Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Menu planning and weekend fun

The title of this post is a little misleading. For one, it says it includes "weekend fun". While we had some fun this weekend (great fun!), I admit I am a little down these days. My running is suffering and my heart isn't in it. That doesn't typically happen - running is usually my drug of choice and tends to make me feel better no matter how slow I go or how down I feel. But lately I've been struggling with three milers, wanting to turn back when I'm hardly a mile in, and occasionally just skipping it altogether. In any case, I've been focusing on getting myself out the door a couple times a week and trying to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors (as the Sticks suggested). It's better than nothing, but I miss the days where I flew out the door and hit the ground running and/or felt that I had energy. Anyway, one step at a time. At least for now. So onto the weekend.
My MIL came down Friday (God bless her). My husband took some time off and we were able to have a daytime date as well as an evening date. We picked Divy bikes - and rode down to explore Jackson Park. It was about 10 miles in total. And it could not have been a more gorgeous day! The beauty we passed along the lake was breathtaking. Despite not being used to a bike seat, I really enjoyed the ride.


Jackson Park

We had plans to attend Oyster Fest that night. It's an outdoor seafood extravaganza, which sounds right up my alley, but to be honest, it wasn't my favorite. For one, it was pricey. You had to buy tickets to get in and then food and beverage wasn't cheap. And the dining situation wasn't (IN MY OPINION) the proper way to respect such delicacies of the sea. 
oyster fest

But the night was beautiful, there was live music, and we were without out kids. 
on the half shell

The next morning Baby J was having some nap challenges, so I took her with me on  my run. I think I logged a whopping four miles. But I helped her get her morning Zzzz's, which meant we could get on with our day. How sweet is this sleeping baby?!
sweet angel

That night was a big feast - we typically have one date night and cook the other night when we're with my MIL. She really loves when we cook. We did a grilled steak with a rub and a grilled sweet potato and red pepper salad. Both were excellent. We paired it with a Paso Robles Zinfandel. Big Girl actually dined with us and ate some steak. She also played photographer.  I guess when you grow up surrounded by iPhone cameras and we feel the need to document every.single.event, you learn how to participate at a very early age. 
photo by Big Girl

I wanted to run again on Sunday but my heart wasn't feeling it. Instead we headed down to Soldier Field thinking we could tailgate and talk smack to the packer fans. But we got a late start and the tailgating was over. Everyone was in the stadium, so we hang out nearby and let Big Girl play on some fun equipment. (And yes, she was totally flummoxed by the people wearing cheese on their heads?!)
Go Bears
Anyway, I have a 5K race this weekend and my plan for the week is to lay off the coffee and nap as much as possible. I'll put in a few runs and hope for the best, but I really think my best strategy here is rest. So onto the menu -

Sunday - spinach and feta stuffed biscuits (like the Pillsbury ones or whatever they're called). Kind of random, I know, but a friend made them for a picnic last week and I thought Big Girl might like them (she did not). Also a salad with greens, scallion, and an English seedless cucumber. Dressing was a lemon balsamic vinaigrette.

Monday - last night we had the leftover sweet potato/pepper salad over quinoa and added a fresno pepper (that puppy was spicy!).

Tuesday - another leftover night that included Vietnamese chicken and beef salads (from Saturday's lunch at a restaurant) which we added a kale/onion/ginger/garlic mix to and put it over rice

Wednesday - third leftover night, this time steak tacos on corn tortillas

Thursday - omelet with goat cheese, scallion, and possibly bacon. We also have some fresh bread that will probably pair nicely with this.

Friday - we will be away for race weekend

Monday, September 22, 2014

Menu planning - September 21

We feasted big time last night. The theme of the weekend was basically classical music and champagne. Saturday night we went to opening night at the symphony - because CSO was performing Beethoven's ninth symphony and that is just not to be missed (we got tickets like six months ago). In addition, Big Girl was away at Camp Nonna so we had the better part of the evening to ourselves - and cooking at home is our go-to party time activity. The menu: lots of shellfish and wine. 

