Better Training (take 2)

This past fall I ran my first half marathon, The Middle Half in Murfreesboro, TN, on a bit of a whim. I registered for the race for many reasons: I needed some motivation to stick to a running routine and run longer distances; I’ve never run a real race before and always wanted to; I was on the tail end of a pretty rough two years and needed something to get excited about; but mostly because of my crippling FOMO. I have 6 siblings and almost as many in-laws. 5 of them were signing up.

My brother sent me the training plan for, “experienced runners” provided by the race and I kinda sorta followed it. I’d never really trained for anything before. I’ve always been a pretty active person – fairly consistently running, practicing yoga, and climbing when I can – but always just for fun/my own peace of mind. So, sticking to a training schedule was a new experience for me and it taught me a few things. For example: it is important to wear a shoe large enough to accommodate your unusually large toes and the swelling of your feet – elsewise you’ll lose a toenail (or three); cheap Chinese takeout is not a suitable meal the night before your weekly long run; chafing is a real thing that happens and should not be taken lightly; and drinking coffee before a run is awesome and can provide a great energy boost but must be timed just right or things will get real sketchy around mile 3.

The training plan involved running three times during the week, cross-training once, and going for a long run every weekend. Honestly, I was lucky if I got in all three runs during the week and I rarely (if ever) got to the cross-training but I always made the long weekend runs. After several weeks of trial and error and two pairs of running shoes – I figured out what worked best for me. I’m proud to say I finished the race next to my brother in under two hours. The photos are heinous. I always thought I had pretty good form, but crossing the finish line I looked more like this. I will try to be more prepared for the paps at the next race…

Now, I’m training for my second race – The Country Music Half Marathon. At first, I was really hesitant. The race is on April 27th – that is RIGHT at the start of sandal season and my toes are just now recovering from the damage done training for the race in October. I decided to go for it anyway and am training with my brother again and a group of our fellow UT alumni. The second time around I am striving to be more diligent about following the training plan, though getting to the cross-training is still not so much happening as it is not happening. I like to think that since most of my mid-week runs alternate between me fighting Emmett (my 50lb pit mix) when he decides to sprint and pulling him along when he decides to sniff everything in sight that I am somehow getting an extra-tough workout and therefore need the cross-training less. Plus, I sit on an exercise ball most of the time at work so… don’t worry about it.

My basic running day routine is as follows:

Wake up an hour(ish) before I will be running and have an english muffin with peanut butter (maybe a tablespoon), a cup of coffee, and some water. I used to wake up with just enough time to scarf a banana, run, shower, and get to work but it’s been really nice to have the extra buffer to allow myself to fully wake up, do some reading, and enjoy a good digestion before going for a run.

running breakfast: i live life better than you

Then, I run.  The mileage varies during the week from 2 and 3 towards the beginning of the plan to 5 and 7 towards the end. I’ve tried a few different shoes (New Balance, Nike Free, Saucony, etc.) with mixed results and finally found my soul-shoe: the Brooks Pure Cadence 2. They are perfect for me – the perfect amount of support and a sock-like upper which is exactly what my toes need. Fingers-crossed my feet won’t be too wrecked after the race and I’ll be able to wear sandals with minimal shame. I also recently purchased my first running watch, the Garmin Forerunner 10, to keep track of my pace and have been really happy with it – it’s a rather basic model but it covers all the action I need.Half Marathon Training: i live life better than you

When I get back from the run, I stretch for about 15 minutes, and make this green smoothie to enjoy on the way to work.

Better Green Smoothie: i live life better than you

For dinner, I’ve been eating a lot of pastas and generally making sure to get a lot of protein and carbs – mostly carbs. This is really no different from my usual diet. If I could bake pasta into garlic bread, I would. In fact, I’ve seen it on pinterest and have every intention of trying it someday very soon. Every Friday night, in preparation for the long run on Saturday, we make this very fancy dish: Cheesy Rice and Beans.

Cheesy Rice and Beans: i live life better than you

Here’s what you’ll need:

Cheesy Rice and Beans: i live life better than you

  • 6 eggs
  • 1.5 cups brown rice (dry)
  • an avocado
  • 1 can cannellini beans (or great northerns if you can’t find cannellinis) rinsed and drained
  • 3/4 C (ish) shredded Mexican-blend cheese
  • A dash or so of garlic, salt, and pepper
  • Tapatío to taste

Make the rice according to package instructions – a few minutes before the rice is done, get ready to fry the eggs.

