Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Recipe of the Week: Spiced Apple Oatmeal Bread

 

I wanted to try my hand at developing a healthier bread to take along with me up to Vermont this past weekend. In my opinion, there's just nothing worse than a dry, crumbly, flavorless "healthy" baked good. It was my goal to create a recipe for a (I hate this word, but I'm learning to cope with it) moist, delicious bread that was not packed with fat and calories.

Ripe bananas are the perfect addition to a quick bread recipe. They contain natural sweetness provided by the higher sugar levels while in their ripe state, and this will make it possible to decrease the amount of processed sugars you add in the recipe. This entire recipe uses only 1/2 C dark brown sugar.

I added pumpkin puree because I find it provides great moisture to baked goods. I also opted for applesauce, which allowed me to omit any butter/oils/fats in the recipe without sacrificing flavor. I replaced a whole egg for 2 egg whites and substituted a good amount of all purpose flour with oats.

I really wanted to add a generous handful of chocolate chips to the batter, but I went with the healthier option of diced apple chunks instead. I did NOT regret this choice. The first bite I took was filled with these surprise cinnamon sugar apple chunks - kind of like biting into an apple pie, which is never a bad thing.

This bread came absolutely delicious! It's incredibly moist, no one will believe you there is no oil or butter in it. The spice combo provides wonderful flavor, and my house smelled AMAZING when it came out of the oven. I've been eating a slice every morning for breakfast with a little bit of maple pumpkin butter. SO. GOOD.


Spiced Apple Oatmeal Bread
Only 93 calories per 1/2" slice!

Ingredients:
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 C packed dark brown sugar
1/4 C pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 C applesauce 
2 egg whites
2 tsp vanilla
1 C all-purpose flour
1 C old-fashioned oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 apple, peeled, cored, and small diced
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp flour

Preparation:
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9"x 5" loaf pan and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine the mashed bananas and dark brown sugar. Mix on low speed with paddle mixer until well combined, about 2 minutes.
  • Add pumpkin, applesauce, egg whites, and vanilla. Mix on medium speed until combined, about 2 minutes.
  • In a separate large bowl, combine flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder, salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, ground ginger, and nutmeg. Mix to combine. 
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix to just combine. Do not overmix, as this will result in a tougher bread as the gluten over-develops. 
  • In a small bowl, combine the diced apples, 1 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and 1 tsp flour. Stir into the bread batter using a spatula until just combined. 
  • Transfer the mixture to your baking pan, leveling the top with a spatula. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (I baked for exactly 38 minutes). Remove from oven and allow the bread to cool completely on a rack. This bread is ultra moist, and may seem under-cooked, but cooling the loaf completely will allow it to set and make it easier to remove from the pan. 

MMM smells so good, fresh out of the oven!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Weekend in VT

This past weekend, we took a little trip up to northern Vermont to visit some friends, and we had an absolute BLAST! We spent some time in Burlington, ate amazing food, hiked through beautiful mountains by snowshoe, indulged in tasting at a local winery, stayed up all night playing Apples to Apples, and relaxed by the wood stove with a bottle (or three) of wine and lots of stories, gossip, and laughter. It was one of those weekends you really just don't want to end.

On Friday night, we ate dinner at Vermont Pub & Brewery - one of my absolute favorites! I'm totally not a beer connoisseur (actually, my knowledge of beer is weak, at best), but their Forbidden Fruit is delish. And $8 for an amazing cheese plate? I'm sorry, but you just can't beat that.

On Saturday, we got bundled up and headed to Smugglers Notch with our snowshoes. We stopped for breakfast on the way at 158 Main Restaurant and Bakery to fuel up for our hike. This place. Wow. Their menu has everything you could possibly want, and the portions were huge! Breakfast is definitely my favorite meal of the day, and I'm totally a sucker for a good breakfast sandwich. I ordered the "Logger" - two eggs, caramelized onions, bacon, mushrooms, Swiss on maple wheat bread. To die for. I managed to finish half of it, which I thought was quite an accomplishment. No way was this only two eggs worth:


After breakfast, we headed over to Smugglers Notch for a snowshoeing adventure. We took my friend's dog, Kovu, along for the excursion, and he was absolutely LOVING it.


