Saturday, April 23, 2011

Backsliding

So as I've mentioned earlier I am training for a marathon in October (and I have a 1/2 marathon at the end of July), last week was my first 'rollback' week as far as mileage goes so you'd think last week would have been a breeze as far as training is concerned. Well, it wasn't. I couldn't seem to motivate myself. We had a 4 day weekend and I didn't get my long run in until Monday! AND I skipped my short run on Thursday. So basically my week should have looked like this:

Mon: rest
Tues: short run
Wed: rest
Thur: short run
Fri: rest
Sat: long run
Sun: long walk

but ended up looking like this:

Mon: rest
Tues: short run
Wed: rest (this is where the wheels fall off the bus)
Thur: rest
Fri: more rest
Sat: still resting (or just incredibly lazy)
Sun: slow 3 mile walk with the dog

This has really unnerved me and I've spend considerable time trying to figure out what the hell is going on. The best I can come up with is that I have some underlying fear about failing. It seems to have crept up as the mileage on my long runs increased. I find myself fixating on my long run even before I've conquered the weekday short runs. I went from running 3 times a week to running once a week, and my goal is to build up to running 4-5 days a week. So here is my plan:
  1. I will schedule my runs and KEEP MY APPT with myself. If the weather isn't cooperating I will commit to running the treadmill (aka dreadmill) for 30 minutes or doing the elliptical for 30 minutes.
  2. I will not stress about the long run UNTIL IT'S TIME for me to run my long run!
  3. If I cannot complete the mileage for my long run, I will simply try again until I make it.
Someone made this comment to me: "sometimes it can be hard. But I firmly believe that if you are going to commit to running, you have to be willing to sacrifice other parts of your life for it..." And he is totally right. I've been doing a lot of work around structuring my life to reflect my personal convictions and goals. One of my main goals is to work on my physical well being. I am amazingly healthy and quite fit for someone who is overweight. If you were to simply look at the numbers (blood pressure, sugars, cholesterol, resting heart rate, etc) you'd assume I was physically fit. But I'm not. I've been overweight for almost my whole life but active in spite of it. For ONCE I'd like my outsides appearance to reflect my inner health. There is a very popular running path right by the house I grew up in and I always envied the people running the Boulevard. I used to walk it all the time, but I always wanted to be one of the runners. I've always admired people who run; their dedication, their easy stride, their strong toned legs. To me it is the epitome of healthy hobbies. And don't even get me started on those runners who are COMPETITIVE ATHLETES! I have immense respect for anyone who runs a race whether it be a 5K or an ultra marathon. I'm amazed and energized when I watch them. I WANT TO BE ONE OF THEM!

That is my goal: to be a real runner! So as my friend so aptly put it, I need to make sacrifices. It's not always going to be easy. I won't always 'feel like it'. I stumbled upon an article in Runner's World today and there was a quote that really stuck with me:

"you rarely regret the runs you do; you almost always regret the runs you skip".

So true. So today I am reiterating my commitment to running, to becoming a runner, and to shaping the outer me to reflect the inner me. 

Project: Food Budget Week 2


Wow, week 2 is in the books and it wasn't pretty. The grand total for the week came to $141.05. A couple high ticket items contributed to the costs, including:

toilet paper $7.99 (12 pack)
shrimp $5.99 (for a 1 lb. bag of raw frozen shell-on shrimp)

There were also a few items needed to restock the pantry:

vanilla extract $3.05
olive oil cooking spray $2.59

Then there is the big issue. I buy more food than we eat in a week. Of the items we bought last week (which were supposedly for last week's dinner menus) several are yet to be eaten:

3 soy yogurts $.80 each ($2.40)
spinach and cheese ravioli (frozen) $1.99
a red onion $0.72
a head of cauliflower $2.49
organic portobello mushroom caps $3.29
mini sweet peppers $1.99

That is a total of $12.88 unnecessarily spent last week. I also had to run to the store twice during the week to pick up items that I'd forgotten to put on the list (including a few ingredients for a recipe I brought to a potluck for work).

What did I learn from this week? LOOK IN THE REFRIGERATOR, FREEZER, AND CUPBOARD WHEN PLANNING YOUR MENU! Had I done that I would have realized I had ingredients for at least two dinners. Lesson learned.

