Friday, July 31, 2009

Follow My Food Friday

In an attempt to find more success at eating intuitively than yesterday's attempt, I'm doing another food rodeo. I am happy to report that today's efforts were very much in line with my goal! And not only did I eat pretty well over the course of the day, but I also achieved a running personal record and did not do more than one serious workout! (Does yoga count? I'm writing today's Yoga For Runners 25 minute practice off as a post-run stretch.) Isn't it great when the weekend kicks off with a bang?

This morning I woke up early (although not as early as usual -- hey, it's Friday!) for my quiet time with God. I needed some food to go with my prescription and vitamins, so I nibbled on some cranberry pecans and cantaloupe. Of course I made some coffee with a little soy creamer to wake me up.

The morning was gorgeous, and we even got a tiny sun shower in spite of the high temperatures that promise to descend over the city this weekend. I couldn't resist this glorious scene, so I took Jackson, one of our dogs, down the hill for a run. And what a run it was! I've gotten it into my head that I want to run the Austin half-marathon in February. Really, I'd like to run any half-marathon. But the longest distance I've ever run is just short of eight miles. So this morning I adopted Jeff Galloway's run-walk method to see if I could push my mileage up. After a short warm-up, I repeated intervals of five minutes of running and one minute of walking. Wash and repeat -- fifteen times!

Can you guess how many miles I clocked? It's a new personal record -- 9.6 miles in 90 minutes!! And I averaged a nine minute mile split, which is right where I'd like to run a half at. I think I'm on my way! Jackson was not as thrilled at this development, but seemed to feel pleasantly exhausted.

Back at the homestead, I needed some fuel. I quickly blended a recovery green smoothie. I used half a frozen banana, a half cup of skim milk, two cups of spinach, a handful of ice, and about a third cup of frozen mango. It hit the spot after my run. This smoothie gave me a nice little energy boost that carried me through my yoga session. I learned something interesting while listening to Fit Girl during my run -- did you know that your body may burn more calories digesting spinach than the total calories that spinach yields? I did not know that was possible, but apparently there are a few such foods that contain so-called negative calories. Something to think about, I suppose.

The second half of cantaloupe was calling my name, so I turned it into another bowl. This fruit bowl had cottage cheese, Optimum Slim, Kashi Island Vanilla, and one of Target's Archer Farms cereals (basically wheat, rice, and kamut puffs with yogurt-coated cranberries -- yum!), and some more cranberry pecans on top. This was refreshing and filling without making me feel stuffed.

The Best Husband Ever and I headed out into the heat for a Costco run, where we nibbled a few samples as we did our grocery shopping. After what seemed an interminably long return trip -- so hot! so traffic-y! -- we finally could dive into the cool dim of our house. I made up a mini snack plate, complete with fresh veggies, one of our newly-purchased strawberries (it was so delicious!), a few Kashi crackers, and a dollop of spinach and feta hummus. And check those tomatoes out. I grew them! Myself! In our backyard! I'm still amazed.

The snack held me over until dinner quite nicely. On tonight's menu was burritos. My whole wheat tortilla was stuffed with pumpkin and spices (cumin, chili powder, soy sauce, Dijon mustard, garlic, and red pepper flakes), a quarter cup of microwaved egg whites, and soy jalapeno cheddar. I layered on the guacamole after baking it, and served it with some Kashis, veggies, and more hummus, in addition to a calcium supplement. I also crunched down a salad dressed with hickory barbecue sauce and balsamic vinegar.

We had a minor tragedy occur after dinner. A bee stung our new puppy, Lio, right on his little nose! In our living room, no less! His poor face swelled up quite rapidly, but after some hasty phone calls and text messages we learned that we could administer 1/8 teaspoon of benadryl to ease the inflammation. We also took the afflicted Lio to visit the in-laws, where he met my youngest sister-in-law for the first time. He got over his sting quite quickly and spent the evening licking her delighted face.

When we returned home, I made up a small -- note, small, as opposed to my recent pre-bed snacks to make up missed calories -- dessert/snack. This delicious bowl had one mashed banana, 2 tablespoons of PB2 mixed with 1 tablespoon of water, chocolate and peanut butter chips, and a few sweet and salty cashews. This treat was sweet yet nutritious. A perfect way to end the day, I'd say. And the best part was that I did not feel bloated, overfull, or uncomfortable at all throughout the day. I said it before, and I'll say it again -- I think I'm on my way, in more ways than one.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Meal By Meal

It's been quite some time since I've allowed you to stalk my meals, darling blog readers. But I'm having more of a difficult time eating intuitively than I expected. To my charge to exercise normal amounts (i.e., no more than 10 hours per week) I added the additional challenge of eating intuitively. In other words, I want to eat [responsibly] when I'm hungry.

And I have been. The only trouble is that I haven't been eating enough in terms of calories. So I will be full and not hungry again until the next mealtime, but the food that I eat does not deliver enough in terms of energy and nutrition. When I discover at the end of the day that I am 500 or more calories short, I want to make sure I get that sustenance and so I eat a whole bunch to make up the difference. The result is that a) I'm eating when I'm not hungry, and so not really enjoying the food, b) setting myself up to fall prey to binges, c) stressing my digestive system out with my calorie dump, and d) I feel sick and bloated when I go to sleep. My diagnosis of the situation? A resounding yuck.

So, in an effort to track my eating progress, keep me honest, and allow you to see my successes and failures -- which will hopefully help you to stick to your personal nutrition and activity plan -- I'm going to do a few run-downs of what's been going into my stomach. Are you ready to stalk my food? I hope so, because here we go!

The first thing I do every morning is spend some quiet time reading the Bible, a devotional (right now I'm working through Streams in the Desert by L. B. Cowman, journaling, and praying. I also brew up some tea or coffee. This morning, I guzzled down my creme brulee with soy creamer and a sprinkle of cinnamon coffee before remembering to snap a photo.