It was snowing pretty good on the mountain, and the wind was INTENSE at times. The path we took is actually a road that cuts through the mountain, but they don't plow it in the winter because of the constant snowfall. Along the way, we encountered some of the road signs, that were almost completely covered in snow. We had some fun with it.


We ended up trekking about 3.6 miles total. Talk about a good workout! On the drive back, we stopped off at Boyden Valley Winery to warm up via a delicious wine tasting. We couldn't leave without bringing a few mementos back to Boston, so we picked up some of their Blueberry wine, as well as some Apple Creme liqueur and Maple Creme liqueur, which are very similar to a Bailey's-type spirit. I also got my hands on the winery's recipe for their Maple Cake, which we got to try with one of their wine pairings. I have officially deemed it my favorite non-chocolate cake, and I'm planning to make it for Easter.


Lauren made DELICIOUS homemade pizzas on Saturday night for everyone. She also put us to work to help finish off some of her wine collection that she didn't want to have to move with them next month. It was tough, but someone had to do it! Lauren's sister-in-law is head bakery chef at a local place, and she brought over an incredible chocolate mousse pie for dessert. To die for.


We played Apples to Apples (one of my favorites!) all night over drinks, and we got to bed preeeeetty late. We threw together a delicious brunch the next morning before we headed back down to MA. Thank you so much, Lauren and Derek, were an incredible time!!

Weekends really go by way too fast.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Week Three Training Summary

Weekly Training Summary: Week Three 03/18/13-03/24/13


Total running miles: 15.65
Average run pace: 8:18 min/mile
Total walking/snowshoe miles: 5.6
Total weekly mileage: 21.25

I saw WAY too much of my treadmill this week with the snowstorm. Bring on the spring weather, New England!!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Invasive or Beneficial?

In case you haven't heard the latest news in the health care world...

CVS employees that receive health insurance through the company will now be required to provide personal health data to their benefits firm. The data they need to report includes weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. (I will emphasize, they are only being asked to report weight, not lose weight). Also, employees who smoke are being forced to quit or to enroll in a smoking cessation program. If employees refuse this screening, there will be a penalty of $50 per month to the existing health benefits cost provided by the company, which equates to $600 per year.

There are obviously two sides to this. Many people, particularly the employees, find this is invasive and a breech of their personal information. No one can really argue with that. When I was overweight, I used to HATE when my weight would be seen by anyone but myself.

On the other hand, with the way healthcare costs are rising, businesses are paying increasingly more for their employees' benefits. Obesity and smoking are HUGE contributors to medical costs, so why wouldn't one target their elimination?

I do not smoke, and I am not considered overweight or obese, so it's hard to stand firm on one side without being completely biased. I do agree with the employees and patient privacy advocates that this is an invasive approach. But to play devil's advocate, name a better approach - it seems warning labels and advertisements do not discourage people from making poor health choices.

Sure, this change may prove difficult and affect some lifestyles, but the effects of quitting smoking and being held accountable for your own personal health are anything but negative. In fact, this approach may end up saving some lives along the way.

It will be interesting to see how this new change plays out and if other companies enact this approach as well.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Recipe of the Week: Gluten-Free Low-Cal Pizza

No, I'm not following a gluten-free lifestyle - but I'm definitely a curiosity-gets-the-best-of-me kinda gal, and when I stumbled across a recipe for THE BEST cauliflower pizza with pictures that made my gluten-loving mouth water, I couldn't help myself.

So, there are many recipes out there nowadays that substitute some main ingredient with a healthier alternative and claim they taste JUST like the original, "if not better." We've got us the brownies made of black beans, chocolate mousse made of avocado, spaghetti and meatballs made with spaghetti squash, and "ice cream" made of mashed up bananas. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for making healthier alternatives and do so quite often in my own house. But to say they taste even better than the original is optimistically stated, at best.

