish.

I'll end here with this photo of my Big Girl taking a "warm up break" at the pool this past weekend. That girl lives the life. 


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Menu Planning - July 13

After the week of not-so-healthy eating we experienced in central Wisconsin (a diet that mostly consisted of meat, cheese, beer, and salt), we were dying to get back to our vegetable centric home-cooked meals (kind of literally dying..).

The night we returned home, we immediately turned to Deborah Madison for help. Then we hopped to it and whipped up two vegetarian dishes that were nearly vegan - the exception being chicken stock used to cook the farro.
vacation detox
Dish one: vegan cucumber and pepper salad with scallions, peanuts, and a lime/cilantro dressing
Dish two:  farmers stew (Deborah Madison - Local Flavors) - eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, onions, tomatoes with fresh herbs (cilantro and basil) over farro.

Sunday morning, we tackled the other lacking issue that vacation is often the culprit --> exercise. As soon as Baby J's eyelids fluttered to a close for her morning nap, I was out the door for some solo running. Surprisingly, it was coolish, though the sun was out and it was decently warm. I coerced my legs into running 5 miles, which is more than I've typically been doing. Sadly, I was just done after five. My husband started his run with the duallie - our plan was to then do some family running, but I was too beat to continue. Instead, I took the girls into the shade to play while he finished his run. Then we all headed over to the Taste of Chicago.

taste of Chi
The night before, we had done our homework and scoped out four decent places to try. Our strategy was to streamline our plan of attack and hit it up early to beat the crowds (and the heat). We didn't waste any time meandering around, since we knew exactly where the chosen resty tents were located. After sampling a few items, we let Big Girl investigate the bouncy houses in the kid zone, and then we headed home for naps. It's sad we have to do things this way (read: mega speedy), but we find it's best for all of us if naps are taken. 

So onto my menu plan for the week: 

After the Taste, we went with a Greens and Grains theme for dinner. I mixed kale and chard - sauteed it in olive oil with ginger and garlic. And added a fresno pepper for heat and color. As it wilted down, I added four cubes of our homemade cashew sauce and a tablespoon or so of soy sauce. Not only was it gorgeous, but it was the exact taste I was going for. Since we are experimenting with different grains, I made millet to go along with it (as I understand millet to be a good substitute for rice). To complete things, there were farm fresh poached eggs on top. Here are the pieces in progress --

grains and greens

There is no picture of the finished dish (we were too hungry!), but the bright forest-like hues of the leafy greens, the pop of red pepper, and the golden sunshiny yolk of the farm fresh eggs created a combo that not only woke up the eyes, but also satisfied the belly. There is no doubt I will be making this again. It was heavenly. 

As for the rest of the week - 

Monday - last night we went with a big salad : mixed greens, carrot, cucumber, scallions, tomato, sunflower seeds, goat feta, and (homemade) croutons with a light lemon vinaigrette. There was also some fresh basil in there. 

Tuesday - tonight we are having leftover farmers stew over whole wheat pasta with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Probably more fresh basil too. 

Wednesday - once again, turning to Deborah Madison for her broccoli and roasted pepper salad with tomato vinaigrette (from Vegetarian Cooking on page 151) which will be served over leftover millet. There are olives and feta in there, which she declares "provide the punch." 

Thursday - Another Deborah recipe - pasta salad (using up leftover whole wheat pasta) with cauliflower and mustard vinaigrette. This is risky as I don't particularly enjoy cauliflower. I may substitute broccoli but that's two broccoli dishes in a row. I wonder if chick peas would make a good substitute? In any case, I think the mustard vinaigrette will be key in this one. 

Friday - probably a panzanella with onions, tomatoes, basil, cucumber, and whatever leftovers we have yet to use up. And then a simple omelet with fresh dill and maybe scallions (if any are left). 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Vacay on the Lake

We are back from a phenomenal vacation that seems like it started months ago! While it's always good to get home and back into normal routines, we had a wonderful time this past week celebrating life and all things with family.

Things got started with the Fourth of July ~ well, I should say, it really began two days before that when my husband's sister and her kids came to visit us in Chicago for the day. While we got to spend some time with them, the weather was absolute crap, and our plans to picnic and listen to live music outdoors were foiled/ruined/shat upon when the rain poured and temps dropped into the mid fifties. Mid fifties. In July. Nice. Thanks. But everyone rallied and we salvaged the evening a bit with a dinner out and an earlier bed time. 

The next day was mostly spent packing, but we had some fun in there too. I got in a good (solo) run, took Big Girl to a mid-day kiddie concert, got a mani/pedi, tidied up the house, and packed LOTS of bags. By nightfall, we were ready to rock and roll. Vacay, here we come.