After an hour-long spinning class, my yummy breakfast (Oikos fat-free plain Greek yogurt, Optimum Slim and Kashi Island Vanilla cereals, and a few sweet and salty cashews in a cantaloupe bowl):

...soon turned into this:

I've seen the cantaloupe bowl idea floating around the blogosphere, and I'm glad I tried it. This breakfast was sweet, light, and refreshing. Perfect for summer!

I did a lovely 30 minute yoga flow from YogaDownload (Lunchtime Flow #1!), showered, then felt my tummy rumbling once again. For lunch I whipped up a green monster (1/2 a frozen banana, 1 6 oz. container fat-free banana cream pie yogurt, 2 cups spinach, 1 handful ice, water as needed, and blend!), and then settled in to nurse it while reading a novel that I just started, Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris. (She's the same author who wrote Chocolat, the film version of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I mean, chocolate, France, and Johnny Depp? You can't go wrong) I did not get too much reading done, however, because I was interrupted by a very important phone call.

On Wednesday, I interviewed for the same position located at two different schools. So really, I was interviewing for two jobs. I was on pins and needles all Thursday morning, waiting and waiting and waiting for them to call with their decision (they had told me that I would hear within 24 hours). I wanted either one of the positions so badly, and at the same time was afraid to want them too much in case I failed to snag one. Finally, I heard back, and -- I got offered both jobs!! If my waiting hadn't been difficult enough, this decision was even harder. I told my bringer of good news that I'd call back with my choice.

After sitting in a shocked yet elated stupor, I roused myself to try out this spinach and feta hummus recipe. I modified it slightly, cutting the oil and tahini in half, reducing the red pepper flakes to 1 teaspoon, and adding a heaping spoonful of garlic instead of a teaspoon. This hummus was so delicious straight from the blender! Most of the homemade hummus I turn out needs to sit for a while to let the flavors meld. This was incredibly tasty right away. Of course I had to try a few more dips with some Kashi crackers and some carrots. Just to make sure that it was okay. You understand.

Having taken some space, made some hummus, and chatted with my sister-in-law, I knew it was time. I had to decide. I wandered down the hill toward one of the schools that I was offered a position at. I prayed, sweat, and listened for God's take on the situation. Upon arriving at the school's playground, I ran across a woman and her two boys. She approached me, and, over the course of our conversation, I found myself referring to myself as one of this school's staff. I pretty much knew then, and after asking God and not hearing any resounding "No way!" I called the personnel office and accepted the job. I'm still buzzing!! I'm so excited for the start of the school year, although I will definitely miss the kids and staff in the classroom that I'm leaving.

Dinner was inspired by a fellow blogger who writes It's a Wrap!, and was the reason behind my earlier hummus-making. I made mini pizzas. The Best Husband Ever likes his made with pitas, part-skim mozzarella, pepperoni, pineapple, and olives. I like to try new varieties, like this one. I spread a yellow corn tortilla with pumpkin puree and then some of the spinach and feta hummus. Then I layered on minced garlic, sliced mushrooms and strawberries, and 1/4 cup of egg whites that I had microwaved for about 45 seconds. I drizzled balsamic vinegar over the top and stuck it in the oven to bake for about 15 minutes at 375*F.

While the pizzas were baking, I made a salad that incorporated spinach, carrots, broccoli, mini bell peppers, tomatoes, pineapple, beets, pumpkin puree, flaked onion, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, and dried rosemary, with cranberry glazed walnuts serving as a garnish. On the side I had some more crackers, this time from Target's Archer Farms brand, that were nowhere near as tasty as the Kashis. A chocolaty calcium supplement, a crystallized ginger medallion, and a glass of tangerine-flavored sparkling water rounded the meal off quite well.

There you have it -- a day of eats! Take a look with a critical eye. Do you think I nourished myself enough? Keep in mind that I did an hour of intense spinning, and then a fairly hefty 30 minutes of yoga. As bedtime approached, I knew that I had failed in this regard. So, with a sigh, I made up the deficit, feeling my poor tummy bloat.

However, while I'm a little disappointed, I do not feel defeated in this. I was reluctant to blog about this, because I like to write about how my life is sunny and good and everything I do works out perfectly. But life isn't always like that. So here's my failure. But I can also tell you that, in spite of not meeting my goal this time around, I'm not about to give up. Tomorrow it all starts again, and I get another twenty-four hours to learn, renew, and redeem. Are you with me?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sweet Gratitude

Look what I found in my mailbox last week! It's a letter from the master chief of the soldiers to whom I sent my most recent round of Baking GALS cookies. I've sent off several rounds of cookies now, but this is the first time I've ever heard anything back from my soldiers. I'm sure it has at least something to do with the fact that this is the only batch I've sent to a domestic destination instead of overseas. It was very kind of the officer to send a quick thank you, and it filled me with gladness knowing that doing my little bit really did help.

Speaking of helping, it just so happens that Operation Baking GALS is looking for more cookie deployment volunteers! Round 11 is open and accepting volunteers, so head on over to the Baking GALS site and join a team (first you have to create a log-in name). There are eight teams and corresponding soldiers to choose from this time around, including the bonus hospital team that I sent my last batch of goodies to. I still haven't decided which team I'm going to join forces with for round 11. I may bake for the bonus hospital team again, although Team Heather Drive is sponsoring a neat-sounding soldier as well.

In other news, Operation Baking GALS is officially one year old. Happy anniversary, patriotic baking ladies! In honor of their birthday, the Baking GALS founders are giving away a bunch of prizes. There are loads of chances to win via blogs, email, Twitter, Facebook, and more. There's even a Baking GALS IQ test! So while you're picking out a team, why not enter a few giveaways as well?