So while this pizza may not be a dead ringer for the gluten-full original, it comes SO damn close that I don't have any plans of making traditional pizza dough ever again - or at least not for a long time. Sure, there is something different about this cauliflower-crusted base, but it all has to do with the texture. You won't get the pleasure of sinking your teeth into the crust and having to pull away with brute force due to the fantastic chew factor of a yeast/flour based crust. In turn, you also won't get that tired jaw feeling. You won't be able to pick up a slice of pizza with one hand (but really, here in New England, it's hard to find an elite pizza joint where the grease is limited enough to allow one to pick up the slice one-handed without it flopping over). However, the department this cauliflower-crust is not lacking is FLAVOR. My goodness, if you shut your eyes when you take that first bite, you won't be missing out on anything, my friends.

If you follow the directions exactly as I list them below, you will have yourself a pizza that is only 700 calories - FOR THE ENTIRE PIZZA. I totally bragged about consuming half of an entire pizza last week, by the way. Why not? I deserved it.


Gluten-Free Low-Cal Pizza

Ingredients:
Crust
1 small head cauliflower (yields 2-3 cups once processed)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4 C grated parmesan cheese
1/4 C part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 Tbsp ground flax seed
Add-ons:
1/4-1/2 C pizza sauce (I used closer to 1/4C so it didn't make it too soggy)
3/4 C part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
6 basil leaves, chopped 

Preparation:

  • Place a pizza stone or baking sheet in the oven. Preheat oven to 450°F. Set aside a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil, sprayed with nonstick cooking oil.
  • Wash the cauliflower head and cut off the florets. Steam the florets for 5 minutes in a basket on the stove top. Transfer the florets to a food processor and pulse for about 20-30 seconds until you get a consistency like cooked rice. You should have about 2-3 cups of processed cauliflower. Cool on a paper towel for 20 minutes.
  • Once cauliflower is cool enough to handle, wrap it in some cheese cloth (or a clean dish towel if you don't have cheese cloth) and ring it VERY well. You want to squeeze as much excess water out as you can to ensure a solid pizza crust and not a crumbly disaster. I rang my cauliflower out for a good 2 minutes or so. Think of it as an extra arm workout!
  • Transfer the cauliflower to a bowl. Add the egg, grated parmesan, 1/4C mozzarella, salt, dried basil (crushing it between your fingers even more as you add it), dried oregano (crushing it between your fingers even more as you add it), garlic powder, red pepper, and ground flax seed. Mix together with your hands until well combined and uniform. 
  • Once combined, transfer the mix to the oiled parchment paper or aluminum foil. Pat it down thoroughly and form into a pizza dough shape, about 12-13" in diameter. You want it nice and tightly formed together. Mine came out to be about 1/2" thick. 
  • Slide your parchment or aluminum foil onto the hot pizza stone/baking sheet  in the oven. Bake for 8-11 minutes, until golden brown. I would recommend using the entire 11 minutes to ensure the crust is well-set. 
  • Remove from the oven and add your pizza sauce, cheese, and chopped basil (or other preferred toppings - I'm a simple kind of pizza fan, myself!). Place the pizza back in the oven and cook an additional 5-7 minutes until the cheese is melted and slightly golden.
  • Allow it to cool for 5 minutes. This will allow the crust and cheese to set, making it easier to cut. Enjoy!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Recipe: Simple Summer Cucumber Salad (only 34 calories!)

I wish I could close my eyes and re-open them to summer.

Yeah, not going to happen. I'll have to settle for the first official day of spring this upcoming Wednesday instead. That is, if I make it through this impending Winter Storm Ukko between now and then...

Luckily, this salad is like taking a bite right out of summer. It's cool, light, and refreshing. The ingredients combine to create an amazingly tangy, crisp, sweet dressing with a kick from the red pepper flakes. Plus, it takes all of 5 minutes to throw together. Can't beat that!