So, back to the Fourth of July. We once again attended the parade in my hometown with my family. Judging from the amount of candy/popsicles/toys/bread/stickers/knick knacks, etc thrown to (at) us, we must be out of the recession. It required several grocery bags to bring home that loot! Good thing we brought a wagon. Big Girl had a blast watching the floats go by and getting the hang of the candy-collecting thing. We were also fortunate to spend time with my BFF and her two adorable kids who joined us at the parade - so that meant I got in a little girl time too. I should also mention that Baby J happily watched the entire parade while safely nestled in my mother's arms. Safe to say, both of them were in heaven.

parade fun

We spent the rest of the afternoon just hanging and grilling. There were no fireworks for us this year though. I started to feel sick and didn't want to overdo it with our vacation on the horizon (when traveling with little ones, you need to be in tip top shape - sore throat, be damned). We went to bed fairly early, which was smart in my case, because I woke up with a terrible chest cold and headache. My planned run was no longer in the plans. Instead, we packed up the car and headed off to meet the other side of the family in Wisconsin. 

Luckily this year we did not have to employ air travel to get to the chosen destination on account of our eight month old. Everyone else had to fly, which meant we could take things easy on the road. Big Girl handled the car ride extremely well. Baby J napped and was her usual roll-with-the-punches self. So the road trip was actually kind of pleasant. And short. 

I'll sum up the week by saying that things went very well! Big Girl had the time of her life with her cousins (which is really an understatement), and despite teething issues (or something that caused Baby J to wake multiple times each and every night), Baby J also enjoyed herself. Besides the lack of sleep, I had a great time. Here are a few highlights : 

Big Girl and her Grandma "off the rail" ~


The beautiful resort ~

the osthoff 

The Lake ~

Elk Hart Lake

Our family photo (we had a photog who took a big family pic, but this one was our post photo session silly shot of just the immediate fam) ~

dolled up in black and denim
A path I discovered on one of my runs (which included Baby J!) ~

don't be fooled - it led to nowhere!

Touring a cheese factory ~

our silly selfie sporting stylish sanitary hairnets

Big Girl is just a little cheesehead ~

*not* a packer fan. no way. 

(almost) all the cousins ~

looks like a class on a field trip

Rosé on the balcony / live music / perfect weather ~

summertime happiness

Farm Fresh Eggs ~

find the *green* eggs!

Ok, here's where I have to write a bit of text. We toured a cheese factory in a very small town in Wisconsin. On our way there, we passed several farms and I was going on and on about farm fresh eggs. I just wanted them so badly. As it turns out, our tour guide at the cheese factory owns chickens and said she could get me as many fresh eggs as I wanted. For $1.75 per dozen. And she'd drop them off at our hotel that afternoon. Yes, please. And thank you. 

Not only were they pretty, they were fresh and delicious. I fried some up the next morning and scrambled one for Big Girl. We both polished off our plates.

fried farm fresh eggs, cheddar from the cheese factory, toast from whole foods

scrambled eggs and toast

Morning coffee cruise with the ladies ~

stunning picture perfect morning

my MIL and sisters-in-law  cruising the lake

Small town running ~


major intersection in town

and S'mores by the bonfire ~

perfectly toasted marshmallow 

There was a lot more to our week, but those are some highlights that I happened to capture in pictures. There was TONS of pool time. Some playground time. And even a trip to the local library! We enjoyed boisterous and bountiful dinners each night; though I can't say we ate the healthiest food (or drank the healthiest drink..). I managed three short runs (3, 3, and 4.5 miles), one of which was with Baby J. Running options were pretty limited unless you drove somewhere cool, so I stuck to sidewalks and short out and backs, which were neither scenic nor exciting. But my legs hit the concrete a few times last week, which is better than nothing considering the earlier part of the week had me battling a hoarse voice, coughing fits, and a stuffy nose (not to mention the serious sleep deprivation thanks to my teething infant..). So I did what I could and didn't regret it. I'm just at a point in my life where I have to sacrifice "me" time (in this case "running time") for mandatory sleep and/or rest just to maintain my ability to function (read: do my 24/7 job) even on "vacation." So yeah, I didn't "rock it" or anything in the running department, but I also didn't end up with a big old goose egg. 

Speaking of Baby J, here she is demonstrating her new trick, something that Big Girl didn't do until she was much older. Yikes. 

assisted "standing"
So yeah, it was a pretty fun vacation! I really enjoyed the time with my nieces and nephews, but I especially enjoyed watching my Big Girl interact and play with them. She grew and matured this week in ways I never thought possible. I think being with the "big kids" really pulled her up and - I'm hoping - out of her terrible/awful/no good threenager ways?? One can hope. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

When Do You Run

Does it make you more badass if you run at a certain time of day? I sometimes wonder if pre-dawn running comes with a special serving of bad-assery that other times just can't compete with. I'd like to think that being a mom of two automatically makes ANY run I complete pretty bad ass - no matter what time it takes place. But the truth is I rarely run early these days, and kind of forgot what it's like. 