We picked up razor clams, langoustines, and scallops, which seemed like a good mix to work with. The razor clams were cooked with olive oil, garlic and chilies - kind of a steamed/braised method. The langoustines were cooked in olive oil and garlic. Wine and butter were added near the end. Both dishes were topped with fresh parsley.

full stove
While things were cooking, we sipped champagne and listened to Beethoven (it should be noted that we were both dressed down in pjs and comfy tees, but otherwise, we kept it classy ;)). The first courses were served with a green salad (Boston bib lettuce, fennel, and a lemon balsamic vinaigrette). We wanted something simple in order to highlight the seafood.

greens, razor clams
langoustines in the mix

The scallops were seared in olive oil and removed from the pan. Then we added shallots, garlic, tomato paste, butter and parsley along with some "langoustine stock" that had been simmering during the first course. This came together to make a nice red sauce - perfect to top the scallops and pasta (fresh tagliatelle). 

scallops over tagliatelle with red sauce

For some reason, we paired this meal with a Chablis (premiere cru), which seemed to go well. Really couldn't have asked for a better dining experience! We are suckers for seafood cooked in butter and wine and topped with fresh herbs ;) And it was so nice to have a quiet evening alone with such delicious food. 

Early this morning I headed out on a run with Baby J, despite having a pretty fuzzy head. It was a crisp 45 degrees, but sunny and pleasant. Perfect for running. It was great to get out there early! Always a good start to the day. And the run ended with hot coffee, so that was nice too. 

early morning shake out run

So, onto this week's menu. 

Monday - tonight we had tofu and roasted veggies over soba noodles. The sauce was a kid-friendly one made up of rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, miso paste, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. The Big Kid ate some of it, but mostly she liked the noodles. 

Tuesday - caramelized onions, blue cheese, toasted walnuts over whole wheat pasta 

Thursday - Roasted zucchini, tomatoes and onion over buckwheat. Not sure on the sauce yet. Might just keep it simple with olive oil and a splash of balsamic. 

Friday - hopefully out for a date night. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Family, Running, Menu planning - September 14

September is a great month for enjoying the outdoors. We got a little taste of fall this weekend with some crisp temps in the 50s. It was still sunny and beautiful, just cooler. We spent as much time as we could outside (given our rigid baby nap schedules). It was certainly a lot of fresh air and family time. 

Saturday morning I got out the door for a five miler. The weather was annoying in that it was hot in the sun and chilly in the shade. In shorts, comp socks and a long sleeve tech top, I was constantly rethinking my wardrobe choice. Mostly I was comfortable, but like I said - the sun induced the sweat factor and the windy shade caused the shivers. In any case, I logged some sub nine miles which is always nice. 

Post run/clean up, we picked up some hot coffee for us and sushi for the kid (all cooked stuff). We hung by Cloudgate and enjoyed the early fall preview. Of course, Big Girl had to show off her stuff in the form of strides. She's kickin' it in this photo.

strides by the bean
There's always a ton going on downtown so we moved over to chill to some rehearsals for World Music Fest. Big Girl continued her running - each time ended her interval with a giant hug for her sister. The little one loves it and just squeals. Their giggles together are one of the sweetest sounds.

sisterly love
they sure know how to pose for the camera

Later that afternoon we returned for the actual concert. Big Girl did more running, some complaining (she typically complains way more than her share), and played a bit of catch. Baby J crawled, rolled around in the grass, pulled herself up, took it all in, and smiled her toothless grin.

Baby J / toothless grin
So after all that outdoor activity, we got the girls in bed and cooked a pretty kick ass dinner : Butter poached cod with a side of tomatoes with basil. It was a combination of several recipes - one for butter poached lobster with fresh tomatoes and the other an ancient poached cod recipe. Basically, we melted butter in a pan, added fresh tomatoes, let them cook down and finished it off with some fresh basil. That was the side dish. The cod was poached in milk, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns and butter. Isn't it pretty?
poaching liquid
We enjoyed a nice (quiet) candle lit dinner with a bottle of Cote D'Or premier cru (white burgundy), which was kind of a splurge bottle. We needed to pair it with something grand, and the poached cod was just the thing. It was also a perfect transition dish from summer to fall.
poached cod/ tomatoes with basil

