April Favorites

I’ve really enjoyed writing these “favorites” posts each month, so I’m sticking with it. Here are five things I’m loving in April, in no particular order:

(1) FINALLY training in the sun! It was a very long and very cold winter in the Washington, D.C. area. I’ve done a lot of training and racing in bad weather. I ran a race in a sleet storm, another in a cold rain, and had a race cancelled because of snow. I cut one recent outdoor training ride short because I couldn’t feel my face and my fingers actually hurt from the cold. It hasn’t been fun.

Things finally seem to be turning around, though. Last weekend, I had a total blast getting in a 3-hour ride in the sun!

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It’s amazing what a few warm rays of sunshine will do for my mood. It made me really excited for everything that’s coming my way this year. I think this winter was so long that I didn’t realize that race season is right around the corner, but it is! My first tri is in less than one month. Things are heating up (literally and figuratively) and I know I have a really fun and exciting season ahead of me!

(2) No-Bake Almond Granola Bars. I tried making my own granola bars for the first time ever, using a recipe from May’s Triathlete magazine. I’ve always heard it’s “easy” to make granola bars at home, but “easy” is a relative term, and since I’m fairly new to cooking and baking, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It turns out, it is, in fact, easy to make granola bars at home – although, I will say that the ingredients (in this case, almonds, almond butter, and dark chocolate) are not cheap!

These no-bake bars set in the fridge for two hours. I kept the dark chocolate in large chunks and that was a decision I don’t regret making.

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Despite the cost, the final product is delicious and nutritious! The recipe yields 16 bars, which you can store in the fridge or freezer. I think this recipe could be altered by using different nuts – cashews or walnuts, for example – or adding other ingredients, such as coconut flakes or dried fruit. I plan to experiment with this recipe after I finish enjoying my first batch of almond and chocolate treats.

I will say that these bars are a bit messy, so I’m not sure they are great training fuel, but they are good for snacking and/or dessert at home or in the office.

Check out the May issue of Triathlete for the recipe.

(3) MooMotion Cadence Cycling Capri. As I mentioned, it is finally warming up in Northern Virginia, which has meant more outdoor riding. YAY! Last week, I was able to wear my MooMotion Cadence Cycling Capris and a short sleeve jersey for a 2-hour outdoor ride.

After riding in so many layers for most of this winter, it felt so freeing to ride in only one layer of clothes!

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This is the first time I’ve been able to wear the capris outside and they did not disappoint! They are super comfortable, have the perfect amount of padding, and are just the right weight for this time of year. They are going to be my go-tos for spring riding. 

(4) Trader Joe’s Organic Whole Green Figs. My friend, Oiselle Flock member, fellow triathlete, and dietetics student, Taryn, always posts the most interesting nutrition info on social media. I love reading her posts! I have learned so much from her and I highly recommend you follow her on Instagram if you have an interest in food and nutrition (follow her on Instagram at: instagram.com/tmbf).

Taryn recently posted about the health benefits of organic whole green figs available in the Trader Joe’s freezer section (and, yes, she has an adorable dog, too). 

IMG_2834 I picked up a bag during my last grocery shopping trip, along with some other frozen fruit. I’ve been adding the figs to smoothies with Vega Protein Smoothie protein powder from Vitacost (use my Vitacost referral code for $10 off your first order).

One of my favorite combos so far is a ripe banana, one fig, a couple of frozen strawberries, and a few frozen pineapple bits, with one scoop of “Viva Vanilla” flavor Vega Protein Smoothie protein powder, unsweetened soy milk, and ice. I blend it all together in the Vitamix and it tastes just like a milkshake! It is an awesome post-workout treat!

I love that my “treats” are now healthy things like fruit smoothies, instead of Twizzlers! I decided I wanted to change my diet at the end of last year and I did. As Taryn says, you have the power to #makeyourhealthhappen!

(5) TriEqual.com and #50WomentoKona. I’ve posted quite a bit about the #50WomentoKona issue on Twitter and on Facebook, but I still get questions about it, so I thought I would briefly discuss it and provide some additional resources here.

No matter how complicated WTC (the company that runs Ironman-branded events) tries to make this issue, it’s really quite simple: while 50 professional men can compete in the Ironman World Championships each year, there are only 35 slots for professional women. 35 does not equal 50.

I obviously don’t have any direct personal stake in this issue, as I’m not a professional triathlete. However, I do feel passionately about this issue. As I stated on International Women’s Day:

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To me, the issue boils down to equality of opportunity (I can’t take credit for that phrase, but I think it’s perfect!) and that is a concept everyone should get behind – whether a professional or age-grouper; male or female; triathlete or not. 

If you want to learn more, I recommend the following:

  • Visit the TriEqual website for more information and to join the team of TriEqual volunteers. 

I hope everyone is having a great April!

