Easy recipe · Fall Food · Italian Recipe · Pasta · Running

Big Goals Need Big Bowls…of Pasta

It officially feels like fall now.  Don’t get me wrong, all of the gourds lining the stoops in my neighborhood and the fall breads and Thanksgiving sides filling my Instagram feed have definitely helped, but something was missing.  Over the past couple of weeks, though, the leaves around here have begun to cover the sidewalks in red, orange, yellow, and brown. And the weather now consistently has a little chill to it (rather than dreading the brutal cold that is coming way too soon, I’m choosing to enjoy the beauty of the current conditions while they last).  Oh, and let’s not forget that, for the past five years, fall for me has centered on marathons.  I didn’t run or even begin to train for one this year, but a little over a week ago I did participate in the festivities for one of my favorite days of the year – Marathon Sunday in New York.

The New York City Marathon is one of the most inspirational events I’ve ever been a part of.  You see runners of all shapes, sizes, ages, and levels of ability out there pounding the pavement to reach an incredible goal.  For some, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime achievement to cross that finish line.  For others, it’s a certain time or performance goal.  Regardless of the goal, that 26.2 miles is an emotionally and physically draining journey that never gets easy, no matter how many times you take it on.  Huge congrats to everyone who ran a marathon this fall!  As a spectator, you can’t help but get excited for these people chasing a dream, and sometimes it will motivate you to chase down your own dream, whether that be a marathon or not.  As a runner, the crowd support is unbelievably energizing and is sometimes the only factor that keeps you from sitting down and crying.  Everybody wins.

While the marathon itself is an incredible event for runners and spectators alike, I realized on Marathon Sunday that I prefer to be one of the runners.  There are several reasons to hate running marathons, including the pain and the time commitment.  I only need one reason to love it, though, and that is what will motivate me to run another one – training with friends.  For me, running is a social sport.  The friends are what keep me accountable and make me want to show up and put in the work.  There’s something about the long process and the grueling hours of training that helps to build amazing friendships.  So, after last Sunday I decided to enter the lottery for the 2019 NYC Marathon.  Maybe I’ll get in, maybe I won’t.  I’m excited to see what happens either way.

Orecchiette1
Prepped & ready to cook!

Thinking about training for another marathon got me thinking about another of my favorite things – eating…a lot.  While technically not considered “carbo loading”, which requires 2-3 days of eating high carbohydrate meals and isn’t achieved in just one dinner, during training I used the weekly long runs as an excuse to eat a big quantity of pasta the night before.  Due to my sensitive digestive system, I found a pasta that worked for me and ate the same thing every single week.  I used to order my pasta from a nearby restaurant for delivery, but then I moved to Brooklyn and started studying nutrition, so I recreated it my way.  To make this dish a little healthier, I added tomatoes and used chicken sausage instead of beef or pork, but it definitely fills the void of my weekly Gottino’s take-out.  It’s also really easy to make.  Bonus!

Orecchiette2

Note: I couldn’t find broccoli rabe at my store the last time I made this, so I used baby broccoli instead and it was also delicious.

Orecchiette3

Orecchiette with Sausage & Broccoli Rabe
Servings: 6
Serving Nutrition: 382 calories, 15.4 g protein, 13.7 g fat, 4.1 g fiber, 49 g carbohydrates
Ingredients
1 12oz package orecchiette
2 links pre-cooked sweet or hot Italian chicken sausage, casing removed & meat finely chopped
1/2 medium onion, diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
8 oz broccoli rabe, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Directions
1. Boil pasta according to package instructions until al dente, then drain and reserve about a cup of the pasta water.
2. In large skillet, add 1 Tbsp olive oil and onions and sauté until onions begin to soften.
3. Add garlic and continue to cook about a minute.
4. Add thick stalks of broccoli rabe and cook about 3 minutes, then add tomatoes and thin stalks of broccoli rabe and cook until tomatoes soften.
5. Add sausage, remaining olive oil, and parmesan and thoroughly mix.
6. Slowly stir in pasta, adding pasta water a little bit at a time as needed to loosen up sauce and allow thorough mixing.
7. Mix in red pepper flakes and add salt & pepper to taste.