Recently a Flyer teammate of mine facebooked that he was in Chicago running along my lakeshore path. When I inquired more about his trip here, he mentioned that he was doing this running at 6am, and I was welcome to join him if I could. After LOLing and a bit of SMHing, I politely declined and briefly mentioned my full time nursing infant and her sidekick sister who NEEDS me at all hours, especially during the breakfast hour. Yes, I suppose I could have arranged things if I had to, but the truth is, all of us would have to compromise something if I were to run at 6am. My husband might have had to mind a child or two - and he sometimes heads to work before the sun is up. If I chose to take the kids with me, someone would be likely be starving and someone might have to be woken up before she's ready. I'm not going to do that to them, especially since I currently have the luxury of running when it works better for all of us. Maybe, someday, I'll run at dawn (like I did pre-kids when training for marathons in the heat of the New York summers..). And maybe then I'll think that I'm pretty badass because I am out the door and RUNNING at that hour (though, arguably, what I'm typically doing at 6am at home can be way worse than running - running would definitely be preferable and seemingly vacation-like..). I pretty much respect any hour that people choose to run - that they run at all makes them badass, not when. 

In any case, this morning I only had one client (the other is still at Camp Nonna), and she was happy and fed and looking at me like we should do something. No one was barking orders at me about more cereal or what we were going to "play" (loosely defined) next. So I decided to take Baby J running. Get it out of the way. See what it feels like to run at dawn. 

In short, it was a bit rough to wake up my legs. I hadn't had so much as a sip of water before I laced up the sneaks. It was humid as hell, but breezy and overcast. I can't say I recognized it as more badass than usual, but I did feel pretty good starting my day with a run! Most of the time my brain wandered, but I kept myself motivated with thoughts of the post-run coffee shop stop and a "proof I was out there" selfie with the wee one.

Post Run smiles
We had fun! And I'm glad it's over. I will say though, that summer doesn't always allow for running at any hour you want- the early morning might be the only acceptable time because of the rising heat and humidity. There's something to be said about "beating the heat." Evening running can also work, but "shut down hour" zaps every last bit of energy I have and leaves me coasting on fumes til I crash. We will just have to take it one run at a time - which has been my strategy since becoming a mom. But today I'm enjoying the happy feeling of completing my morning run with my cutie pie .. ;)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Menu Planning - June 29

Another summer weekend in progress. Currently, the little one naps. The big one is off at "Camp Nonna" (grandparent's house) because she's on "vacation" from school and why not. Gives us parents a bit of a break, not to mention some one on one time with Baby J. Last night I went to pick up dinner at a local seafood spot - I waited for the food on the patio with a beer in hand on a rocker. If this doesn't scream summer, I don't know what does.

beer in a mason jar

I take that back. I have a few more LOUD summer markers. How bout these breakfast smoothies made with fresh cherries, greens, and kefir? Big Girl and I shared one in small juice glasses.

cherry smoothies
Unfortunately, she spilled hers and proceeded to reprimand me for giving her the grown-up glass instead of putting it in a plastic cup with a lid and straw. If this doesn't scream #threenager.. Sadly, she was right. I should have given her a more appropriate cup.

So onto the week's menu..

Sunday - tonight we are doing an herb-crusted chicken on the grill. This will be enjoyed al fresco with a green bean dish (onions, thyme, tomatoes, green beans) and a french rosé. 

Monday - Kale/chickpea dish but with the addition of chorizo and topped with a poached egg. 

Wednesday - we are hosting some family for the late afternoon/evening and we plan to picnic for dinner. Our menu will include a tapas style assortment of delicious dishes including: the kale/chickpeas, white gazpacho, a potato dish called la truffade, almonds, olives, manchego cheese, fresh bread, a manzanilla (sherry), a callie chardonnay, and some kind of sweet for dessert. 

Thursday / Friday - away for Fourth

The following week is vacation. More on that later. For now, we spend some time with this sweet little thing. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

a rainy summer morning / a moment in time

Sometimes you experience a day that paints a pretty good snapshot of life at the moment. I want to record this here so I can someday remember how good I had it. Here's how this morning went down. 

The day started at 7am. Both kids seemed to wake at the same time. Outside, the there was plenty of fog and rain. As the morning went on, there was more rain. I wasn't sure how to play it regarding any activity I could squeeze into the morning. We are currently on a two nap schedge for Baby J, which works for her, but leaves Big Girl and me with tiny windows to work with. We wanted to run and play outside, but we had to wait for nap number one to finish before we could do that. Luckily the timing worked and though the rain poured during Baby J's nap, it seemed to let up right as she woke. Hurray! Big Girl had herself strapped in the duallie before I could turn around. She was that excited to run (I think it had something to do with seeing her friend ;)). Once outside, we were smacked in the face with dense, soupy fog but no drops in sight. Phew. 

