Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye 2010.....Welcome, 2011!

It seems like time has been flying lately - 2010 is already about to come to a close!  In the spirit of New Year's, I've been spending this evening looking back on the year and looking forward to 2011.

I can't say that 2010 has been the best year.  Lab work has been frustrating at best, and finishing up my thesis has taken longer than I hoped.  Nothing super exciting has happened, really - but nothing really bad either.  It's kind of like when professional sports teams have "rebuilding" years - I'm just putting together the pieces for my next steps.  But there have been some exciting things:

- Brendan and I went to Disney World for our first real vacation

(photo courtesy of Disney but purchased by me)

- I decided to sign up for my first half marathon, and started training

- I published a review article, which will be most of the intro to my thesis
- I visited Colorado with my parents for vacation
- I trained for my first half marathon, and ran the 10-mile Broad Street Run in preparation

- I ran my first half marathon, the 13.1 Marathon Boston, in June (in 3:02)

 - At the same time, I went on postdoc interviews at Harvard and Brown
- I spent a full 8 days at Brendan's house, which was different than our usual weekends together!
- After the first half, I signed up for two more to complete the year

- I visited home with Brendan in August, where we got to visit the State Fair, Duluth, and the MN Renaissance Fair
- I was asked to be a bridesmaid for my friend Ashley's wedding - a first for me!
- I finished my second half marathon, the ING Philly Distance Run (in 3:15)
- I visited a friend in Germany for a week - my first time in Europe and something I'd always wanted to do
- I accepted a postdoc position at Harvard (!)

- I finished my third half marathon, the Philly Half Marathon, with a PR (in 2:58)
- The day after the half,  I had a thesis committee meeting and got permission to defend my thesis this spring
- I visited home a few times and spent some quality time with my parents and Brendan before buckling down these next few months

There has been a lot of excitement, but the real changes are to come!  If things go well, 2011 should bring a Ph.D., a new postdoc position, a big move to Boston, moving in with Brendan, and lots of other changes.  Lots of major life changes this year!

I have a few goals for 2011 that I hope to achieve:

2011 New Years Resolutions & Goals

Fitness/Health Goals:
- Run more.  I am already committed to running the Broad Street Run, even if I have to pay for a hotel for that in May.  I would like to run a few more half marathons, and get stronger and faster as I keep training.  I have new Vibram Five Finger shoes (more on that later), and I'd like to improve my leg and foot strength by training in those sometimes.  My ultimate goal is to run a marathon in a few years if I can keep improving, so this year should put me on that path.
- Get more toned.  I want to work on more strength training and feel stronger! This means using weights more often, working on lunges and ab work, and doing the Exhale Core Fusion and 30 Day Shred DVDs occasionally.  I am going to make a schedule for each month, taking account my work and life schedule as well, so that I incorporate as much strength training as reasonably possible.
- Lose a bit of weight.  I don't have a specific number in mind, but I would like to fit into ALL of my clothes.  I'm not sure which is tightest, but I have a pair of too-tight jeans and a few pairs of capri pants that I would like to fit into.  This is my pre-preparation for all the wedding stuff coming up (two weddings and counting to go to in 2011!), and ultimately for my wedding in a few years.

Career Goals:
- Finish my Ph.D. strong.  Whatever that ends up meaning with the research I can finish, I want to be proud of the work I've done as a Ph.D. candidate.
- Enjoy my actual thesis defense.  I tend to stress about these things, and I want to have fun and celebrate finishing, not panic about it.  Of course, this means getting down to work on everything now so that I don't feel rushed at the end!
- Get a strong start to my postdoc.  I want to tackle a new project with a clear head, tons of motivation, and all the energy I can muster.  I also would like to apply for and receive funding (i.e. a grant) in the next year, but if I try hard on applications and can't get funding yet, that's ok too.

Life Goals:
- Become financially stable.  As a college student and then a graduate student, my credit card balances have almost always been going in the wrong direction.  Starting when I move in with Brendan and start my postdoc, I would like to allocate $500 or more per month toward savings (for emergency funds) or paying off credit cards.  I currently pay $200 or so towards credit cards and savings, so this is a huge improvement!  It won't fix everything all at once, but it should slowly improve my credit (and my ability to pay for house-, wedding-, and kid-related things in the future).
- Take at least one vacation (or mini-vacation).  Of course this is at odds with the last goal, but I need to learn to relax, and this year I'll really need that.  In addition to our yearly trip to Maine, I would like to take another trip out of state.  It may be easiest to do that in May, when I'm in between jobs, but we'll have to see when everything works out!
- Enjoy all the life changes that come this year, and take them in stride.  This means trying not to worry so much.  I will only get to move in with my boyfriend for the first time once, and only get to start my first postdoc once, too.  They are major milestones, so I want to cherish them, not have them as a source of stress.
- Work on not stressing and panicking when things don't go right immediately.  I don't deal well with setbacks, or with conflict.  I am used to being a "good girl," and when things go wrong or I get in an argument, I seriously start to panic (I've even started hyperventilating before!).  This has to change in the upcoming year for many reasons.  Part of being an adult means taking criticism well, and finding solutions to problems.  For the health of myself, my career, and my future family, I need to take this seriously.  I'm starting out by repeating a mantra, "let it go" or "I'm ok," every time I feel the need to obsess over a problem or conflict - hopefully this will help me learn better coping skills!
- Savor the first 7 months of living together with Brendan.  I want to enjoy every minute of us finally getting to have a life together - the good and the bad - because we'll never get the same kind of "start" again and it should be full of excitement.  I want to make sure we get through any difficulties we face smoothly, and keep our home and our new identity as a "family" (not just people who date) full of love and kindness.

So there you have it - not too complicated, but I think they are good goals for 2011.  And now it's time to watch the ball drop, have a drink, and kiss my sweetie over Skype for the new year (for the last time before we are together!).

Happy New Year!!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!!

Wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas!!

I'll be back with more scheduled programming in a bit - but for now it's time to enjoy time with family - and lots of Christmas treats :)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Three Things

1. I'm at a conference this week, so I've been very, very busy.  Trying to go to a conference in your home town is tough - normal life goes on at the same time, so chores and whatnot still need to be done.  And there are Christmas presents to buy and make too!  It's total craziness here right now.

2. I'm from Minnesota, so it was weird to see the Metrodome collapsing under the weight of snow.  I'm glad it is going to be fixable, and that they rescheduled the game so no one got hurt.  I'm a bit bummed about the rescheduling, though, since I may not get to see the game tomorrow night.

3. I'm making yet another batch of Christmas Cookie Dough Balls, this time for the doormen at my building.  I may or may not have eaten the entire first batch myself.  Mama Pea is brilliant, I tell you.

Friday, December 10, 2010

It's sandwich time

With all of the craziness around my committee meeting and trying to get my lab work finished in time to write a paper, I haven't had much time to make anything creative for dinner lately.  I've been sticking to roasting vegetables (since I have a lot around the house from the CSA), and I've also been relying on an old standby: the sandwich.

And this is where Nature's Pride comes in: as a part of the Foodbuzz Tastemakers program, they sent me two loaves of bread to try at the end of October, and I promptly froze them, since I was leaving for Germany at the time.  I've been taking pieces out here and there to try, and I think I can finally give a complete review.

