Sunday, May 31, 2009

Smoothie Sunday

Summer is close at hand, bringing us the kind of steamy weather that makes me cringe at the thought of turning on the stove . . . or oven . . . or microwave. Well, I suppose the microwave is fairly harmless in terms of heat-production, but the fact still remains -- it's about to get hot. That means, among other, fair more momentous things, that smoothie season has arrived.

Smoothies are delicious year-round, of course, but I think that they are truly designed for late spring and summertime breakfasts. Or lunches, which is what the Best Husband Ever and I did for our midday meal today. Smoothies can be very healthy and filling, depending on what you throw into the blender. I love combining the calcium and lean proteins found in yogurt and milk with fresh fruit and sometimes even veggies. That's right -- veggies! Vegetables can be a great addition to smoothies, even if they are not very traditional smoothie ingredients.

Speaking of non-traditional, the hubby had some oddball culinary fun while making his lunch smoothie. My designs behind lunchtime smoothies were pretty transparent -- I wanted to break in our nifty new blender (over the course of several months, I smashed both the blending and food processing attachments on our own blender), use up some blackened bananas, and try out the chocolate HempShake that has been lurking in my pantry for a little too long. Plus, I was hungry and wanted something cool and refreshing on this hot day.

After nabbing a quick hot dog at our church's barbecue this afternoon, the Best Husband Ever was more than willing to make smoothies with me. My smoothie had one packet of chocolate HempShake (the taste was just so-so -- my favorite shake/smoothie powder remains Spiru-Tein), a ripe banana, one cup of skim milk, a handful of ice, and a couple of strawberries. Pretty standard smoothie fare.

Not so with the husband. He started off with some routine ingredients, including milk, banana, and strawberries just like me. But then he got to wondering -- can you put cheese in a smoothie? I suggested trying some cottage cheese, but he was feeling more adventurous and added cheddar cheese instead. And he did not stop there. Still poking about in the fridge and freezer, he emerged with pepperoni and threw a handful of that into the blender as well.

Then he blended away, and as I watched the cringe-worthy ingredients swirled into a delightful shade of pink. Diabolical pink, perhaps, disguising the disgusting flavor combination that surely lurked within. The Best Husband Ever urged me to take the first sip, but I declined, choosing to play it safe with my hemp smoothie. So, taking a deep breath, he braced himself and took a mouthful.

I waited for the grimace of horror to blossom across his face, for the wail of horror to emerge from his smoothie-coated esophagus. But they never came. Instead, he shrugged.

"It's not so bad," he said. "It just tastes like strawberries."

I took a careful taste for myself, but had to agree -- if you didn't know the crazy concoction contained pepperoni and cheddar cheese, you probably would never guess. There was definitely a strange meatiness to the mixture, but it was very subtle. Still, I stuck with my hemp while the hubby took swallows of his own smoothie. After a few minutes, though, he began to complain of odd rumblings in his belly. Although his tastebuds were not affronted by the odd smothie, apparently his stomach was. He had to give up, and gulped down a few handfuls of cooked pepperoni slices to get the taste out of his mouth.

Smoothies are fun to make and fun to eat, and are often deliciously healthy. So let your inner artiste go a little wild and throw some spinach, avocado, or prunes in with your next creation. But don't get carried away. As my husband learned, some smoothie concoctions just should not be.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Recipe For a Sweet Saturday

Want a sweet start to your weekend? How about a Saturday treat day? Try this "recipe" for a super restful sabbath day.

Purchase a sweet treat from your favorite bakery/coffee shop/ice cream parlor/artisan burrito workshop/what-have-you. Ogle, then tote to your favorite caffeine provider and devour, savoring the taste and texture of each bite.

Add a fun board or card game (being sure to keep a collective instead of competitive score for an extra enjoyable flavor) . . .

. . . and your favorite special someone. Combine, then let linger for one to two hours over the coffee shop table until the experience has soothed your work week weary soul.

Sip some tea. Hug your honey (substitute dear friends, siblings, parents, and other loved ones as you desire). Breathe.

Friday, May 29, 2009

It's Official!

It's official -- I am participating in my first triathlon at the end of August! A back-t0-back event of 500 yards of swimming, 12+ miles of biking, and 3.3 miles of running awaits me. This challenge is . . . daunting, to put it mildly. I'm inexperienced at best on a bike, and not at home in the water.

That said, I'm determined to try my best. In fact, that's my goal -- to prepare and then give the race my very best shot. I entered in the "Try a Tri" heat, which is for first-time triathlon participants, so I won't be up against the elite competitors. Still, it's going to take some faith and hard to work to get ready for.

