Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fall Stuff and Menu Planning - October 19

There's no doubt that autumn in in full swing. There's usually a sweet spot where the trees showcase the most vibrant leaves of the season - just before they tumble to the ground to create soft, scented, rustling piles that delight our running sneaks (and our preschoolers..). This past weekend was that sweet spot. We headed to our favorite off-road trails to take in the foliage in the best way possible: with a run. I logged seven beautiful miles in suburban Chicago on gravel trails surrounded by the aforementioned leaves. The only caveat was that it was raining. No matter. It still was awesome. (Of note: I am wearing a swirl gear long sleeve top which is seriously like my new fave. Perfect fit and just the right amount of "dazzle.")

trails in the rain
We headed back to the trails the next afternoon for a shake-out run which blessed us with drier conditions. As you will see below, we took the kids there as well because obviously Big Girl had to get in her run too. But first, some food talk. 

We were lucky to have two date nights this past weekend. One was really just drinks, but the other was the hub's birthday dinner date. All I'll say is that it was tapas and that there was a pretty rockin' band. Anyway, with all that dining out, we were eager to cook something ourselves. We settled on this beauty along with some creamed spinach on toasted bread. This is how we take over my MIL's kitchen -

cooking beer/cider
This one was outstanding! Vegan, too. I highly recommend it. And we have tons for leftovers.

butternut squash/onions 

creamed spinach on toast

Note on the creamed spinach: it was shallots and creme fraiche. Pinch of nut meg.

the girl running (again)

colorful leaves

Now for a few random pumpkin patch pictures - because my kids are the cutest!

pumpkins in a pumpkin patch

with their grandma
Ok, back to food. This week's menu:

Monday: I used up some lunch leftovers (it was a big veggie skillet with sweet potatoes from a resty) and added fresh spinach, chorizo, fresh avocado and a fried egg.

using up leftovers

Tuesday - last night I did a tofu stir fry. The usuals: peanut oil, tofu, ginger, garlic, dash of mirrin, some vinegar (it needed something tangy), bok choy, snow peas, and scallions. Over soba noodles. And topped with toasted crushed peanuts. 

Wednesday - tonight I'm attempting a pot roast meal (with potatoes, carrots, onions). I don't often do huge cuts of meat and/or meat based meals. But it's good to have a broader base when cooking for a family. I've gathered a few recipes and feel there is a series of common steps involved in cooking pot roast. In any case, it looks fairly easy to do. Fingers crossed. 

Thursday - if I'm going to cook a roast, it had better be flanked by two veggie dishes. So this one will be our leftover butternut squash and onion dish over cous cous topped with fresh parsley (in an effort to "wake it up"). 

Friday - roasted celery root with creme fraiche and fresh dill along (the hub made this dish last year shortly after Baby J was born and it was amazing!) also leftover pot roast.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Menu planning - October 12

The menu:

Monday - leftover Chinese food (we ordered in Saturday night)

Tuesday - chickpea/kale/chorizo/poached egg (I do this dish frequently - it's a favorite!)

Wednesday - vegetable pancakes (will shred sweet potatoes, zucchini, onion and carrots / mix with eggs, bit of flour and salt / cook in olive oil) w/ sour cream and/or applesauce. Might also do side salad of greens and pepitas and shaved Parmesan)

Thursday - grilled cheese and homemade tomato soup (for the latter - carrot/onion/celery/maybe clove of garlic, can tomatoes, stock (store bought bc we are (gasp) out of stock!), bay leaf, basil, some heavy cream to top it off)

Friday - away (maybe date night)

So here's a pic of last weeks fantastic butternut squash/italian sausage concoction which was a spot-hitter. Onions, sage and grated Parmesan. Um yeah. 

And lastly, the Chicago marathon was yesterday. We went out to cheer on the runners. Though it doesn't seem like it from this pic, Big Girl internalized this phenomenon and later that afternoon she went on to run quite a distance of her own! 

marathon spectators

I will find out the exact distance via gmap pedometer, but she likely ran a half to a full mile (taking breaks, but always continuing ..until we finally told her to stop as it was dinner time.. which naturally resulted in tears (as most activities with her end these days). 

Note; these pictures were completely natural (ie not staged). My hub took them as she approached him. I was slightly behind her but had been running with her for the majority. We talked about Halloween, which was her idea. I had front loaded our run with 3.5 miles.

go girl!

little runner

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Menu Planning - October 5

A few days late but already in progress!

