Monday, February 01, 2016

Outdoor Track Workout, Running with the Kids, Menu Planning - Jan 31, and National Ab Month

Ok, ok - my post title is all over the board. But I must start with a bit of bad-assery.

The Track
There's a first time for everything. Including forcing yourself out the door in 30 degrees to not only run, but run an actual track workout. In the winter. In Chicago. And actually look forward to it (kind of). When I get a moment to do a solo run, I look at my choices: 1) Long(ish) Run - which these days would be 6-7 miles. Maybe 8 if I had an extra cup of coffee. 2) Speed Workout - which could be anything from quarters, half mile repeats, ladders, tempos, hills (which I never pick but theoretically could), etc. And lately speed sessions have been on the treadmill. 3) Run for a Pocket of Peace - 3-5 miles with no emphasis on speed or distance, outside, unless it's a shitshow out there (which is more often than you'd think during a Chicago Winter). Last week I picked speed. And since a glimmer of sunshine threatened to show itself amidst the overprotective clouds, the outdoors almost appeared welcoming. I donned tights and my three-shirt-layering system reserved for extra cold days (tech tee, long sleeve and jacket). Perhaps a touch over done, but I get cold, people! After a 1.5 mile warm up jog, I started my 4 x 800 workout. I figured I could get the heart pumping / the legs churning and see where I am at speed-wise. I was shooting for something like 7:10 - 7:20 pace for each half mile repeat.  Here's the results:

3:22 (whoa)

These times are way ahead of where I expected to be in the off season. Yes, I tried. I put effort into this. I ran hard. But there was that this attitude of "it doesn't really matter b/c it's January." It was downright brutal when I faced the headwind - that cold, unpleasant winter breeze turns into a frigid windstorm when you run blazing speeds into its unwelcome arms. Not to mention, that angry biting air finds a way straight down your windpipe and into your lungs causing a shocking burning sensation. Mentally I went easy on myself. But my body had plans of its own. I fought the wind and the cold and the desire to throw up a little (does that feeling ever go away during tough track workouts?) And I was pretty damn proud of my results. Though treadmill workouts are tough, they aren't as tough as the track. You're out in the open, battling the weather elements and there's no auto pace. I needed to see where I was at for real. Not with the aid of a machine. And this was a pleasing result.

Kids Run
This weekend, however, temps rose to a number we typically see in April (or May/June) --> 50 degrees. Saturday morning I got out on a shortie with my friend - which was badass by its own accounts due to our overdone happy hour the previous night. But it's always good to run it out. And Sunday was even warmer. But there was rain. Enough rain to deter me from doing my own run; I was a bit of a lazy bum yesterday. The kids were mostly happy to play at home, but by mid afternoon they were housing more and more energy with no place to put it. So my husband suggested we go run laps in the park. I've never seen my kids put on socks and shoes so fast! They were suited up and laced up in no time, Big Girl clutching the red Team Stick baton from our Woods to Water Relay Race in 2004. She was psyched to run - and possibly practice handoffs.

happy little runner

I can't say how far she ran, but it was impressive! She jogged at a smart pace and we even chatted! She thinks she ran a mile. I wouldn't doubt it. We ran into an good friend too - and the two of them took off for a victory lap.

Not pictured: Baby J did a lap too. She sported a smile for most of it, til the very last bit when her little legs got tired. She was too adorable and it's a shame I don't have footage of her.

Moving on to food: 
Our original plan for Saturday was roasted duck. But time got short and duck prep/roasting takes up the better portion of an afternoon. So we choose mussels instead. And potatoes glazed with duck fat (from our previous duck). And a porgy. The mussels were awesome but the broth was a bust - too bitter. The potatoes were killer. And the porgy was decently excellent. The wine was crap - perhaps even toxic as it made us feel ill.

Sunday -  we dined out at a Mexican Restaurant. 

Monday - Roast duck. Which is an obvious choice for a Monday night. Not. (Shit. Do I really have to make a duck on a Monday?! But fresh duck cannot perish..)