Prepare the eggs over easy, sprinkle with salt and pepper, set aside and keep warm.

Stir the beans and cheese into the rice – add garlic powder to taste.

Cube the avocado.

Divide rice and bean mixture between two bowls, add avocado cubes, top with three eggs per bowl and as many dashes of Tapatío as your heart desires.

The beans and eggs provide plenty of protein and fiber while the rice gives you a solid amount of healthy carbs. The avocado is great for those omega-3s that are so good for your brain and the cheese and Tapatío are just delicious. I try to eat this as late as possible the night before a long run. It might be all in my head – but so far, it is the best night-before meal I have tried to date. So much so that I don’t even bother branching out anymore. Maybe I’ll consider it for the pasta-stuffed garlic bread…

Better Lentil Soup

Simple Slow Cooker Lentil Soup : ilivelifebetter

I’ve really been craving a lot of warm, hearty foods lately. I can’t imagine why – it’s been so lovely out. Anyway, one of my favorite foods of this variety is lentil soup. Mostly because it is a vehicle for crusty bread but also because it is healthy (I think, I really can’t back that up – but it sounds right) and delicious. My friend, Christine, makes the most amazing lentil soup I have ever had. This soup recipe is not as good as hers – but it is a bit less labor-intensive and quite tasty if I do say so myself. The thing about lentils is that they aren’t so easy on your digestive system – which is why they make you so gassy. You, not me – I don’t fart. Supposedly, if you cook or soak them for a really long time they are easier to digest. So, I thought soaking them overnight and cooking them in a crock pot all day should do the trick. I looked on the world wide web to figure out a basic fluid:lentil ratio for slow-cooking and here is what I came up with:

  • 2 Cups dried lentils (soaked overnight)
  • 4 cloves garlic (at least) – minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 3 carrots – chopped
  • 2 boxes low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 onion – chopped

Instructions:

  • Throw all ingredients in slow cooker (I do not know what size – whatever size the one in the picture appears to be…)
  • Set to low and let cook all day
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste
  • Take your immersion blender and immersion blend the shit out of all that action
  • Serve with very large slices of crusty bread

Simple Slow Cooker Lentil Soup: ilivelifebetterUpon further review, I think you could use a little less fluid to avoid the overflowage in the crock pot. I mean, it wasn’t THAT serious of an overflow but, it could be averted. Also, parmesan cheese never hurt anybody. Let me know what you think!

Better Breakfast Smoothies

As I’ve mentioned before, I intend to do a cleanse many times a year. Seasonally, I will get the urge to detox, get distracted by something sparkly (and/or a doughnut), and move on. The urge to cleanse is strongest around this time of year; with all the rich foods, booze, sweets, booze, cheese, booze, etc., I feel like I need to spend a few days in a sweat lodge consuming nothing but water and wheatgrass juice to get rid of all the poison. I could practice moderation and not buy a half-gallon thing of peppermint ice cream knowing I’ll eat it all. I could also avoid the white fudge covered Oreos entirely but I’m obviously not going to because they are LIMITED EDITION and who knows when they’ll ever be sold again?! I could even pass on the various cheese balls, logs, plates, and so forth but, come on, cheese is delicious – it is the number one reason I gave up being vegan long ago. That and hot dogs. Anyway, my point is – holiday food is super-tasty and I am going to eat it all and wash it down with a poinsettia so I need to do something daily(ish) to counteract the abnormally high levels of shit I’ll have in my system between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

Enter green smoothies, hot yoga, and apple cider vinegar drink.

Green smoothies are amazing for all kinds of reasons – mostly because you get a huge serving of nature’s little scrub brushes into one quick drink hidden beneath the taste of yogurt, fruit, honey, and whatever else you decide to throw in. Lately, I’ve really been enjoying the following combination:

1 cup (ish) packed baby spinach
1 cup (ish) frozen blueberries
1 cup green tea (brew 1 tea bag in 1/2 cup boiling water for 5 minutes, remove tea bag and add ice)
1/4-1/2 cup plain Kefir
Local Honey to taste
before
I blend all this up using an immersion blender (the most amazing kitchen appliance EVER – thank you Mom and Dad!) and it is ready to go in minutes with minimal effort and clean up required. Greens are good for everything – they are rich in iron, potassium, phytonutrients, and vitamins E, C, and K which means they improve your skin, your immune system, your heart, your bones, and they help get things moving through your digestive system so you can make room for more artery-clogging cheeses. I used spinach because it’s what we’ve had around the house lately, but you can use any dark, leafy, green you like. The blueberries are rich in fiber, vitamin C, and magical antioxidants which fight free-radicals, help you age gracefully, and prevent various diseases. Allegedly. The green tea does all those wonderful things PLUS it gives you a pleasant little caffeine boost to help get rid of any hang-over related head-aches you may have. The kefir (I really wish they’d change that name) contains lots of friendly bacteria and yeast to help balance and maintain a healthy environment in your colon. It can even, supposedly, help reduce flatulence. Although, drinking it in combination with lots of fruits and veggies probably won’t have that effect. Local honey not only helps sweeten this delicious dish, it helps strengthen your immune system, too.
after
It turned our more purple than green, but that’s OK. As magical as green/purple smoothies are, they aren’t going to handle all the nasty business of cleansing my system of holiday funk alone. So, I started going to hot yoga again after many, many months off and it is even more amazing than I remember. After class, I feel like my body has been completely wrung out. I’m sure the rest of the class feels that way, too – I sweat even more than one might expect while doing yoga in a 100+ degree room. It really is almost alarming. But, when class is over, I feel clean inside and out. Granted, everything is sore and I’ve been walking funny as a result, but that will pass.

Finally, the apple cider vinegar drink. Not as delicious as the green smoothie. Not even close. BUT it does all these wonderful things and then some for your body. So, I’ve been mixing one shot (2 Tbsp) of the good stuff in my 32oz water bottle and drinking it over the course of the day. There are many other recipes online for more delicious apple cider vinegar tonics using honey or maple syrup, but I’m keeping it simple for now. It’s tart, but I’ve grown to like it.

It might just be a placebo effect, but it’s working for now.

Better Boozy Pops

On account of the ungodly heat we’ve been experiencing (seriously, it makes me feel like THIS), I’ve been craving frozen treats like the chubby 12-year-old I really am. When we were little, my mom would make use popsicles out of various fruit juices and the molds she used were amazing. I think they were Tupperware and the sticks were yellow and had a little straw attached so as the popsicle melted you didn’t miss out on any of the drippy deliciousness. I, perhaps naively, assumed there would be a luscious bounty of popsicle molds in every grocery and convenience store below the Mason-Dixon but sadly there was not. I searched high and low – and by that I mean I want to Harris Teeter and Target – before deciding I would have to purchase my molds off the ole interwebs. I found these Tovolo molds on Amazon and was sold as soon as I read the reviews. Everyone loved them but complained that they are just too big. Seeing the considerable size as a pro and not a con, I ordered them post-haste.

After being disappointed by my first popsicle attempt – green tea, honey, cream, and blueberries – I decided to go with something more fun. I had cilantro and lime in the fridge for another recipe and decided to use it to make a flavored simple syrup and combine it with Vernor’s Ginger Ale and Gosling’s Dark Rum for a Dark ‘n Stormy-esque treat for the chubby 12-year-old inside who also may or may not be a lush.

My math is not what I would call “great” and certainly not what my engineer dad would call “accurate” so the measurements in the recipe that follows are close approximations at best. Each pop-mold holds about 1/2 cup of liquid so, keeping that in mind, I went with the following action:

Step 1: Cut a hole in a box.

Step 2: Heat the juice of a really juicy lime, a big handful of chopped cilantro, 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup tastes lime-y and cilantro-y to your liking.

Step 3: Combine 1 1/3 C Vernor’s Ginger Ale – NO OTHER KIND WILL DO, except maybe Gosling’s Ginger Beer, absolutely not some Seagrams or Canada Dry nonsense – 1/3 C cilantro-lime simple syrup and 1 T Goslings Dark Rum in a large measuring cup.

Step 4: Pour mixture into molds and freeze overnight.

This makes 4 pops because I also just happened to have some grapefruit italian soda and silver tequila lying around and I thought they might combine well with the cilantro-lime simple syrup for a Paloma-esque popsicle. Turns out I was right. The recipe for the Palomita Pops is exaclty the same as the recipe for the Dark ‘N Stormy-ish pops just substitute the Vernors for Grapefruit soda and the rum for silver tequila (I like THIS kind) and boom – delicious adult popsicles for a blazingly hot summer.