Batch Recipes · Big City Life · Chocolate · Easy recipe · Life Balance · Mid-Life Career Change · Running · Snacks

More Snack Balls…

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of catching up with a couple of friends over a run followed by brunch. The three of us have trained for marathons together in the past, which involves very long runs that can sometimes be uncomfortable, if not downright painful. You get to know each other very quickly and very intimately on these runs. Talk of bodily functions, odors, and other highly personal issues is not only within the bounds of normal conversation with runner friends, it is sometimes the only thing that keeps you going and has been the basis of many a lifelong friendship. We are all bound together in our gross and strange commonalities. It’s a beautiful thing…for us. If you have to sit next to us on the subway after a sweaty run, you probably don’t think it’s so beautiful. Sorry ’bout that.

Unfortunately, I am not able to catch up with these ladies as much as I would like. Life has gotten busy for all of us and it can be tough to coordinate schedules. That said, when we are together we often speak about how to manage a busy schedule and still take care of ourselves by eating well and exercising. Basically, it isn’t easy and none of us have found the perfect solution, but we can continue to work on it one small change at a time. I have been doing pretty well with my diet lately, so my goal for this new semester, which just started 2 weeks ago, is to prioritize exercise. Even just 10-20 minutes on a busy day is better than nothing.

On our run, one of my friends requested that I post some slow cooker recipes. Honestly, I don’t use my slow cooker nearly enough, but it is always a great way to make a healthy home cooked meal when you’re busy. I typically think of the slow cooker as being for fall and winter dishes like stews and roasts, but it really can be used year-round for a wide variety of foods. This summer when it was so hot I refused to turn on my oven, I made a chicken and rice dish in the slow cooker and it was way better than I expected…and so incredibly easy. That said, I tried to recreate it and it was not nearly as good the second time, so back to work I go! While I work on perfecting that recipe, I will share another flavor of my favorite convenient snack balls…dark chocolate & peanut butter. Yum!

ChocolatePBBalls2

Dark Chocolate and Peanut Butter Snack Balls
Yield: About 24 balls
Nutrition per ball: 66 calories, 2.6 g protein, 3.2 g fat, 26 mg sodium, 7.6 g carbohydrates, 3.6 g sugar
Ingredients
2/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup uncooked rolled oats
2/3 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp chia seeds
1/2 cup almond flour
4 Tbsp peanut butter powder
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips

Directions
1. Put coconut, cranberries, and oats in food processor and chop to your desired consistency.
2. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. It will be a thick dough, so you might need to use your hands to combine everything.
3. Form dough into golf ball sized balls.
4. Store in refrigerator for easy snacking.

Batch Recipes · Life Balance · Mid-Life Career Change · Running · Snacks

Hitting the Reset Button

There are those times in everyone’s life when you have too much on your plate and it gets overwhelming and chaotic.  You’re burning the candle at both ends and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel through everything that has piled on top of you.  At those times, you have to take a step back, breathe deeply, and evaluate the situation.  Are there obligations that aren’t helping you to move forward that can be eliminated?  Are there things you can do now to make your life easier tomorrow or a week from now?  Are there things you’re doing in reaction to the stress that are making it worse?

I was in such a situation recently.  Fall classes started at the end of August and I am taking a full coarse load.  Around that same time, I took on a part-time job to supplement savings and financial aid.  I was also still attempting to train for a marathon and maintain relationships with the people who are important to me, including my boyfriend.  It was just too much and, as a result, I was eating poorly (skipping breakfast because I woke up late and just ran out the door, or having pizza for dinner because I was too tired to cook), I had no time to work out, and I was irritable because I was exhausted and I was staring down a mountain of school work I still had to get to.  Something had to give.

After a lot of thought, I knew the first thing that had to go was the marathon.  I was less than 2 months away from running 26.2 miles and I could barely squeeze in one or two runs a week, and my body was sluggish on every single one of those runs.  I tried to force it for a few weeks, but the realization that continuing down that path would most likely result in injury made the ultimate decision a no-brainer.  So, I deferred and will now be running the Marine Corps Marathon in 2017.  I’m happy with that decision.