I'm happy to report, though, that the training has already begun! I've been doing 11 to 13 mile routes on the Expresso stationary bike at the YMCA (complete with a little virtual screen where you bike with these little computerized bikers on some fairly scenic rides). I can't believe how much I sweat on the stationary bike! It far surpasses my sweat-level for elliptical workouts, although not necessarily for treadmill work. Still, I'm a gloppy mess by the end of the bike workout -- and I love it! Profuse sweating makes me feel like I've truly accomplished something, that I've really pushed myself. Gross, perhaps, but true!

I've also -- gulp! -- been hitting the pool. I figured out that ten down-and-back laps of the YMCA pool measures 500 yards, so I have been following my "land" workouts with 500-600 yards swims. I absolutely stink at swimming, though, so I complete said laps alternating between using a highly modified breast stroke and backstroke. Why modified? Because I hate getting my face in the water and having to worry about breathing and all that. That's why you won't find me doing freestyle any time soon. I pretend to be a serious swimmer, though, with my ultra nerdy swim cap and goggles that leave marks that make it look like I just got punched in the eye. (Yes, I still use goggles despite not putting my face under water because I also dislike splashes hitting my eyeballs during backstroke laps. Did I mention that I'm a finnicky swimmer?)

Although I'm most nervous in the water out of the three triathlon events, I'm glad that I'm trying this event out. I already am enjoying my swimming sessions more and more, and am eager to extend them! That's one of the reasons I like entering races --they push me to try things (tri things!) I might never have otherwise, and often I discover that I actually really like those things. I might never been an Olympian -- okay, "might" is an understatement -- but that doesn't mean I shouldn't test my physical limits every now and again.

How do you push the envelope? Is it with fitness, like adding something new to your workouts such as yoga or dance? Do tell, friends!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Three Cheers For Beans!

Do you remember the tantalizing photograph of a kidney bean salad that I ended my Memorial Day post with, as well as the inscrutable ingredient that I challenged you to guess? I've been on a bean salad-making roll, and that particular salad was based on the honey bean salad recipe from Allrecipes. But of course I had to make my own mark on the recipe, and I added rhubarb, the now not-so-mysterious ingredient! It was quite tasty and very refreshing. I served it over fresh greens, with Parmesan garlic pita chips, a few maple-glazed nuts, and a cold glass of homemade mint tea.

A Honey of a Bean Salad

1 (15.5 oz.) can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1.5 T maple syrup
1 T apple cider vinegar, plus more to taste
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried sage
1 T garlic, minced
1/2 T dried onion flakes
a mini squirt of hot chili sauce (I used Sriracha)
1/2 stalk rhubarb, diced

Mix all the ingredients together, then marinate in the fridge for at least one hour. Serve cold, over your favorite fresh vegetables or as a side at a barbecue.

Serves 2-3.

Yum yum! I really enjoyed this salad, and the rhubarb added a nice bite to the dish. The Best Husband Ever recently let me in on the secret that you can eat rhubarb raw, which I didn't know -- I had only eaten in it baked into things like muffins and pie. Apparently, his mother used to grow rhubarb and he would much it straight from the garden as a kid. Now I want to grow it myself! I settled for purchasing some at the farmer's market this week, though.

But my apparent bean salad fetish did not stop there! Next I tried the Mediterranean bean salad recipe, again from Allrecipes. I did not enjoy this one as much as the sweet kidney bean salad, but it was still both light and filling. It does not call for any vinegar, which is why I think it falls short for my particular taste buds; I like my salads to have some zing! Kidney beans make their presence known again in this recipe (can you tell that I'm trying to use up a Costco-sized package of canned kidney beans?) as well as garbanzos.

Mean Two-Bean Salad

1 (15.5 oz.) can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15.5 oz.) can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed

6 grape tomatoes, chopped
1 small cucumber, sliced
2 mini bell peppers, diced

2 T lemon juice
1/2 T dried onion flakes
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tsp capers, rinsed
1 T garlic, minced

Mix all the ingredients, then marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Serve over greens and with a toasted pita or pita chips.

Serves 4-6.

My favorite contestant from the Who's Who Among American Bean Salads competition that's apparently been taking place in my kitchen is the last. It incorporates my favorite beans, black beans. I love those guys! I mean, I love all beans. You can't go wrong with low fat, high protein, delicious legumes. But black beans top them all in my book. This particular salad was a free-form creation that took form this morning before I headed off to work. That means that I didn't do any measuring, I just threw a bunch of ingredients into the bowl until I was happy with the proportions and taste. If you try this recipe yourself, make sure that you have a 3:1 ration of beans to corn, and don't be too stingy with the garlic or avocado. I tried to give some rough estimates in parentheses, but just have fun with this one. It's creamy and amazing!