Tuesday - chicken Caesar salads (I'll have mine for lunch b/c it's a girls night out dinner)

Wednesday - spiced veggie brown rice (from our vegan indian cookbook)

Thursday - duck ragu over pappardelle (our pot roast ragu a couple weeks ago was killer but I ruined it with edamame noodles - not a fan)

Friday - homemade pizza with olives, feta, red onion and pepperoncinis 

And lastly, National Ab Month. Or as it has been dubbed : #fABruary !! 
So yeah, I'm planning on doing the ab work. For most of the month. For reasons I will disclose at a later date, I am giving myself a minimum of 8 exemptions this year. Maybe even 10. But I kicked things off today with 3 x 30 second planks. This deal will likely be my go-to. I also aim for 10-30 pushups a day (done in sets of ten). I think pushups are killer for core strength, no? 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Menu planning and sick season

Winter - even if it's mild and unassuming - it's a bitch. People got sick this weekend. Big time. Well, not exactly "people" - but my husband. He came down with perhaps the highest fever you can have w/o going to the ER. And this unfortunate event happened to coincide with a kid-free weekend that contained a top-of-the-line dinner reservation for us. The kids still went away, but we had to cancel the dinner reservation (luckily they are putting the steep cancellation fees on a gift card that we can use on our next visit..phew). Sooooo, what started as an exciting, promising weekend (dropping the kids off at Camp Nonna, running 7.25 miles at nine minute pace, downing a free Starbucks), became a disappointing and sad state of affairs when I arrived home to my poor husband in bed, barely able to stand up.

I doctored him as best I could, with tylenol to keep the fever down, ice packs, glasses of water, soup, encouraging words? And tried to make the most of my rare kid free time. I ice skated. I made a spa appointment for a massage. I went to the market so I could drink a beer while I shopped for dinner possibilities. Soup for the ailing husband. And for me: ten oysters, fresh ravioli, crusty bread and a cheese you can eat with a spoon. Also, a New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

dinner for one
The hub rallied to watch a movie on TV before crashing for the night. Poor guy. I know things could have been worse, so I'm not complaining. But hopefully we will get to make up for the lack of night out on the town soon. 

Onto this week's menu:

Sunday - Homemade chicken soup. What better way to help my husband recover than with a bowl of comforting homemade chicken soup? 

Monday - we threw together grilled cheese sandwiches (brie, ham, and a fried egg on mine. Apparently I like cholesterol. A lot.)

Tuesday - edamame spaghetti with homemade red sauce and roasted broccoli. Also fresh parmesan and possibly even toasted pine nuts. 

Wednesday - chicken taco layer dip (ground chicken with homemade taco seasoning, sauteed pepper and onion, white beans, scallions, sour cream, grated cheese and jalepeno with chips)

Thursday - leftover chicken soup / salad

Friday - homemade roasted mushroom pizza (I just replenished my stock of pizza dough and have sauce simmering away on the stove).

Here's to staying healthy!!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Off Season and Menu Planning - January 17

My off season is going really well - there's no pressure or deadlines or anything. It's just a low key time to work on strength and log the miles, however many and however fast I want to go. I've had some great runs lately, but they have been somewhat infrequent because of the cold snaps we've been battling. Today is another single digit day, so the treadmill was a good choice. I picked quarters and held 7:03 pace for 7 of them; did the last one in 6:58. The total mileage with warm up, cool down and recovery was 5.5 miles (with the 8 x 400). I had two other six milers outside this week (Thursday and Saturday) that both felt good and easier than my previous sixers. And I continue with the low key strength stuff indoors - pushups and planks. Kind of loving the pushups lately. 

So the menu this week - 

Sunday - last night we did sea bass muniere (basically lightly dredging sea bass fillets in flour and cooking them in butter. Then whipping up a sauce of butter, lemon juice, lemon zest and parsley. Pretty much perfection. We also had potatoes and a side green salad. And a French Chardonnay. Simple and delicious.

sea bass muniere

Monday - I have pot roast in the slow cooker for tonight. Sounds about right for a zero degree winter day. Plus it will supply the base for most of our meals this week. 