After I pulled the plug on the marathon for this year, I was still overburdened and stressed beyond belief.  The job.  Let me tell you about the job.  It didn’t pay much and I realized quickly that it was very demanding both physically and emotionally.  The schedule was never set in stone and I could either be cut from or added to a shift within just a day, or even a few hours, of the shift.  It made it impossible to plan anything at all.  My role was to assist with cooking classes, which I thought would be good experience for my future in food and nutrition, however I spent most of my time washing dishes.  At the end of every shift, my feet hurt like crazy and sometimes I would have to work back-to-back shifts with no break.  It was causing the plantar fasciitis in my left foot to worsen and I started to get sharp lower back pain.  I laughed that I could run marathons but couldn’t stand for hours at a time without wanting to cut my feet off and roll up into fetal position, but I swear it was harder on my body than running!  I was so exhausted and cranky every time I left that place.  The final straw was when they scheduled me for 14 consecutive days.  I had to get out of there, so I gave them 2 weeks notice and made my exit as swiftly as I could.

Now, I’m back to trying to find my new normal.  I’ve taken a volunteer position with a non-profit helping out with their corporate wellness program.  I am loving the work I’m doing and it will go a long way toward building my resume in nutrition.  I still need to find something else part-time that pays, but I am not going to stress myself out over it.  Right now I’m just enjoying being able to focus on school and cooking with my boyfriend again.  We didn’t do much of that at all during my craziness, and it’s something we love doing together and it helps us to eat healthy.  The first things we made were a couple of things we could keep on hand and just grab to take with us when we are in a rush.  We made egg muffins that we keep in the freezer for a grab-microwave-and-go breakfast.  They are so easy – just put a bunch of veggies and whatever other fillings you like into a muffin tin, pour whisked eggs in to fill, then bake on 375* until the eggs are cooked through (about 20 minutes). We chose to fill them with spinach, bell peppers, Trader Joe’s chicken jalapeno sausage, onions, and cheddar cheese.  Yum!  The other thing we made was my favorite trail mix.  Also really simple to make and the cinnamon and cranberries give it a bit of a Fall flavor (but, let’s be honest, I devour this year-round), so I thought it appropriate to share now.  Note that I am not giving measurements for some of the ingredients because everyone likes different proportions of the various items in a trail mix, so it’s really up to you.  Enjoy!

trail-mix

Honey Cinnamon Trail Mix

2 cans of unsalted mixed nuts

1/2 cup of dry oats

2 tbsp of chia seeds

flax or sunflower seeds

shredded coconut (optional)

honey – around 1/2 cup

Cinnamon

dried cranberries (or whatever dried fruit you prefer)

dark chocolate M&Ms

In a bowl, combine nuts, seeds, oats and coconut.  Stir in honey until it thinly coats everything, then add as much cinnamon as you’d like and stir well.  I’d say I probably end up using around a tablespoon or two of cinnamon.  Spread your mixture on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 375* until just starting to brown – around 10-15 minutes.  Let cool thoroughly, then break up clumps and mix in cranberries and M&Ms.  This makes a big bowl of trail mix you can portion out into sandwich bags.  It won’t last long, though.

 

Running · Summer

Ode to Summer Running

While this isn’t necessarily a running blog, running is one of my hobbies, so I’ll talk about it here now and again.  I found myself injured a couple of years ago and unable to run.  It was at that time that I realized how much I rely on running to keep me sane.  Despite that fact, I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the act of running.  I always feel better once the run is over, but I sometimes dread every moment before and during the run.  That seems particularly true this summer.  I don’t know about y’all, but the weather this year is killing me!  Summer is always tough for me, but this year the heat and humidity is never-ending and I am so over it.  Not only are my paces and energy suffering, but {warning: TMI here} I’ve had awful GI issues as well.

It’s a well-known fact that performance is going to suffer in the heat and humidity, but I’ve always felt like I was on an island when it comes to the GI issues…until recently.  I’ve spoken with some other runners that have dealt with that issue as well.  While we seem to be a minority (at least those of us who admit to it are a minority), it is a real issue and I’ve done a bit of research to back it up.  When you run, the body diverts blood flow away from your digestive system to the muscles and skin, as they need it more during exercise.  Additionally, a study by N.J. Rehrer and colleagues at the University of Limburg in the Netherlands found that, when dehydrated and running in the heat, your stomach empties significantly more slowly.  In the heat and humidity, your body must sweat more to control body temperature.  The lack of blood flow and excretion of water through sweat, combined with the excess contents in the stomach, seems to create a perfect storm for GI issues.  The solution seems simple enough: hydration.  In practice it can be tough, though, especially when you seem to sweat all day in this never-ending summer heat.  I haven’t yet reached the level of water intake needed to prevent my problem, but I’m vowing here and now to try.  This year more than ever, it has put a hamper on my training by sidelining me for many workouts.