We met up with our friends and started our run. I brought the weather shield just in case, which Big Girl wanted to see it in action, so we put it up. She asked nicely, so I indulged her, even though it seemed silly to block the little breeze there was. 
rain be damned
The air was thick, but the skies stayed closed. It made for a sweaty run, but it was refreshing nonetheless. We finished our three miler and then the fun began. 

After the big girls did a few strides of their own, we got to play on our our friend's sailboat. Obviously we didn't leave the dock, but it was fun anyway! 

we're on a boat!
Then we headed to the park for some playground time. The swings were a hit, and even Baby J had some time on the baby swing (not pictured: Baby J and her giggles).

Big Girl is going through a mommy phase - by that I mean she loves to be the mommy and do all the things mommies do. Well, she picks and chooses what mommy things she wants to do and pushing swings (and/or strollers) is her favorite. 
I wanna push you

Unfortunately, we can no longer amble around and waste away the afternoon at the park. Baby J was starving and needed nap number two. Stat. So we had to head for home. 

mother runner of two
I love the above picture my friend snapped as we walked back to our stroller. It basically sums up "my thing" with the sweaty running clothes, the two kids in my arms, and the forward direction we are headed. I'd like to think that I'll always remember this special time with my little girls, but I know that years down the line it will seem like a fleeting moment, one I will wish I had paid more attention to while I was in the thick of it. In that picture, I literally have my hands full. I was trying to let Baby J know that she would eat soon, and get the rest she needed. She seemed to understand, or rather was distracted by the world around her. Big Girl wanted to be held, even though she is perfectly capable of walking (or running) herself. I picked up her even though I typically make her walk, but I also had this happy feeling that the three of us were so close together - just me and my girls. I had no idea my friend was taking this picture, but I'm so glad she did. It is a moment in time that I want to remember, especially after the morning we were privileged to have. As a side - my shirt..."Pace Team Leader" has taken on a whole new meaning these days ;)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Menu Planning - June 22 and week in review

Summer Blogging, as it appears, will be on a weekly basis. Posts will likely contain menu planning, mildly entertaining tales of cooking blunders (and successes!), and a smattering of running recaps.

Last week we switched out chick peas for salmon in one of our meals, because we were too short on time to deal with dried beans. The dish ended up working well; we saved the kale/spinach greens, which made a nice topping for farro. The salmon was perfect with simple oil/salt/pepper/herbs. File it under "success."
king salmon
Another meal that has been pretty fun and delicious lately is a healthy(ish) bean layer dip. This one used my mom's baked beans as a base and included a spicy jalepeno pepper, melted cheese, sour cream, and scallions. It paired nicely with a crisp IPA.

bean dip

To kick things off for this week's menu plan, we had the tofu stir fry over roasted sweet potato. I realize that was slated for last week, but something (and I forget what) changed that. Instead, we worked with that tonight and it was pretty fantastic. Vegan, too! I roasted some sweet potatoes (one got pureed for Baby J) and the other cut into chunks. The stir fry was crispy tofu (cooked in peanut oil), broccoli, snap peas, and scallions with our homemade peanut sauce (there was also soy sauce, ginger and garlic in the mix). Another success!

tofu stir fry

So the rest of the week looks like this: 

Monday - shredded chicken with avocado in a wrap (this will also include cilantro, scallions and fresh lime juice). Probably something crunchy on the side. 

Tuesday - girls night out (or mamas night out - whatever you prefer). 

Wednesday - panzanella (straight up with tomatoes, onions, basil and mozzarella) and possibly a fresh fish to round things out

Thursday - leftover shredded chicken with leftover peanut sauce (oh - now I remember why the stir fry didn't happen last week..we ended up grilling a rack of lamp (rubbed with garam masala, salt and pepper) which was enjoyed with a peanut sauce (peanut butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, coconut milk, curry powder, fresh cilantro) .. as well as a very tired infant and her overactive Big Sister. At least we dined outside for this one.) but I digress. So the chicken/peanut sauce will also include sauteed kale and will be served over rice. 

Friday - another layered bean dip. I will probably make my own beans and top with avocado, cheese, jalepeno (always), sour cream and scallions. I'm sure beer will be involved as well. 

And lastly, running. The week was decent. I was able to run 4 miles alone last Monday because I stayed in the burbs for the early part of the day. My dad was out there on his bike high-fiving me and being a sly cheerleader. We had our usual pilates class on Tuesday. I also snuck in a solo three miler Wednesday afternoon because my parents were over. Thursday I took Baby J on a run, which I think was 4 miles. And Saturday I ran a solo 4 miler in the morning.  

That's it!