I-Got-No-Measuring-Cups Black Bean Salad

1 (15.5 oz.) can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 of an avocado, diced
frozen corn (1/3 cup)
bell peppers, diced (3-4 mini peppers)
jalapenos, seeded and diced (1 T)
fresh cilantro, minced (1/4 cup)

garlic, minced (1 T)
chili powder (1 tsp)
dried onion flakes (1/2 tsp)
1 packet Stevia
a drizzle of balsamic

Combine all the ingredients, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours to marinate. Serve over a salad, with tortilla chips, or try topping it with shredded cheddar, sour cream/quark, and olives.

Serves 2 (3 if you're not too hungry), or makes a mean party dip.

So I'm sure you're wondering, even as your mouth is water from staring at all those delicious salads -- what's with all the beans? It's a great question, and is answered by one element that all the recipes have in common. That is the fact that none of them require heat to prepare. Summer weather is starting to roll into my corner of the hemisphere, and turning on the oven in 80+ degree F weather to make burritos is just no fun. Even stove top cooking gets our kitchen quite steamy, so I've been trying to stay away from heat to keep us cool (especially the hubby, who is much more sensitive to heat than I am) as well as to shake things up a bit for our palates. Let's hear it for legumes!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Into the Oven

Homemade pizza on a whole wheat tortilla with pumpkin hummus, tomato sauce, garlic, basil, oregano, sliced mushrooms and peppers, and mozzarella.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Hug a Veteran Day!

Happy Memorial Day! I hope that you took advantage of any opportunities to thank a veteran today. No matter what sort of shady things the United States government may or may not be doing with our military, the soldiers deserve our gratitude. So here's my official shout out -- thank you, all you brave military folk! You rock!

Armed services appreciation aside, what's not to love about a national holiday turning a normal weekend into a three day span of relaxation? The Best Husband Ever and I certainly took advantage of this leisurely day. We slept through the alarm (yes, I couldn't resist setting one, holiday or not), lingered abed while the sun rose, then finally managed to roust ourselves to action. I worked out while he showered and read (The Integral Trees by Larry Niven, which he found decent but not spectacular -- the hubby is on a science fiction marathon, already having plowed his way through two and a half of the books he borrowed from the library on Saturday).

After showering and putting on some laundry, I was able to finally join my husband and our dogs back on the porch a mid-morning breakfast/snack (we had barbecue plans for lunch) and my own reading. Toting a spelt cake (like rice cakes, only with spelt!) topped with CocoaBanana PB and some banana slices as well as a mug of strawberry vanilla rose tea, I enjoyed the warm sun on my shoulders while reading my morning devotional. I soon moved on to read the next chapter in the book of Romans, which the Best Husband Ever and I are studying together. I rounded off the morning by chatting on the phone with my family in New Jersey, settling on details for my parents' upcoming visit. It was an exquisite way to start the day, as late as that start may have been!

For lunch, we headed over to my fabulous in-laws' for a Memorial Day barbecue. My father-in-law is a Vietnam veteran. While he did not regale us with war stories today, I have seen some awesome photos of him during his military years, as well as seen his army boots. What a fun artifact! He is currently a professional screenplay writer and novelist, and I'd love to one day read a book or see a film inspired by his years in Vietnam.

This afternoon, though, war stories were not on the menu. My mother-in-law barbecued up some tasty burgers, massive hot dogs, and a few veggie dogs for me and whoever else wanted to try one (I think I converted a few of them, especially my youngest sister in law, who has only had a single horrifying encounter with veggie dogs before). We also had a fantastic array of fixin's, fresh veggies, corn, chips, salsa, baked beans, and -- my favorite, and a new food for me -- grilled green bell pepper. In addition to the veggie dogs, I brough along peach onion salsa and homemade pumpkin hummus. I based the hummus on this recipe, but this is my version.

Pumpkin Hummus

1 (15.5 oz.) can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
7.5 oz. (half a 15.5 oz.) can of pumpkin puree
1/3 cup lemon juice, plus more as needed
1 T minced garlic

1 T tahini
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
3/4 tsp cayenne powder

Place all the ingredients in a food processor or blender. Mix on high speed until the ingredients are fully combined. Add more lemon juice as needed if the hummus is too thick to process properly.

Makes about 1.5 cups.

I think my favorite part of the day was hanging out with my one and only niece (although now I also have a brand new nephew!! welcome to the world, little boy!). She showed me around grandma's vegetable garden, and then nabbed my camera and took an excellent set of photos, considering she's not even five years old! I can't believe how mature and articulate she is becoming, and at what a fast rate. She is such a sweetie pie! Can't you tell that we had some camera fun today? (she took this arm's length shot, not me!):

After showing her this picture, my niece looked at me and said, "I look funny." I think it's safe to say that I win for looking the strangest in this photo, though. Gotta love distortion due to super cheesy smiles. I'll have to watch how much I ham it up for the camera in the future, huh?