In my delirious state the other day while trying to slog through yet another torturous run, I began singing to myself.  As we all are suffering, I am sharing the song I made up with you.  Please enjoy to the tune of “Summer Nights” from Grease.

Summer runnin’ is kicking my ass / Summer runnin’, ain’t nowhere near fast / my nemesis is humidity / air so thick I can barely breathe / Summer days driftin’ away, but oh how the Fall will be nice…

If you’re struggling through this heat and humidity (which is hopefully almost over), please be careful and HYDRATE!

sweat

Breakfast Recipes · Cheese, cheese, and more cheese · Running

More Cheese, Please…Or Not

Everyone has their own comfort foods: those go-to meals or snacks that just satiate you in a way no other food can.  It makes you feel warm and comforted…hence the name.  I personally have a lot of comfort foods and almost all of them involve cheese.  I LOVE cheese – all kinds of cheese, but especially the ooey-gooey melty kinds of cheese – and anyone who knows me knows that you don’t come between me and my cheese unless you want to lose a finger.  Any credible nutritionist would tell you to limit your consumption of cheese because, you know, saturated fat.  I usually ignore that and focus more on the valuable nutrients you get from cheese, like calcium, protein and vitamin D.  But, much to my dismay, cheese can sometimes cause issues with my sensitive digestive system.  That doesn’t deter me on a normal day, but when I’m marathon training it can wreak havoc.  During training season I have to learn the word moderation and come up with other ways to satisfy my need for comfort food.
Recently, I’ve started reaching back into my childhood for comfort food that doesn’t involve loads of cheese.  When I was young, my Grammy would make “dropped egg on toast”.  All it entails is a poached egg on top of buttered toast.  So simple yet oh so yummy and satisfying.  To be fair, she’s not the inventor of eggs on toast, but in my opinion she was the best.  I’ve put my own twist on it and use whole wheat English muffins most of the time, or if I’m feeling fancy I’ll mash up avocado on the toast before I put the egg on top and maybe sprinkle red pepper flakes.  I used this handy little tutorial on how to make a good poached egg (http://www.purewow.com/entry_detail/national/11507/The-one-trick-to-poaching-an-egg.htm) and now I just can’t stop putting them on top of everything.  The beauty of a poached egg is that you don’t use any oil or butter, so it’s a really healthy way to cook them.
eggontoast
Another childhood favorite of mine is chili.  This is also really simple to make and so comforting with or without cheese piled on top.  I just put a dollop of Greek yogurt (in lieu of sour cream…tastes pretty much the same and it’s better for you) and,  if I have one, I’ll add slices of avocado on top.  Which brings me to another point – I find that when I add avocado to soups, salads or sandwiches, I almost don’t even miss the cheese…I know, blasphemy!  There’s just something about the creamy texture that, when added to an already tasty dish, takes care of that craving for me.
Yet another comfort food for me is mashed potatoes.  The problem with mashed potatoes is that they can be loaded with butter, and the way I make them most definitely falls into that category.  One way I get my potato fix without the butter is to take a baked potato and mix in Greek yogurt (this is easily becoming one of my favorite condiments) and some chunky salsa.  This works for sweet potatoes, too.  If I happen to put a sprinkle of cheese on top, it’s not the end of the world.  Moderation, right?
Now, I’m off to eat as much cheese as I can before I’m deep into marathon training.
Batch Recipes · Chicken Recipe · Mid-Life Career Change · Running · Tex-Mex Recipe

