Sunday, February 01, 2015

Adding Some Speed and Spice

Workouts first. Then food.

This week was kind of unusual for me in that I did TWO speed workouts. I have been coasting for the past (nearly) five years - starting when I found out I was preggo with Baby number one. But the truth is, speed wasn't something I did too often even before the wee ones entered the picture. I want that to change. Monday night I was feeling rather blasé about a run, but when my husband came home and Big Girl attached herself to him (God Bless the #daddyphase), I slipped out for a quick treadmill sesh. My plan was to do a warm up, one fast mile, and a cool down. I ended up doing TWO fast miles. At 7:35 pace. That counts as #milerepeats, right?? In total, it was only 3.5 miles, but my legs blew it up with those 1600's, and I was perma-grinning when I got off the belt. It's hard to top that feeling of accomplishment, even when you start small. 

Wednesday was my run fail, but Thursday I was determined to put something decent on the board. Once again, I was on the treadmill (blame the #wintrymix and crap Chicago winter weather, but also I needed speed). After a mile warmup, I settled into some half mile intervals. In my head, eight seemed like a good number. But my head is often fuzzy and not up to speed (haha), and I soon realized that eight half mile repeats might be a bit too much at this point. So I dropped it to six, which seemed perfect. I hit them at 7:30 pace and did a quarter mile recovery job between. The halfs went by quickly and actually felt pretty good. And soon I found myself jogging the cool down mile. In total, it was a 6.5 mile effort. I am happy with this and will move forward as I see fit.

Yesterday was my solo outside run, which ideally I'd like to be a long run. But I am settling for six miles right now. Time can be short and I like to have enough remaining energy to get through the weekend. So six works now, but hopefully by spring I'll be increasing that distance. I'm not sure about today's deal - snow is coming down full force and we have a "blizzard" warning this afternoon.

So food - We are still working out the menu plans for the week. I may edit/update later. But I wanted to share two meals from last week that are (IMO) worth sharing.

First up, I went a bit far in the vegan direction and we enjoyed mostly vegan meals all week (the exceptions were chicken stock in the sweet potato chili and cheese on top, and cheese on the grilled cheese. I kept the pad thai vegan (was delicious but I wouldn't call it pad thai), and kicked things up a notch with a easy cabbage salad and tofu scramble on Thursday night. (Note: I skipped the beans in the scramble and served it over toast instead of in tortillas). Wine worked nicely for this meal.

vegan cabbage salad and tofu scramble

Friday we had leftover vegan indian  - so by Saturday, I was ready for a change. With the cold and predicted snow on the way, we picked Texas Red and used this recipe. We wanted to keep it authentic using just meat, chili peppers, and spices. No beans.

Texas "Red"y to go
After letting it all simmer for some time, it was time to crack open a(nother) cold beer and give it a try. And it was nothing like I thought it would be - just delicious with so many flavors coming together (I mean there were several different kinds of chilis, beer, and unsweetened chocolate in there!). But it was mostly chunks of tender meat in a sauce that made history in our household. We topped ours with green onions and sour cream, which worked perfectly. And the icy beers hit the spot. 

I'll get back with the week's menu soon - but I'll close with the fact that today is February 1 and thus National Ab Month begins!! 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

just how it goes

1am. Restless. Still waiting for slumber.

2am. Visit from three year old. Thankfully only a quick bathroom trip. Back in bed. Restless. Dozing. Vivid dreams.

5am. Cries from baby. Escalating. Do you hear me?! Louder.

5:30a. Visit baby's room. Thankfully, Baby falls back asleep.

6:40am. Three year old in room. Wake up! Try desperately to ignore everything. Persistent three year old. Very persistent.

7am. Throw hands up in air. Figuratively speaking. Cue constant demands needing immediate attention. <> Baby's bowl, cereal, milk and all, crashes to the floor. Uh oh. She blinks, innocently. More cereal, please, says her sister, also innocently.  (Why is the coffee taking so long!?!) 

Get your socks/shoes/coat/hat/mittens/scarf..  where are your SHOES!? (I don't know.) Search house frantically. Notice that the baby is practically naked. Also covered in cereal. Start over. Finally, an eternity later,  the clan is suited up. We are outside. Winter air greets us. At least the sun is out. We squint.

School drop off.  Pretty flawless. A highlight to be noted. Kisses goodbye.

Time to run. It's colder than expected. Vicious wind in face. Baby starts to doze. NOOOOOOOO!!!!! DON'T SLEEP NOW!!!! Wind is killer. Baby's eyelids are fluttering. Too distracted (apathetic?) to propel legs or make effort to run. F*ck it. Just forget it. Take shortcut home. Logged approximately 0.57 miles. Baby squeals with delight. Kicks legs happily. Killer grin, sporting her (cute, lone) tooth. Can't help but smile back. Head for home. #Epicfail.