I have no doubt next week's grocery bill will be much less due, in part, to the fact that we'll be in NYC for the NFL Draft from Friday through Sunday. Aside from being UBER excited to go to NYC for the first time (not including driving through in the middle of the night while driving back from NC), I am really excited to take a run in Central Park!! At least that is my plan for Saturday:)

Have you been making any changes to your grocery shopping habits? How is it going? I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I Love Buffalo

It's a cloudy Saturday, the first day of a 4-day weekend. I should be running or doing yard work or one of a million other things, but I'm not feeling totally motivated so I decided to read and cook today instead.

Last weekend, I went to Portland to take care of a friend's dogs while she was in Boston, I also had the opportunity to catch up with a dear old friend from elementary school. We went to this great little restaurant in Portland's Munjoy Hill neighborhood called Silly's. If you've never been there, GO! It's one of my very favs. I had one of the BEST salads evah; The Mighty Avo-dighty Salad. As we were waiting for our table I spied another customer with this awesome looking bowl piled high with spinach, assorted veggies and huge chunks of tofu tossed in sauce (at the time I couldn't tell if it was curry, buffalo, or bbq... either would have worked for me). So when it was time to order I discreetly asked the waitress what the lady behind us was eating... "the Mighty Avo-dighty Salad" the waitress replied. This salad is build on a bed of baby spinach, with black olives, tomatoes, red onion (?), buffalo tofu, and guacamole (there may have been a couple other items but I can't quite remember). All I know is that it was delicious and filling!

As I've mentioned before, I've been very hit or miss with my attempts at making tofu at home. But inspired by Mighty Avo-dighty I decided to give it a whirl and try to recreate (at least partially) this awesome salad! I think it came out quite well.


I started with a package of extra-firm tofu. I bought the already cubed kind and the cubes were smaller than expected, would be great for stir fry or other uses (and a nice time saver) but in the future I'll buy a whole block and cut it into larger chunks myself. Now one thing I have read over and over is the importance of squeezing out the excess water from your tofu. So I spread out the cubes on a plate in a single layer between paper towels and pressed the water out with my hands.

I heated about 3-4 T of olive oil in a nonstick fry pan until the oil was hot, then dumped the cubes into the hot oil (again spreading them into a single layer). I cooked them for about 7 mins total, if I were using bigger chunks it would probably take 5 mins on each side. While that was cooking I mixed my buffalo sauce. This sauce was one I stole from a buffalo chicken recipe from Clean Eating Magazine. It's my favorite buffalo sauce and it incredibly easy.
4 T hot sauce
1 T paprika
1 T olive oil
mix together, it's quite spicy!

Once the tofu was cooked to a golden brown I transferred them to a paper towel lined plate and blotted the excess oil. I then tossed the cubes with the sauce.

To assemble the salad:
Spread a bed of baby spinach in a large bowl or plate, top with chopped tomato, 1/2 avocado cubed, sliced black olives, and thinly sliced red onion. Top with 1/2 the buffalo tofu mixture, sprinkle with blue cheese or feta. Optional: drizzle blue cheese dressing

This was VERY satisfying!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Project: Food Budget Week 1

Week 1 of P:FB is over and I am hopeful that things will get better (and not terribly upset by how this past week went). The menu planning was not a problem at all since I've been doing that for years now. This was our dinner menu for the week:

Sat: Chinese take-out
Sun: Stir fry- with chicken for him; veggie for me
Mon: whole wheat spaghetti w/ alfredo and chicken for him; mushrooms and bell peppers for me
Tues: Brinner (breakfast for dinner) pancakes w/ real maple syrup and eggs
Wed: FFY (Fend For Yourself night... I have class until 7 pm
Thur: Burger Night- Double cheeseburger for him; Bocaburger for me, chips on the side
Fri: Pizza night- individual pizza pot pies

I also made curried chickpeas on Sunday to bring for lunches as well as black bean brownies for a sweet treat throughout the week.

Our total food bill came to $111.83. Our target is $100, we've been averaging $125+. We had a couple high ticket pantry items:

EVOO $5.99
Real Maple Syrup $5.99

I also splurged on a 4 pack of FRS Energy Drinks $5.99 (-$2.00 coupon, actual cost $3.99).

I almost always shop at one store, once a week. However, this week I was in Portland, so I HAD to stop at TJ's (aka Trader Joe's) and Whole Foods! For the most part I stuck to my list.