And did I mention it's only 34 calories per serving? It's a perfect side dish for those looking to get into your summer bikini body shape!


Simple Summer Cucumber Salad
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:
2 cucumbers, sliced very thin (1/8" or so, can be peeled or not - your preference)
2 green onions, diced
1/4 C white wine vinegar
1/4 C cider vinegar
2 packets Splenda 
1 tsp salt
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Preparation:
  • Whisk the vinegars, Splenda, salt, and red pepper flakes together in a large bowl. 
  • Add cucumber slices and green onions. Mix well to coat each cucumber slice in dressing.
  • Cover and set in the fridge for an hour before serving to allow the cucumbers to soak in the flavors of the dressing. This can be kept in the refrigerator for 2 days. 
  • Serve chilled. 

Week Two Training Summary

Weekly Training Summary: Week Two 03/11/13-03/17/13


Total running miles: 13.05
Average run pace: 8:18 min/mile
Total walking miles:
Total weekly mileage: 16.06

Notes: My mileage came in under this week because I decided to postpone my long run a day later, which will carry it over to next week's schedule. I went into Sunday realizing I hadn't had a rest day yet, so I opted to move my long run to today and took yesterday off to give my body the rest it needed. I'm excited for my first official 5 miler of the training season tonight! 

Friday, March 15, 2013

The importance of the first 6 months of marriage


The other day, it hit me that my wedding was 6 months ago. Six whole months ago. In some ways, it feels longer. But then there are days that I find myself looking through some of the wedding photos, and I feel like it was just yesterday. It's amazing how vivid my memory of that day is. I half expected to be in a daze with so much going on, but the exact opposite happened. I remember every - single - little - detail. I hope it always stays that way because I love talking about it. (Just ask Brent, I'm a total reminiscer. Is that even a word?) 

So in other words, Brent and I have been married for half of a year. While it's just a small fraction of the time we have been together and an even smaller fraction of the time we will spend together, it has been probably  the most important segment of time in our relationship. Why is that?

We are one of those couples that many parents might frown upon - we totally co-habitated prior to marriage.  To me, it didn't make much sense to continue paying two separate rents when we spent almost every night together anyways. Plus, there was all the driving from one place to the next, making sure to pack clothes and necessary items for the next day, and let's not even get into having to find visitor parking spaces near my Brighton apartment - talk about complete disaster when Brent would come over on the weekend. While I understand many people's religious beliefs or personal morals will sway them from co-habitating before marriage, I personally feel it was one of the best decisions Brent and I ever made. You get to know - and I mean REALLY get to know - someone when you are sharing the same personal space with them every single day. It was during the first year of living together where we truly got to know each other. We both had habits that needed to be broken, selfish tendencies that needed to be adjusted, and emotional weaknesses that needed to be strengthened through trust and respect. Without changing the core of who we are, we molded each other to be the husband and wife we are today. It was during this time, that I began to imagine what my life would be with Brent if we got married.

Call me a psychic...he put a ring on it, and shit got real. No more playing house. I was going to have me a husband! I walked on clouds for months.Getting engaged was such a fun period of time in our relationship - I had myself a wedding to plan and the most amazing group of family and friends to plan it with. I still think back on the day he proposed and can't help smile and know I'll always remember how he was so excited to get the ring out that he tripped and nearly face-planted into our bedroom floor. That's my man!