Monday - homemade chicken soup (due to hub being a bit sick)

Tuesday - leftover meatballs and sauce (from my mom) with swiss chard mixed in over whole wheat spaghetti

Wednesday - butternut squash/italian sausage/sage concoction - kind of like this recipe - perhaps with leftover spaghetti, but maybe on it's own

Thursday - salad with serious greens, five minute eggs, toasted nuts, goat cheese and homemade croutons (stale bread tossed gently in olive oil and baked in oven) homemade vinaigrette obv

Friday - not set in stone - i might be going out or we might do a chili layer dip

Also, I want to do this Phylis Grant fig concept so badly - maybe as an app on saturday..
"fig party"
figs, balsamic, olive oil, salt, prosciutto, and rosemary (into the oven it goes).
add goat cheese at last minute and broil.
smear on toast.
(this woman is genius)

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Phun Run 5K - 2014

Yesterday's 5K race was full of fun surprises, but it was also just what I needed to pull me up and out of this funk I've been in. My legs have mostly felt dead and uninterested on recent runs; they just don't wanna. So I focused all of my energy last week on taking naps (which is actually quite hard since napping doesn't come naturally for me). I also forewent the java in an effort to help me nap. And obviously, I stayed away from booze. It was a boring week, but apparently it was just the kind of "training plan" I needed to rock this race.

The earlier part of the weekend included a short four mile run Friday afternoon with my dad trailing me on his bike (talk about a rockstar - my dad is something!) and I got to spend the rest of the day alone (i.e. not with my kids) actually thinking thoughts. Saturday included some solo time as well - a "coffee" date with a friend (no coffee was consumed by yours truly but we chatted plenty). And Sunday was race day. 

I'll start with the fact that Baby J decided she was an infant and woke multiple times during the night. It wasn't a good night of sleep for me but I tried to go with it. The funny thing (and not "haha" funny) was that Baby J actually slept in on race morning. She was up at 5a but then went back to sleep - and didn't even stir when my alarm blasted at 6:20a. Seriously. It's like they know.

So, race morning began with me chugging some chilled coffee (omg was it good!) and a processed sugary cereal bar - I don't know ..  high glycemic and easy to digest? I had to wear tights and a long sleeve shirt under my tank because temps were barely kissing 40. We didn't have to travel far to the race and parking was a breeze. It's the little things. There was some sun and winds were light, but it was definitely chilly. And there was enough time for a few pre-race pics before I headed to the start corral. 

I should mention that my family is second to none and everyone was out there for me. I am beyond grateful that they came out to cheer me on and were so positive about the early morning hour and cold weather. They are the best!!

my beautiful family

my mom, hub, and the girls
Rookie spectator
My race "strategy" was to stay on my feet, maintain a comfortably hard pace, and try not to hit the wall. I wasn't sure what pace I could hold given that my recent paces have been snailishly slow, but I wanted to at least try for something respectable. When the gun went off, I just ran, trying to find a rhythm. Before I even got a tenth of a mile in, I spotted my dad. He rides his bike around the course and give me high fives every time I run by (because he's awesome like that). Seconds after I passed him, I felt a poke on my back. I figured some damn kid had knocked me, but when I turned around, I saw it was a friend from grade school. Someone I hadn't seen in years! I recognized her immediately but it was out of context, so I muttered something about being out of shape and that I would try to find her after the race. So that was cool, but I had a race to run. 

The miles came quickly - mile one flashed 7:52 on my garmin. This was pretty good, but I knew it was closer to eight. I just tried to maintain. The course rolls and turns gently and there were just the right amount of people out there. I was huffing and puffing a decent amount and I spit on myself at least once. But I kept on. Mile two was 7:53 on the garmin - but again, probably closer to eight. The last mile wasn't bad because I didn't push it. I just kept things even and tried to remember that this was supposed to be fun! I knew I'd see the kids soon and I wanted to appear strong and happy when I passed them. Close to mile three, I spotted them and managed to high five Baby J and Big Girl. Baby J was like "wtf was that" but Big Girl was nothing but smiles. She loved it (and I believe she shouted "Go, Mommy!" or something to that effect). Mile three was 7:58 and the last .1 was 1:08. And then we were done. 

My lungs were a bit rusty from the effort and the cold factor didn't help. I shook it off and looked for my family. I saw them coming but then I saw my friend cross the line. We were able to chat for a bit and she got to meet my kids. That was a great surprise because I usually don't know anybody at these races. And how fitting that the race was put on by the elementary school that we both attended!

old friends

While we chatted, Big Girl did some strides, high-fiving me as she passed, because that is what she assumed one does during races.

hand out for a high-five

ready to high five!

