Friday, March 21, 2014

That insatiable hunger

It's happened. Four weeks into marathon training, it has taken hold and I fear it's here to stay. A pit in my stomach that cannot be filled. I am so hungry, all the time.

If you've done any sort of consistent running, you know what I'm talking about: that insatiable hunger that doesn't go away. As the weekly miles get higher, your hunger soars, and it doesn't matter what (or how much) you put into it; the gnawing feeling of emptiness just lingers behind each meal. I'm hungry when I wake up in the morning and hungry when I go to bed. And all the hours in between, I'm either in the midst of stuffing my face, or scrounging through my desk drawer looking for scraps.

The upside? Food never tastes better than when you're truly hungry. When I sit down to a meal, the food feels like fuel for my sore muscles. I'm actually craving nutrient-dense food and lean proteins. And, I rarely leave a meal feeling full - instead, I feel content, or just done eating. And then an hour later, I'm sliding another piece of bread into the toaster.

I'm good at breakfasts, lunches and dinners: oatmeal with fruit, quinoa salads, turkey burgers, grilled chicken and sweet potatoes. My biggest challenge, though, is all the spaces in between. For snacks, I work my way through granola and bananas, almonds, toast, and hummus with veggies on any given day (OK, and M&Ms, too. A handful every day.). By mid-afternoon, when I've eaten everything and I'm reaching for my second apple of the day, and I know I need to find something that will stick with me longer.

And so, I come to you with this recipe for strawberry conserve, which I strongly suggest you stir into Greek yogurt and top with sliced almonds. I love eating Greek yogurt: it's an amazingly nourishing, protein-rich snack that fills me up better than anything else. And when I top it with this strawberry conserve and a handful of sliced almonds, it feels like a real treat. I'm not going to pretend it tastes like eating strawberry ice cream*, because we're talking about yogurt here for godssakes. But, as far as healthful snacks go, it's pretty damn close.

The conserve is really just a rich, sweet strawberry syrup that holds softened strawberry halves; kind of like the inside of a strawberry pie, but with a much thinner sauce. Yes, there is quite bit of sugar in the recipe, but one smallish spoonful of the stuff flavors my entire carton of yogurt and leaves me happy. Plus, I like that there are only three ingredients in this conserve - strawberries, sugar and lemon peel - I would choose that any day over the long list of ingredients in the fruit filling that accompanies most yogurts.

*Now, if you wanted to put this strawberry conserve on ice cream, I won't be the one to stop you. Or on buttered toast, or in your oatmeal, or on an English muffin..

Strawberry Conserve
Recipe from Bon Appetit

1 pound strawberries; washed, hulled and cut in half (about 4 cups)
3/4 cup sugar
Peel from 1/2 of one lemon (including the white pith)

Put all ingredients in a wide saucepan and stir to combine. Cover and let sit for two hours, stirring occasionally. The sugar will melt and the strawberries will get juicy.

Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer (uncovered). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the strawberries have softened, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the strawberries and place in a glass jar (where you will store the conserve). Continue cooking the syrup until it has thickened a bit more, another 3-5 minutes. Remove the lemon peel and pour the syrup over the strawberries.

Cool to room temperature, then cover. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Just like that

Three weeks have gone by since I was here last. Hot damn. How have you been?

I wish I could say that I've been up to something, but I really haven't. I seemed to slip into that slow, quiet phase of winter. Worked a little extra, slept in a little longer. Didn't you? At first we were waiting for spring I guess, shut indoors while ice covered every surface outside our condo. In my house, we turned to Oscar movies and new recipes; matinees on weekends and quiet afternoons in the kitchen. We waded through Twelve Years a Slave and Nebraska, apple dumplings and hazelnut pudding, Gravity and American Hustle, cider braised pork roast and a few attempts at a homemade chai recipe that I'm still tinkering with. Peanut butter cookies and Captain Phillips. My god.

I guess you could call it a restorative phase at best, if you're generous. Thanks for being generous.

And just like that, here we are on the other side. On Sunday the sun brought the first breath of spring, then stayed out until after dinner and we came alive again. I went for a run that evening and every patio had a grill a-blazin'. The skating rink by our apartment has turned into a pond again.

Spring has continued to tease us all week now, so we've been carrying on the same way: taking evening walks and listening to music with the windows open. Oh, it feels so good to live a little lighter. A casual gin and tonic after work. Salads.

Like this one, my new absolute favorite: a raw kale salad with spicy peanut sauce.

I am crazy about this one. I know the picture doesn't look like much, so you'll do well to trust me here. My infatuation with this combination of raw kale doused with a sweet and spicy peanut sauce started when I had a very similar version local brewery a few weeks ago. This recipe lives up to the hype. The kale is first massaged (re: scrunched in your fists) until it's lost some of it's bitterness, and takes on a more delicate texture like leaf lettuce. Then you shake together a peanut sauce spiked with fresh ginger, soy and sesame sauces, and coat the kale generously. Top it off with some sliced red peppers and crushed peanuts - shredded rotisserie chicken if you've got it - and you've got my new favorite dinner.