Tuesday - braised collard greens with white beans and some of the veggies from our pot roast

Wednesday - Ragu sauce using some of the pot roast meat over pasta

Thursday - The girls and I are on our own so we may do grilled cheese or salad or eggs. 

Friday - Attending an evening bday party with Big Girl, but I'll be making kielbasa with peppers and onions for my parents who have graciously offered to babysit Baby J

Saturday - Huge celebratory date night dinner out for me and hubs. HUGE. Cannot wait. May be a chart topper.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Weekend Sports, Menu Planning - January 10, Workouts, Etc

Big Girl and I had the pleasure of spending some one on one time together this weekend. Our first adventure was a (free) ice skating lesson in downtown Chicago. Every little bit of instruction helps regarding her ice skating endeavors. And I was actually on a work assignment that included this fun!

march, march, glide

Next up, some indoor rock climbing. Her first try ever on the wall. She was pretty determined, to say the least. And she built her confidence with each ascent.

the wall - in a dress

As for myself, it's currently the "off season." And though I still have to hash out my official 2016 running goals, front and center remains the pursuit of the sub 22 five kay. My first try won't be til late April, so until then I'd like to build a solid base. Luckily, I'm not starting from ground zero this time, and I'm not in terrible shape, so it's perfectly possible to believe I can incorporate some laid back speed stuff into the program for January and February.

Temps plummeted this past week so I was indoors for three workouts. Tuesday evening I did a treadmill workout where I started at 10 min pace for a warmup and increased speed every half mile until I was running 7:30 pace. Then I decreased speed every quarter mile til I landed back at 10 min/mile pace for a cool down. Friday I did four miles that included 4 x 400 at 7:03 pace. And Sunday was another treadmill workout:

warm up
2 min at 7:53 pace (10K pace)
2 min jog
3 min at 7:53
2 min jog
4 in at 8:19 pace (half mary pace)
2 in jog
5 min at 8:19
2 min jog
4 min at 8:19
2 min jog
3 min at 7:53
2 min jog
2 min at 7:53
2 min jog
(total 4.5 miles)

The only outdoor run this week was Thursday's 5.5 miler which was mostly a bust. Just wasn't feeling it the entire time. I was shooting for 6-7 miles and though the weather was fine, I bonked. I even sent my sitter home early that day so I could "rest" at home (with the two kids, which we all know isn't "rest" at all). With single digit temps kicking off this week, I'm just going to have to take it one day at a time. My baseline temp for outdoor running might be high-mid teens (with no wind). I'm just not as badass as I used to be re: cold weather running.

As for strength and core work, here is what has been working for me: dropping for 10 pushups at a time at random times during the day. Holding 30 second planks whenever the concept strikes my fancy. Picking up my 2 year old over and over and over and over again (repeat x 1000000000). Holding said  (wiggling, curious and vocal) two year old in one arm while doing a myriad of tasks with the other arm. Do what works for you.

Moving on to food. We ended our weekend with this delicious chicken dish that included porcini mushrooms, white wine and tomatoes (and icy porters). We placed the sauce over leftover cous cous from Saturday's meal, which was lamb tagine with pomegranate seeds, raisins, and cilantro.

chicken for dinner

The rest of the week looks like this:

Monday - homemade miso soup with udon noodles, tofu, spinach, broccoli, onion, carrots and scallions

Tuesday - potato and leek fritata and a side green salad

Wednesday - tacos

Thursday - braised potatoes (in leftover sauce from our Christmas Eve duck), sauteed greens (kale and spinach) with carrots, spinach, onion and garlic with runny eggs on top. Maybe fresh parmesan shavings.

Friday - rigatoni with peas, bacon and ricotta sauce

After a very long winter break, my Big Girl is back to school today. I can't say I don't miss her (it's crazy quiet at home!), but she was happy to be back and probably welcomes the time in a more structured environment. At a very early this morning, while the girls still slept, I put together her lunch: jelly sandwich on sourdough, baby carrots, dried cherries and dark chocolate chips, a cheese stick, a cutie and a snack of raspberries and strawberries.

school lunch 

And while the big kid is away, the little one and I are holding down the fort. We did some pushups and planks this morning, stretched a lot, and baked a batch of pumpkin chocolate chip muffins.

my baking helper

We're well into my least favorite time of year: the doldrums, as we affectionately call them. Chicago gives us so much winter that even spring isn't much consolation. But hopefully we can use this time to stay warm and cozy together, cook delicious meals, and count our many blessings.