I received the OvenClassics Oatmeal and 100% Whole Wheat loaves.  The information I got with them told me they were nutritious, but had "a smooth texture that's perfect for the entire family."  The nutritional stats:

I'm not a huge fan of the long ingredient list, and I wish that there were more vitamins, but I do like that I at least understand most of the ingredients, and the calorie count is low.

I started out with what is usually my favorite bread snack: bread with peanut butter and milk.  Simple, but yummy.

 was ok, but just ok.  I was super excited about it because I usually make my PB bread with oatmeal bread, but I was definitely missing what I like about "healthy" breads: texture.  The "smooth texture" they talked about was very, very smooth - more like Wonder bread than whole-grain bread.  With just the peanut butter and nothing else, it was a bit bland.  But I persevered, and tried again!

Grilled cheese, made on my electric sandwich maker - it seals the sandwich and makes those little lines on top.  This was much, MUCH more yummy.  Having the contrasting texture made the bread much more interesting.  The star of the sandwich was still the cheese (beer cheddar which my parents ordered for me from Humbird), but isn't that usually the case with cheese?

Other sandwich recipes I've tried lately?  Turkey, brie, and cranberry (after Thanksgiving!) and the good old PB&J.  Both were good on the Nature's Pride bread, so I would definitely recommend it for sandwiches.

The bread is advertised as being a family-friendly way to get some nutrients into your bread.  While I'm not blown away by the nutritional stats, I have no doubt that this bread is family-friendly.  My boyfriend grew up on Wonder bread and doesn't like the grainy texture of whole wheat - I didn't get to have him try it, but I'm sure this would be a great way to make his sandwich a bit healthier!

So there you have it - sandwiches galore.  I will probably be having even more of them this week, although I just finished up a batch of potato leek soup as well.  It's going to be a busy week, with a conference, a few important experiments, and a trip to New York.  Enjoy the holiday season - I'll be back closer to Christmas!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New fitness challenge!

I promise I have another product review coming up, but I felt compelled to post.....

I have mentioned this a few times before while I was training, but I'm taking the winter off from long-distance running.  I'm going to be doing speedwork and short (up to 3 mile) runs to keep myself in good running shape, but I just can't bring myself to run 10 miles in the cold.  I will be picking it up again in the spring, probably going for a 5K PR early in the year and then doing Broad Street one last time in Philly.  But for now, I'm focusing on strength and yoga, which brings me to...

The Core Fusion Fitness Challenge!!

This one is funny, because it is born out of complete and utter laziness.  I was sitting on the couch this evening, dreading going down to the gym, and looking for something fun to do.  I remembered Rachel mentioning Exhale Spa's Core Fusion a few times, and I happen to have a friend who works at Exhale who swears by the classes as well.  I remembered that Rachel said there was a way to do the real classes online on Yoga Vibes (as opposed to their DVDs, which are in 10-minute segments).  I decided I'd go for it today, and bought the 14-day pass for their class (using the 20% off coupon code from Rachel's post, of course).  And....

 It was HARD.  Super, super hard.  I only made it 12 minutes into the 1 hour video, and I thought I might die.  Holy mountain climbers!  I had to skip ahead to another part of the video to even finish up a respectable 20 minutes.  And I'm pretty sure I'll be sore tomorrow.

And thus, another fitness challenge was born.  I obviously need to work on my strength training, and this is the perfect opportunity.  Here's the plan:

- Three times a week: Core Fusion Cardio (as much as possible)
- 1-2 times a week: Run - speedwork and/or "long" (up to 3 mile) run
- Once a week: other strength workout or yoga

This will continue until at LEAST the end of December, when I hope to be able to finish the entire 1-hour video.  I would like to keep going through the end of January to see better results, but we'll have to see how busy everything gets!

So.....let the challenge begin!!

P.S. Love, love, LOVE the Glee Christmas episode!!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lea & Perrins Giveaway Winners

Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving break!  I did, but now it's back to work for me.  Lots of work to do this month and so very little time.....I will literally not be at home any weekend out of this month (I'm counting next weekend as "away" since I'll be at a conference here in Philly), and I have a feeling I'll be scrambling all month!

The winners of the Lea & Perrins giveaway were Ashley and Emily.  Congrats, girls!  I'll have your coupons to you right away.

Speaking of Lea & Perrins, they are having a contest right now called "Shine at Dinnertime."  The contest features videos of recipes that use Worcestershire sauce.  There are some great ideas, and since Worcestershire sauce is so great on savory dishes, this is the best time of year to   The submissions have already closed, but the voting is on right now - so check it out!  If you head on over there, go to their main page to print out a $1 off coupon too.  Gotta love a good deal :)

I'll have more in a few days, with some thoughts on working out in the winter, my wish list for this holiday season, and another product review.  For now, though, I've gotta get back to work!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Beef and Barley Soup and a Giveaway

It may be almost Thanksgiving, but it certainly doesn't feel like it here in Philly.  The weather has been warm this week, and today was even flip flop weather.  I know I'm headed back home tomorrow, though, and into the tundra - in MN it's well below freezing already.  We do have a lot of our food planned because of Thanksgiving, but if we need something extra to warm us up, I'll be making this soup.

It may not be a "Thanksgiving food," but beef and barley soup is a classic, hearty winter food.  There's something about it - maybe the beef, maybe the vegetables, maybe just the smell - that warms us from the inside out.  And it's pretty simple to make - I mean, sure, you CAN buy it in a can, but why do that when you can make it fresher and make your house smell warm and happy at the same time?

One of my favorite things to do is collect recipes from friends.  I am building quite the collection by now, what with family, high school and college friends, and grad school buddies.  This recipe is one of my new favorites, and it comes from Ashley, my friend and labmate whose wedding I will be in next fall.  Next time you need something to warm your soul, try this recipe!

Beef and Barley Soup
from Ashley

5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 small onions, chopped
plenty of chopped sage, thyme and any other fresh stew herbs that are available
6 carrots, peeled and chopped  (I used baby carrots)
6 turnips, peeled and chopped
2 lbs stew beef, cut into 1 inch chunks (I used ground beef)
4 cups beef stock, 4 cups water
4 tomatoes, boiled, peeled, seeded, and chopped  (I used cherry tomatoes)
2 cups barley
salt and pepper to taste
around 2 tsp Worchestershire sauce

In a large stock pot or dutch oven or stew pot, melt a few pats of butter and some olive oil over medium heat.
Add the garlic and onions, cook for about 5 minutes until they are translucent.
Add the chopped herbs and stir together.
Add the stew meat and allow to brown on all sides. Try not to overcrowd the pot.
This is where I like to add the Worchestershire, just for a little extra flavor.
Add the carrots and turnips, stire occasionally for another 5 minutes.
Add the stock and water and the tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Allow to simmer for 1 to 1½ hours, add the barley and continue simmering until the barley is fully cooked.
Remove from heat, serve with crusty bread and butter.

The end result?  Delicious.

So, you may have noticed that the recipe calls for something unorthodox: Worcestershire sauce.  It may be difficult to pronounce, but it's amazing stuff.  Somehow, it makes meat taste more......meaty.  Everything tastes a little more savory with it - and I can't say enough about what it does for this soup.  I have to thank Lea and Perrins, who gave me a coupon for a free bottle for review.  Of course, my reviews are always my own opinion, and I love this sauce.  The sauce made the soup, that's for sure!