Are you wondering what exactly Baking GALS is all about? I'll let the creators tell you in their own words:

Baking GALS (GALS stands for Give A Little Support) is a group of volunteer bakers who bake and ship homemade goodies to our heroic troops that are currently deployed. Each soldier is “Hosted” by a blogger, and potential bakers are “recruited” from the bloggers own site as well as the GALS site. Each Host recruits between 20-25 bakers, meaning LOTS of goodies get delivered to our soldier…so many, in fact that he or she has plenty to share with their fellow troops!

Why do we do it this way? Why not just ship to “Any Soldier”? Well, we don’t know “any soldier” – and “any soldier” doesn’t know us. And receiving baked goods from a stranger, while probably safe, is frowned upon and in many cases, those Any Soldier gifts could be thrown out. Baking GALS will introduce you to a soldier. You will know his name, a little bit about him, maybe even his favorite cookie…and he will know in advance that he will be on the receiving end of a cookie bombardment – so everyone is prepared. It is a safer way to treat our troops, and it helps them to know when to expect a barrage of goodies.

Let me tell you why I bake. I send off cookies because it's fun to think of desert-living soldiers digging into a box of more or less freshly baked treats that inspire thoughts of home, of loved ones, of why they serve. I enjoy the camaraderie of the other bloggers who bake, and meeting new people via this mutual connection. I do it because I can, and because I think it's a good cause.

If you bake for the military -- or any other group, for that matter -- what are your reasons? And if you don't -- why not? It's cheap, easy, and makes you feel all good inside.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Montana Muffin Monday

It's strange that I've lived in Montana for just about four years, and have never tasted a huckleberry until this past week. Huckleberries are close relatives of the blueberry, and are native to the Pacific northwestern area of the United States. The huckleberry is even neighboring Idaho's state fruit! So you can imagine that huckleberries are abundant here in Montana. When the huckleberry bushes begin to flower and ripen early summer, pickers head out to collect the fruit by the gallon.

What to do with so many tangy wild berries, though? You can freeze them and store up a cache for winter, or bake them into goodies, like the Black Cat Bake Shop's huckleberry coffee cakes. Or, as many huckleberry harvesters do, you could sell them at the local farmer's markets. And that is where I scored my own baggie of berries.

Last Saturday morning, I headed out for a glorious 7.5 mile run. Since the hubby and I had plans to head north for a friends' wedding reception/send-off party, we wouldn't be visiting the market for a treat. Of course I had to steal in for a quick visit after my run, and I scored a tiny Ziplock of huckleberries as well as a Black Cat bread sample.

Huckleberries run on the pricey side, which is probably at least part of why I've never bought them before. After seeing so many huckleberry baked goods around town, though, I wanted to try out my own recipe. So, huckleberries safely stowed in the refrigerator, I cleaned up and headed out for our social engagement, visions of homemade huckleberry scones dancing in my head.

When baking day came, though, I didn't feel quite so sure about the whole scone plan. I have a tasty lemon berry scone recipe in my repertoire, but I did not know how the lemon and huckleberry flavors would meld. They would probably be quite delicious together, seeing as blueberries and lemon work so well. But I also didn't have all the ingredients for scones on hand and so decided -- why not muffins? I mean, I'm the blogger formerly known as the Muffin Chick. It's been so long since I whipped up a good batch of muffins, the food item that really led the charge toward my love of cooking.

Mode of huckleberry delivery decided, I did some quick Googling for inspiration. I happened upon a nice berry muffin recipe (which I have lost the URL for and will post as soon as I track it down!) that helped me to formulate my own rendition, huckleberry-style. They were absolutely delicious. A word of warning, though -- due to the summer's heat, my batch of adorable heart- and star-shaped goodies did not last long on a foil-wrapped plate. If you want to save a few for later, best freeze them and defrost as needed.

That said, here's a healthy treat that's best enjoyed hot from the oven as the sun rises over the mountains (or sky-scrapers, or plain, or whatever your morning vista may be). Feel free to substitute blueberries if you can't get your hands on some hucks. And, as always, enjoy!

Huckleberry Muffins

2 T fat-free sour cream (I used quark)
2 T fat-free vanilla yogurt
2 T lite coconut milk
1/2 cup skim milk
1 egg white (or 1/4 cup egg substitute)

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
scant 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 packet stevia
1.25 cup huckleberries
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375*F. While its warming, combine the sour cream, yogurt, two milks, egg white, and vanilla extract. In a second bowl, mix the dry ingredients. When they are well blended, stir in the berries. Slowly mix the wet ingredients into the bowl with the berries and dry ingredients. Stir until just combined.

Distribute the batter into muffin cups of your preference. Bake for 20 minutes. When a toothpick can be inserted and removed from a muffin free from uncooked batter, take the muffins from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Once they have cooled a bit, remove them from the muffin cups and continue cooling on a cookie rack. Nibble at will.

Makes 10-12 muffins.

What's your favorite muffin recipe or variety?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Nameless Chihuahua

Meet . . . er . . . well, therein lies the problem. The Best Husband Ever and I added the most adorable blue-eyed, floppy-eared chihuahua to our family, but there's only one problem -- we don't know what to name him! We've gone through an army of monikers, from the typical toy dog names like Peanut to more . . . interesting names, such as Croissant and Tortilla.

We clearly need some assistance. Can you help us out? Vote in the poll and help figure out this little guy's name! What I can tell you is that his nickname/middle name will be Littlefoot, if that helps. Also, his tongue is too big for his mouth and sometimes sticks out, especially when he's sleepy. He also loves hanging out with the big dogs! Crazy pup.

We reserve the right to not name the little guy whichever choices wins the poll, of course, but, like I said, we need the help. Also, if you think you have an even better name, please suggest it in the comments! With that, vote away, my lovelies! I appreciate it, and so does the nameless bugger! (Hmm, Bug, now that might not be bad either . . . right?)