Monday, January 04, 2016

New Years - 2016 (and menu planning Jan 3)

Happy New Year! We managed to make the most of it with another packed long weekend of celebratory fun. 

One of my favorite Christmas gifts this year came from my kids: a cold brew coffee maker! While ordering some online gifts, I came across it and told the girls they could get it for me - it would be a way for me to drink coffee faster in the mornings, which we all concurred was a *good* thing. It brews cold coffee akin to Starbucks and the process is as simple as can be. The only downside, if I had to pick, would be that it only houses a quart of coffee. Which is not very much. But it will do. That coupled with my french press for days when only a hot cup will suffice means we are all set in the coffee department. I've been enjoying the lazy days of winter break that are free of obligations and commitments, so I've been easing into our mornings with a satisfying cup of top quality java while the girls find ways to entertain themselves. 

But back to New Years.. for me, it started with a icy glass of cold brew. And a last minute article assignment that was a pretty fun one to write. Unfortunately my husband has been swamped with work, so he was in the office most of the day. I wrote and wrote, the kids played and played. My Mother-in-law and sister-in-law joined us that afternoon and helped with the prep work, but the day was getting away from us. Since time was short, it only made sense that I literally run an errand for some last minute items to save time. Along the way, I stopped to take a pic of the star that would rise as part of ChiTown Rising, a new new years even thing Chicago was doing for the first time. 

the star

I knocked out the errand and was back in time for a quick shower and to attend a nearby kiddie event complete with New Year's Eve countdown at 6p. It was cold! But the kids were bundled and had a good time. 

fam photo

Back at home, Big Girl toasted the new year with her flute of sparkling apple juice. Her sister declined to participate.

happy new year!
And we set about to cooking. The first course included 'Christmas Clams' which we created a year ago - clams steamed in butter, wine, onion and fresno pepper. And a caesar salad.

salad course
We did our grown up champagne toast with some Veuve and made wishes for a happy and healthy 2016.

Big Girl was a part of this and loved the toasting part!

cheers again

Second course was a pasta dish with tagliatelle, porcini mushrooms, and parsley. Simple and delicious.

pasta course

The main course was a roasted local fresh duck - with turnips and madeira. From our Country Cooking of France cookbook. I got no pics of the duck, but it was delicious! By the time dinner ended, the clock was nearing 10p so we tuned in to various New Years shows on TV and planned our midnight outing. Since Grandma didn't mind staying home and being warm, it made perfect sense for the rest of us to venture out and watch the star rise. We bundled big time and headed out, scoring a perfect spot for the main event.

huddling for warmth

We were appropriately silly and happy to be out among the reasonable crowds braving the cold for this inaugural event. The countdown started and the star rose - when it got to the top, fireworks blasted in three directions over the river. We could not have had a more perfect view. They were outstanding!


I haven't had an actual New Year's midnight experience in years - so it was great to be out there! I'm sure next year will bring more crowds and drama, but it was fun to be a part of the first #chitownrising.

We've come up with some first of the year menu plans too. After our NYE feast, we took my MIL out for her birthday the next night. And Saturday Big Girl and I went to a friend's party where either drinking or consuming desserts (me and Big Girl, respectively) won out over actual eating. So here's the week plan:

Sunday - homemade guacamole and leftover steak from MIL's birthday dinner made into fajitas with peppers and onions

Monday - homemade pear/parsnip soup, which is already made and ready to go, green salad, fresh bread

Tuesday - three bean veggie chili in the slow cooker

Wednesday - red lentil soup from the freezer (with lemon, cilantro and goat feta)

Thursday - salad with 5 minute eggs OR leftovers

Friday - homemade pizza with mushroom and leeks  (maybe eggs)

As for running, I've been going outside in sub-freezing temps - I managed to run New Years Day after a *very* lazy morning. I also got out yesterday for a near 6 miler. Just going to keep with the easy runs for now. 

