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.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I've been distracted

I have a lovely salad recipe for you today. An Israeli coucous salad flecked with rosemary, apples and dried cranberries to be specific. I think you'll want to make it for your next potluck, or a brown-bag lunch, or hell! maybe a picnic someday soon, please god please.

And that's where I'll stop talking about the salad.

Because, I've been distracted from here to the moon and back these past few days. Since Sunday morning, when I waited with phone in one hand, coffee in the other, pacing around the apartment. Any minute! my mom had just told me (I called her for a morning update). At 9:30 my brother finally called, and when I answered I first heard a baby crying (which made me tear up too, hearing her for the first time ((and also, because I'm an emotional person))).

And then he said, Well, we have a little girl. My brand new baby niece.

I drove to the hospital later that morning and cradled her in my arms. And people, she is perfect. Dark button eyes and a head full - full - of feathery dark hair. Soft chubby cheeks and fists in a ball. I know everyone says this about every baby, but she is perfect. They named her Natalia.

And now she's ours - I can't believe that. Forever! She's one of us. Our little Nattie, so perfect, with that swirling dark hair...

Israeli Couscous Salad with Apples, Cranberries and Herbs
Adapted just slightly from Giada De Laurentis

Note: This recipe makes quite a large batch, great for a party or potluck. If you're serving two people like me, I'd recommend halving it. To toast the slivered almonds, simply place them in a dry skillet over medium heat, and cook, stirring often, until fragrant (3-5 minutes).

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Israeli couscous
1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 small tart apple, diced (I recommend granny smith)
3/4 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted (see recipe headnote for instructions)
Maple cider vinaigrette (recipe below)

In a medium saucepan, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat. Add the coucous and cook, stirring occasionally, until the couscous is toasted and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add 4 cups of water; raise heat and bring to a boil. When it reaches a boil, turn heat down to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated, about 12 minutes.

Remove couscous from heat and set aside to cool. When cooled a bit, add herbs, apple, cranberries, toasted almonds; stir in the maple cider vinaigrette.

Maple Cider Vinaigrette
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil

Whisk together the vinegar, maple syrup and kosher salt. Slowly whisk in olive oil until combined.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

These stuffed mushrooms will happen

Do you have your Superbowl plans figured out yet? Are your avocados ripened, your wings thawed? Have you practiced your touchdown dance?

Check, check and check.

Superbowl Sunday is one of my favorite days of the year. I said that to a coworker yesterday, and he said Yeah, well you love food. True! But I was referring to the whole event: the game, the beers, the food (of course), the spectacle of all of it.

I'm still finalizing the plans for Sunday. But I know I'll be rooting for Peyton the Broncos, dipping into guacamole and picking at some to-be-determined style of chicken wings. Hopefully we'll have a few good beers to choose from, and there will be a plethora of other snacks. (OK, maybe this is largely about the food?)

These stuffed mushrooms will also happen.

I've had this recipe in my back pocket for years: my favorite little stuffed mushrooms. I make them for parties (and little happy hours for two) all the time, and they always go fast. 

Where most stuffed mushroom recipes call for large mushroom caps stuffed with a blend of meats and cheeses and bread crumbs, these are a much simpler version, but even tastier in my opinion. Instead of large mushroom caps, I look for smaller mushrooms, so these are little one-biters with just the right ratio of stuffing to mushroom. The stuffing starts with the stems from the mushrooms chopped and browned with garlic and thyme, then stirred into a blend of cream cheese and parmesan. It's a little salty from the parmesan, and savory from the mushroom and thyme - and, when stuffed into a mushroom and baked until browned on the top, hard to stop eating.

Hope you eat and drink well this Sunday. And, go Broncos!

Stuffed Mushrooms

Note: This recipe will make enough stuffing for at least two packages of mushrooms. The stuffing actually freezes well, if you'd like to save some for a batch of mushrooms later. We've often got a tupperware of this in our freezer.

8 ounces of white button or cremini mushrooms
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 teaspoons fresh thyme
8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Wipe the mushrooms clean of any dirt, and separate the stems from the caps. Set the caps aside. Finely chop the mushroom stems.

In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the diced mushroom stems and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, 5 minutes. Add the fresh thyme and cook a minute more until fragrant. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, stir together the cream cheese, parmesan cheese and mushroom mixture. Season with the 1/4 teaspoon of salt and mix well.

Place the mushroom caps on a baking sheet, and stuff enough cream cheese mixture into each cap to slightly overfill it. Bake for 20 minutes, until the cream cheese begins to brown on the top.