  • Charlie/Charles
  • Leo
  • Dante
  • Filippe
  • Kipper
  • Wilbur
  • Oliver

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Green Smoothie Week, Day Seven

Ah, green smoothie week, how much fun you have been! Sadly, all good things do end, and so today marks the final smoothie of this week-long event. Have you been blending along with me? Or have any of my concoctions inspired you to try something new and different? I hope so, on both counts. I know that this week has certainly pushed me to try mixtures that I've never put together before, and the results were never bad.

Today's smoothie wasn't quite what I wanted it to be in the flavor family, but it certainly satisfied me in texture. One of my favorite combinations of all time is cottage cheese mixed with a spoonful of pumpkin puree. I decided to try to recreate this creamy delight, green smoothie style. It ended up tasting a little like baby food, but certainly not in an unpleasant way. Besides, this smoothie was super thick, which is exactly what I was wanting. Maybe next time I'll use a little more cottage cheese and a little less pumpkin. Try it and tell me what you suggest!

Creamy Pumpkin Green Smoothie

1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup 2% cottage cheese
1/4 cup frozen peach slices (I was just using up a few remnants)
2 cups fresh spinach
1/2 packet stevia
1 handful ice
1/2 cup water

I think you know what to do by now. Slurp and be satisfied.

Serves 1.

Thanks for reading and blending along with me during green smoothie week. I've had a ton of fun, and discovered how much I truly enjoy nutritious blended drinks. They are so tasty and energizing, not to mention refreshing. Today's creamy pumpkin smoothie certainly revived me after a morning of hot, hard running.

That's right. I did it. I decided to race in the 10K as planned. And I'm glad I did. Mostly. I'd like to say that it was super fun. But really, it was just super hot. For some reason, the race organizers decided to schedule the twin races (one 5K, and one 10K) to start at 9:30 AM, when the Montana sun is already oppressive and glaring. It also didn't help that the race course ran in the full sun nearly the entire way. Life wasn't helped by the fact that the first portion of the race led us over the black concrete of paved streets. Like I said -- hot.

As for the running itself, I felt a little sore in the hips when I woke up this morning, possibly from yesterday's hike. Still, I showed up for the race excited to go, and completed my warm-up, stretching, and peeing routine in a calm and motivated manner. Sadly, however, my beloved Garmin apparently failed to charge yesterday, which I only discovered a few minutes before the race started when its batteries died. (And, yes, I got a Garmin!! More on that another day, though.) I felt a little put-out by that, since I'm totally in love with the gadget, and I think that it did affect my pace as I ran across the starting line. I went out fast -- too fast, I soon found myself thinking as the heat and my fickle, somehow full bladder started to wear on me.

Due to the intense heat plus the fact that I just felt badly about my performance did not result in an enjoyable run. I felt like I was lagging behind, and that surely my finishing time would be over an hour. Still, I slowed my pace in accordance with the temperature and my own fitness, tried to ignore the few female runners that I could just not manage to catch up with, and tried to focus on the fact that I was running. That I can run at all. These mid-race musings helped. Also -- and this should tell you just how hot it really was, because I never stop for water while running -- the two water stops aided in getting me to the finish line. I swallowed a sip of cold water at both stops and then dumped the remaining liquid over my head in an attempt to cool off. I now appreciate the simple power of water that much more!

For the last 2K, I just kept telling myself that I was nearly done. Why stop running at that point? So I pushed through to the end, charging across the finish line to vomit into a trash can. Upon turning around, I saw my father-in-law waiting with a camera poised for action and a smile on his face. I'm so glad that he, my mother-in-law, and niece could come. It was a lovely surprise, regardless of whatever unattractive puking photos might result. They are so supportive, as is the Best Husband Ever, who hung out in the heat and snapped pictures while I ran.

All in all, a good morning. I finished in 52:12, which is only 30 seconds slower than my other 10K race time. I'm good with that, seeing as I was actually training for a 10K last time whereas now I'm working on a triathlon, and that the temperature was much more reasonable when I raced in April. Today, I even won first place for women in my age group, not counting the young woman who was apparently pulled out of the age group placements because she won second place overall. (I thought that was a bit lame, and it made me feel cheap). But I came home with a Montana-made mug, a Hammer Gel sample that I'm eager to try out, a soothing bean bag, an award, and the satisfaction of a challenge well-met.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Green Smoothie Week, Day Six

Can you believe that it's already the penultimate day of green smoothie week? I definitely can't. This has been a big week -- my job teaching summer school came to a close, I entered a 10K race to run tomorrow, and I took a rest day today. Well, sort of. I hiked up a mountain, but that doesn't count as work . . . right? Anyway, I got pretty close to a rest day. I didn't even go into super-vacuum or super-mow mode in an attempt to make up for my lack of exercise.

I was rather distracted, though. After said hike and a lovely phone call with an old friend, I headed to the mall to take advantage of its air conditioning. While there, I fell in love.

I mean, who wouldn't? Who could help it? Not me. His name (we think .-- the jury's still out) is Oliver. He's a shy, floppy-eared chihuahua who apparently enjoys attempting to roughhouse with big dogs. It's a little hard for him to manage without getting injured due to his size, but he gives it a good shot.

As the pups were all getting to know one another, I looked on with today's green smoothie in hand. Except today's smoothie wasn't quite green. It was brown (ish). But it tasted wonderful. I brought some citrus in for this one, and the result was very refreshing. Perfect for a hot summer day of dog wrangling.

Brown Monster

1/2 cup fat free vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1 orange, peeled
2 cups spinach
1/2 packet stevia
1 handful ice cubes

Blend! Pour! Enjoy!

Serves 1.