The flavors of the spicy peanut sauce pair perfectly with the sharpness of the kale. And, I really love the texture of the massaged kale: it's like eating a super salad, more sturdy, filling and nutritious than any lettuce salad I've ever stirred together.

The only thing stopping me from making this salad every night this week are the pesky carrots, cabbage and celery knocking around my crisper drawer, needing to be used up (luckily: Chicken Soup with Chive Dumplings).

Come on already, winter veggies. Make way for kale!

Kale Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce
Adapted from Food52

Kale salad:
1 large bunch of lacinto (dinosaur) kale
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
Handful of roasted, unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped
Optional: shredded rotisserie chicken, snap peas

Spicy peanut sauce: 
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, preferably all-natural
3 tablespoons warm water
3 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

First, prep the kale: Wash and dry the kale, then pull the leaves from the stems, and discard the stems. Tear the leaves into bite-size pieces. Massage the kale by grabbing it in handfuls and scrunching it in your fists; do this for about two minutes. The kale will decrease in volume by about half, and become a softer texture (like leaf lettuce).

For the peanut sauce: whisk all ingredients together in a bowl (or, alternatively, place all the ingredients in a glass jar with a lid and shake until combined).

Toss the kale with a heavy coating of the peanut sauce - I used all of the peanut sauce from this recipe for one large batch of kale. Toss in the red pepper, peanuts, and chicken and snap peas if you are using them.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Here we go, already

A robin perched on our deck railing yesterday. A fat, fluffy bird with a bright orange belly sprang up out of nowhere, stood on our railing for a bit, and fluttered off. Two tiny indents in the inch of fresh snow linger as evidence.

Which means: spring is coming! 
And also: running season is upon us.

This may have been the coldest winter of my adult life and cabin fever is nearing dangerous levels, but I still have that inevitable feeling of: Wow, is it really almost March? Almost spring? Almost running season? 

And yes, it is. My 18-week training program for Grandma's Marathon starts on Monday.

It's funny: I've been running a June marathon for the past two years, and every time I cross the finish line, I say: Nope. No way. I'm done. Never again. Because it's insane. It hurts. It's exhausting, and I hate it. 

It takes all of your time for 18 weeks. It sucks you up on a Wednesday night when you should be sitting by your grill and drinking ginger ale. It ruins your Friday nights when you should be sharing a pitcher on a patio somewhere, and your Saturday mornings when you should be drinking coffee by the window. You give these things up.

But I also love it. Because it's insane. It hurts. It's exhausting. It makes you lace up your shoes on a Wednesday after work when you think you have nothing left after dozing off on the bus ride home. But somehow you get out there in the evening sun and run 7 miles with more energy than you ever imagined. Or you drag yourself out there on a Saturday morning and run 18 miles, even though you really wanted to sleep in and at mile 3 you were still dragging. But you do it, one foot after another, and then suddenly you're done and treating yourself to a vanilla milkshake because your body needs to make up about 1,800 calories and you deserve it. That, I love.

So here I am again, already. The snow is still falling, but the calendar is telling me it's time. I'm ready to get out there, to be active. To have that feeling of tiredness and strength in my legs that lingers throughout the day and reminds me I have been running a lot.

One of my goals this year, aside from my perpetual goal of drinking enough water (oh why do I struggle with this?), is to figure out a food plan that really works for me. Recipes with good carbs, lots of protein, and healthy fats to fuel my runs and nourish my body.

This guacamole quinoa may just be in the weekly rotation.

I made this after my 7-mile run on Saturday (for the record, that's 112 times around the track at our condo association gym). I was famished, and this was the number one thing I wanted to eat when I got back to my apartment: good carbs (quinoa), protein (quinoa and walnuts), and healthy fat (avocado). A perfect post-run lunch.

This recipe was inspired by a similar recipe on Food52, but I created my own version to play into my favorite guacamole recipe, and added some walnuts to make it more salad-like. I may try it someday with fresh corn kernels cut off the cob or diced fresh tomatoes when those things are in season. I bet some crumbled feta would be good, too. But for now, it's perfect as-is eaten right out of the bowl. Scooped up on tortilla chips would also be a nice snack.

Do you have any favorite recipes that help fuel your workouts? I'd love to hear.

Guacamole Quinoa Salad

1 1/2 cups quinoa
3 cups water
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 avocados
Juice of 1 large or 2 small limes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro, roughly chopped
5 green onions, thinly sliced, or 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Rinse the quinoa well and drain. In a medium saucepan, heat the quinoa and 3 cups water over high heat until it boils. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until liquid has evaporated, 14-15 minutes. Remove lid and set aside to cool. When it has cooled a bit, add the glug of olive oil (1-2 tablespoons) and stir to coat evenly.

In a medium bowl, mash the avocados together with the lime juice, salt and minced garlic. Stir in cilantro.

Stir the avocado mixture into the quinoa, and then add the onion and walnuts. Stir to combine.