Today was even more outdoor family time. It started with my solo run up to Lincoln Park to visit the farm ("I like cows," proclaimed the big one. And later, "I want to touch the cows." (You can't touch the cows). "But why? I WANT to touch them!!"  Keep dreaming, kid. But she did get to touch goats and a chicken.) My run was about 3.5 miles and I was glad to be done even though I had a tailwind helping me along. My husband drove up with the kids and met me there, so it was a one way run. Anyway, we did the farm thing and then enjoyed some brunch.

sunday brunch

After most of us napped (i.e. not Big Girl), we headed out on a family run. I wasn't planning to run again, but my husband asked me if I wanted to, and I figured why not. I've always been a fan of doubles. It started with lots of complaints from Big Girl - she wasn't comfortable, she wanted water, she wanted her snack, she wasn't comfortable, she wanted to get out, she wanted water, she wasn't comfortable, she wanted to get out, etc. Not a peep from Baby J. But we ran on until finally I didn't think we'd continue. The complaints were coming at rapid fire, and I was tired. So I let my husband go ahead and figured I'd just walk with the girls til he got back. But your highness didn't find that acceptable either. She wanted me to go get Daddy - chase him down. So I complied, but made sure I stayed behind him so she experienced the thrill of the chase. She loved it. Then she wanted to run. Fine. I let her out near the turnaround so she could get her daddy. She ended up running close to a quarter mile with him while I trailed behind with the stroller. We cheered her on and she got lots of attention from fellow pedestrians (the latter is not unusual, that girl has been getting (too much) attention since day one). She finished a section of the path and then took a water/stroller break. She was crazy proud of herself. So we let her have another go. Same thing - a happy girl running with her daddy. And fast! I can't believe how quick her turnover is with those little legs. She flies! The best part was that with her running, I had a very light stroller to push (not to mention the quiet factor!). Once again, she helped herself to water and climbed back in. Near our finish point, we let her have one last shot. She killed it, running it home with big smiles and tired legs. If ever I could relate to a run making you feel better - this was it. I witnessed her going from angst-ridden to carefree over the course of roughly half a mile. That is the power of running.
So I guess that was kind of our first real family run - with all able participants. My mileage for the day came to six and a half. I'll take it. 

So - if you are still here - this is our menu for the week. 

Sunday - tonight we grilled brats. Super fresh ones on the grill on soft buns with sauerkraut and mustard. Potato chips and beer were the appropriate side dishes. 

Monday - We have some leftover fresh bread and la tur cheese from last night, so we will finish that off along with a simple fresh salad (greens, fennel, tomatoes, scallions, vinaigrette). 

Tuesday - I took some freezer inventory the other day and discovered two big containers of chili that I made pre- Baby J. I'm assuming it is still good since it was buried in the deep freeze. So, we plan to make another layer dip with beans, avocado, sour cream, shredded cheese, and scallions. This dish is always a hit. 

Wednesday - pizza. Pepperoni and onion. The easiest and best. 

Thursday - Veggie burgers. We can top with leftover pesto and/or avocado. And we will finish up the potato chips.

Friday - the hub is out so I'll be scrounging around or doing leftovers. Hopefully my parents will be here for reinforcement. *please*

And that's a wrap. Happy week. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

Menu Planning - September 7

Oops - it's Monday already. But here is the week plan -->

Sunday - we were blessed with another slew of gorgeous days here in Chicago. We spent most of yesterday outdoors - lunching and playing in China Town and running and swimming in the afternoon (family run with the duallie and then everyone swam (including the wee one!)). Dinner was simple. Leftover lentils with farro and boudin blanc (the sausage was picked up from a specialty shop in the West Loop, which was part of some fun errands on Saturday).

Monday - tonight I am (attempting) doing a Phyllis Grant inspired concoction that I spotted on Instagram. I am a big fan of her style and her photos are awesome. This one pairs pesto (any kind) with anchovies and five minute eggs and places the trio on top of toasted bread. Simple and probably bursting with flavors that run the gamut. How could I not make this? Or at least try. Her eggs look divine. Mine likely won't come close, but practice can't hurt. For additional umph, we are also having a side green salad.

Tuesday - Stuffed pattypan squash. Yeah, I don't know. Stuffed with mozzarella, herbs, baked squash. We got some at a farmers market. So we will play. Probably a tomato and avocado salad on the side.