The kind folks at Lea and Perrins have also given me two more coupons to give away to readers.  If you would like to win, leave a comment saying "I want to win!"  I will pick winners at the end of the week.

Happy Thanksgiving to all - make sure to savor the time with loved ones!

Great news!

Some good news: I just had a thesis committee meeting on Monday, and I have permission to write my thesis!  That means that I will be finishing up by May 22 at the latest - but I'm shooting for late April, if things go well.

After more than four years of graduate work, it is almost surreal to be thinking of finishing my thesis.  I'm so excited!  Now I can actually plan ahead to moving in with the boyfriend and finally being a real (non-long-distance) family.

I really do have a lot to be thankful for this year - I mean, I finished a half marathon with a new PR and got permission to write my thesis, all in two days!  There is a lot of work left to do, but it's finally coming together :)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Another Half Marathon, and A New PR

The last half marathon of the year is finished, and I'm so happy!

This morning, I got up way before dawn to run the Philadelphia Half Marathon, which was held at the same time as the Philadelphia Marathon.  The best part of the race is that it started at the art museum, which is only a little over a mile from home for me - this meant I only had to get up at 5:20 for the 7am start time.  I got dressed pretty quickly and had my typical pre-race breakfast, some coffee and a piece of toast with peanut butter.  I learned my lesson from the last half and skipped the milk in my coffee, which made a huge difference!

The start of the race was a chilly one - 40 degrees with a windchill of 37.  Everyone was bundled up in their ridiculous outfits, mostly items from Goodwill meant to be thrown to the side at the start.  I had bought a fleece from Gap Outlet for that same purpose - it was only $12, and I figured if it weighed me down, I would throw it to the side and not worry about it.  Here's me in my pre-race ensemble:

As you can tell, the sun was just coming up!  The darkness certainly didn't help with the confusion surrounding the race corrals - I did see a colored flag a bit later, but they were really not very visible.  All of the corrals were mixed up in my area, but I knew if I just lined up not far from the back, I'd be ok.  What started as a frustrating part of the race actually turned out very well for me - I somehow ended up starting with the corral before mine, which is what I'd wanted to do from the start.  Last race, I started with my assigned corral and ended up dodging people who were walking the whole thing, or running it all at a pace slower than my running pace.  Since I do a walk/run method, my running pace is actually faster than my average pace, which means I run at the speed of an earlier corral.  The early start meant less waiting and meant I could start a bit faster than I wanted, instead of slower, which meant a lot in the end.  With a high five from Mayor Nutter, I was off!

I started out with 0.8 miles at an 11:30/mi pace, which I knew I couldn't keep up.  Although it's best to keep a steady pace the whole time, starting out a bit fast worked well for me before, and it worked again this time.  My first 2 miles were under 13:00/mi, and my first 7 were under 14:00.  It was at this point I started to get a bit tired, and walked a little more.  There was a hill at mile 9 that was absolutely soul-crushing, and I started to doubt myself - I knew I could finish, but I didn't know if I could make my goal of under 3:00.  I just tried to walk fast when I took my walking breaks, and kept on going.

It was at mile 10.0 that I realized - I could do this!  I had 3.1 miles to go, and 45 minutes left before 3:00, which meant I just needed to keep up a pace of a little under 15:00/mi.  None of my miles had been over 15:00, and I knew I could keep up the pace I was at.  I made sure to walk as fast as possible, trying to stay under 15:00 even when I was walking.  Although I'd been sticking to my Camelbak up until then, at mile 11 I had a vanilla Gu and a glass of water from the aid station, which was amazing.

Finally, I reached the point where the marathoners split off from the half marathoners.  I saw many people coming in from their marathons - which was a bit disheartening, since they'd literally run twice as fast as me.  But I knew the finish was close, and there were people lining the roads, cheering.  I picked up the pace and finished my last 0.29 miles (I ended up running a little over due to going around people, etc.) at an 11:45/mi pace.  I came in at 2:58:16 unofficial Garmin time - I will know my official time in a few days!

One medal and one mylar blanket later (along with my fleece, which I kept), and I was a happy camper!

I am really very happy about this finish - I did much better than I expected to, given the amount of time I've had to train lately and the amount of stress I'm under.  I didn't do as many long runs as I'd wanted, and I cut a few runs short, so I expected to finish somewhere between my other two times (3:02 and 3:15).  Everything came together today, and I put all of my stress and frustration into the run.  A new PR is great, and I'm so proud of finishing three half marathons this year!

This winter, I'm going to take a break from distance running to focus on strength training and getting more toned.  I've lost a few pounds running this year, and have definitely gotten in better shape, but I really want to improve my strength and get some muscle tone in my abs and arms.  My legs have gotten SO much better - I just need the rest of my body to catch up!

Now I'm off to finish up an experiment before my committee meeting tomorrow - wish me luck!  Coming soon are posts on a few product reviews I've done (plus a giveaway!) and some holiday food, but that's it for tonight.  Enjoy the rest of this gorgeous Sunday!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Favorite Fall (CSA) Recipes

Finally, fall is here!  The leaves are changing colors and it's noticably brisk during my morning runs.  I've been really enjoying my runs lately, and have been feeling much better about running than I was during my last half marathon - but we'll save that for another post.  Today, I'm here to talk about food - yummy, sweet and savory, heart-warming fall food.

Fall is without a doubt my favorite season.  I have always been a bit of a nerd (go figure), so fall meant back-to-school time and all the excitement that came with it.  The shiny new shoes and new fall clothes, brand new pencils and binders and still makes me happy to walk through the "back-to-school" stuff at Target (which is now out in mid-July?!?) and bask in the anticipation, even though my school days are over.  But aside from all that, fall meant more warm, hearty meals - soups, meatloaf, even the cookies and candy of the holidays.  And my favorite of all - pumpkin.

There's something about pumpkin that just warms your heart.  It's sweet but can be savory, it reminds us of Halloween and Thanksgiving at the same time - and any food that can be carved for amusement and also eaten in zillions of ways has definitely earned its place as a favorite.

But lately, my status as a member of a CSA has been creating quite the challenge for good old pumpkin.  I have yet to receive anything pumpkin related in my CSA boxes, which means that I have less time for making pumpkin-themed goodies, and more demand for recipes with other fall vegetables.  Overall, this is a good thing - believe me, I will always make room for pumpkin lattes and other baked goods, but I could use to branch out once in a while.

I have been using the internet for most of my recipes lately, mostly because I'm simply too busy right now to get too creative on my own.  Of course I'll modify recipes, and throw in a little of whatever veggie is languishing in the fridge - but I don't have time to think things through and create something all my own.  Which is ok - because there are lots of good recipes out there!  Some of my favorites include:

Sweet Potato Pancake from Healthy Tipping Point - I modify this one by using pumpkin instead of sweet potato - I rarely have time to make any sort of sweet potato mash in the morning.  I've also added instant coffee to make a "Pumpkin-Spice Latte Pancake."

Oat Bran - I add something new each season, or as new fruit comes into season.  This summer was all peaches and blueberries with maple almond butter, and now this fall is fresh CSA apples with either honey peanut butter or maple almond butter.