Speaking of beans (okay, I know I wasn't actually speaking of beans, but I did mention baked beans earlier, and there is a hummus recipe in this post, so can you cut me a little slack on that inaccurate and awkwardly crafted transition?), I've been on a bean-recipe roll. Last week I made two different kinds of bean salads. Can you guess what the secret ingredient in the salad pictured at the bottom of this post was? The ingredient in question is tart and summery, and I'll let you on it and a couple of recipes in my next post. Until then, get those magnifying glasses out and your thinking caps on and try to solve my mystery.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Great Expectations

Now that I've run in a [very small] handful of races, I've got the bug. I want to do more, to participate in more events! They are incredibly fun, even while remaining physically challenging, and I really enjoy the sense of camaraderie and community at such events. What's more, my daily workouts seem rote and pointless now. I think I need a goal. So I've set myself a few, and they're not small.

The first is coming up quickly. It's the Pengelly Double Dip race, a grueling 13 mile run/hike up and down a mountain to benefit Youth Homes (an organization which provides homes for kids like some of my students, who don't have a safe place to live). I will not be racing up a mountain, thank you very much. Instead, I hope to tackle the much more sane Single Dip course, which treks up about 1.25 miles, then levels out for a couple of miles before coming back down the mountain for a total of 5 miles. I have been practicing running hills and hiking steep inclines. I haven't yet decided if I'll try to run the steep part of the race (and it is steep, let me tell you); at the moment I planning on speed walking the steep section and running the rest. In my nifty new running shoes, of course. A nice perk is that that weekend my mother is coming all the way from New Jersey for a visit, so I'll be able to show off a little for her. Or embarrass myself. Either way, it will be fun and different for her.

My next goal is far heftier. At the end of August, my city will be hosting its very own triathlon. Consisting of a 500 meter swim, a 12.8 mile bike ride, and a 3.3 mile run, it's considered a sprint triathlon. I will not be sprinting, however. I will be racing to finish. I'm not a strong biker, and I feel fairly uncomfortable in the water. But I like the multi-sport challenge, and I've already started training. Yesterday and today I did 500 meters of laps in the YMCA pool, which took about 20 minutes per 500 meters. I hate putting my face in the water, so I swapped out doing back stroke and a modified back stroke. I would like to go to the coach lap swim that the YMCA offers, so I can at least get some pointers on form and what not, and maybe even try out freestyle. I'll have to get some goggles, I think.

I also have added biking to my fitness repertoire. I started with short 3 mile rides on the stationary bike, and today I did a 13+ mile ride over mostly flat terrain in just over 50 minutes. Last weekend, I even hit the trails by bike with the Best Husband Ever and one of our dogs. It was pretty scary -- I hate going downhill, my gears were acting wonky, and I was terrified of hitting Jackson, our pup -- but I'm still proud of myself for going. I even surprised myself a bit by enjoying and feeling strong over uphill portions, which I thought would totally defeat me. Thankfully, my husband was forgiving if disturbed by my bike-related fears and crankiness. I'm hoping that working on the stationary bike more will yield greater confidence on a "real" bike. We shall see!

At least I know that the August triathlon's distances in the water and on the bike are doable for me. And I've already run a 5K, so I know I can do that. Now we'll just have to see if I can complete all three back to back. There's a good challenge, don't you think? This particular race offers a "Try a Tri" heat, which is reserved for first-time triathletes. I think I'll tri -- er, try it. I definitely don't want to end up racing with elite competitors! No sense is giving myself more nerves than necessary. And I am nervous about the thought of "trying a tri," but I think it will be turn out to be more than worthwhile when all is said, done, and run.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Pour Some Sugar On Me

I love me some sugar. Growing up, I had a serious sweet tooth. When I discovered that I could buy candy from the vending machines and team fundraisers in middle school, I went crazy. As a result, my weight (and, I'm sure, my blood sugar) also went nuts. The tough thing about sugar is that it's hard to break the habit because your body constantly craves more and more. Once you've cut down on sugar in the diet, though, it's much easier to stick with unsweetened and more natural tasties like fruit, honey, and maple syrup.

That said, once you've got a handle on your nutrition choices and how much sugar you're eating, I think it's safe -- and probably quite healthy, actually -- to indulge in a treat every now and then. If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that the Best Husband Ever and I share regular treat days. This usually consists of visiting a bakery or, during the summer season, the farmer's market, purchasing some decadent baked good and enjoying it together, usually over some coffee or tea and a game of Scrabble. He usually goes for a cinnamon or caramel roll, but I like to shake it up a little more with croissants, muffins, brioche, and the like. That said, check out today's yummy:

Now that the Black Cat Bake Shop's treats are available on a weekly basis again with the return of the farmer's market, I couldn't resist indulging in a repeat of last week's sweet Saturday. It's a whole wheat cinnamon roll with a creamy (perhaps even cream cheese-y) frosting, pecans, and raisins. It's amazing!