And to end with this hilariousness--->

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year of Running in Review - 2015

Best Race: Hot Chocolate Chicago 5K. I've gone on and on about this race, but it was basically what I spent the better part of the year training for. I came damn near close to the 22 minute mark, but more importantly, my mindset during this race was right on the money. It's the race that made me a competitor. It may have taken a while (a good 18 years of running), but I finally know what it means to truly compete in a race!

awesome achievement 

Best Run: Nothing really stands out in my mind as being the best run of the year. But if I have to pick, I'll go with a treadmill interval workout that consisted of :
3 x 800 @ 7:03
2 x 800 @ 6:58
1 x 800 @ 6:53.
Sad that it was a tready situation, but it was also my fastest splits to date!

Best New Piece of Gear: Oiselle off the grid knickers. And Oiselle in general. Over the years I've flirted with Nike, Brooks, New Balance, Lululemon... Lately I've started to seek out smaller women's lines that do more than just provide clothing. Last year it was Swirlgear. This year it is Oiselle. It doesn't hurt that both Kara G. and Lauren F. are Oiselle runners, does it? I like what they stand for, and I like the clothing itself.

the pants tho
Best Piece of Running Advice Received: Words received from ex-Flyer LK the night before my Hot Chocolate 5K "Just commit to it, that it's gonna hurt for 22 minutes, and that's ok!"

Most Inspirational Runner: ex-Flyer LK. She KILLED it this year. I don't know what was most impressive with her 20 min 5K, her 1:30 half or her 3:16 marathon. Right?! It's not only that her times were smokin', it's the fact that she dedicated her "comeback" year to improving and proving to herself that anything is possible. I tired to adopt that attitude, especially late in the season.

LK crushing nyc

If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be? "I did it!" Something Baby J says often :) I realize I did not manage sub-22 for the 5K, but I sure came close. I proved to myself that I can. I know I can. And I will.

Year of Racing in Review - 2015

Happy New Year! This quiet morning, the last morning of 2015, is a good time to reflect and review on the past year of accomplishments before the parties get started tonight. (Despite the fact that I was just assigned a lengthy article that I should probably be working on instead...)

To begin my Year of Racing in Review, here is a cliche: what a difference a year makes! 2014 might have been my roughest year running-wise -->low mileage, slow paces, lack of desire to push it. Just bleak and blah. In a post last January, I made a couple statements: "I'd like to kick off a year I hope to call my 'comeback year.' My singular goal is to ace a 5K." And so began a year with a focus, a purpose and a renewed dedication. 

When I looked back at the year's posts, one thing that really struck me was the process of training. It's possible I learned more about real training this past year than in all my 18 plus years of running. Though I held onto my sort of "wing it" philosophy when it came to specific workouts, I amped up the paces and the intensity of my toughest workouts, and it's obvious that made a big difference. 

February looks like it was the beginning of my training - it took everything I had to knock out 2 x 1600 at 7:35 pace. I remember that workout, -- on the treadmill in the evening -- it was rough. In March, I did my first practice 5K - the Adidas Predictor Run. Finish time was 23:47. In April, with improving weather, my paces dropped a bit. My "5 by the 5th" 5K that month was 23:36. And while I struggled through 3 mile repeats at 7:30 pace, I was starting to learn to embrace the hurt. Finally, I ran my first 5K race of the year. 

The Ravenswood 5K landed me a HUGE PR! My time for this race was 22:43 (avg 7:19). It was clear I was on the right track, and this race just left me hungry for more. 

The warmer month of May allowed me to get out to the track a little more often. With quarters around 6:50 pace, 800s hovering around 7:00 and 1200s averaging 7:20, my speed was increasing. Soon it was time for my next goal race - the Western Springs Tower Trot 5K. Though I narrowly missed a PR, my time of 22:48  (7:21 pace) was good enough for an Age Group Place - first. 

first in AG

And then there was the Beer Run in freezing rain (24:23). Never again! But I did place second female overall - closest I'll ever come to winning a race (even if most of the participants were too boozed up to run).

soaked and sloshed

And a tough one in June - Youth Make a Difference 5K - The heat added an unwanted element, and I was still learning proper pacing. But I still ran a respectable race at 23:46 (7:37 pace) and managed to place 1st in age group / 6th woman.