Attempt to make it up with yoga/pushups/core work. Baby cooperates. Parallel plays. Count my blessings. Decide to document this. Write it up quickly as baby plays and pandora treats us to 80s music. Can't complain. I do love my cute bundles of messy energy. I do. Sigh, as house is already a disaster zone. Small price for a bit of refreshing calisthenics.

I'm out. Peace.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Menu planning - January 25

While this is a menu planning post, it's going to be a little all over the board. I rarely have time (or material) to post during the week, so these regular posts will just have to include all. Bare with me. 

First up, a teaser. A little celebration because I now have a (paid) job. It's super part time, but it's something I have always wanted to do/be - so basically a bucket list item to cross off. More on the details another time, but this bubbly was a surprise from my hubs the day I was hired ;)


Next up, some fantastic energy balls! I've been on an energy/protein ball kick lately - mostly because I finally found some that taste good (enough with the nuts and dates - they're fine, but I'm looking for something different). These are three ingredients : peanuts, dark chocolate chips, and unsweetened coconut. Just food process and add a bit of water before forming into balls and refrigerating. They are fantastic and a make a delicious quick snack.

three ingredient energy balls

A second energy ball that is even more fantastic (if that's even possible) are these high protein energy bites. They taste like pralines - simply decadent. I don't have a pic, but they look similar to the above balls, only lighter in color. And the kids like 'em, which is perfect. Speaking of the kids, they are loving all things cooking. This was taken the other night when I was making the spinach/ricotta pasta - Big Girl wanted to lend a hand and Baby J, her trusty sidekick, also stepped in to help. It was pretty cute to watch, especially the commentary from Big Girl ("and now, I give this a stir..not too much..just a little..and add some salt…stir again" etc.. and her sister hanging on every word.)

little chefs

Next random thing - Big Girl's "run" yesterday. She insisted. We weren't even running. But she wanted to log some distance. Can't blame her. My legs were fried from the morning's six miler and then a really really long walk in the afternoon. I was toast, but she made me add more. Always pushing, that girl.

afternoon run

Lastly, meal plans. Last night we tried to salvage the night with a home cooked meal. This one was blackened salmon, braised collards, and crispy fingerlings. And a bottle of Spanish white wine. It was pretty much perfect. As for the blackened salmon, the fish was rubbed with thyme, oregano, paprika, and cayenne and then pan seared. It might have been our first attempt to "blacken." We'll be doing more of that, I'm sure.

blackened salmon etc

Ok, the rest of the week is as follows: 

Sunday: tonight I have some three bean sweet potato chili in the slow cooker. It looks good on paper and so far appears to be a healthy pretty rainbow of colors in the crock pot. It should taste like perfection. (Note: we deveganized it with homemade chicken stock, added some pinches of salt, and plan to top it with shredded sharp cheddar, chopped fresh scallions, and a dollop of sour cream.)

Monday - I'm going to try this vegan pad thai, except it won't be vegan. I love the idea of doing a simple pad thai, but I will be adding fish sauce. I'm not ready to skip that staple in this dish. But I do love the veggies (cabbage, broccoli, zucchini) and the peanut sauce, and I will be using soba noodles. 

Tuesday - Grilled cheese (pepperjack/cheddar along with tomatoes and spinach) and a side spinach salad with fresh scallions

Wednesday - Spiced tofu, bell pepper and tomato indian dish. This one will be vegan. It's from our Vegan Indian cookbook. 

Thursday - big salad or leftovers (we will have a smorgasbord of leftovers with the vat of chili, the pad thai and the indian dish)

Friday - same as Thursday

Oh, and I logged 20 miles this week - the highest weekly mileage in a LONG TIME. Happy new week!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Winter Running and Menu Planning - January 18

Winter has settled in to stay, but things have been rather pleasant for mid January. When the sun is out and temps hover in the 30s, it's hard to complain. Such was the case this weekend, with temps getting up into the 40s, so (hats and) gloves were coming off. I ran outside for all of my runs last week, including a nice six miler on Saturday (pace around 9 min/mile). I was able to snap this picture of the blue skies, gorgeous frozen lake, and snow-covered ground - and it's a good thing I did because the majority of the snow has since melted.

along the lake

While I haven't been following a training schedule, I am trying to incorporate some tempo miles into my runs and occasionally some pickups. The other thing I have my eye on is core strength.. seeing as how "National Ab Month" starts in less than two weeks (Feb 1). So I'm working on planks and random ab work in addition to the perpetual workouts my arms get from carrying the wee ones all.the.time (it seems). Lastly, I may possibly incorporate a more specific training plan for each week (like one "long" run, one tempo, one interval, one recovery) or something of that nature, but so far I'm kind of winging it.