Egg and cheese sandwich - No recipe required for this one!  I ordered some free-range eggs from the CSA (I'm sure you could pick them up at Whole Foods or TJs), and at least once a week I enjoy an egg, omelette-style, with cheddar on a sandwich thin.  Yum!  Not so much a seasonal favorite - but definitely a hearty breakfast to warm you up.

Roasted Turnips - I just had these last night, and they were tender, juicy, and slightly sweet.  Not bitter at all - probably my favorite dish with turnips in it, ever.

Roasted Kohlrabi - These little vegetables look like tiny alien babies - I wasn't exactly sure what to do with them.  The recipe is super simple - just some olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and parmesan - but it does wonders.  I now can actually say that I love kohlrabi!  If you haven't tried it yet, you should.

Mark Bittman's Autumn Millet Bake (from 101 Cookbooks) - This is a great way to put together a bunch of autumn vegetables in the same dish.  Super easy (although a bit time-consuming), and definitely very versatile.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes - This one is terrific as a side dish, or even as dessert.  I'd imagine that they might even be good with cinnamon ice cream!

Baked Goodies
Pumpkin Scones - These are a must-have for fall, and a close match for my favorite Starbucks scones.  My favorite part is that these are a little lighter than Starbucks' but just as tasty.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies - I didn't follow this specific recipe, but it looks like a pretty decent one.  I can't say I've gotten these to come out exactly cookie-like - ever - but they are always delicious, and despite the strangeness of the pumpkin, they're always gone in a matter of minutes at work.

Starbucks Chocolate Cinnamon Bread - I've made this at least once per fall since I first saw it at Starbucks.  I don't think they have it in stores anymore, but it's so tasty.  The cinnamon adds a bit of intriguing flavor, and keeps it in the "warming" fall flavor category.

For anyone who's recently been plunged into the fall temperatures, or just encountered their first kohlrabi at a CSA or farmers' market - I say embrace it!  Fall is about warmth, family, and feeling at home - make sure it's full of fun food choices as well.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How reading "healthy living" blogs has changed MY life

In the past few days, the "healthy living" blog world has exploded.  A recent article by Marie Claire magazine, which seems to have taken an extreme opinion of the blogs in question, has incited quite the controversy.  An article on Jezebel sums it up pretty well (and includes links to the article and the bloggers' responses), so I won't get into it too much, but:  The article takes to task the creators of several popular blogs, whom the author calls the "Big Six," saying that instead of promoting healthy food and exercise habits, they often encourage people to exercise too much, eat too little, and employ eating-disordered habits to keep themselves too thin.

Now, I have been reading most of these blogs for almost two years, and have to say that I haven't seen (or noticed?) too many of the things that the article mentions, at least not to the extreme that is suggested by the article.  I do agree with Rachel from Hollaback Health, though, when she says that perhaps we don't notice these behaviors on the blogs we read because we consider the bloggers to be friends - it's a little too close for us to be seeing clearly.  I think it's obvious that some changes are in order, and we all need to be a little more careful about what we say and how we say it.  Certain types of discussions about weight and food can potentially be damaging to readers with emerging or existing eating disorders.  Even though the responsibility is in the reader's hands when something is out there, we need to keep in mind that what we do and say does, ultimately, have consequences for our readers.

Moving on from the controversy, though: I feel that something left out of the article entirely was the perspective of the many, many readers whose lives have been changed for the better by reading these blogs.   I am one of those people, and I think my story was lost along the way when the story of these blogs was written, perhaps in favor of controversy and magazine sales.

Let's look at it this way: the majority of Americans at this point are overweight or obese.  This means that instead of it being one unhealthy person surrounded by people with healthier habits, most people in this country are eating too much, exercising too little, and caring WAY too little about their health.    In our society now, the "norm" is the inactive person.  This means that people like me, who got a bad start at healthy living but are trying to improve, do not necessarily have a support system or safety net at home.  The person who likes to run 5Ks on weekends, or will eat millet and butternut squash for dinner, is often doing these things alone because their friends don't understand the desire to be healthy, or have any desire to exercise together.  The "healthy living" blog community provides a space for people like us to find others who will support and inspire us along our journey.

Here, for your enjoyment, is my story, the perspective that was nowhere to be found in Marie Claire, which I feel is much more common than those who learn harmful behaviors from the blogs in question:

Growing up, I was always a "chubby," but happy, kid.  I can't recall a time after I was at all self-aware that I was not aware of being larger than most of my classmates and friends.  At first, it was ok - I was a bit taller than everyone else, too, and I didn't worry too much.  I think the self-consciousness came with puberty, when other people grew taller than me but I was still the "chubby" kid.  It didn't help that at school we had to wear these shirts at gym that had the actual size of the shirt written in huge letters on the outside - I think that was supposed to help the laundry people and the people handing out the shirts to us, but I distinctly remember trying to cover up my shirt for several years of gym class.  Not a good way to get kids to participate in gym, huh?

Throughout my childhood, I never really learned healthy habits.  When I came home from school, my grandma, who had the best of intentions but liked to spoil her granddaughter, would give me anything I wanted for a snack - even a taco from Taco Bell or fries from McDonalds.  I rode horses, but didn't do any other physical activity outside gym at school - I was never encouraged to, since I was a smart kid and was supposed to be working hard on my homework.  I was never teased too much at school for my size - although I never really ran with the "cool kids," either.  But I definitely didn't like being the size I was, and I remember being super excited when I lost about 20 pounds during the year I played lacrosse during high school.  Since I hadn't really learned to connect how I ate or exercised with my weight, though, I promptly gained all the weight back when lacrosse season ended and I didn't pick up any other sports.  I even stopped riding horses around that time in high school, and began to gain even more weight.  Sure, I was still growing a little since I was a teenager - but I was getting much larger.  College came then, too, bringing more than the "freshman 15."  Over the 4 years between sophomore year of high school and sophomore year of college, I gained a total of 50 pounds, with my max being at 235 pounds.

 My moment of realization came when I looked at pictures taken of me at the end of sophomore year of college.  I had been out with friends for a celebratory dinner, and dressed up nice.  We had a blast, and I am smiling in all of the pictures.  Happy and dressed up - I should look my best, right?  When I looked at these pictures, I wanted to cry - I was bigger than I had ever been, and I didn't feel happy in my own skin anymore when I really saw how I looked.  I knew something had to change.

The summer between sophomore year and junior year, I joined a gym.  I had nothing to do that summer, aside from studying for the LSAT (funny, since I'm a PhD student now).  I devoted 1-2 hours each day to the gym and found ways to eat healthier.  I remember being scared at the gym at first - I felt like everyone was watching me, and I didn't even know how to work the elliptical machine.  I took it slow, though, building up time on the machines and weights as I went, and eventually joined the classes, taking a liking to the yoga and dance classes.  During that summer, I lost 20 pounds, and during the next year and a half, I lost 15 more, for a total of 35 pounds.

I still didn't have a support system, though.  Whenever I was tired or stressed, I still ate too much - and as I was getting busier and busier with schoolwork going into graduate school, I had less and less time for exercise.  My priorities were shifting away from my health, and I started to become less healthy again.  I only gained back a little over 10 pounds, but the change in my lifestyle was having other effects.  I couldn't cope well with anxiety and was starting to feel like a failure in grad school, despite the fact that I was right on track with my progress.