I'm still not 100% sure if I want to run tomorrow's 10K race. Any thoughts out there on the blogosphere? I'm definitely going to run, it's just a matter of what and when. The race doesn't start until 9:35 AM, when it will already be getting hot. I'd rather run earlier, and run longer. I've got my sights set on a half-marathon, folks! So racing a 10K just kind of seems like a waste of money since I can train for what I'd rather, and do it for free. Plus, I can still take full advantage of the farmer's market if I do a longer, earlier run. What's a running blogger to do?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Green Smoothie Week, Day Five

I just left my weekly (well, bi-weekly of late) eating disorder-related therapy session, and boy, I have a big week ahead. My therapist and I discussed sexuality, pregnancy, and the likelihood of my menstrual cycle ever returning. I derailed it with my anorexia, and it has not yet returned naturally. Naturally, the absence of a period makes pregnancy a difficult thing to come by, at best. And yes, the Best Husband Ever and I are thinking children. Wow!

Here comes the hard part. The "big week ahead" part. My therapist has challenged me to workout no more than 10 hours per week, for the duration of the next seven days. At the moment, I'm averaging at least 14 hours a week, if not more. This week has been particularly intense. Not only have I been running and biking for long sessions, but I've even gone on more than one run in a day.

In addition to her 10-hours-a-week charge, my therapist also wants me to take tomorrow off completely in light of the 10K race I'm running on Saturday. This wouldn't be too hard to swallow if my summer work hadn't ended today, leaving me with loads of time on my hands. All of a sudden I can't hike, do yoga, or swim tomorrow! It's going to be a difficult day. I guess I'm jumping in with both feet first. I imagine that I'll be doing a deep house cleaning tomorrow . . . .

Why this new challenge all of a sudden? It all goes back to baby. If I want to have a baby the biological way, I can't be training like a super-triathlete. My body just can't handle it. When I pointed out to my therapist that professional runners can run almost all the way through pregnancy, she in turn stated that their bodies are not built the way most people's are. I don't know if that's true, but I'm still left with a choice. Do I want a family more or less than I want to race/bike/climb/swim/move?

I know that parenthood requires many, many sacrifices. And I also know that I'm not being asked to completely give up all activity. But cutting back will be hard, folks, very hard. Especially considering what's at stake, and that it might not even restart my period in the end. Still, I'm not sure why this choice is so difficult. Shouldn't the answer be obvious? Shouldn't my running, etc., immediately fall to the background and having a family leap to the fore? It's more anorexia fallout, I suppose, but still, I wonder -- is this a choice that other amateur athletes wrestle with?

As if grappling with all of these questions wasn't tough enough already, I'm adding another part to my therapist's challenge. In addition to cutting back my exercise to 7 to 10 hours per week, I'm also going to try to eat more intuitively. In other words, I will try to eat when I'm hungry. If my body's telling me that it needs fuel, I want to honor that by feeding it responsibly. That doesn't mean to grab every doughnut my cravings call for, but it does mean that eating a healthy snack when needed is a good thing.

Big week. Big challenges. Big choices. Gulp.

And that's how I drank today's green monster, making it the fifth smoothie in Kitchen Courage's green smoothie week. At let me tell you, this puppy was green! Extra spinach-y, I suppose. I made it in a hurry this morning as I was running late for the last day of the summer school I teach (or, now, taught). I still managed to whip up a cool, frothy, and superbly green smoothie. Not to mention flavorful! I dipped into my jar of peanut butter with Asian curry spice for this one, and all I can say is yum. I drank the smoothie in a hurry, too, as I drove to work. (Excuse the not-so-wonderful photos. In addition to my poor, wonderful camera being broken, I believe that I may have mentioned how much in a hurry I was this morning).

Curry in a Hurry, Green Smoothie-Style

3 cups fresh spinach
1/2 banana (frozen, if possible)
1 T curried peanut butter (OR 1 T peanut butter, 1 tsp curry powder)
1 handful ice cubes

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Lick the remnants of peanut butter from the spoon as your smoothie blends. Serve. Try not to drink it in too much of a hurry or you'll miss out on some of the great savory flavor.

Serves 1.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Green Smoothie Week, Day Four

I think I'm dairy-ed out. Instead of whipping another yogurt or cottage cheese-based smoothie for lunch (as I've been doing for most of Kitchen Courage's green smoothie week), I decided to change things up a little. Enter the peanut butter!

This is the first green monster that I've made with peanut butter, if you can believe it. I toyed with a more traditional pairing with peanut butter this afternoon, such as the frozen banana half that is living in my freezer. In the end, though, I decided to try something new and different. I created a pumpkin spice green smoothie, complete with a spoonful of Mighty Maple peanut butter. As my husband knows far too well, I'm a huge fan of both pumpkin and maple syrup (and, more to the point, he's really, really not), not to mention peanut butter. Put all three together, and -- it's got to be good! Right?

After blending my ingredients together, I didn't feel so sure. The concoction looked remarkably like green sludge, and it had an odd baby food flavor and texture. Not exactly a work of food processed art. However, I added some more cinnamon and some sugar free maple syrup, and those tweaks seemed to do the trick. I enjoyed the texture (and fabulous fiber content) brought by the pumpkin, and the subtle maple and peanut butter flavors melded with the base perfectly. In the end, this smoothie only looked like slime, because it certainly did not taste like it!

Spiced Pumpkin Peanut Butter Smoothie

1 handful of ice cubes
1 cup fresh spinach
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 T maple peanut butter

1 T [sugar free] maple syrup
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/2 packet stevia or your preferred sweetener
water or milk as needed

Blend away, Merrill. Blend away.

(Bonus points if you can tell me what movie I borrowed that quote from!)

Serves 1.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Green Smoothie Week, Day Three

Happy Tuesday! It seems that I am on a berries and cream smoothie kick, because today's lunch is a variation on yesterday's theme. My berry of choice was fresh strawberries, and the "and cream" half of the smoothie was filled by 2% cottage cheese.

