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!