Some things I may be able to improve on include:
1. Making my own pizza dough. We have some form of DIY pizza just about every week. I usually buy the wheat dough ($2.29), but I feel confident I could make dough from scratch that will be just as good (or better) for less than $1 in ingredients. I plan on trying this out this weekend. If it's a success I could make a couple batches and stick then in the freezer.

2. Soda. My honey drinks a lot of soda. A 2-liter of name brand soda is $1.25 plus tax and deposit. He is willing to drink generic which is $.89-95 plus tax and deposit per 2-liter.

3. Fresh fruit. I have to have it. I will focus on buying whatever is on sale or available at the farmer's market (which is always cheaper and tastier than the stuff at the grocery store).

4. Veggies. Summer time will be easier on the wallet once the farmer's market gets going, I am also going to have my 'urban micro farm' again this year (i.e. a couple of veggies grown in containers). Last year I grew tomatoes and basil, this year I'm thinking of expanding it to include carrots, bell peppers, and perhaps something else?

So week 1 is in the books and I think we did OK. I'm looking forward to seeing that food bill shrink again this coming week!

Do you have any suggestions on ways we can slash our grocery bill? Leave your comments!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Your Beans are in my Brownie

First of all, can I just say, "HOORAY, spring has sprung"! Winter in Maine is generally a harsh season, but this past winter seemed worse than usual. Today it actually felt like spring; warm breeze, upper 50s, and sunny! The gorgeous weather has put a spring in my step, too (pun COMPLETELY intended). I woke up at 6 am and the whole family (Andy, Lucy, and myself) went for a 7 mile walk along the KRRT (that's Kennebec River Rail Trail to those of you from 'away'). After a quick breakfast of my favorite breakfast sundae, I got the grocery shopping done. I won't go into details about the groceries, that's for Thursday's Project: Food Budget post. Now that the snow is melted I can no longer hide the hideousness of my yard, so after a light lunch, I headed outside to rake some leaves (yes, I know I should have done this in the fall, lesson learned). The crocuses and tulips are coming up as well as some other unidentified spring bulbs (snowdrops, maybe)? The front yard is at least presentable now... the back yard is another story; I'll be tackling that project on my long weekend next weekend.


So part of Project: Food Budget requires a bit of preparation on my part in the form of menu planning which is something I've been doing forever. This winter I was very good about making a big batch of homemade soup or stew on Sundays to bring to work for lunches during the week. This was not only economical (frozen entrees are expensive), but much better(frozen dinners are full of weird stuff, and let's face it, they aren't that good or filling). The last few weeks I've not been very good about prepping my lunches, resulting in going out to lunch or grabbing some frozen weirdness. So today, buoyed by the spring energy, I am making curried chickpeas with rutabaga and collard greens which I'll have over brown basmati rice. This was a great option since it's done in a crock pot (I went out and raked leaves while it was cooking). And because I STILL had so much energy (and have an insane sweet tooth) I also made black bean brownies.



Yep, you read that right, BLACK BEAN brownies. Don't make that face! They are AMAZING! I made a few substitutions to the recipe linked above: I substituted chopped almonds for the hazelnuts (because that is what I had on hand), and I added some shredded coconut (because I love coconut). These coconut almond mocha brownies may be the very best brownies EVAH! And I'm not just saying that because they are healthy; they truly taste better than any brownie I've ever had. I'll definitely need to restrain myself from eating the entire pan in one sitting.

So other than my awesome culinary adventures this weekend I also hit a running milestone; I ran 7 miles on Saturday. This is the longest consecutive run I have completed thus far. It is also the end of the first stage of my marathon training. Next week I'll drop the mileage for my long run back for one week before building it up again in stage two. It's amazing to think that just last September I was barely able to run a half mile.

So that is about it for now. I have my second exam of the semester on Wednesday, I'll be studying like a madwoman for the next couple days. Wish me luck:)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tightening the Belt


I stumbled upon a blog that had this great idea called Project: Food Budget and I thought, "that's such a great idea"! I've been trying to get control of what we're spending to see where we can economize and food is our biggest monthly expense (other than the mortgage). I would like to keep our weekly food budget to $100. This may sound like a lot for two people to some folks, but we have a few obstacles. My fiance is a carnivore to the extreme, I am a (budding) vegetarian. So I basically make 2 versions of dinner each night I cook (which is most nights). My DHTB (dear hubby to-be) also has a soda and energy drink addiction; addiction may be a strong term... he assures me he could quit any time. Now there are a couple things that I may buy at the grocery store, but that aren't counted in the weekly grocery bill like vitamins and dog food.