A short while ago, a reader complimented my green smoothies but wondered what would make a good substitute for bananas as she is allergic to them. That's an excellent question! I love the nutrition of bananas (hurray for potassium!), but I mostly incorporate them to lend a thicker texture to the smoothie. If you don't want to use bananas, cottage cheese is a great alternative. It makes the smoothie even creamier than using yogurt, in my experience, and adds a unique tangy flavor.

Other banana substitutes that I favor are pureed pumpkin, light ice cream or frozen yogurt, avocado, and nut butters. Do you have any other smoothie-thickening tips or suggestions? Post them in the comments or email me at escagnel04 (at) yahoo (dot) com. Also, don't forget to send your green smoothie concoctions to me in time for green smoothie week!

Without further ado, let me leave you with today's green monster recipe. As I already mentioned, this smoothie served as today's lunch, which I drank while beginning The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones for Cook the Books. The green smoothie turned out super thick and chilly -- perfect for refreshing me after this morning's sweaty hike with my students. Enjoy!

Strawberries and Cream Green Smoothie

1 cup fresh strawberries, diced
1/2 cup 2% cottage cheese
2 cups fresh spinach
2 handfuls ice cubes
1/2 packet of stevia, or your favorite sweetener
water as needed (I used 1/4 cup today)

Blend, then serve in a chilled glass. Drink. Pick a few unblended strawberry seeds from between your teeth. Feel how full and energized you are. Smile.

Serves 1.

Green Smoothie Week, Day Three

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Green Smoothie Week, Day Two

Welcome to day two -- and smoothie two -- of green smoothie week! If you are just getting familiar with Kitchen Courage, I am hosting a full seven days of green monster madness. I will create and post a new smoothie concoction each day for your blending pleasure. What's more, I'll even post your green smoothie recipes and tips! Just post them in the comments or email me at escagnel04 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

So what's on the menu for today? My Monday lunch began with plans for smoothies times two. My good friend and I have a standing Monday lunch date. Today, though, I didn't feel like shelling out up to $10 for a single meal, so I offered to make us some tea or smoothies. She accepted, and showed up on my doorstep at precisely one o'clock, beautifully pregnant and brimming with joy as always. She and her hubby (who, I should add, were married only one month before the Best Husband Ever and I, and whose friendship we cherish dearly) are expecting their first child in just over a month's time. They are very excited, and so am I! I can't wait to meet their baby.

Baby talk was obviously a priority in our conversation this afternoon. We also chatted about my own plans for children with the Best Husband Ever (wowza!), God, my feeling down about negative pregnancy tests and dubious conception issues, work, her husband's recent missions trip to Kenya (he just returned a week ago), their plans for the future and the present, our new house, and all the random mishmash that makes up a great girlfriend chat. And all of that over smoothies!

Well, that was the plan, but the reality ended up as smoothie, singular. Being very pregnant in the midst of summer's scorching temperatures caused my friend's appetite for anything except ice water to dry up. Consequently, the arrangement of smoothie-making ingredients that I set out was used only (very cheerfully!) by me. I had a rather impressive array of items to choose from -- fresh fruit, coconut and plain skim milks, yogurt, pumpkin, a variety of nut butters, and, of course, spinach. In spite of all the choices, my green smoothie ended up being quite simple and not very green at all. It was, however, light and deliciously refreshing on hot day.

Blueberries and Cream Not-So-Green Monster

1 handful ice cubes
2 cups spinach
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup fat-free vanilla yogurt
1/2 packet stevia (or your favorite sweetener)
water/skim milk as needed

Blend, blend, blend!

Serves 1.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Get Ready For a Week of Green!

Come one, come all! See the most fabulous bloggy show in town? That's right, for one week and one week only, Kitchen Courage is hosting a full seven days of green! Green what, you ask? Green smoothies, of course!

I have been so enjoying making green smoothies (or green monsters, if you will) that I decided to bring you a week chock full of verdant blended goodness. And that's not all! If you would like to share your favorite smoothie concoction or green smoothie tip, I will post it on the blog!! Simply leave a comment or email me at escagnel04 (at) yahoo (dot) com and I'll get your submission up post haste. Ladies and gentlemen, start your blenders (and your emails)!

And so without further ado, I leave you with this week's premiere green monster recipe. I particularly enjoyed this one, finding it sweet and refreshing during today's 100*F weather (yikes!). It's based loosely off of one of my favorite smoothies from the local organic food store, the Take Me Away smoothie. I hope you enjoy this, because I surely did.

Take Me Away, Kitchen Courage's Way

1 banana, broken up into chunks
1/2 cup frozen peach slices
2 cups fresh spinach
1/2 packet stevia (or your fav sweetener)
1/4 cup lite coconut milk
2 handfuls ice cubes
water as needed to help it blend smoothly

Toss all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pour into a chilled glass and sip by a loved one's side on a hot day. Let this green monster take you away!

Serves 1.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Melon-rrific Recipe Review

When I go to the gym to use one of their elliptical machines, I really enjoy reading magazines. I have a plethora of favorites, including Runner's World, Eating Well, Natural Health, Body + Soul, and Cooking Light. Not only does perusing magazines help take my mind off what is sometimes a slog of a workout, but I also find it quite relaxing. Similarly, one of my methods of chilling out is to take to the stair mill machine with a good book and read for a half an hour.

While meandering through the June 2009 issue of Cooking Light during an elliptical-ing session, I came across a delicious-looking recipe. Okay, to tell the truth, I came across a ton of delicious-looking dishes. One in particular did stick out, though. It was a simple recipe for Cool Honeydew-Mint Soup, a kind of summertime dessert gazpacho. I noted that the magazine claimed that all recipes would be posted on their website, so I made plans to look up the recipe when I got home.

Of course, I returned the magazine to the library first. When I researched the recipe, I could not find it! Luckily, the Cookin' Canuck also decided to give the recipe a whirl and posted it on her blog.