Finding a Routine

Lately I’ve felt like my life has gotten a wee bit out of control.  It’s sometimes easy to fall into a routine when you work a normal day job and have set obligations or hobbies outside of work.  And while the word routine can sometimes have a negative connotation, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as it isn’t too extreme.  In fact, this girl is craving a routine.  It has now been 8 months since I quit my job and went back to school to study nutrition.  Every day is a different schedule and I’m finding it hard to get in the groove with the things I feel like I need to do to feel good and balanced, like working out and (ironically) eating right.  I am not the type of person who is able to force myself to get out of bed early unless there is somewhere I have to be, so my sleep schedule has become erratic.  That then creates a domino effect whereby I feel like I don’t have enough time to get my school work done so I skip my workout and eat whatever leftovers I have in my fridge or order delivery.  Much to my dismay, I have easily fallen back into the college student lifestyle, but my body and sanity can’t handle it so well in my old age.  The madness has gone on long enough.  I recently got caught up in the excitement of joining lotteries for Fall marathons and decided on a whim to enter the lottery for the Marine Corps Marathon in October.  My thought process went something like this, “This is a really popular marathon, so the odds of me getting in through the lottery are pretty slim.  I’ll just enter the lottery and if I don’t get in, I’ll skip marathon season this year but I won’t look like a complete lazy butt because at least I tried, right?  If, by chance, I do get in, I’ll suck it up and run it…but that won’t happen”.  Well, guess what?  I got in.  Damnit!!  So now it’s time to get off my keester and get my crap together.  Here’s what I am doing/plan to do:
  • I will make it a priority to run or do strength work at least 5 days each week.  This has to happen, and I’m declaring it to all of you right now.  There, accountable.
  • I am the queen of procrastination and I do it every single time I do school work or study.  I don’t think that is going to change anytime soon, but perhaps I can cut back a bit by scheduling specific times for studying during which I have to get it all done, and instead of watching Friends episodes on Netflix or playing games on my phone (yes, I do that, don’t judge) during my procrastination breaks, I will do core and strength exercises…maybe while watching a Friends episode.
  • When I cook something that can easily be frozen and reheated, I will make enough to actually do that.  Last week, my boyfriend and I made chili and chicken tortilla soup and froze enough for at least a few meals.  I also have a freezer bag full of homemade tomato sauce hanging out in there waiting to be made into a veggie lasagna.  Having that available should cut down on my leftover pizza and Seamless binges.  My wallet and my waistline will thank me.
  • I will keep healthy snacks and breakfast bars available to just grab and take with me to class.
  • The biggest and most difficult change is going to be the sleep schedule.  I am going to make a point of getting to bed before midnight every night during the week and getting up at or before 8am.  Again, I am declaring this to you so I will be accountable.
I could probably go on for days with grand ideas to completely overhaul my life, but as they say, if you try to do too much you won’t stick with it so I’m stopping there.  Please feel free to share any ideas on ways to make this easier or little tricks that have worked for you.  Any words of wisdom or inspiration are greatly appreciated.  Tough love is also encouraged.
Now, if you have never had chicken tortilla soup or are looking for a good recipe, read on.  This recipe packs a bit of heat, though, so if you are averse to spice, you can adjust the jalapenos and cilantro down…or up if you like it hot.  I make this fairly often as it reminds me of the tortilla soup I get at Tex-Mex restaurants back in Texas.
ChkTortSoup
Chicken Tortilla Soup
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, minced
8 cups low sodium chicken broth
3 breasts of chicken
2 large tomatoes, diced (or a 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes)
2 cups cooked black beans (or one 15 oz. can)
1/2 lime
1/2 tsp cumin
Cilantro, roughly chopped
Salt & Pepper
Start by sauteing the onions in olive oil until they are almost translucent.  Add garlic and jalapenos and cook for about 1 minute.  Add chicken broth, about a 1/2 cup of water, and diced tomatoes and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.  Add chicken breasts whole and cook for about 20 minutes.  Remove chicken breasts from pot and shred with a fork, then place back in the pot.  Add black beans, juice from 1/2 a lime, cumin, as much cilantro as you like (I load mine up with about a 1/2 cup), and salt & pepper to taste.  Simmer another 10-15 minutes.
Garnish
I like to top my soup with pepper jack cheese, plain Greek yogurt (tastes very much like sour cream but better for you), crumbled baked tortilla chips, avocado, chopped jalapenos, and freshly chopped cilantro.  If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll make my own tortilla strips by taking corn tortillas, brushing both sides with olive oil, cutting into thin strips, then baking at 425* until they start to brown.
Enjoy!