Wednesday - girls night for me. Hell ya.

Thursday - potato salad (I do boiled fingerling potatoes, boiled eggs, parsley, tarragon, mayo (which I will mix with lemon juice, zest and dijon mustard), and top with scallions. As I'm typing this, I can't help but feel like the addition of toasted walnuts would knock this out of the park.. So the spud salad along with toulouse sausage (which was also picked up at Publican Meats this weekend).

Friday - farmers market green beans (stewed with tomatoes, onions and thyme) over buckwheat

Saturday, September 06, 2014


Running fashion has definitely evolved over the last couple decades, and we now have a plethora of brands, options, and styles to pick from whenever we lace up our sneaks. Having been a runner for 17 years (has it really been that long?!), I've seen my share of running clothes and tested out many different looks. It used to be cotton tees (bonus points if the cotton shirt was acquired from a previous race you ran) and old school running shorts (umbro, anyone?), but now the apparel is technical, colorful, trendy, and functional. I happened to come across "Swirlgear" - a fairly new line of women's running apparel designed by a local Chicago female runner. I applied to be a Brand Ambassador and quickly found myself on the "swirl sister" team. Yeah! 

Their motto: Strength. Style. Spirit. All things I try to embody not only as an athlete, but also as a mom. I want my daughters to be strong, have confidence in themselves, and maintain a positive spirit, no matter where life takes them. This sentiment spoke to me as I browsed their website. When I'm running, I dig down deep for strength, not only to get me through the run, but also to keep me going long after the run ends. Though I'm no fashionista, I do think that when you look good, you feel good. Their clothes were cute! The vibrant colors on those pieces were popping right off my computer screen. Who doesn't want a new running top with a feel-good vibe? And lastly, spirit. Recently I haven't felt too connected to the current running community, even though I might be a veteran runner. I've been searching for something that might make me feel like I'm on a team - something that provides support and encouragement and allows me to return the favor. Perhaps by joining the ranks of the Swirlgear Brand Ambassadors, I will become part of something that puts me closer to accomplishing that goal. 

So onto the clothes! I received my first piece from their collection last week. It is a tank with all over spray dye - super stylish! My favorite colors (purple, pink, blue, green) just come busting out. I admit, I love a bit of girly flair when I'm sporting athletic apparel, and this top does the trick. Here's a still shot of the cute top. 

allover spray dye tank
The next step was to take it on a test drive. Over the long Labor Day weekend, I took it to the woods so my legs could enjoy the soft dirt on the shaded trails. Kind of ideal, especially since it was just my husband and me out there in the late afternoon. He was able to take this action shot somewhere in the middle of the run. Yep, I'm "swirling" around the corner ;)

So my thoughts on this piece -- It's adorable, light, comfortable and forgiving. It doesn't bunch or pinch in ways that compromise comfort or vanity. It simply flows. It's long. Like it provide full tush coverage. This is good in a lot of ways, but especially valuable if you intend to pair it with shorty shorts or buns. Now its length had one small drawback for me - and that is the fact that I'm 5'4" and a long top with short shorts can potentially make it appear like I forgot my shorts. But that issue can easily be rectified by picking a more appropriate pair of bottoms. That top will certainly rock it with a pair of capris! In any case, the tank worked for me and I will definitely be wearing it often, as is evident from this pic from last Tuesday's group run with one of my besties and my ten month old daughter.

running buddies
I'm excited to be involved with a company that shares my passion for running and seeks to empower women by inspiring, supporting and encouraging us. It may start with a simple piece of clothing, but we all know it goes far beyond that. Swirl on, sisters. Swirl on.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

L of Team Stick Visits!

I'm so excited to write up this post! Following our jam-packed Labor Day weekend, L of Team Stick stopped by on her way west to visit us in Chicago for a couple days. Well, really just 24 hours of fun - but any event with a Stick is a momentous occasion! I was so excited for her arrival I could hardly contain myself. Luckily, Big Girl was at school on Tuesday, so we had some time to actually talk to each other during the day. 