Recpie squared away, I quickly acquired a honeydew melon, some fresh mint from my mother-in-law's garden, and a few other ingredients. I blended it all together and let it dwell in the fridge and -- voila! A few hours later the Best Husband Ever were enjoying a light, sweet dinner gazpacho. He's not a big melon fan, but he confessed that the chilled soup wasn't bad. I found the soup to be superb and made it again a week later. Even now I have a newly-purchased honeydew melon waiting in the kitchen to become another refreshing batch of chilled summery soup. It is tangy and bursting with natural sweetness, and both simple and cheap to prepare.

Heard enough? Love melons? Want to try the recipe out for yourself? Without further tantalization, here is Cooking Light's recipe for Cool Honeydew-Mint Soup, courtesy of the Cookin' Canuk.

Cool Honeydew-Mint Soup

1 (2-pound) honeydew melon, peeled, seeded, & cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)
1 tbsp honey (I used half a packet of stevia)
1/8 tsp salt
6 thin lime slices (for garnish)
6 fresh mint sprigs (for garnish)

Put 1 cup of the melon into a blender. Add 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, lime juice, honey, and salt. Blend until smooth. Add the remaining melon and blend again. Pour the melon mixture into a bowl, cover, and chill for at least 1 hour.

Ladle the soup into 6 bowls. Each serving will be about 3/4 cup. Garnish each serving with a thin slice of lime and a sprig of mint.

Serves 6.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Just Call Me the Cycling Camel

I continue to be enamored with bicycling. Not only am I riding home from work most afternoons -- a four-mile task which involves a very steep hill -- but I now find myself becoming more and more interested in endurance rides. Long distance endurance. I somehow got it into my head that it would be cool to bike to Austin, a trip which my dad surmises would take at least twenty four hours by car. Why do I want to ride to Austin? Other than to see my sister-in-law and friends living there, I'd just like to see if I could. The challenge is enticing.

That lofty goal stated, I must also confess that I am nowhere near ready to bicycle from the top to the bottom of the United States. Upon discussing the matter, the Best Husband Ever and I thought that with the proper gear (i.e., a road bike -- at the moment I'm pedaling a Wal-Mart-purchased mountain bike) the trip would take at least a week, if not longer to account for trekking over various mountains and ranges. A small task? Not in the least.

I have no idea if my cross-country biking adventure will ever come to fruition. I do know, however, that I'm currently loving the fifteen to twenty mile rides I'm adding to my hill hauls. The breeze generated from the speed of biking makes it a much more safe and enjoyable activity than running when the summertime temperatures trickle toward 100*F. For longer rides, though, I don't like to depend on the breeze alone to beat the heat. To keep myself hydrated and my body ticking along as it should, I made a nifty new purchase at REI last week. Meet the CamelBak!

If you've never heard of a CamelBak before, it basically is just what the name sounds like. This product is a backpack that totes water instead of stuff (although it can do some of that, too) in a pouch tucked inside. A rubber tube extends from the pouch out of the pack to a little mouth spigot that the user can drink from, straw-style. Or beer hat-style. CamelBaks come in a variety of sizes and water capacities to serve folks efficiently over both short and long distances.

I chose the Aurora Hydration Pack, which boasts a 50 oz. capacity that makes it ideal for one to two hours of use. The Aurora is one of CamelBak's unique female-specific line of packs which fit against the shape of women's bodies better than the unisex packs. I think that the Aurora is worth every penny of it's $55.00 USD price tag. Here are some of this pack's perks:
  • It feels light and comfortable, with little sweat accumulation underneath the pack
  • The water inside the pack stays cool and clean-tasting
  • Two zippered pockets and one mesh pouch allow me to tote essentials (I.D., keys, SPF lip gloss, a change of prescription glasses, MP3 player) without giving me space to over pack (because you know I'd take advantage of it if I could!)
  • It's so handy to have fresh water available at a moment's notice during long workouts -- I find it amazing how much of a boost a single sip affords!
  • My CamelBak makes me feel like one of the cool kids
I'll say it again -- just like my running sneakers, this purchase was definitely worthwhile. I'd say the Aurora is worth it's weight in gold, but it doesn't weigh all that much to begin with that I'm not sure that's really a descriptive expression for how I feel about the pack. Still, I am now firmly convinced of the fabulousness of CamelBaks.

Unfortunately, this amazing product does have its flaws. As great as the CamelBak is for bikes and hikes, it falls short when it comes to running. I took it out for a three mile jaunt yesterday, and due to the heat I decided to forgo a shirt, opting to wear only a sports bra and shorts. This turned out to be a mistake. The CamelBak, although a smooth and streamlined fit for low impact sports, transformed into a bouncy beast when I began to run while wearing it. This was just plain annoying and uncomfortable. My simple discomfort soon took a turn for the worse, though, and when I returned home later I made an unwelcome discovery -- my wonderful new CamelBak had rubbed a spot on my shoulder raw. Ouch.

To its credit, the pack continued to be comfy when I returned to biking today in spite of yesterday's running sore. I'd like to try running with the CamelBak again on a flat surface while wearing a t-shirt. However, I don't think that will alleviate the bouncing issue.

Still, I think that the Aurora is 98% amazing. So I recommend it if you're going to be doing any biking, hiking, or walking in the heat this summer. Or if you've decided to go for distance. Like Austin.

Update! In one of my latest posts I declared a new personal goal: to get up 30 minutes earlier each day to spend time with God. And guess what? I have! Sure, two days of success doesn't seem too impressive to the untrained I, but I think it's a heck of a place to start. Onward!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Summer Reading

I have been feeling a little slacker-ly. My bathrooms haven't been cleaned in nearly a week, the floor has not been vacuumed in longer, and my clothes and laundry still need to be folded and put away. On top of all that, even with the free time that my half-day summer school job affords, I skipped a day of blogging.