Although such treats are delectable, it's not realistic to have one every day. Not only would you probably get sick of its rich flavor fast, but cinnamon rolls -- even whole wheat versions -- are not very efficient nourishers of our bodies. They don't have much fuel in them. But our taste buds don't know that, and often scream for sugar. What to do then?

Thankfully, there are more healthful options that are still dessert-y and indulgent feeling. For example, I love a microwave-baked apple with a spoon of peanut butter glopped over the slices. Two tablespoons of chocolate PB2 with some chocolate chips and diced prunes also make for a sweet snack.

Here's another PB2-based treat. It's simple, low in sugar and fat, and downright delicious. It tastes like a peanut butter mousse, and that's never a bad thing.

Faux Peanut Butter Mousse

1 cup fat-free Cool Whip
1 T PB2 powder

add-ins of your choice (such as chocolate or carob chips, fresh fruit chunks, nuts or trail mix, and cereal or granola)

Briskly mix the Cool Whip and PB2 powder together until the powder is evenly distributed throughout. The texture should be smooth with few lumps. Stir in your preferred add-ins. Some of my favorite toppings are blueberries, sliced strawberries, and a smattering of carob chips. Yum!

Serves 1.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Quite some time ago, The Left Over Queen held a giveaway on her site, offering to send some dried daylilies to whomever wanted them and commented first. That lucky lady was me! I soon received my package o' daylilies, along with a lovely little postcard from the Queen. I was excited to try them out in a recipe, but felt absolutely stumped. The baggie of daylilies went into my spice cupboard and has languished there since. Until yesterday, that is.

Let me back up for a moment. What is a daylily, anyway? And what does one do with a daylily, dried or otherwise? These were the very questions that boggled my culinary mind. Daylilies are perennial flowers that are native across Europe and Asia. Not all daylilies are edible, but the non-toxic varieties are often used fresh or dried in Chinese recipes, especially soups. In my Googling for recipe inspiration, the few dishes I found were renditions of hot and sour soup.

But soup season is coming to a close with the advent of spring and -- can you believe it?! -- summer. This week I was seized by a desire to test out these gift flowers, and also by an urge to try some new kitchen concoctions. I have been wanting to try making a dinner frittata for the Best Husband Ever and I for quite some time, but have never managed to actually do it. Then I hatched this recipe and remedied that situation!

This frittata has a subtle Asian flavor, and is also extremely healthy. It is loaded with veggies and protein, with little fat because I used a liquid egg substitute. Feel free to use whole eggs or just whites, and to play around with the veggies. I couldn't really discern much of a flavor from the daylilies, though, so next time I will use more. Despite that, I think the frittata was pretty tasty. Let me know what you think!

Far-Out Far-East Frittata

1 T garlic
1 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp ground ginger
dash of red pepper flakes
6 daylilies
non-stick cooking spray

4 eggs (or 1 cup egg substitute)
2-3 cups chopped vegetables (I used broccoli, red bell pepper, mushrooms, and mandarin oranges, and would recommend throwing in some water chestnuts if you have them)

If using dried daylilies: Thirty minutes before you begin cooking, place the dried daylilies in a bowl of water. Be sure that they are entirely immersed. Soak for the thirty minutes, then remove the stems and cut them into your desired size (I cut mine into halves and thirds).

Cover a large pan with cooking spray, then set over medium heat. Saute the vegetables, garlic, and daylilies. As the vegetables begin to get tender, add the soy sauce, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Stir, cooking for 1-2 more minutes.

Pour the eggs into the pan, being sure to quickly distribute the vegetables evenly across the surface. Allow the eggs to set, occasionally lifting the edges once they are firm enough and allow the liquid egg to flow underneath. When the bottom of the frittata begins to brown and the liquid egg fully cooked to your preferred density, remove the pan from the heat. Cut in half and serve plain or with your favorite ketchup or sauce (I used ginger peanut sauce and it was perfection!).

Serves 2 (or one, if you're extra hungry!).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Running Kicks

I have started to become more serious about running. For me, that entails going on different types of runs (hills, speedwork, trails, etc.), cross-training appropriately, and taking care of my body as I put more demands of that. Part of that involves my feet.

Running is hard on your body. Pounding the pavement can lead to knee issues, shin splints, ankle injuries, and more. Last August I ended up with some sort of foot injury that I'm still not sure what to call, despite a trip to the doctor and an x-ray. Needless to say, I tweaked something, had to rest, and now am careful not to ramp up my runs too quickly, which is what I did then. Aside from that, I am lucky to not have any other more serious running-related problems.

However, my poor feet have been aching more and more with each run that I complete. On top of that, my feet started to hurt during the run, especially along the arches. No fun! I even now sport a mean "runner's toe" on my right "pointer toe" (for lack of a better term), caused by a bruise or blood blister under the nail. After a little Googling, I discovered that runner's toe is often the result of intense downhill running, or ill-fitting shoes. That got me to thinking about my sneakers. They do alright, but often make the tops of my feet feel squashed, and my toes rub up against the inside from of the shoes. Could my shoes be hurting my feet?