And then I stumbled upon "healthy living" blogs.  I was looking for a recipe, and through links I ended up reading through several of the blogs that were mentioned in the Marie Claire article.  Of course, a few years ago, they weren't as big as they are now - but I found them very interesting.  I never really paid too much attention to the "what I ate all day" posts, but I definitely started to branch out with what I ate and try some healthier choices (more veggies, whole grains) because of the recipes they posted.  But it was their love of exercise - really, of activity - that was most inspiring to me.

I didn't think I could ever become a runner, but I saw how these girls had started off slow with running and become "real" runners with time - and I was inspired to do the same.  I started with Couch-to-5K, which was recommended by several "healthy living" blogs (I remember Caitlin mentioning it many times, but I'm sure that I saw it elsewhere too).  After a few months of that, I completed my first 5K in the spring of 2009 - I did it run/walk, but I finished it.  Over the next year, I kept at it - slowly, sometimes with breaks - and stayed at around 2 or 3 mile runs most of the time.  I found that I really loved running, and that doing some sort of physical activity helped me cope with stress and made me much more even-keel during the day.  I felt like I had control over my life again.

Finally, this January, I saw a promotion for the 13.1 Marathon half-marathon series, which had a race in Boston that benefited the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation.  I know a few people with Crohn's or colitis, and as an immunology student, I know how little we actually know about what causes IBD and related diseases.  I know we need more money for research - and I wanted to do something about it.  I couldn't raise a lot of money - everyone I know is in graduate or law school, or just out of school - but in January of this year, I committed to running the half marathon at the end of June.  Having read about training plans in several of the blogs I follow, I knew how to create a plan and stick to it.  The knowledge that other people out there were doing the same thing - and some tips and tricks from the blog community - helped me gain the confidence I needed to train for the half marathon and complete it.  During my spring of training, I also completed a 5K race, running the whole thing and coming in with a PR, and finished the 10-mile Broad Street Run - both of which I'm very proud of.

I have now completed two half marathons this year, and I am training for another in November.  I have lost a few pounds, but am still not back to my lowest weight from college - and although this is disappointing, I know that I am eating to fuel my training, and that this is what my body needs right now.  As I wrote in my running recap this summer, I plan on backing off running for a bit after this last race - I would like to concentrate on strength training and eating better, which I can only do if I have the time and hunger level of someone who's not training for a long-distance event.  I'll stick with shorter distances for a while, and while I write my thesis this winter I will hopefully be getting stronger and losing a bit of weight.  I know that my current weight isn't yet in the healthy range - and I'm focusing on getting to a happier weight - but I'm also more concerned with feeling stronger, leaner, and faster, not necessarily the number on the scale.

I am forever grateful to the blog community for providing the support, inspiration, and advice that I could only get from a community of like-minded people.  I know that sometimes we need to watch how we approach certain subjects, and that some people can take well-meaning advice to the extreme, but I think more people's stories are like my own, and that overall the community is a positive influence.

If anyone has any other perspectives or anything at all to say, I encourage comments - I think the community has a lot to discuss right now!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Four Things

1. After a few months of interviews, deliberating, and thinking about what I want to do in the distant future, I have secured a postdoc position for late next spring!  I'm not at liberty to discuss where exactly I'll be - but I will be moving back to the Boston area.  I'll finally get the chance to move in with my (currently long-distance) boyfriend, and this whole five-year waiting game will be over.  Yay!

2. Negotiating (if you can call it that) for a postdoc position is a lot like meeting a boy that you like a lot: At first, you do a little investigating to make sure he'll be good for you, and then you have to tell him you like him.  You don't want to jump right in to things and tell him you love him and want to have dozens of babies with him - so you play hard-to-get and make it seem like you're not that interested, until finally one of you has to make a move so that you can start dating.  The whole process is convoluted, silly, and awkward - but it works, I guess?

3. I am headed abroad in a few weeks for a short trip, and I'm in full-on planning and saving mode.  I managed to get my plane ticket using miles, but train fare, food, and sightseeing won't be cheap!  I'm trying to keep grocery spending to a minimum this month - as in, $40 instead of the usual $200.  This goal isn't as ridiculous as it sounds - since I signed up for the CSA, I will get loads of produce.  All I have to do is stick to vegetarian meals and have a lot of roasted veggies and soup.  If all else fails, I'll hit up the freezer - it's packed with leftovers from the summer of CSA food!

4. This month and next will be very, very hectic.  Along with this trip, I've got some extreme lab work to do, and a committee meeting coming up right before Thanksgiving.  I've got to get everything together by then so I can get permission to write my thesis, which is essential if I want to start my postdoc in the spring - no pressure, right?

That's it for now!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Adieu to Summer

Tonight is the last night of summer, and boy, is it going out with a bang!  The skies were beautiful and clear during the day, but tonight we're having a crazy thunderstorm.  My apartment has a good view of the skyline, and I can see the lightning all across the city - very cool!

It's also the autumnal equinox, which brings the orange "harvest moon":

(of course, this is not the moon in Philly - I could see the moon earlier, but it's been replaced by lightning!)

Although the weather was more mid-summer than fall today, I thought I would savor the end of summer.  If everything goes well with my thesis project, I may not be here for another summer - so I enjoyed one of my favorite Philly summer treats, gelato.

This isn't just any gelato, either: it's from Capogiro, and it's a delicious mix of their watermelon, sea salt, and tarragon gelato flavors.  I first tried the watermelon and sea salt together last year, and I've been waiting all summer for a day when they would offer them together.  It's only fitting that the last day of summer would be that day!  The tarragon gelato made a wonderful addition - a little milder, herbal but smooth, and an interesting twist.

It's sad to think that this might be my last time to enjoy this treat - of course, I can have the gelato any time I want, but the watermelon is a seasonal flavor and won't be back until next summer.  I am excited to move on to fall, though - pumpkin spice lattes, here I come!

Race Update

Last weekend, I ran the ING Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon.  I really wanted to PR at the race, and was feeling optimistic leading up to Sunday.  The race was tougher than expected, though, and it took a good bit longer for me to finish than I thought it would!  It just goes to show that every race is different - this time, a combination of eating too close to the race, a long time to the start line, and sore legs made me sluggish and gave me an upset stomach during the race.  I pushed through and stayed roughly on pace (14:02/mi) until mile 10.1, but during the last 3 miles, everything fell apart.  I ended up walking most of the end, and was mildly disappointed at the finish.

Goal time: 3:00:00 (13:45/mi)
Chip time: 3:15:11 (14:55/mi)

After a bit of brooding and feeling sorry for myself, I decided to get over it.  Even if it took me longer than I thought it would, I still finished a second half marathon.  I had fun during most of the race, and I gave it my all.  I can't be too disappointed in myself for completing something that I couldn't have imagined just last year!

Next time, I know that I need to step up the long runs - at least two need to be 10 miles or greater, and I need a few more over 6 as well.  Hopefully I can do it - the Philadelphia Marathon's half marathon is on November 21, and I've got a LOT of travel, lab work, and general life stuff going on before then!