Better Baking

My favorite desserts are always strawberry-related – especially in the Summer: strawberry shortcake, strawberry icecream, strawberries with honey and cream, strawberry popsicles, whatever. In high school, my then-boyfriend’s mother brought one of the most amazing strawberry-related desserts ever to a cook-out that was more than likely marching band related. It was cold and refreshing and had so many tasty components: frozen strawberries, jell-o, pudding, cool whip, and cake. Thankfully, she isn’t one of those Southern women who withhold recipes like they do affection and approval and she gave my mom a copy. Being that it has been oppressively hot for what feels like forever, I decided it would be the perfect dessert to bring to the Fourth of July party we went to on Wednesday. So, before getting down to business on my kick-ass American flag tank-top, I ran to the store to get the fixins for the cake and, while enjoying my morning coffee, got to baking.

Strawberry Ice Box Cake. The ingredients are simple:

For the cake:

  • 1 box white cake and everything it says you need on the box
  • 1 large (6oz) box strawberry Jell-O
  • 16 oz box frozen strawberries (chopped/halved/sliced/whatever)

For the Icing:

  • 1 box instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 1 medium Cool Whip (softened)

First, you bake the cake in a 9×13 pan according to the directions on the box using the 3 whole egg directions, not the bullshit 4 egg white directions. Meanwhile, mix the box of strawberry Jell-O with 2 cups of hot water until the Jell-O is dissolved. Add the frozen strawberries to the Jell-O and stir until melted/thawed. Once the cake is finished baking, poke holes all over it with a fork. I mean ALL OVER it – go nuts with the fork. Once you think you have poked enough holes, poke a few more just to be sure. Then, slowly pour the Jell-O mixture over the cake, allowing it to soak in evenly. The strawberries will sit on top of the cake for the most part, but some will sink down into it over time. Like so:

Chill several hours, or over night. Make the icing by first mixing the box of pudding and the 2 cups cold milk then, using a hand-blender (or whisk if you’ve got the stamina), add the container of Cool Whip a big dollop at a time. Evenly spread over the chilled cake and serve cold. Like this:

I enjoyed a pretty sizable piece at the party (the above picture is merely the last bite – I was so engrossed in the cake I almost forgot to document it in all its glory) and then, foolishly, left the remaining half of the cake at the party so I was unable to enjoy it for breakfast the following morning when I was suffering from a hangover-related headache and icky-belly. I trust that it went to good use though. Before Summer is over, I plan on making it again using frozen peaches and peach Jell-O. I’ll report back with delicious results.

 

 

Better Parmesan & Peas

Y’all, our co-op kicks ass. When we lived in Nashville we went back and forth about joining a CSA because it was just the two of us and, even though I love me some random veggies – and I can certainly put them away, we were concerned about wasting food. I know there are options like canning, pickling, jamming, and so forth but farm girl I am not and I know my limits when it comes to the kitchen. At any rate, when we moved to Raleigh we started the search for a CSA to fit our needs and found Carolina Grown. Every week we get to order from their ever-expanding menu of produce, meat, fish, dairy, eggs, grains, pasta, baked goods, etc. all from right here in North Carolina and it is delivered right to our doorstep every Friday morning. Like I said – it kicks ass. The beauty of the co-op is that it inspires me to experiment with different ways to prepare the abundance of vegetables we receive every week.

This week, we got some English shelling peas. I love peas. They are adorable and delicious. But, I’d only ever eaten them one of two ways – in a pasta/casserole OR blanched with butter and salt. I did some sleuthing online and found this lovely collection of recipes from 101 Cookbooks. I was particularly inspired by the Spring Pea Slathered Crostini recipe but didn’t have everything on-hand so I just went with what I had: peas, parmesan, butter, salt, and crushed red pepper.

In the recipe she says to boil the water while you shell the peas. Due to my giant (not quite man-sized) hands and sausage-esque fingers – these kinds of tasks take me a good minute to complete. So, I waited until I was about half-way through the bag of peas to start the water. I cooked them for about 30 seconds, then rinsed and tossed them in a bowl with a pat of butter and a pinch of salt. I added a large (not quite man-sized) handful of shredded parmesan and several generous shakes of crushed red pepper. I attempted to “make quick work of it” with my immersion blender (also known as the most amazing kitchen tool I’ve ever owned) but, apparently, didn’t quite have enough of the mixture to fully submerge the blender resulting in a quick spray to the face of pea/parmesan/crushed red pepper. So, I got out my food processor and took care of business.

I served it as an ever so fancy blob on a plate with a fresh baguette. It was delicious. The crushed red pepper added the prefect amount of heat and parmesan is amazing no matter what you do with it. Next time, I’ll try it with manchego (my all-time favorite cheese) and serve it on a baguette with a slice of jamón serrano. Though, I don’t know if the manchego would last long enough in my kitchen to make it to the Cuisinart…