Shortly after, we learned that Brent's mastiffs would be returning back to MA from PA, and we had to quickly find a new apartment that was dog friendly, specifically 350lb-worth-of-dog-friendly. We found us a winner, moved in, and we immediately became extra large dog owners together. The beginning was anything but simple and fairytale-like. Our entire routines changed in an instant. Instead of leisurely going to bed at night, waking up in the morning, lounging around in bed until 9am on a Saturday, and going out for a spontaneous drink after work, it turned into 5:45am wake-up, dog walks (rain, snow, sleet, or shine, baby!), weekly intense house cleaning, time limits on our weekend outings, and heavy-duty financial planning. We adjusted, and things became easier. We certainly had our fun with it! We would find parks to take them on weekends, they made friends with other dogs in the neighborhood, our friends and family loved their visits with Max and Casey, and they were two of the biggest love bugs in the world. But our dogs were senior, which made things much more difficult at times. A 1/2 mile walk with them would take almost 25 minutes some days, depending on the weather. They each had pill cases for all the medications they needed for their joints. They began losing control of their bowels. Believe me, it makes it very hard to be romantic when you're waking up to the smell of  poop on your bedroom floor, left by a 200lb dog in the middle of the night. It was during this time I got to see Brent playing the role of caretaker, and I began to get a glimpse of Brent as a father. I didn't think it was possible at the time, but I somehow fell more in love with him. When the dogs passed, it brought us even closer together - it was just the two of us again, and we needed each other more than ever.

So now, here were are, husband and wife - only of 6 months and with so much to look forward to. I'm going to buy my first house with this man. He is going to be the father of my children. He will be there for me through good and bad; through births, through deaths; through job loss, through new careers. We will grow old together, be grandparents together. Unfortunately, given our 13 year age difference, there will be many milestones Brent will hit before I do, but we'll be together through all of it, and that's what matters.

The foundation we have built as husband and wife over these past 6 months has laid the groundwork for the future of our marriage. And for this reason, I do believe it has been the most important time in our relationship.

P.S. This is definitely worth a read for all you suckers for romance out there!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My Life Lately...by picture

With all the snow we've gotten dumped on us here in New England this winter, this is a typical drive to work in the morning. Pretty? Sure. I so prefer green grass, flowers, and blooming trees though.

My new favorite go-to lazy dinner: mixed raw veggies on greens with hard-boiled egg. YUM!

We're currently in the middle of beginning 5S training at work. See? I totally take work home with me. I'm really glad I didn't take a 'before' shot - it was pretty embarrassing.

The result of two consecutive snow days working from home. 

So fresh, so clean!

The batter for the most amazing cookies in the world: browned butter chocolate chip!

I wish you all could have smelled my house when these came out of the oven! Brent thinks I should work from home more often. My waist line disagrees.

CLOSE UP: I tried a new variation by stuffing these babies with sea-salted caramel and baking in a mini muffin pan to make them thicker. OH. EM. GEE. Hands down, best cookies I have ever made (or tried, for that matter!) Recipe coming soon!

I promise I don't live entirely off cookies...this here pizza is proof! Cauliflower-crust pizza. Wow, is all I can say. I promise to post this recipe ASAP!

Pre-5K breakfast fuel: veggie scramble with zucchini, kale, and tomatoes

Let's play us a nice game of "Where's Jen?"
ME! At the starting line of The Race of Ireland and U.S.A in Somerville. Unwavering focus? I'm glad it appears that way. In reality, I was already annoyed with people lining up at the 8:00 mile marker and proceeding to run at a - well, let's just say, a not so accurate pace. Runner's pet peeve. 

Our finish line: best burger in town! 

Brent and I after the race.
Garmin +  Champagne...totally a match made in heaven. My own personal heaven.
Typical dinner: gigantic salad with a side of spaghetti squash and marinara. NOM.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Recipe of the Week: Paleo Baked Buffalo Chicken Nuggets

I may have mentioned I'm a teeny bit obsessed with my FoodGawker app and may spend an hour on it every night before bed bookmarking recipes to try.

These buffalo chicken nuggets were definitely one of those "must make" items. You don't have to be doing any kind of Paleo or gluten-free diet to enjoy these suckers. 

I've never tried making my own chicken nuggets before, and I really couldn't believe how easy they were to throw together. Plus, these are SO much tastier than any kind of frozen brand you buy out there that contain ingredients you can't pronounce and a 1/2" coating of deep-fried batter. 