As for this week, I have one run under my belt. It was yesterday's solo four miler - pace undetermined. We had a super fun but exhausting weekend, so I just wanted to get out there and shake out the legs. It worked and I felt much better after hitting the roads.

And, I'll end with this week's menu plan - already in progress!

Monday - last night we had sautéed greens (kale and spinach) with veggies (carrots, onion, garlic) topped with eggs and fresh parmesan. In my opinion, this is the ideal healthy comfort food.

Tuesday - tonight we'll do a wedge salad along with some leftover prime rib from the freezer from Christmas

Wednesday - Leftover chicken chili (also from freezer)

Thursday - a whole wheat pasta dish with spinach and ricotta

Friday - BLT's

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Upping My Game

Since the return to school and schedules after the long holiday break, we've been busy trying to stay warm and somewhat productive. When things start to settle down after the unpredictability of the holidays, it seems like a good time to up your game. For me this means doing lots in the kitchen - and trying to knock out some quality workouts. I'm finding it challenging to run as frequently as I did before the cold and snow settled in, so I have to choose quality over quantity.

First up, some kitchen work. Last Monday, we hosted a big playdate for friends we didn't see too much over the winter break. But before they arrived, I was busy restocking our pizza dough supply - it's fairly simple to do and gives you breaks between steps to tidy up the house for guests, etc. We now have enough dough for 5 adult pizzas and 6 for the kids.

pizza dough

Once we had the dough stored away in the freezer, we had to make a new batch of sauce. I typically double the recipe so I have enough sauce for 8-10 pizzas. In addition to diced tomatoes, I added plenty of veggies to up the health quotient. This batch included red and yellow pepper, onion, some garlic and carrots. Basically just sautée them, add the tomatoes, simmer for a while, and then puree. The veggies added a touch of sweetness and the oregano and red pepper rounded things out for a traditional zesty pizza sauce flavor. So even if the kids request a cheese pizza, they are still getting vegetables ;)

soon to be hidden veggies
Another thing we did last week was experiment with some unique vegan muffin recipes. Our first one was chocolate zucchini muffins (and I fully realize that it is nowhere near zucchini season, but I wanted to include some veggies in our muffins and this one did the trick nicely). Big Girl took a more active role in baking them; she did almost all of the measuring and mixing and even added the batter to the muffin pan. 

The finished product was a rich, dense muffin of delicious warm chocolate goodness. They are best served warm, and a side of fresh strawberries pairs pretty well with them (in my opinion, and Big Girl's). 
lil baker

chocolate zucchini muffins
Next up were some banana chocolate chip muffins, which was the perfect idea because we had some super ripe bananas on the counter. These were super easy to make and Big Girl was thrilled when she realized she could eat the batter.

licking the bowl

And the muffins came out great! We even made a few sans chocolate chips for Baby J - who is still learning to like bananas, but she'll indulge us with a few bites of her muffin before flinging it across the room. Spread a little peanut butter on these beauties and you've got the perfect snack or a super quick and easy breakfast.

banana chocolate chip muffins

And now it's time for some running talk (finally). Since last week was so frigid, it wasn't possible to take Baby J out running, and for various reasons, early mornings and late evenings are tough for me to squeeze in a workout. So most of my week was a mix of sad attempts to strike a yoga pose or do speed pilates moves while the kids played (read: crawled all over me and/or tried to crush me). By Thursday I was so ready to run! Luckily I had a sitter for a good chunk of the day, but it was 0 degrees out and a wicked wind carrying a wintry mix was barreling towards the lake all day long. So I opted for a treadmill workout and borrowed this one from Laura. 

tready workout
I did a warm up mile and my paces were as follows:

warm up mile: 10:00
10k: 7:50 - 8:00
half mary : 8:30 
recovery jogs: 10:00
cool down mile: 9:00-9:30

It ended up being about 6.5 miles and took about an hour. I was pretty psyched to have this one under my belt. It isn't often that I feel like pushing myself, but I finally feel like I'm getting to that point where I can focus and up my game. 