I consulted my rocking runner of a sister-in-law, then headed to a local specialty running store to get my feet looked at by the guys there. After inspecting my feet and stride, the clerk had me test out several pairs of running shoes. They all help prevent rolling to the outside of my feet, have roomy toes, are light, and fit snugly around the ankle. I tried out a few pairs, then settled on a pair of Saucony Ride (check out my black toe in that photo!).

I have to say -- I am in love with these sneakers. I knew as soon as I started trying shoes on in the store that any shoe in the shop would be better than the ones I had been wearing. But these sneaks in particular absolutely rock my socks off. They are light, allow for great aeration, and make my stride feel much more resilient. Plus, they look pretty darn awesome. I can't wait to put them through their paces some more and really see how they perform!

Have you ever visited a specialty running store? If you haven't, and you hold any interest in running whatsoever, this is something you must do. I was like a kid in a candy shop! The personal professional attention regarding my foot and shoe concerns was amazing, and totally complimentary. Then, while the Best Husband Ever got his feet inspected, I drooled over the running goodies, from skorts to water portation systems to the object of my running lust, the Garmin. I also picked up some information on upcoming races, like a triathlon at the end of the summer and a hike/run that's taking place in a little less than a month. And you can bet that I'll be wearing the best sneakers I've ever owned through every single run that I take.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Warning: Gratitude Ahead

This morning I intended to write about my tenuous goal of competing in my first triathlon at the end of August. I was going to discuss my ineptitude and discomfort in the water, but how I'm excited to give it a good try (or tri! heh heh . . .). I also wanted to talk about my issues with biking downhill, and a rather nerve-wracking bike ride I took this weekend with the Best Husband Ever and one of our dogs. I was going to send a plea for help and advice out into the blogosphere, and hope for the best.

But I'm not going to to write about those things. Not today, anyway. Today, as I was sipping my morning coffee and spending time with God (2 Corinthians 1:8-9 was the focus), I found myself overcome with gratitude. I am so blessed! I am a daughter of God, and He loves me. Me! It's so hard to believe, and yet it's true -- He wants the very, very best for all of us, myself included. Amazing!

And He really has given me so much that I constantly take for granted: the most wonderful husand in the world . . . health and strength in body, mind, and soul . . . freedom from food-related compulsions . . . a loving family, both by birth and marriage . . . a job that I truly enjoy, and co-workers and students that have taken root in my heart . . . luxurious food, clothing, and shelter, especially when compared to a vast percentage of the world population . . . and, above all, a relationship with the creator of the universe, the gentle Father of this wandering child, and the ultimate repairman of all my broken parts. Thank you, Lord!

What are you grateful for today? Take a quiet moment and give thanks. It's a beauitful Monday!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pizza With a Side of Pluck

One of the aspects of blogging that I enjoy most is the flowing exchange of ideas. If it was not for all of the wonderful (not to mention friendly, intelligent, and strong!) food bloggers that I now know and read, I would never have tried recipes that have now become some of my favorite dishes. Take this pumpkin, apple, and cotija quesadilla, for example -- without The Duo Dishes blog, I would never have discovered this amazing meal. I also never would have known the creamy pleasure that is cotija, a part-skim Mexican cheese. What a shame that would be!

Today I once again find myself grateful for the culinary inspiration I find on my fellow bloggers' sites. This time I thank It's a Wrap! for the idea of using pumpkin puree as a pizza base instead of tomato sauce. I never even considered the possiblity before reading her awesome blog, but now I am so glad I tried it. I read about her unique pizza sauces the other day and knew that I had to try some of them, and soon. In addition to pumpkin, this blogger also uses varieties of hummus mixed with tomato sauce on her pizzas. You know I'll be testing that out soon!

I also enjoyed how she combined nontraditional toppings, such as goat cheese, chunks of granola bar, coconuy curry tempeh, bananas, and tuna (yes, tuna -- I feel a little nervous about that one!) to create a truly unique dish. And that's not to mention delicious-sounding to boot!

So, guided by bloggy inspiration, I decided to branch out while making tonight's pizza dinner. I let the Best Husband Ever stick with his happy favorite of part-skim mozzarella, sliced olives, pineapple, pepperoni, and tomato sauce with a little basil and oregano on a pita. As for me, I ventured outside the pizza box. In letting myself get a little crazy, I was able to test out another use for a unique cheese that I spied in the grocery store a while back and had to try. It's Long Clawson Dairy's white stilton cheese with mango and ginger. Sounds pretty darn amazing, right? Well, it is, but the only uses I've been able to find for it are as a salad mix-in or a cracker spread. Boring. Tonight I was bold, though, and crumbled this cheese over my pizza.