Though they are a much healthier alternative to fast food or store bought kinds, there is no sacrificing any kind of flavor in this version. They are tender, spicy, and completely addicting. Brent and I had a very difficult time not eating the entire tray full of these!

Though I did make mine with coconut flour, if you don't have coconut flour, you can substitute it with regular all-purpose flour or even whole wheat flour. If you don't have ground flax seed, go ahead and use breadcrumbs instead. Just keep in mind, they will no longer be paleo or gluten-free!


Paleo Baked Buffalo Chicken Nuggets

Ingredients:
Nuggets:
1 lb ground chicken
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 C coconut flour
2 tsp Frank's RedHot Original sauce
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Coating:
1/4 C coconut flour
2 Tbsp ground flax seeds
1/4 tsp salt

Sauce:
1/3 C Frank's RedHot Original sauce
3 Tbsp butter

Preparation:
  • Preheat oven to 375°F. Cover a baking sheet with tin foil and cover lightly with nonstick spray. 
  • In a small bowl, combine 1/4C coconut flour, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and mix well.
  • In a large bowl, combine the ground chicken, egg, 2 tsp hot sauce, and the coconut flour mixture. Use your hands to mix just until combined.
  • Scoop about 2 Tbsp mix and roll into a meatball. Shape each meatball into a nugget shape by flattening the top to about 3/4" thick. I was able to get 22 nuggets from the mixture.
  • In a small bowl, combine the coconut flour, ground flax seeds, and salt to make the coating. Mix well to combine. 
  • Dip each nugget gently into the coating mixture until coated on all sides.
  • Place the coated nugget onto the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes.
  • While the nuggets are baking, combine the hot sauce and butter, and microwave in 15 second bursts until the butter has melted and the sauce is well combined. 
  • Once the nuggets have baked for 15 minutes, remove from the oven and dip each nugget into the sauce mix until coated on all sides. Place each nugget back on the baking sheet and return to the oven to bake for an additional 5 minutes.
  • Serve with your favorite dipping sauce - we stuck with Hidden Valley Ranch, since it's what we had opened in the fridge. Enjoy!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Week One Training Summary

Weekly Training Summary: Week One 03/04/13-03/10/13


Total running miles: 17.28
Average run pace: 8:10 min/mile
Total walking miles: 4
Total weekly mileage: 21.28

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Recipe of the Week: Quinoa Minestrone Soup

One tidbit about me: I eat soup pretty much every day for lunch.

What can I say? I love it. Broth-based, veggie-loaded, well-spiced, hearty soup...it's my thing. Oh, I love me a chowder, but for every day purposes, I try to limit the whole cream-based thing.

I stumbled across some random post on Facebook that referenced this soup. I added my own touches here and there, but I stuck to the basic idea. There was no link to the original recipe, so this is my way of giving the recipe-maker props - dude, this soup is FANTASTIC and one of the best I have ever had.

It's loaded with delicious vegetables and my favorite grain out there - QUINOA! So there, you've got yourself some protein in there, too.

Prepared as is, this quinoa minestrone is vegan and gluten free. It's also less than 100 calories per serving! (My servings are usually 2 ladel fulls - you should get about 10 servings per batch of soup). I've been eating it every day for lunch, and it keeps me full for hours. It's a perfectly delicious way to make sure you're getting your veggies!



Quinoa Minestrone Soup

Ingredients:
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium carrots (or 15-20 baby carrots), chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 yellow squash, chopped
2 C fresh green beans, cut into 1" pieces
4 C vegetable broth (1, 32 ounce box)
1, 15 ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, not drained
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
1/3 C chopped basil
salt and pepper, to taste

Preparation:

  • Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium-low heat. Add the onion, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook 2 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, zucchini, squash, and green beans. Continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the broth, diced tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, and basil. Reduce heat to low, and cook covered until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in the cooked quinoa and season with salt and pepper to taste. 