Hope you all had a wonderful end of the summer - break out your sweaters, 'cause fall is coming!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

ING Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon: Race Intentions

The time has come: in less than 24 hours, I will be running the ING Rock 'n' Roll Philly Half Marathon.  The race is sold out, with the field at more than 18,600 people.  Compared to Broad Street last year, which had 26,265 finishers, it's a little smaller - but still a huge race, and sure to be a little crazy.

I made some time for the Race Expo during work yesterday.  This is one of the times I really love having the flexibility to just take off - even though most of the time I complain about working too much, it's nice to start an experiment incubating, leave for a few hours, and come back to results.

At the race expo, I got my bib number (22063, for anyone who wants to look me up later), as well as my bright orange official race t-shirt:

Of course, I won't be wearing that tomorrow - you should never run a race in clothes you haven't worn running before - but I actually kind of like the color and design, so I might wear it in the future.  I also picked up another shirt from the Brooks stand:

This one made me particularly excited, both because of the color and the more minimalist design.  I will definitely be wearing this one out running!

Today, I've been working on charging my iPod, camera, and Garmin, stocking my Camelbak with water (yes, there are water stops, but it won't be enough), and setting out my clothes.  I also got my gear drop bag ready with old flip-flops, a change of clothes, and towels.  I love how they gave us special drop bags - this way, I don't have to worry about losing a nice bag if my stuff gets lost.  Mimu likes the bag too:

I had to tell her that I can't actually take her with me in the bag - but she'll get to see me when I get back!

Race Goals

Ambitious Time Goal: 2:55:00 (13:22/mi) - this would be a 7.5-minute PR and would require EVERYTHING to go right.
Realistic Time Goal: 3:00:00 (13:45/mi) - this would be a 2.5-minute PR and is a realistic goal.
Minimum Time Goal: 3:10:00 (14:30/mi) - this would be 8 minutes slower than my previous PR and would be satisfying.  Of course, if something major goes wrong, the time goals will go out the window.

The Primary Goal: Have fun!  Take it all in and enjoy the fact that I can run a half marathon.  I couldn't a year ago, and I might not be able to some time in the future, but right now I'm in good running shape and can do this.

Things I'm Looking Forward To...
- Waking up less than 2.5 hours before the race starts (instead of at 2:45 am like last time)
- Walking to the race from my apartment (it's about 1 mile away, and a good warmup)
- The palpable excitement in the air at big races like this
- Hopefully catching a glimpse of running "celebrities" like defending champion Ryan Hall
- Running a race that covers one of my favorite long-run routes, but having cheering spectators and bands along the route this time
- Finishing!!
- Getting the coveted medal and walking around with it, perhaps even to Lululemon for a massage (they are giving free ones to race runners tomorrow)

...and Things I'm NOT Looking Forward To
- A mess of people trying to get to the starting corrals
- Porta-potties and porta-potty lines
- Trying to pass slower people who drastically underestimated their finish time and ended up in an earlier corral
- Time clocks along the course reading >20 minutes greater than my real time due to a lot of people at the start (thank god for Garmin!)
- Chafing
- Sweaty porta-potty trips (totally gross.)
- The unbelievable soreness in my feet, legs, and - who am I kidding? - entire body that will come to me the second I cross the finish line

It's going to be incredibly fun, though, so all the negatives won't be so bad!

Hopefully at this time tomorrow, I'll be clean, in my PJs and some comfy slippers, relaxing on the sofa with a drink and the Eagles game (sure, I'd rather be watching the Vikings, but they're on at the same time and I'm in Philly).  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Running Update

I've been running consistently for over 9 months now, which seems crazy to me - I mean, I must be a "real" runner if I keep at it for that long, right?  I had a brief flirtation with running last year but gave it up pretty quickly; this is the first time that I've really stuck with a workout habit.  And - shockingly - I love it!

So far, the races I've run this year are:

Get Your Rear in Gear 5K - March

This was a small 5K held in Philly, and was really just a checkpoint in my training.  It was a nice day, and still cool outside.  My goal was to run the whole 5K, and I did it - for the first time.

Official Time: 40:34 (13:04/mi pace)
Garmin Time: 38:45 (12:27/mi pace)

Broad Street Run - May

This was a HUGE race, one of Philadelphia's most famous.  It's one of the largest 10-mile races in the country, and I could definitely feel that when we were all lined up and ready to go.  I had just gotten over a nasty cold and was hoping to just make it through - on top of all that, the temp reached 90 degrees by the time the race was done.  It was hot and messy, and they had to turn the sprinklers along the course on to keep us from dying - but it was an absolute blast.  The course being mostly downhill helped, and my cold didn't bother me too much.  Definitely one of my most memorable races.

Official Time: 2:23:00 (14:20 pace)
Garmin Time: 2:23:00 for 10.09 miles (14:11 pace)

13.1 Marathon Boston - June

Compared to Broad Street, the 13.1 Marathon (bad name, I know) was a much smaller race, held on the grounds of Prowse Farm.  The weather was absolutely beautiful - sunny but cool and breezy.  Although it seemed a bit disorganized (it was the first year of the race, after all), I really enjoyed the enthusiastic atmosphere and friendliness of everyone involved.  I pushed myself through an extremely hilly course - much tougher than anything I trained on - and made it through at a much faster pace than I thought I would!  I'll always remember this one for the sweetness of my boyfriend, who walked to the central point of the course at 5:30 am just to cheer me on.

Official Time: 3:02:46 (14:00/mi)
Garmin Time: 3:02:46 for 13.29 miles (13:47/mi)

I've been training hard for most of the summer, even through the hottest parts, and I feel like I'm ready to tackle the next two half-marathons I have coming up.  The first one, the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon, is this weekend - and if my long runs are any indication, I'm ready for it.  I haven't done as many long runs as I'd like, but the race is on a familiar course, and the weather should be great, so I'm psyched.  After that, I've got a bit of a break (we're talking 6-mile long runs, not a total break), and then I'll be getting ready for the Philadelphia Marathon's Half Marathon in November.  More detailed goals will be in the next post, but basically, all I want to do is feel stronger and faster with each race this fall.  I would love to PR at each one, especially with the weather getting cooler now, but I'll be satisfied with feeling good after each race.

Overall, I've come to love running - it's a great cardio workout, and I can definitely tell that I'm in better shape now than I was last year.  I can do a LOT of stairs without getting winded, and a quick jog when I'm running late doesn't make me all hot and sweaty - it's a huge difference from before.  I do want to change my workout plans a bit this winter, though - I haven't been focusing enough on strength training, and I don't think I'll get much faster or leaner without improving my strength.  And for a girl whose ultimate goal in starting to run was to lose weight, that's a big one - I want my running hobby to make me healthier AND happier with my body.  The winter will bring more yoga and more weights, plus a bit of TRX in the spring (thanks in advance, Elisabeth!)

So there you have it: my reflections on running.  More to come after the next races, for sure!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New goals - fitness and otherwise

Strangely, unlike the rest of the world, which tends to get engaged during the spring (you know, the whole "love is in the air" time), many of my friends are either engaged or planning on it right now.  What is it about August and September that's so great for love?  Don't ask me - I'm too sweaty right now in the 97-degree heat to feel at all lovey-dovey.