Our first order of business (besides a coffee shop stop), was to catch up a bit while Baby J napped. It was a gorgeous (GORGEOUS!) day out, and we couldn't wait to get outside to RUN. But we patiently waited for Baby J to snooze and then we loaded up the single and headed out for a very leisurely five  miler along the lake. It was hot, but kind of pleasant. At least it was pleasant for me because I wasn't the one pushing the stroller - L volunteered to do that and did so like a rockstar! We chatted and chatted and chatted. The miles went by in a blink. We stopped a few times for water and to take in the views, and, of course, to get a picture -->

Stick run!
Post run we shared some snacks in the park while we waited for Big Girl to finish school. I think Big Girl must have sensed it was time to "perform" because she was On.Her.Game. regarding entertaining and showing off for L. It was like we hired a clown or something. Even I couldn't stifle the giggles because of her antics. That girl is something. She "performed" her way home and continued the show for L and Baby J while I got dinner going. I'm always so grateful for ANYONE who can hang with the kiddos while I cook. Especially when it's clear that they are enjoying it ;) 

Once the little one was in bed, the party didn't stop. We said goodnight to Big Girl and headed out to a rooftop bar (ON A PERFECT SUMMER NIGHT) to enjoy some red wine and adult conversation. OMG, I live for those two things! The bartender was super kind and filled up our glasses on the house - he also took this picture for us.

wine time

The next day we had the whole flock of kids (ok, there are only two, but sometimes it feels like a flock..), and we wanted to squeeze in one more quick run together before L departed. The weather was once again amazing. And L once again offered to push the stroller - this time the duallie. She got the full experience of pushing that beast in the blazing sun with a constantly whining and complaining #threenager aboard. It was much harder to chat and we didn't get very far (1.25 miles) before Big Girl wanted to run. We let her out, since we really just wanted to enjoy the outdoors. 

So the crazy kid ran in her dress sandals and stopped to dig in the dirt. Of note: her clothes (including her underthings) are all on backwards because she thought it was HILARIOUS to put them on backwards. Who am I to stop her from looking ridiculous. The fact is, she's so damn cute that she could be wearing a garbage bag and people would stop to compliment her. I give up. 

So here's the photography from the morning. We each took a turn behind the lens.

L and Big Girl running together

"I WANNA run with MOMMY!!"
"I WANNA take a PICTURE!!!!!" (repeated like 94583947424543534758234781263876 times..)

Big Girl's  handiwork

Yeah. Life with that kid is nuts. I used to joke that I didn't just add an element, I added the whole damn periodic table. Cause I'm funny like that. Well, it's clear to me now that my older daughter not only adds the periodic table, she adds an entire galaxy and possibly the whole twisted universe. But we'll keep her. We kind of like her ;) 

So yeah- great visit with L!! I am so blessed to have my Sticks and so fortunate that they make the effort to stop by and visit me. I have lots of Stick visits to make in order to return the favors - and I look forward to each and every one. 

Labor Day Weekend and Menu Planning August 31

First, I'd like to say that the best way to kick off a long holiday weekend is to spend the afternoon at the spa (after a morning run, obviously). This will ensure the perfect mix of refreshment and relaxation and diminish desires to stress out about stupid things and/or yell at your kids. My hub sent me to the spa because he wanted me to have a mini "vacation" and he knew I'd never book it myself. Given my limited windows of time between nursing sessions with my 10 month old, the spa was the perfect idea and I must say - it accomplished all goals. I walked out of there in a peaceful state of bliss. 

Anyway, since this post is primarily my weekly menu plan post, I'll skip right to the eats and do a running post separately. Here goes - 

Labor Day weekend calls for grillable edibles - like spatchcocked bbq chicken and fresh corn. The rub on the bird was incredible (Stephanie Izzard's Rub #2 (she is the chef at Girl and the Goat). The corn was simple with butter and salt. And ample beer. On a gorgeous summer night.
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Sunday night was just as good - bruschetta (tomatoes, scallions, basil, balsamic) on grilled bread. Kabobs - lamb and beef marinated in yogurt along with Stephanie Izzard's #2 rub again, lemon zest, juice, scallion, and garlic with a side of grilled peppers and tomatoes. Big Girl stayed up way too late but was way too much fun chatting, taking silly pics, and munching on bread and chips. She was great company, but we all felt the consequences of her extra late bed time today!