Still, I think I have some leverage for my recent lack of accomplishments. Last week saw me cleaning the house like a dervish, and I was only prevented from finishing the carpets by the vacuuming overheating due to an improperly installed bag (oops). Also, yesterday's weather was something less than summery. The morning started off with a 7:00 AM thunderstorm (which I loved) but then petered out into tepid rain and unimpressive gray clouds. I think my energy and motivation were sapped by the tired weather.

Besides, it's not like my days are empty. They are quite full, actually -- of biking, cooking, reading, yoga, gardening, and walking with the Best Husband Ever. Take today, for example. I got up early (although not early enough -- more on that later) and did a cardio workout. After work, I biked home for lunch, which is a four mile trip, the last third consisting of a major hill. The very hill pictured over on the right side of this post, in fact, which looks a whole lot kinder in a photograph than it is in real life.

I planned to make a green smoothie for lunch (recipe below!), explore an alternate route down the hill that is less steep than the ascents I've been climbing, then trade my bike for my car (still parked at school), go home for the pups, and head to the park. Whew! Lots of steps, to be sure, but it seemed like a good plan nonetheless. Unfortunately, my quick "explore alternate route" theory turned into a twelve mile trek over windy, hilly roads, not helped by the jeans I had most misguidedly donned and an increasing need to pee. So maybe you can understand why I didn't get much accomplished today. Ah, well.

Still, despite my poor wardrobe choice and hummingbird-sized bladder, the biking continues to be fun. I'm quite proud of myself for being able to crank out that kind of a ride in less than optimal conditions. However, that's not the biggest goal I've set for myself this week. Nor are the gargantuan mountains of laundry lurking about the house or the dog-hairy carpet. Instead, the task I've set for myself is to read more.

I'm an avid reader. I have been since I can remember, a fact for which I am very grateful. I read every night before bed, and love chilling out on the YMCA's stepmill with a book. (In fact, I read almost the entirety of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar while elliptical-ing!) At the moment, I'm engrossed in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. That's right -- zombies. Apparently, a man named Seth Grahame-Smith decided to insert segments of zombie-related material straight into Austen's original text. My assessment so far? I am thoroughly enjoying it, which comes as a surprise since I despised reading Pride and Prejudice for my high school literature class. I mean, how can you not love a book that starts like this?:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains. Never was this truth more plain than during the recent attacks at Netherfield Park, in which a household of eighteen was slaughtered and consumed by a horde of the living dead.

I devoured some more of the zombie-fied novel as I drank this green monster:

Double Apple Green Monster

1-2 handfuls spinach
1 small apple, diced and unpeeled
1/2 cup pineapple
1/2 cup skim milk
1 cyrstallized ginger medallion
1 handful ice cubes
juice of 1 lime
fresh stevia and cinnamon basil to taste

Blend all of the ingredients together in a blender or food processor until smooth. If you don't have crystallized ginger, just substitute 1/4 tsp ground ginger. Also, a half packet of stevia powder or 1 T honey can stand in for the fresh leaves, and 1/4 tsp cinnamon can replace the cinnamon basil.

Serves 1.

But as wonderful as fiction reading is, that's not exactly the bookish goal I've set for myself. It doesn't even really have to do with books. More like Book, actually. My God-time has slipped severely since the start of summer, probably due to my less structured schedule. That's no excuse, though, and it's not okay. I've been feeling some emotional and definitely spiritual fall-out as a result and am determined to get back on track.

The plan? Get up thirty minutes earlier in the morning and read some of the Bible, pray, journal, and maybe even sing a little. I started yesterday morning, and so far my record is zero for two. I'm determined, though, to spend some precious time with the Creator who made me, and made me what I am even as I type this. Repairing my relationship with God is more important than working out, doing the laundry, or grocery shopping. Besides, I miss Him.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Green Smoothie Kind of Sunday

This afternoon I had some fun with my blender. After hacking up a ripe honeydew melon, I decided to create another green monster! I love coming up with new smoothie concoctions. Not only are green smoothies healthy and refreshing (especially on a day like today, when temperatures neared 90*F), but it's just plain fun to play around with different taste and texture combos.

Today's smoothie was extra green. Not only did it incorporate spinach (the essential green ingredient in any green monster) but I of course had to throw in some freshly cut honeydew melon. Toss in a few more fruits and flavors, including even more green elements, and you have my Sunday lunch! I used some fresh stevia leaves to add a light sweetness, but feel free to substitute the stevia with your favorite sweetener.

GreenGreenGreen Monster

1 cup fresh spinach
1 banana, broken into pieces
1/2 whole lime, peel removed
3/4 cup honeydew melon, diced
4-5 freshly-picked stevia leaves

1/2 cup skim milk
1-2 handfuls ice cubes

Put all of the ingredients into a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth, or the monster has reached your desired texture. Pour, drink, and feel the extra green-iness refresh you.

Serves 1.

This smoothie really did give me a second wind this afternoon. I was dragging big time -- almost more than my sister-in-law, who was quite rightfully tired after finishing a half-marathon this morning before I even left the house. But after I drank my green monster, sweet from the honeydew and tangy from the lime and super-energizing due to the spinach, I felt revved up! So much so that I set out on a glorious nearly 16 mile bike ride.

Not only did I knock out an incredible ride, but I conquered a huge inspiration of terror -- our hill. I wrote earlier this week about how I tried biking up the incredibly steep hill that the Best Husband Ever and I live near the top of -- and made it! Although the climb is fairly brutal, that's not the most challenging part for me. Instead, it's the downhill that strikes icy fear into my heart. Yesterday I tried biking down and had to hop off and walk a part of the way. Today, however, I made it the whole way down on my bike! Now I just have to work up to getting some speed and I'll be an unflappable bicycle commuter. And I don't know if I would have had the energy or guts to try it in the first place if I hadn't fueled up with the green monster. I guess Popeye knew what he was doing when it came to spinach!