I must admit that at first, I was all jealous.  I mean, I've been dating my boyfriend for almost 7 years - why can't I be engaged too?  Forget about the logical explanations - like the fact that we've been dating long-distance for almost that entire time.  I am just ready to be at that stage in my life already.  Soon, though, I came around to reason and realized that it's just not quite time, and that once we finally (FINALLY!) move in together next spring, things will happen much more quickly.  And I realized one more thing: this whole friends-getting-engaged thing is actually a blessing in disguise.

Yes, you heard that right.  It's good for me to see all the planning and work and stress that goes into a wedding now, while I'm still removed from the whole thing.  From watching my friends, I've learned a bit about wedding planning: for one, that you need to decide on a location first because that will dictate almost everything else.  The really important decisions are something that I will keep in the back of my mind for when I finally do get engaged.


But the best thing so far is actually watching my friends begin to panic about getting in shape for their weddings.   Already I've heard talk about having no more sweets, and working out more, and this is still several months in advance of their weddings.  I've learned a lot from these discussions: namely, that I don't want that kind of stress for the entire year before my wedding.  Although I know that I will still want to work out harder to look my best at the ceremony, I think now is a perfectly good time to start working on more ambitious fitness goals.

This year, my goals were to run a half marathon, and to hopefully lose a few pounds in the process.  There weren't very many detailed goals in there, because to begin again from not running at all was in itself a huge goal.  I am proud to say that I've smashed my running goal - one half is done already, and I have two more lined up for this fall.  I successfully went from non-runner to half-marathoner in 6 months - and I will hopefully be improving my pace in the next two races.  Unfortunately, though, I haven't been so successful on the weight-loss front - my weight has stayed pretty steady because of all the food I've been eating to fuel my running.  Yoga has helped me tone up a bit, but I have had almost no time for strength training with my running schedule.

Which is why next year's goals are going to be different.  Because I've already become a runner - yes, I do call myself that even though I only "run" at 13:00/mile pace on average - I should be able to maintain a decent base of 5-8 miles per week (one short and one longer run) while also improving my strength and balance.  Instead of training for endurance races, I'm going to stick to 5Ks for the spring, and spend some more time with weights, the bosu and balance ball, and maybe kettlebells or a TRX (edit: I will be trying out a TRX courtesy of A Jogger's Life in March!  Yay!!)  The real goal is to make myself more toned, improve my muscle mass, and make myself stronger and faster.  In the end, even though I'm not running as much, this should help me improve my running far more than my long runs do right now.  And if it helps me lose weight, even better - I'll have a jump start on this whole wedding prep thing, and being even 10 pounds lighter will make me faster and happier when running.

As for life goals?  Well, this next year is likely to be super turbulent - shifting from being a Ph.D. student to a postdoc (at a place so intense it's almost scary), moving in with my boyfriend in a different town, and making new friends come to mind.  My main goal is to just relax and breathe - I don't do enough of that.  Some things will be out of my control, and I'm going to need to just ride with it.  And enjoy the ride.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dinner on the quick

As a part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, I get the opportunity to try out new products.  One product I was excited to try was Buitoni Riserva, their new line of refrigerated, pre-made pasta.

At first, the pasta wasn't so easy to find.  I received a coupon in the mail for a free pasta entree a month or two ago, but wasn't able to find the Riserva kind at any of the grocery stores near me.  Finally, when I made the trip to Wegmans in Mt. Laurel, I was happy to find it on the shelves.  Although Buitoni suggested the Quattro Formaggi Agnolotti, I went with the Chicken and Four Cheese Ravioli.  If I'm going to pick up pre-made pasta instead of making my own, I want it to be something I wouldn't make myself.  Quattro formaggi?  I can make that at home.  Add in some chicken?  Sounds too hard, so I'd never do it myself.  Chicken and Four Cheese it is.

 (picture from Buitoni website)

On weekends, I typically make some more time-consuming dishes, so that I have leftovers for the week and can enjoy some cooking time.  I spent some time this afternoon making cheesy zucchini pizza (a recipe from Eat Live Run), so I was ready for an easier dinner, and that's exactly what I got!  The pasta was a breeze to make - just 5-7 minutes in boiling water and it was done.

But how did it taste?  It was actually pretty good!  Of course it's not the same as homemade, but it's about 90% of the way there, and for how fast and easy it was, I was very pleased.  There were large pieces of chicken in the center, and the cheese was really flavorful.

I served the pasta with some homemade pasta sauce, mixed with ricotta to add even more cheese flavor.

Looks a little funny with the sauce on it, but I assure you it was very yummy!  I really liked the chicken flavor - not too dry, and really rich, which is impressive for a pre-made product.  The cheese added extra flavor, too.  The only complaint I have is that the amount of food in each of the ravioli wasn't very even - in some pieces I had a lot of chicken, and in others there was very little.  Overall, though, it was a great quick dinner - definitely recommended for people who are busy and could use a little help with dinner (which is, um, ALL of us).

Thanks to Buitoni for the opportunity to review their product - I really enjoyed it!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Quick giveaway note!

The wonderful and talented Chocolate-Covered Katie is giving away Artisana Coconut butter and Cacao Bliss!  Check it out over here:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Box o' Goodies: Bring on the CSA

Today was the first day of deliveries for my CSA, Lancaster Farm Fresh.  As I've heard it is with most CSAs, the first week was a bit boring, and so I have no photos since almost everything was green - I'm holding off for the pictures of a massive cornucopia of amazing produce!  The farmers dealt with a cold snap during the spring, and so the berries and other produce are a bit slow, but we did get some amazing food this week.

Inside the box (I get a half-share):
1 large head red lettuce
2 small heads green lettuce
1 giant bundle kale
2 bundles scallions (or green onions, if you're from the Midwest like me!)
small container microgreens
small bag wrinkle crinkle cress
1 pint strawberries

I spent some time cleaning and chopping this afternoon, which I think is absolutely critical to successful produce buying - not just from the CSA, but from the store, too.  If you buy it and shove it in the back of the fridge, it'll never get eaten - just chopping, washing, and portioning out the food makes it much easier to use all your produce.  With a CSA or any organic produce, this is especially important since there will be dirt and perhaps a few little critters hitching a ride, and getting these out ASAP is always best.

Already I have enjoyed a small salad with strawberries, blueberries, goat cheese, and balsamic, along with some kale chips (I followed the recipe from Smitten Kitchen, except baked them at 375 for 15 minutes).  This week is thesis committee meeting time, so I don't have time to do anything overly creative - I'm sticking with leftovers for my main meals.  The scallions are calling to me, though - they smell so delicious, I may be making some scallion pancakes later this week!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Summer food I can't wait for

It's almost summer, and I'm super excited!  Of course, I want to go swimming, watch the fireworks on the 4th of July, and enjoy summer running weather, but I'm most looking forward to the summer food.  Here are the things I'm most excited about culinarily:

- Finally starting getting food from my CSA - I signed up for a CSA a few months ago, and next week they start delivering food.  I'm excited for the fresh, local produce, and for the challenge of making meals out of it.  Bring it on :)

- Water ice - If you're not in Philly, this is just Italian ice.  But really it's so much more, and so very Philly.  Can't wait to have a coconut one from John's Water Ice!

- Burgers on the grill

- Enormous amounts of watermelon - my favorite summer fruit

- Watermelon sorbetto and sea salt gelato from Capogiro - Best. Combination. Ever.

Enough for now - don't want to get overexcited when it's not quite summer yet!