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Ok so this week: 

Monday - roasted carrots with a soy sauce and balsamic glaze and chestnut rice (basically red rice (a whole grain rice) cooked in butter, soy sauce, and mirrin topped with black sesame seeds and fresh scallion

Tuesday - tofu sandwiches (we picked up a great five spiced smoked tofu from Phoenix Bean at the Farmers Market last weekend) - these will kind of be "bahn mi" style with a red finger hot pepper, cilantro, and pickled cucumbers on buns. The side will be roasted broccoli with a ginger/soy sauce. 

Wednesday - leftover kabobs over rice 

Thursday - yes...another panzanella. This one will be using up leftover cherry tomatoes, a bell pepper, onion, and bread, along with fresh basil, chopped kale and white beans. 

Friday - still thinking on this. Maybe fish with cilantro (to use it up), possibly guacamole (again, good use for leftover cilantro), possibly grilled cheese if we are feeling really lazy. We will see how the week goes. 

Running post coming soon - and Last - but not least!! - L of Team Stick is visiting TOMORROW!!! She's stopping by on her way west. I am so excited I cannot contain myself! She's spend one night with us so I hope she likes Tuesday's dinner plan ;)) 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Triple?

When you have a gorgeous, picture-perfect day in Chicago - you take it! We didn't really have much planned yesterday, but it was stunningly beautiful, so staying inside was not an option. Instead, we packed up a few things (snacks, a blanket, a towel, sand toys) and headed out. I had no idea if running was in the plans, but I wore running clothes just in case. We started out on a walk. Big Girl pushed her own little stroller with her baby and we strolled around the city just enjoying the weather. After a significant amount of walking, we stopped for a potty break and Big Girl decided she needed a rest in the stroller. She was game for the beach so I figured I'd run there to save us some time.

Taking a loaded duallie on a run adds a serious arm workout to the already taxing leg workout you automatically get when running! Geez, it can be rough! But we arrived at the beach in no time (1.25 miles to the good) and spent some time playing near the water. None of us was wearing a swim suit, but that didn't stop Big Girl from entering the water multiple times doing whatever it is she does when at the beach. She has an whole intricate system of activity that keeps her busy and entertained and it doesn't require my participation. The baby, on the other hand, would eat sand all day long and face plant into the lake if I didn't constantly reroute her. So while I did a tiny bit of relaxing, I was mostly on my guard making sure all were safe and out of harm's way.

impromptu beach day

i heart sand

That would be my fearless baby hamming it up for the camera, and my wild child in the background plotting her next move. So anyway, we beached for a while until Big Girl decided to go farther into the lake and ended up losing a friendly battle with an incoming wave - it knocked her over with little effort and she found herself completely immersed in lake water. She wasn't digging the wet clothes, and frankly, I think she was a little bit irked that the wave got the best of her. Luckily, I had stowed a beach towel, so she wrapped herself up and climbed into the stroller - not a bad consolation prize. But that was enough beach time for her. And all of us. We do not need that much sun - and afternoon nap time was fastly approaching. So I ran us home (another 1.25 miles for me!). 

Fast forward to the evening. I had planned to go to another yoga class last night, but as fate would have it, my husband got held up at work and the baby needed extra TLC before bed on account of a cold (poor baby!). When it became clear that I would not make the yoga class, I decided to do another run instead. A solo evening run after work on a ridiculously gorgeous summer night - can't beat it. I think it was about 3.5 miles or so. So maybe 6 miles total for the day. Is that a triple?! Because if it is, that is my first triple to date. 

I had planned a run with Baby J this morning - and since it was yet another beautiful morning, we had no choice but to go. We logged a nice and easy five miler and then enjoyed a quick lunch with Daddy. Baby J kind of dozed since she is battling her cold, but she was otherwise content with the pleasant weather and her rock-a-bye baby tunes on pandora. My legs are a bit fatigued right now, but I'm enjoying it. I'm grateful that I can do all this running around - whether my kids are with me or not. I know the weather won't be this perfect forever, so I'm taking advantage and racking up miles. When the polar vortex 2.0 hits us this winter, I can return to the yoga studio and get my down dog on. Until then, I'll be on the roads.