The resulting dinner was tasty and filling. It was not blow-my-mind-amazing, but it was fresh and unique, and both my tastebuds and my creative inner chef enjoyed the adventure. You can try recreating this pizza for yourself and see what you think, or just visit It's a Wrap! for ideas. If I make this type of pizza again, I will test out different fruit and veggie toppings. I'd love to get some spinach on a pizza, for example, and broccoli, cauliflower, and bell peppers could all be quite interesting. I would not be averse to sauteed sliced apples with onion, either. So try it and send me your inspiring results! Play around and see what happens. It may be that you discover your very own personal perfect pizza in the process.

(Please be aware that all of my measurements in this recipe were eyeballed or done "to taste." Don't be afraid to do the same in your own cooking. Although it's hard to replicate such creations, it's super fun.)

Pumpkin Pizzazz Pizza

1 six-inch yellow corn tortilla
1/2-3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1-2 T garlic, minced
1-2 T peanut ginger sauce
1-2 oz. white stilton with mango & ginger
sliced mushrooms and beets
dried cranberries

Mix a heaping spoonful of minced garlic in with the pumpkin. Spoon enough pumpkin on the tortilla to cover its surface at your desired thickness. Spread about a Tablespoon of peanut ginger sauce over the pumpkin layer. Place the mushrooms, beets (I used canned, but you can also use fresh), capers, and dried cranberries in what ever frequency and pattern makes your tastebuds tingle. Sprinkle the fruity white stilton cheese over the top and bake at 400*F for 10-15 minutes, or until the toppings begin to brown slightly.

Makes 1 personal pizza.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sweet, Sweet Victory

In my last post , I talked about some of my hopes and fears for our Saturday plans. Three of those hopes came to pass, and one gentle fear did not. Here are my sugary dreams I saw fulfilled today:
  1. Temperatures did indeed pass 70*F today (although my poor, sandal-clad toes froze while biking over to the University graduation pre-ceremony mingle in this morning's 40*F weather -- but I could not resist wearing flip flops with the promise of a sunny day).
  2. Black Cat Bake Shop made its presence known with a flourish at the farmer's market, and . . .
  3. . . . they had cinnamon rolls!!!
Huzzah! Black Cat has returned! With delicious treats! Of course I bought one. Since Black Cat does not have a store location, their goodies are only casually available during the market season and then a single appearance at a local plant nursery's Christmas show kick-off (stollen and fruitcake, anyone?). After not having eaten one of their amazing cinnamon rolls since the early fall of last year, I found myself craving one as soon as I heard that the farmer's market had opened three weeks ago. But because these swirly delights are so popular, I was afraid that they'd be sold out and my sweet longing would go unfulfilled for another week. Not to worry, though! The stand still had plenty of cinnamon rolls left.

Of course I bought one. Black Cat makes four different varieties of cinnamon roll: brioche dough, brioche dough with raisins and pecans, whole wheat dough, and whole wheat with (you guessed it, I'm sure!) raisins and pecans. I've only ever had the buttery brioche version, which is delicious. I also really enjoy plain brioche with a little cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top. Yum! Today, though, I decided to branch out and try a whole wheat cinnamon roll with all the toppings.

You can imagine the glee I felt as I accepted my first Black Cat treat of the season from the friendly stand clerk. I daresay that a very satisfied and ever-so-slightly evil laugh tripped through my interior monologue at the sight of my very own whole wheat cinnamon roll nestled in its paper bag. I tried not to swoon as I took a quick whiff before gently packing it into my bag. It survived the short bike ride that remained before the Best Husband Ever and I as we headed to a coffee shop for some tea and, of course, Scrabble. (While I was nabbing my Black Cat-alicious booty, he secured a cinnamon roll from the Bernice's stand for himself.)

Now, remember that fear I mentioned earlier? My trepidation centered around this thought: that, with all of my daydreaming salivating over Black Cat rolls, the treats would not measure up to my memory. This fear thankfully never came to pass. Not only was my cinnamon roll just as good as I recalled -- it was even better!

My palate has continued to morph over the months since the previous market closed, and I don't enjoy super sugary treats as much as I once did. At last summer's market, the more subtle flavor of the Black Cat goods did not satisfy me as much as the more heavily sweetened yummies from other stands. Now, however, I am loving the less sugary cream cheese frosting, not to mention the more healthy (if you could ever call a cinnamon roll healthy) whole wheat dough. I think I've found a new food love.