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Revamped training program

Well, it didn't take me long to find an alternative training plan that I preferred over last year's. After all, you are speaking to the girl who decided one week before her wedding that she didn't like her dress, so she went ahead and bought an entirely new one.

Last year, I (closely) followed Cool Running's half marathon training for beginners. Though I have been running for years, I had never covered distances over 6 miles, so I felt that was appropriate for me at the time. As I got into the training, I realized I could run most of the training runs with ease, at a pace well above what they recommend training at. For this reason, I decided to set a goal completion time of under 2 hours for the half.

This year, I would like to be able to beat my time of 1:58:31. My pace for the Run to Remember 2012 was 9:03/mile, and I would like to be able to get it under 9:00/mile this year for the John Kelley Half. Hell, if I could shave 10-15 seconds off my pace, I would be one happy person.

I came to the realization if I wanted to improve my performance, I'm going to have to up the bar with the training. We all know, one does not improve by sitting still, and that's essentially what I would be doing if I used the same exact training program that I used last year. So I've decided to challenge myself and follow Hal Higdon's intermediate half marathon program.

No matter how long you have been running, you have likely heard the name Hal Higdon. He has run over 100 marathons and is probably even more well known for his writing, having contributed to Runner's World for longer than any other writer. He has put together some pretty fantastic training programs, each geared towards runners of different levels.

I chose this intermediate training program because it focuses more on pace than on mileage. I noticed last year, it was very easy to get hung up on my weekly mileage, making sure I got in each mid-week run, and making sure my miles all added up to what they should at the end of the week. I get why the beginner's program is fashioned that way - you want to make sure your body is ready to run 13.1 miles, no matter how fast or slow it is done. It was mentally (and physically) exhausting. Hal's intermediate program focuses on length of time spent running and emphasizes speed work every week. Speed work is something that I started incorporating last year when I was getting bored with the weekly runs, and I realized how useful it really is in helping improve your pace. Plus, it adds something fun and different to your weekly schedule.

Like last year's training schedule, there is one long run that increases weekly as well as two "rest" days where you can choose to cross-train or recover. The mid-week mileage does not get out of control, which will make it much easier to fit in some strength training and stretching. I have to admit, last year, some of the mid-week runs were tallying 16 miles between Tuesday and Thursday, and I would many times forego the stretching and strength exercises due to time constraints and overall exhaustion. We all know skipping out on stretching is a no-no!

I'm really excited to be changing things up a bit this year - and I'm even more excited to see if this new training program will help me improve my pace for the half in May!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My New Favorite Breakfast: Berry Overnight Oatmeal

Woah. Seriously, never again will I be wasting my time with the packaged microwaveable oatmeal.

If you're a fan of oatmeal, this is the easiest, tastiest way to eat it on the go. It takes 5 minutes of your time the night before, and voila, you've got yourself an amazingly healthy, delicious jar of oatmeal to take to the gym or to work the next morning. Since discovering this, it's my new go-to breakfast every morning. 

And guys, it's only 300 calories plus packed with protein. You really can't beat it.

This oatmeal really doesn't photograph well, but take my word on it - it tastes absolutely AMAZING. 

Berry Overnight Oatmeal

Ingredients:
1/2 C old-fashioned rolled oats
4 oz container of Chobani Champions Very Berry (or 1/2 C your favorite yogurt)
1/2 C unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 tsp strawberry jam
1 tsp flax seed or chia seeds
2 large strawberries, cut into small cubes
1 Mason jar or Tupperware with a lid

Preparation:
  • In a jar, combine all ingredients and mix well.
  • Leave in the refrigerator overnight. 
  • Enjoy for breakfast the next day!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Weekend Recap + Haircut

I just want to say, I woke up in the most amazing mood today. I love that. Especially on a Monday. Don't you?