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February Favorites

No one has ever accused me of lacking enthusiasm. I’m either not interested, or I’m all in. Here are five things I’m loving this month:

1. Minimalist Baker Chickpea Sunflower Sandwich I recently tried the most delicious recipe from Minimalist Baker. This chickpea sunflower sandwich is AMAZING! I really can’t say enough about it. The recipe says the garlic sauce (which is made with hummus and lemon juice) is optional, but you really need to make it. It’s so tangy and bright. That may even be my favorite part of the entire sandwich. I added sliced tomato and avocado, but you could certainly add other toppings (lettuce, red onion, etc.).

The most amazing sandwich in the history of sandwiches.

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While I initially made a sandwich, I have subsequently put a scoop (okay, maybe more than a scoop…) of the chickpea mixture on greens with chopped tomato and avocado and the garlic sauce drizzled on top to make a salad. I’m sure I will be using the sauce on a zillion different things going forward. Both the sauce and the chickpea filling were quite easy to make. I think this will appeal to meat-eaters, as well. Make this recipe – you won’t be disappointed!

2. TRX at Machine M3 If you live in Northern Virginia, you must try a TRX class at Machine M3 in Vienna. One of my major goals for this year is to work on my strength. I know I’m not alone here – getting stronger seems to be a popular goal for many runners and triathletes, based on the blogs and social media posts I’ve read lately. Several people recommended TRX to me and I finally tried it a few weeks ago. The great thing about TRX is that there are always alternate versions of each exercise to make it harder or easier. For example, in my class, I do sit-ups with a weighted ball, but only extend the ball forward (easier), as opposed to holding it over my head (harder). I hope to eventually be able to do sit-ups with the ball over my head, but for now, I like that I have the option to modify and still benefit from the exercise. I think I may be the last person on Earth to discover TRX, but if you haven’t yet and are a runner or triathlete looking to improve your strength in 2015, I highly recommend trying it!

3. MooMotion Revolution Shorts I know I have raved about the MooMotion Revolution Shorts before on my blog and social media, but they are that fabulous, and I know people may be looking for new gear as their cycling mileage builds heading into the spring. These shorts are comfortable, flattering, and durable. I used two pairs for almost all of my training and racing last year and they still look as good as the day they arrived at my door (I say “almost” because I also had a pair of Rosa Tri Shorts in the rotation, and although they are beautiful, I didn’t wear those quite as often because they didn’t mix and match with as many tops). One of the features I appreciate most in the Revolution Shorts are the pockets. There are pockets on both the left and right sides of the shorts for holding gels or keys (you can even fit an iPhone in the pockets), which is perfect if you’re running off the bike. They come in classic colors (black, navy, charcoal), so you can mix and match them with any tri top or cycling jersey. If you have been looking for new tri/cycling shorts, you should definitely give these a try.

That’s me at Rev3 Poconos, wearing the Hudson Tri Jersey and Revolution Shorts.

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4. Bobo’s Oat Bars I recently discovered Bobo’s Oat Bars and they are absolutely delicious. These vegan bars are made in Colorado, from non-GMO, natural, and organic ingredients. They come in many flavors and every flavor I have tried so far has been outstanding. These bars really do taste homemade. I have been looking for a vegan fueling option for my long training rides this spring and summer and these are going to be perfect! They are also great as snacks with a little peanut butter on top! I’ve found them in a local health food store (Roberta’s in Fairfax, for anyone in the area) and my local CVS (a pleasant surprise), but you can also order them online from the company’s website.

5. Hoka Cliftons As you may remember, I had some issues with knee pain leading into the marathon last fall and the pain reappeared when I started building my running mileage again heading into the spring racing season. Alyssa suggested I explore some other shoe options and after trying several different shoes, I bought a pair of Altras. I liked the Altras, but I never felt quite comfortable in them. While the knee did seem to improve from the added cushioning the Altras provided, I was starting to have some other issues popping up during runs. I went to see my chiropractor, and she suggested I try Hoka Cliftons, as they would provide the cushioning to protect my knee, but have a slightly higher drop (Altras are zero drop). I’ve worn them a few times and already feel more comfortable in them than I did the Altras. I’m hopeful that these are going to work well for me and keep me injury-free this year.

My new shoes!

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I’m always looking for new things to try, so let me know in comments what you’re loving this month (I know it’s not the weather!).

 

 

 

What’s Cooking

If you follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and/or Pinterest, you surely have noticed an uptick in food-related posts over the last few weeks. Since September, I’ve been taking small steps toward improving my nutrition and over the course of subsequent weeks and months, this has evolved into me trying new recipes several times a week. This is a pretty major shift for me.

At my previous job, working as an attorney for a Federal government agency, I spent over 2 hours a day commuting in addition to regularly working extra hours and then tri training on top of that. I often would come home, throw a frozen Amy’s meal in the microwave, eat that as my dinner, watch maybe 30 minutes of TV, and then head to bed. I had neither the time, nor the inclination, to cook.

It hadn’t always been that way. When I first moved to the D.C. area after law school, I actually cooked and baked a lot. Sadly, that was nearly a decade ago and while I have had short periods of trying to get back into the swing of things, I’ve never been able to stick with it.