The finish area was pretty stocked and we grabbed some munchkins (Big Girl had three of them) and then headed to the playground. The kids got to do some swinging and playing, but they started announcing awards so we headed back to the finish line. I took this pic of all the shirts from previous races - this was the 20th year for this race. I have eight of these tops.

race shirts

Because I had placed in previous years, I thought there might be a chance that I'd get third place or something. (of note: I placed third in my age group for this race while pushing Big Girl in the Bob one year and last year as an eight month pregnant mama runner - so, it was a possibility). It took forever to get to the F35-39 age group (because I am old now), but it was worth the wait. I got first. And no matter what, first is awesome. I can honestly say "I won" because I did win (my age group).

1st AG
How fun to score some hardware in a race that let me know my legs are still there and they can turn over at an 8 min/mile pace. My total time of 24:53 might have been one of my slower 5K times (not counting pregnancy or Bob pushing..), but it is still pretty decent, at least in my book.  It made me wonder what I'd be capable of if I could actually sleep more than 3-4 hour stretches at night and/or find the time to recover after hard efforts (as of now, there are no hard efforts because I have no opportunity to properly recover). But in any case, I'm so glad I participated in this race - I really love the road racing scene. And they are especially sweet when they end with a medal ;)

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Importance of Menu Planning

Allow me to go off topic (not really for a change, because, who am I kidding?! My runs are crap these days..), and talk about why I think menu planning is so important. Mainly important for my family - which includes me, my husband, Big Girl (3.5yrs), and Baby J (11 months).

For starters, it gives my husband and me something to talk about other than the kids. With two little ones constantly vying for our attention (the Big one gets particularly irked if we dare so much as attempt to have a conversation that doesn't include her), it's hard to come up with topics that pique our interest. Though Big Girl's #threenager phase offers endless hours of conversation, discussion about her  mysterious, baffling behavior often leaves us more exhausted and depressed. We sometimes try to chat about fun weekend plans or Chicago real estate (and the state of this city in general - it seems like things are booming here and there's always something new to dissect). But it mostly comes back to food. What are we having for dinner - and what fun thing will we be cooking over the weekend. And when, if ever, we will attempt bouillabaisse again.

My husband and I used to sail. On a sailboat. Like a 40 footer (or thereabouts). By ourselves. We earned certifications in keelboat sailing and chartering so we could go sans paid captain. These adventures always required a serious team effort - a commitment to working together to ensure we had fun while traveling from island to island (and stayed alive, obviously). We had our roles, our specialities and we divvied up the remaining tasks accordingly (like pulling that damn outboard up and off the dingy and securing it to the stern on the starboard side. Side note: this is a task we one day foresee Big Girl doing -- haha, not really, but kind of). Anyway, we worked well together and that collaboration brought us great joy as we maneuvered our boat across the islands of the Caribbean. Now we talk food (but hope to someday return to the sea - with or without the kiddos).

So not only is menu planning a good investment of time and resources - because let's face it, we all have to eat, so why not make cooking healthy and fun and something that we can pass on to our kids. But it's also a source of conversation that seems to provide endless hours of fun for the hub and me. Over the years we have merged our love of food with the changing seasons and seasonal events that call for a particular fare. For example, it's nearly fall. We are already talking about making stock, favorite squash dishes, and things that beg for sage. And we are planning pilgrimages to the burbs to run in fall foliage and the meals (and beers) we can indulge in post run. We don't even limit the food talk to our own cooking; we are also planning a "ramen run" which means we will end a run in a neighborhood that has especially good ramen.

I don't know what other couples do, but we talk food. And the weekly menu plans have helped us create a scaffolding from which to build our toolbox of culinary know-how. While we have old standbys, we also try to prepare a dish or attempt a technique that broadens our cooking skills. These can be risky, but often they are worth the gamble. I'm not sure if it's admirable or pathetic that we enjoy discussing and creating flavor profiles that will potentially make a dish rejoice (or die, depending on how it goes). But that is what we do. And I believe that it's very important for spouses to have something to talk about other than the kids (preferably something both are passionate about).

Someday we (read: I) may go back to talking about training plans, race strategies, taper woes, long run routes, etc.. but for now, serious running has taken a back seat to the immediate task of putting (healthy and delicious) food on the table for our family day after day after day.

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.