I started the weekend a little early on Friday. The power went out at work a little before noon and still hadn't come back on after lunch, so a couple of ze coworkers and I took off to grab a celebratory "no power" drink. Then something absolutely CRAZY happened - I FINALLY GOT A HAIR CUT! No. Joke. It had been a good 9 months - what kind of a lady am I?! Clearly not one who cares about the health of her hair and not one who likes to be pampered. I forgot what I had been missing! I went to a new place - which ALWAYS scares the bejesus out of me - but my goodness, it turned out to be the best decision of the week. I only got two inches taken off the longest part of my hair, but between the layers and the mega-thinning I asked the woman to do, it went from this to that:

That was merely 3/4 of the total she took off...

I got some nice lil highlights thrown in there, too, because why not?

The weather was quite fantastic this weekend - and by fantastic, I mean no snow accumulations, and the thermometer by-passed the 40 degree mark. I got to do some shopping at the outlets on Saturday, snagged some good deals at Banana Republic, and it was nice to finally walk around outside without bundling up in my down jacket, scarf, hat, and mittens for a change. Brent and I attended a super awesome surprise 30th birthday party for a friend on Saturday night at a beer hall in Cambridge, and I think I have discovered a new-found love for hard cider - Downeast Original, to be exact. I got to have brunch with two of my best friends on Sunday morning, and I'm pretty darn excited I get to spend an entire weekend with them in Vermont in a few weeks. Brent and I went to a few open houses on Sunday - we liked the places, but nothing completely jumped out. Everyone keeps saying to wait until the spring, so we are being patient. Patience is totally not my thing, but I'm working on exercising it for the greater good.

And to round out this amazing weekend, my half marathon training officially begins today! Well, sort of. Mondays are technically off-days from running, where you can either take the day off completely or engage in some cross-training. So, realistically, the running aspect begins tomorrow. Today, I'll likely just stick with a power walk before dinner.

So for the next 12 weeks, every Monday on this blog will be dedicated to weekly training recaps. For now, I'm planning to stick with my same training program as last year - 5 days running, 2 days off, with one long run every week. I might change up the mileage a little for these first few weeks because if I followed the training program, I would have to decrease my mileage to under 20 miles per week for the first month. I can't really justify that, since I have been maintaining a 20+ miles per week plan since the new year, so I will be doing a little adjusting here and there. I've also got my first 5K of the season coming up on Sunday, so it will be great to be back outdoors and running. I'm SO ready to say goodbye to the dreadmill - it's been a loooong winter, my friends.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Post Workout Snack: Creamy Vegan Oatmeal Smoothie

Next week, I begin my half marathon training. Crazy, right? Let's hope the weather decides to cooperate.

During training season, it's extremely important to make sure I'm getting the right kind of foods into my body to use for fuel, both pre- and post-run. I don't like to eat a whole lot before I go out for a run, especially if it's in the 4-8 mile range, but I always have a little something to hold me over; if it's an after work run, I usually opt for a few carrots with hummus, rice cake, or a handful of almonds, and for my long weekend runs, I have a small banana or apple about 30 minutes before I head out the door. I don't really think too much about it. However, an hour long run leaves a whole lot of time to dwell on what I can stuff my face with eat when I get home.

THIS. This smoothie. It's amazing. It's thick, naturally sweet, creamy, and ice cold - it's seriously the perfect thing to slurp down after a long run. I sometimes have difficulty eating a full meal within an hour after a run, and I've found smoothies are the perfect cure to helping my body start to re-fuel afterward until I'm comfortable enough to eat a meal.

This smoothie makes me run a little faster on the way home, knowing it's there waiting for me. At only 217 calories, this gem is as guilt-free and healthy as it gets. Plus, it's vegan!

Creamy Vegan Oatmeal Smoothie

Ingredients:
1 small banana, preferably frozen in chunks (if not frozen, add an ice cube or two)
1/2 Tbsp natural nut butter (almond and peanut are my favorites!)
1/2 C unsweetened vanilla almond milk
2 Tbsp old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 Tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes 
1 tsp agave (optional - add if you think it needs to be a little sweeter)

Preparation:
  • Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. 

Enjoy after a workout or as a great breakfast on-the-go!