BBQ Tempeh Nachos

I have a new favorite quick meal for the end of a long day!  I have been very busy at work lately, and this is the easiest meal I've made in quite some time.  This recipe is for one person, but can also be scaled up to feed more people - or if you make this with other food (instead of being a tired grad student like me), this much nacho filling would be plenty as an appetizer for a few people!

BBQ Tempeh Nachos

1/2 block tempeh
cooking spray (like Pam)
Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce
Shredded cheese (I used 2% milk Mexican cheese)

4 small corn tortillas
cooking spray, salt, & pepper


Cut corn tortillas into wedges with a pizza cutter.  Spray both sides of wedges with cooking spray, then spread out on a pizza pan.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then bake at 400 F for 10 minutes or until chips are crispy.

While wedges are cooking, heat a pan over medium heat and add cooking spray.  Once pan is warm, crumble 1/2 block of tempeh into the pan.  Heat for 3-5 minutes or until crumbles are warmed through and beginning to brown.  Add BBQ sauce to taste, diluting a bit with water.  Cook for 2 more minutes or until the entire mixture is warm and the sauce is beginning to thicken.

Serve tempeh filling with corn tortilla nachos.  Major yum :)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The best breakfast

Every weekday morning when I get up, the first thing I think about is breakfast.  I know some people skip breakfast and some people just have coffee, but I MUST have food to start the day.  And according to several studies, breakfast is the most important I think I'm healthier this way :)

I used to mix up my breakfasts every morning, but lately I've been sticking to the same general thing each day.  Oat bran is my go-to meal because it's packed with fiber, protein, and iron (all very important for a woman in her 20s!) - and also because it's low in fat and relatively low in calories.  1/3 cup of Trader Joe's oat bran has 130 calories and 3 g of fat....about even with a bowl of low-sugar cereal with milk.  If I add in extra protein and vitamins by mixing in fruit and peanut butter or almond butter, I've got a meal that's totally balanced, and also incredibly delicious!  One bowl, which with mix-ins is around 280 calories, keeps me full from breakfast (around 7 am) until lunch time (around noon), so I keep myself from snacking all morning long - that way, I save my snack for the 3pm slump :)

To keep my breakfasts a little varied, I change up the mix-ins for my oat bran all the time.  My absolute favorite so far is white peaches and blueberries with almond butter.....but since both of those fruits are out of season now, I'm sticking with apples or pears these days.  Today's bowl was one of my best....pears, pomegranate seeds, and almond butter.  I hope you try'll love it, I promise!

Oat Bran with Pears, Pomegranate Seeds, and Almond Butter

1/3 cup Trader Joes oat bran
1 cup water
1 pear, cut into bite-size cubes
2 tbsp pomegranate seeds  (I removed all seeds from a pomegranate and stored in the refrigerator)
1 tbsp Trader Joes creamy, unsalted almond butter

On stove top, heat up oat bran and water.  Start with burner on high until the oat bran starts to bubble, then turn down to medium-low and stir frequently until the oat bran reaches your desired consistency.  While oat bran is cooking, core and slice a pear.  Add oat bran, pear, and pomegranate seeds to a bowl, and top with a little bit of almond butter.  Mix, then enjoy!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Food news: Wegmans grocery store in Mt. Laurel opens a liquor store

For those of you in the Philadelphia/New Jersey area, check out the Wegmans store in Mt. Laurel.  This weekend, they opened a brand new liquor store, and the celebration was spectacular.

As someone who has lived in four major cities and moved around a lot in the last few years, I know a lot about what makes a good grocery store.  Each time I've moved, I've sought out the best grocery store in the area - since I love to cook, it's important that I find somewhere with quality ingredients and decent prices.  Wegmans has more than met that challenge for me here in Philly, and I can't say enough about how spectacular the store is.

The celebration this weekend was fun, with music and food samples throughout the store.  Their liquor store features $6 bottles of wine, and has quite a selection of wine and liquor.  I even bought a bottle of Riesling at a sample table, only to find out that the people giving the samples were actually the vineyard owners, and they signed my bottle!  It was a blast, and I'll definitely be back to the store inside Wegmans again.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mushroom Pasta

I'm having a super-busy week, so I apologize for not posting more, but here's something I tried this week that is awesome:

Whole Wheat Rotini with Mushrooms and Cannelini Beans

(picture from cookthink)

I made this for dinner last night and it was AMAZING.  Modifications: Barilla Piccolini wheel pasta instead of whole wheat rotini (love this stuff - the wheels remind me of being a kid!), no green onions (didn't have any), no jalapeno, and diced tomato instead of the paste or the crushed tomato.  I also added some garlic powder, and didn't add any parmesan - it tasted rich and delicious, so I didn't think it needed the cheese.

This is also a great way to incorporate leftovers and random pantry items - it's very versatile!  I hope you try this soon!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Smores = Delicious

My favorite way to make smores:

(Images from Love Street, Wegmans website, and slashfood)

Last night, I made delicious smores with Love Street Living Foods chocolate coconut spread, bunny marshmallows from Easter, and graham crackers.  Absolutely yummy and gooey and highly recommended.

That is all.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Things have been super busy, but this week I did manage to make one exciting meal - carrot cake cupcakes!  The recipe was from Alton Brown on the Food Network website, so you can head on over there for the directions.  These were DELICIOUS, and so easy to make.  I did leave out the walnuts, since I didn't have any, and I used reduced fat cream cheese (neufchatel), which didn't seem to have an adverse effect on the deliciousness of the frosting.

I even managed to pipe on these cute little carrots!  Sorry the picture is so blurry, but I forgot to take one until I was at work and only had my phone with me.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Matzo Ball Soup

Just in time for Passover :)

Matzo Ball Soup - adapted from Manischewitz

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 eggs, slightly beaten
1/3 cup matzo meal
salt & pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chicken stock

For soup: 4 cups chicken stock

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl and chill for 15 minutes.  Carefully form into balls and drop balls into boiling, salted water.  Cook at a simmer in covered pot for 30 minutes.  Remove matzo balls from water and place into warmed chicken stock.  Season with pepper if desired.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Yummy Lentil Chili

This recipe is really delicious, and perfect for cold nights.  The only substitute I made was to add canned diced tomatoes instead of tomato puree - it's much chunkier that way.  Definitely recommend!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St Patricks Day!

I'm not remotely Irish, even if I look like it - but I've always had a spot in my heart for St. Patrick's Day.

I had an awfully Irish day, food-wise - almost everything was either Irish-inspired, or just plain green. Lunch was a spinach salad with artichokes (super green!), along with some Irish soda bread:

The soda bread recipe was from the Food Network website. It was soft, a little sweet, and absolutely delicious. I had my piece for lunch with a honey butter, which I made just by mixing up some butter with orange blossom honey (I used Wegmans brand, but I'm sure a natural kind would be good too).

Dinner was Irish-inspired, but I didn't follow a recipe for once - I just mixed together chunks of potato, chicken sausage, and onions in apple cider vinegar with plain apple cider, then let it reduce for a bit. No pictures of dinner - I got a little carried away with tasting to make sure it was yummy, and before I knew it the food was gone!

Dessert wasn't Irish, but the apple in the mini apple crisp was green before I peeled it! The recipe is from Betty Crocker, which is how my mom always makes apple crisp.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!