Father's Day race

The summer was a mini off season, but full of excitement like :

and Meeting Lauren Fleshman !!

serious inspiration

And then we proceeded with the fall racing season. I've classified the Chase the Bear 5K as my least greatest race of the season (perhaps because of so much off season? Maybe my legs were rusty..) Still, it was a great learning experience. I ran a respectable time: 23:04 (7:27 avg), and I was first in my age group / 3rd woman overall. 

just after the start

In August and September, when the heat still blanketed the air, I struggled through the intervals, especially longer ones.  I started doing ladders - my paces dropped to nearer to 7:15 pace for 1200s, and 6:30-7:00 for quarters and half miles. By early October I was ready to rock! The Phun Run became my next PR at 22:36 (7:17) as well as a 2nd place age group finish and 6th woman overall.

another PR 

I threw in the Trick or Treat Trot 6K for fun - I didn't plan to all out race it, so it was more like a tempo. I PRed with a time of 28:33 (7:40 pace) and picked up 1st in my age group / 8th woman overall.

awesome game face

And then the pièce de résistance : the Hot Chocolate 5K. It's possible I determined this would be my final effort of the year to "ace the 5K." Or maybe I was just ready. This was finally the race where everything clicked. The weather cooperated. My training paid off. My attitude was right. I "embraced the hurt." I became a competitor. But I just wanted it. And I got it. My PR of 22:06 (7:07 pace) was sweet stuff. The 2nd Age Group place was icing on the cake. And it showed me that I can race well - I just have to go get it.

there's that game face again..

sweet hardware for 2nd place!

My racing story of 2015 appears to include multiple PRs (4), Age Group Awards (6) and Top Ten Female Finishes (5). Besides picking smaller races where placing was more possible, luck was also a factor as well as my consistent efforts to improve my times. My 5K PR dropped from 23:18 to 22:06. And I've never collected more hardware in a single year. So yeah, I think I can conclude that I was successful in my endeavors to "ace the 5K."

I don't entirely want to bring it up, but I fell seven seconds short of my goal for a sub 22. It's only seven seconds. And kind of besides the point. It was an arbitrary time goal set to help me achieve the larger goal of making me a better runner. A specific goal like this is really just a framework for the bigger picture. That said, I still want to chase it, but I'm certainly not going to declare this year a failure by any means. It was a blast going after this time goal - but at times it seemed unrealistic. Now I know that not only is it totally within reach, but that if I put my heart and soul into it, anything is possible.

Cheers to 2016!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas 2015

Wow - what a holiday! The bottom line : we made the absolute most of it. We spent two wonderful days with family, enjoyed delicious food, each other's company and the treasured time together. We hosted Christmas Eve - and it was (as usual) a production. But a good one. And a successful one. Here's the play by play. 

The morning of the Eve: It was an early start with some prep work, lots of coffee and a 5 mile run in chilly but sunny temps. I met the fam at Eataly where we picked up some "day of" goodies - bread, cheese and oysters. 

By noon, Baby J was peacefully napping, Big Girl was eagerly whipping up a mustard/shallot vinaigrette (with help, of course), and my husband was meticulously prepping our main course. Lunch was fine-herbes omelets (a la Jacque Pépin) and another iced coffee if you were me. 

Around 2p, I had the girls dressed in their Sunday best. I still cannot believe how excited they were to don fancy dresses adorned with jewelry and big smiles. They even let me do their hair (with bows!) and we took a festive picture by the tree. 

my gorgeous girls 
We met our families at church for the 3p mass. It was crazy crowded, but everyone was in good spirits. On our way home we ordered Egg Rolls from a local Chinese restaurant that would be part of our appetizer spread.

At home, the show began. While the kids excitedly (and that is a severe understatement!) opened presents, we put together the apps. 

hurray for presents!