I usually grocery shop on the weekends, so I will save my receipts from this weekend (as well as any weekday trips) and post on Thursdays as to how it all works out. I plan to do this for at least a month, but I'll go as long as it takes for us to get to our budget!

How do you think your grocery shopping habits stack up against the average family? Do you have any money saving tips? Feel free to leave helpful hints in my comments!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Kitchen Therapy

I love to cook. I don't cook nearly as much as I'd like; and when I say 'cook' I mean create something delicious not just feed the family. During the week I keep things pretty basic and simple. My fiance and I have very different tastes in food (he's a carnivore to the extreme, I'm a budding vegetarian) so I end up cooking 2 versions of dinner on the nights I cook (which is most nights).

Today I ventured into a new realm of cooking... homemade bread, with yeast and everything! I originally planned on making english muffins but then decided to make an English Muffin Loaf instead, because, honestly, it looked easier.

After gathering my ingredients I noticed that I'd bought the wrong kind of yeast and had to run to the store for instant (aka rapid rise) yeast. I don't have a thermometer so had to guess at the temp of the milk/oil/water mixture, this may be the reason my dough didn't right the way I wanted it to. This dough is a very sticky and soft dough and as I was transferring it into the loaf pan I noticed a good amount of flour hadn't been mixed in so I mixed it in with my hands, basically kneading the dough; this also may be the culprit for the less than fluffy texture of my bread.

I followed the tip about boiling water and letting the loaf rise in the microwave with the cup of boiling water. I checked on it at 45 minutes and it wasn't done rising, so I reboiled the water and gave it another 15 minutes. It had risen a bit more, but still not to where I wanted it, but I figured it was done rising. I popped it in the over and 27 minutes later I had freshly baked English Muffin bread.


While the bread cooled we took a 7 mile family walk along the rail trail. When we got back the house still smelled like fresh baked bread and I was famished! I had a slice  toasted with butter with my lunch and it was quite tasty!

For dinner I decided to try something a little different as well. According to the menu board tonight was burger night. So I decided to make myself a portobello burger. I searched several recipes online and almost all of them suggested marinading the mushrooms in a balsamic/evoo type marinade. I used balsamic vinegar, evoo, garlic, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper. I only marinaded them for about 20 minutes. For a side I sauteed some kale with evoo, garlic, and onions topped with feta. There were also some leftover tater tots (which I made to go with the fiances cheeseburger) so I had a few of those as well. The portobello burgers came out very nicely, the texture was nice a 'meaty' and the marinade was perfect. I topped my burger with feta, caramelized onions, tomatoes, and black olives.



I've also noticed that my camera really SUCKS and I should really get a new one... soon!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Brunch for Dinner

Baked eggs Greek Style, recipe courtesy of the Noble Pig. Served with a green salad with vinagrette and chardonnay (Chateau Ste Michelle 2008). Absolutely scrumptious!


Banana Splits for Breakfast?

I love weekend mornings because they are completely unscripted. I woke up early today (4:30 am... too early) and spent the early hours of the morning surfing the web (I've become addicted to Stumble Upon). Since there was tons of freshly fallen snow outside (thanks to a cruel April Fool's Day joke by Mother Nature), I was pretty sure I wasn't going to get my run in today (which is pretty much the story of my running life this week). So I decided to take a yoga class and ease back into exercise reality.

I love this yoga class (it's at The River Studio in Hallowell). This was much needed therapy after an emotional and crappy week. I love the atmosphere at the studio, I relax as soon as I walk in the door. The yoga space is gorgeous, with lots of natural light and warm wood, overlooking the Kennebec River. After 90 minutes of Iyengar yoga I feel like a new woman, ready to take on the world. I'm also famished!

I don't generally eat breakfast before yoga class, so by the time class is over I'm starving. I contemplated going to Slate's bakery since I was already in Hallowell, but in the interest of being frugal I decided to head home and make a french press and have breakfast at home. My go-to breakfast is a whole wheat english muffin with almond butter and orange marmalade, but today I was craving something different. I remembered seeing a recipe on a blog for breakfast banana splits, and lucky for me I had all the ingredients on hand! Don't be afraid, it sounds like an odd combo but it's really tasty!