Thankfully, the Best Husband Ever is not too jealous. Not at this point, anyway. He did not feel at all threatened by my obsession-inducing treat as we shared a game of Scrabble. Still, he did get a bit silly near the end. Too much sugar, perhaps? That was not the case for me today! My sweet treat Scrabble Saturday was just right. Here's to a summer packed with Black Cat Bake Shop madness (the good kind . . . right?)!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sweet Weekend Plans

It looks like we're finally going to see some warm weather again this weekend. Temperatures are expected to pass 80*F on Sunday, which will be a fantastic change from the 50*F days of clouds and winds that we've been having. The Best Husband Ever and I fully intended to take advantage of this spurt of summer. Tomorrow we'll head over to the University to wave farewell to some friends before they march in their graduation ceremony.

After the undergraduate fun, we plan to head to the newly opened farmer's market. This is the third week that it's been open this year, and I'm absolutely desperate for one of these beauties:

It's a Black Cat Bake Shop brioche cinnamon roll! They're huge, decadent, and only available during the spring and summer at the farmer's market. And I want one. In fact I really wanted one last Saturday, but when we arrived at the market, this is the sight that greeted us:

It says, "BLACK CAT will be back next week May 16th." You can imagine my howl of despair. Thankfully, I recovered quickly and enjoyed a cinnamon nut croissant at Bernice's Bakery over a challenging game of Scrabble with the hubby:

The croissant was quite satisfying. But this week, I will have my brioche cinnamon roll, even if I have to wrestle a gang of pygmy pod people to get it. I'm sure that the treat will probably not taste as good as I imagine in my mouth-watering daydreams of brioche cinnamon rolls, especially after all this hype. Still, I hope to get my fingers sticky on one of these beasts of a treat soon.

Even if our plans of sugary indulgence go awry, though, this Saturday should be a good one nonetheless. We're going to a dessert party for one of Josh's graduating friends (who also happened to be a groomsman at our wedding). I also hope to frame some photos and decorate and clean our house. (Our house! I still can't believe that it's ours!) It would also be lovely to get some pups out and hiking in the sun. And on Sunday I hear there's a 10K race on a lovely wooded trail system. I'm toying with the idea of entering on the fly, but we shall see how motivated I feel. Certainly not as motivated as I am to nab a brioche cinnamon roll. Priorities are everything, don't you think?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hummus: It's What's For Dinner

When I first heard about the required ingredients for the June 2009 round of the Royal Foodie Joust, I considered myself out of the running. I did not want to bother creating an entry because I simply do not use or enjoy two of the three ingredients: rice, bacon, and tomatoes. I find fresh tomatoes delicious, and I like tomato sauce, but I cannot stand hot, cooked tomatoes. Ugh. I don't know why, but they make me nauseous. Also, I don't like the greasiness of bacon, even while I think crispy bacon tastes good but not worth the effort or the calories. And I simply don't use rice. Instead, I'll use bulghur, which is far higher in protein than white or even brown rice. So I figured that I would be a no-show for this month's Joust.

Until two nights ago. For some reason, ideas started percolating in my brain. Joust ideas. Bacon, rice, and tomato ideas. I came up with two dishes I thought would be quite tasty. The first was savory cottage cheese pancakes made with rice flour, diced tomatoes, and vegetarian (ahem, fake) bacon.

Not too bad sounding, but my second idea won out. How does a maple bacon hummus with sundried tomatoes, served with almond rice crackers and a fresh crudite sound? Pretty darn interesting, if nothing else. Besides, I adore hummus. So last night I got out a can of garbonzo beans, my food processor, and non-traditional visions of hummus and played around. The result was this recipe.

A note on the fake bacon -- I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't really enjoy real bacon. Similarly, I don't like real hotdogs. Turkey versions of both are fine with me, but I prefer vegetarian soy-based options. Not for any ethical reasons, but simply because I think they just taste better. At least, they taste better to me in the cases of bacon and hot dogs. (Burgers are another story. When I want a burger -- I want a burger. Also, why go with soy patties when black bean burgers also rock my world?) For this recipe, I stocked up on LightLife's Smart Bacon. (Feel free to use pork or turkey bacon as you desire.) The soy strips are not bad tasting, although are obviously not real bacon, and crisp up nicely in the toaster oven. They also happen to match quite well with this recipe's tangy flavors. Good thing!

Maple Bacon Hummus with Sundried Tomatoes

3 slices Smart Bacon, toasted for 5 minutes at 450* in a toaster oven
6 sundried tomatoes, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
1 15.5 oz. can garbonzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 T maple syrup (I used sugar free)
1 T minced garlic
1 T BBQ sauce
1/2 T Worchestershire sauce
1/2 T cider vinegar
1/8 tsp Sriracha (
hot chili sauce -- use more or less to taste)

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor. Process until a smooth paste forms, adding water as necessary. Serve with crackers, chips, fresh fruits and vegetables, flatbread, as a sandwich filling, as a salad topper, or any other way you can devise. I served my batch with tonight's dinner alongside garlic naan bread, low-fat bacon cheddar-flavored baked potato chips, and a yellow lentil curry.

Makes three to four half-cup servings.