Apps consisted of: egg rolls, mini endive salad bites, several homemade tarte flambes, and an assortment of nuts and chocolate candies. I was too busy to get pics of all of it, but here are the egg rolls.
Christmas ales were poured into frosty glasses, Alsatian white wines filled stemmed wine glasses and carbonated soft drinks rounded out the beverage selection for those under age. Presents continued to be opened and the room filled with laughter, smiles and happiness. It was so much fun that between preparing apps and prepping for the main course, I totally forgot about shucking the dozen oysters sitting on ice in the fridge! 

It seems my shucking skills remain sharp, because I got 'em all open in a pretty reasonable amount of time - and the shucking display made for an entertaining spectacle. Everyone stopped by to watch at some point, so I really had to up my game.

veteran shucker

Of course not everyone was interested in eating the raw oysters, so we had a little fun with those naysayers. But we mostly enjoyed either eating them or watching others dress theirs in lemon or cocktail sauce and send 'em down the hatch. 

oyster apps

Meanwhile, the dinner prep continued in the kitchen.

master chef

As did the present opening and cousin bonding. Of note : there were so many presents that the kids just stopped opening them at one point. There were maybe twenty or so left, and they were so overwhelmed by gift opening that they needed a breather. Instead, they played with the opened toys and had the time of their lives.

While we worked to assemble salads, our guests entertained themselves with photos and fun.

The salad course was made up of simple greens (butter lettuce) and roasted beets dusted with tarragon and Big Girl's vinaigrette. We tried for a group pic before we sat down for salads.

not all are present

The our main course : Choucroute Garnie. Our theme was Alsatian, so this made sense. And it was definitely a crowd pleaser.

multiples kinds of pork atop saurkraut

Truth be told, we had a little trouble finding some of the ingredients required for this feast. It called for smoked pork shoulder, which wasn't to be found at any specialty meat stores in the area. So we called an audible and went to Green Street Smoked Meats - who came through for us big time with two pounds of (cooked) smoked pork shoulder, which they would have shredded for pulled pork, but they sold it to us intact. In addition to that show-stealer, we had two kinds of sausage (couldn't find boudin blanc or country sausage so we went with a snail sausage and a type of andouille), slabs of pork belly and bacon (which was broiled for browning purposes prior to adding to the dish), potatoes, carrots and sauerkraut. There were also like 50 onions in there that had been sweated in butter that morning for HOURS. And delicious spices like coriander seeds, juniper berries, peppercorns and bay leaves. Also wine and chicken stock, because what meal is complete without wine, butter and stock.
First try at Choucroute Garnie

serving it up

It was pretty well received! And no one saw that coming as a main course ;) We are known for being full of surprises and over the top - but it surly did not disappoint. Alsatian Rieslings rounded things out for a perfectly themed Christmas Eve dinner. 

Dessert was an assortment of delicious Christmas cookies baked by the grandmas and more wine.

Big Girl's favorite course

the grandparents are being photo bombed..

And that was a wrap! Huge success. The only thing left to do was clean up and wait for Santa..

(this was taken before the festivities)
Christmas Morning, the girls discovered that SANTA came! This was very exciting and they found plenty of things to entertain themselves with. Besides coffee, I developed a huge craving for freshly made cinnamon rolls. A quick search for a reasonable recipe yielded this one from minimalist baker.

I did make a few changes - used whole milk instead of almond milk (and I made sure to manage it right so I kept the yeast alive!), regular butter, and coconut sugar. My frosting was powdered sugar and a splash of milk. They turned out superb!

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Paired with french press coffee, these things were divine. I usually don't start my day with a pastry, but this was an exception - and so worth it!

perfect Christmas morning treat
We spent the rest of the morning at home and then went to Grandma's house for a relaxing day of conversation, a few more presents, family time and a delicious Christmas dinner. Needless to say, we were exhausted after all the celebration. This morning I got out on a six mile run, which I am hoping becomes more of the norm as we move into 2016. I was tired but pressed on and probably picked up the pace the last couple miles - I left the watch at home so there is not proof of this, only speculation. In any case, I'm going to enjoy the rest of the holiday break with family and continue to count my blessings. 

Merry Christmas ~