Ingredients:
banana
low fat cottage cheese, 1 cup
low sugar orange marmalade, 1T
low sugar strawberry or raspberry jam, 1T
raw almonds, 2T
cinnamon, sprinkle to taste

Cut the banana in half and place in a bowl. Top with remaining ingredients in order listed. Enjoy!!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Veggie Adventures

I don't know if it's a springtime phenomenon or something deeper, but every so often I have this intense desire to become a vegetarian. I've tried it several times in the past with varying levels of success. But then something will happen (like a bbq with AMAZING ribs) and I fall off the veggie wagon and back to flesh eating debauchery. It's not that I don't like the taste of meat, I really do! But anytime I really consider where my food comes from, the process it goes through from pasture to table, I get queasy. I have been doing a lot of work around mindfulness lately and part of that is being mindful of what I eat and where it comes from and what kind of impact it has (beyond that of my waistline). The goal is to bring my diet in line with my convictions. Actually, the ultimate goal is to align my LIFE with my convictions... as soon as I figure out what they are exactly. But for now we'll focus on diet.

I am an animal lover, I always have been. In fact, it's been said (by more than one person) that I love animals more than people, and there is probably a grain of truth to that. My process for being more mindful of my food choices starts with understanding where my food comes from and how it gets from farm to table. I could never hunt anything, or slaughter a chicken, I don't even like the idea of catching a fish. And if I were able to do any of those things, it'd certainly be done more humanely than the methods used in commercial farms and processing plants. If I can't stomach the process in which my food is produced, I can't stomach the food. So with this in mind I watched a few (thankfully short) videos about poultry and beef production in the US and it literally made my stomach turn. I won't go into the gory details (and they are VERY GORY) but you can do a google search for yourself if you are interested. I would never kill an animal, so why would it be OK to eat the flesh of an animal someone else killed?

The last few times I attempted to go veg I went cold turkey (no pun intended). I even did a raw food vegan experiment which lasted about 5 months and ended with me having a cheese binge that lasted 2 weeks (I went to The Cheese Iron in Scarborough and bought amazing cheese and had wine and cheese and crackers for dinner every night for 2 weeks). So learning from my past mistakes I've decided to ween myself off meat gradually. I've cut out red meat and pork already which was pretty easy since I didn't eat it very often to begin with. Next it's poultry. This should be pretty easy after watching that video; honestly, chickens probably have it the worst in terms of how they are raised and slaughtered, truly disturbing. Then I'll cut out fish/seafood. I will still eat organic dairy products and local or humanely raised eggs. Lucky for me, I love vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, and even tofu! Tofu is a funny thing, I love it when I get it in a restaurant or when someone else makes it, but every time I've tried to make tofu it's awful! I'll need to learn how to cook tofu properly.

Dinner time will be interesting at our house. My fiance is a carnivore to the extreme. He basically eats just meat and potatoes (there are 3-4 veggies he'll eat depending on how they are prepared). As it is now, I make one version of dinner for him and one for me, so I'm basically making 2 dinners every night that I cook (which is most nights). So far it's been fine.

I think going vegetarian will be a very good thing for me. I can feel good about the food I'm eating (not only because it's nutritious, but also an ethical choice for me) and all the latest research shows that a vegetarian diet is one of the healthiest diets to follow.

What are your thoughts on vegetarianism?

April Fool's!

Mother Nature has a cruel sense of humor. As I sit here typing I'm watching snowflakes as big as snowballs fly around outside my window, accumulating at breakneck speed. However, all is not lost, I have the day off (I work for the State and all offices are shut down today due to the weather). I should be catching up on my reading assignments for my American Government class. I could be doing laundry. But I've decided to create a blog instead.

It seems as though I've been experiencing a lot of changes recently. Last year my boyfriend and I bought a house and moved in together, I had a job change shortly thereafter, my parents moved 1,500 miles away, one of my best friends moved 800 miles away, I went back to school to get a second degree, and I got engaged (just to name a few things). So in hopes of making sense of the everchanging nature of my life I've decided to blog about it for all (or at least all those who choose) to read. I hope to learn somethings about myself (as well as reveal some things about myself that others may not have known).