Saturday was my only other run for the week - I did 4 miles on the treadmill because of another single digit morning. And Sunday I probably should have run outside but instead chose ice skating. This week is off to a sad start, but I'm aiming for a treadmill run tonight - if the stars align. Game needs to stay upped.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Menu Planning - January 11

Saturday - cold winter nights have meant lots of cooking. Saturday night we went with braised fennel with diced vegetables and salmon with dill and lemon zest. Here's the recipe for the fennel - it's Deborah Madison and just phenomenal. I realized that I like to braise like my husband likes to grill.  We both like to intermittently sip something while we cook; for him, it's usually beer while he stands by the hot grill tending to poultry, beef, or whatever meat is on top of the coals. Braising is a also process and sometimes requires wine, so that works for me. But this one is a fun one to cook because you can do a few things, let it braise, do a few more things, let it braise - and continually enjoy that wine while it braises.

the recipe

waiting for the wine/butter to reduce

finished product (with saffron mayo)

The salmon was great too, but perhaps a touch overcooked. Otherwise, it was a perfect meal.

Sunday - neither of us was in much of a cooking mood last night since it was a  cold, snowy Sunday night, but we worked up the energy to roast some beets for an arugula/goat cheese salad that was a side dish for tortellini en brodo (we made so much stock we need to use it however we can!). No recipe, just some veggies, stock, and top with fresh parsley. It was a nice simple meal to end a day of ice skating and trying to stay warm.

she's getting better!

Monday - tonight I'm planning to do the vegan indian cabbage/peas dish in the slow cooker this time. We will probably use up the leftover beets in a raita .

Tuesday - homemade hummus with tabouli and olives

Wednesday - leftover indian but served taco style in roti. We might add yogurt and cilantro to this. 

Thursday - homemade pepperoni pizza with olives and onion

Friday - Big Girl has an evening birthday party to attend so dinner may include snacks or leftovers (and likely some kind of adult beverage…because have you ever been to an evening birthday party and tried to put your kids to bed following it?!? God help me.)

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Menu Planning - January 4

It's time for the first menu planning post of the new year - which means I have been doing this business for two years!! Here's the post that started it all : January 6, 2013. This weekly menu planning effort has really changed our lives. It has certainly streamlined the grocery shopping and preparation processes, but more importantly, it has intensified our passion for cooking and all things culinary. What once was a chore that didn't seem to provide much return besides a full belly is now something I look forward to and devote way more fun energy towards than I ever thought possible. A wholehearted thank you to whomever dreamed up this Menu Planning Challenge :)

To begin, I'm going to display some delicious cheesy vegan quinoa bites - this project was one of my first intentional vegan efforts (and no, I am not becoming even remotely vegan, but I may dabble in it here and there because why not). I debated using real cheese instead of the cashew cheese sauce, but in the end I went with the nut sauce because it seemed to pack more punch nutritionally. They were fabulous! Delicious, satisfying, savory, crisp and gooey - and to be honest, they make a killer pairing with some perfectly poached eggs. I plan to make these again this week, because they are just that awesome. 

cheesy vegan quinoa bites

Next up was a vegan lentil daal made in my new slow cooker along with some naan and a beet raita (beets were leftover from Christmas Eve - we simply stirred them into greek yogurt). And beer. The lentils were good but kind of missing something (boatloads of ghee??). To remedy that, we have tried adding soy sauce, tobasco, red pepper flakes, salt and miso. I personally just like the red pepper/salt combo, but for my husband, the jury is still out.

vegan daal and beet raita

Now for this week - 

Yesterday we made a slow cooker chicken chili that called for some unusual ingredients but ended up being fantastic! As a bonus, it was ridiculously healthy and could be made more so by using chicken breasts instead of ground chicken. In any case, it hit the spot on a cold day; and the fact that it called for a half cup of beer was just genius - it required the purchase of beer, which complemented this spicy chili just perfectly. 

Sunday - tonight we are making this fish in banana leaf  (but using parchment paper instead of banana leaf). It is currently in the oven, so I don't have a verdict, but it looked pretty awesome. We added some bok choy to the bottom of the fish and are serving it all with a side of coconut rice (with infused cardamom pods - because rice is infinitely better that way). 

Monday - I will be using up the last of my first batch of cheesy vegan quinoa bites with poached eggs and a side green salad. 

Tuesday - Leftover daal with naan 

Wednesday - farro with spinach and mushrooms (I will probably cook the farro in homemade chicken stock, which is simmering on the stove as I type)

Thursday - Leftover chicken chili made into a dip with chips

Friday - Homemade wild mushroom pizza 

And that's a wrap! Oh wait, today also kicked off my year of (seriously) training for a 5K - I did a speed workout of five miles with 4 x 800 at 8:00, 7:50, 7:40, and 7:30 per mile paces, respectively. It was on the treadmill because Chicago was just a mess of snow and wintry mix conditions today. I daydreamed about nailing a sub 22, but only time will tell if that is even possible. But I sure as hell am going to try.