In June, I left my attorney job and joined my husband’s residential real estate business in Northern Virginia. Now, I am fortunate enough to work from home most days and even when I have to go into the office, my “commute” is ten minutes. This has been life-changing for me. When I first started the new job, drunk on my new-found freedom, I was trying to cook something new every night and, not having cooked in so many years, the end result was often a lot of cursing and occasionally even crying. I think it was just too much change all at once. I needed to ease into my new routine.

In September, when the insomnia started, I started eating healthier, thinking part of my problem could be related to my diet. I’ve never really been overweight or unhealthy, but I do really like candy, pizza, ice cream, burgers, etc. and I admittedly would “splurge” more often than I should. Especially with my crazy work schedule, pizza made an easy, delicious, and relatively inexpensive dinner option that both my husband and I could enjoy.

When I first started making a concerted effort to eat better, I wasn’t really following recipes, but doing simple things on my own, such as vegetable soup, where I would throw a carton of vegetable broth, brown rice, and a bunch of random vegetables and beans in the crockpot for a few hours. I was eating more vegetables and splurging less.

I let myself enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas, but after Christmas, got back on track with eating right. This time, I decided to cut all obvious animal products out of my diet for both health and ethical reasons. I say “obvious,” because while avoiding meat, dairy, and eggs, I’m not scouring the internet to try to find out whether the “natural flavors” in a particular product are possibly animal derived. That is just too intense for me and my goal isn’t perfection – it’s improvement.

I initially picked a couple of recipes from the Feed Zone Cookbook, which I already own, to get going, but soon started expanding to Pinterest and internet searches and even adapting “regular” recipes to make them vegan, such as this recipe Kara Goucher recently posted on social media. Some of my favorite vegan recipe sites so far are Oh She Glows and Minimalist Baker. I’m really enjoying looking for new recipes and trying them out at home! Everything takes longer than I expect to make, and there are a TON of dishes to clean, but I am definitely appreciating the food I’m eating more.

Top to bottom: Feed Zone Cookbook Spicy Asian Noodle Soup with tofu; Feed Zone Cookbook Simple Biryani with added chickpeas; Oh She Glows Creamy Tomato Mushroom Pasta; Two Peas & Their Pod Black Bean and Quinoa Enchilada Bake made without the cheese.

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I was a bit uncertain about how difficult it would be to avoid animal products when I’m not in control of the menu, but it actually hasn’t been bad at all. I recently went out to lunch with some former colleagues of mine to celebrate an engagement and I had a lot of anxiety beforehand about what I would be able to order for lunch. At the same time, though, I was bound and determined I was not going to miss out on this lunch with people who are very important to me. I still want to be able to do things with friends and family and don’t want to feel guilty about it. I checked out the menu in advance and decided that the worst case scenario would be that I would order fish. Honestly, I just don’t feel the same way about fish as I do about cows or pigs or chickens (rightly or wrongly). Much to my surprise, when I got up the courage to ask the waitress if there were any vegan options off-menu (it was clear there weren’t any vegan options on the menu), she immediately answered – without sounding annoyed at all – that they had a kale salad I could order without meat or feta. I was so happy that I asked! The salad was beautiful and delicious! I was so very happy with my lunch. So, lesson learned – don’t be afraid to ask!

Kale Salad

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I’m learning that the sky is the limit when it comes to vegan food options. I brought delicious vegan brownies to a Super Bowl party last weekend and no one even knew they were vegan!

Minimalist Baker Vegan Gluten Free Black Bean Brownies

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So, I’m not going so far as to say that I am a vegan or even an aspiring vegan – I don’t need any added pressure. I’m just trying to do what makes me feel good – both physically and ethically – which is cutting down on my consumption of animal products. I feel like I am my best self when I am eating this way. I hope that I can stick with it. My goals over the next few weeks are to keep improving my cooking skills and to identify some favorite, key dishes now that I can fall back on when training gets insane in the spring/summer. Everything won’t be “new” then and I think that will help me stick with it. In the meantime, I’m enjoying learning about cooking, trying new recipes, and eating the fruits of my labor!

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I realized that I haven’t added any food posts lately, so here are a couple of yummies from the past month.

Greek chicken wraps with mini cucumber spears (aren’t the cucumbers adorable?) – grilled chicken, rice, romaine, tomato, tzatziki, and feta.

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Beef fajitas – peppers, onions, grass fed beef strips, avocado, rice.

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Oatmeal – plain instant oatmeal made with water, organic raspberries, slivered almonds, cinnamon and brown sugar, and light soymilk.

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And last, but not least – Breakfast Sandwich – scrambled eggs with low fat swiss cheese, avocado, and tomato on a whole grain bagel.  A great reward after a hard workout!

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Feed Zone

This weekend, I FINALLY bought the Feed Zone cookbook! I’ve been wanting to get it for a while and finally pulled the trigger this weekend.

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Lots of things look yummy, but I decided I wanted to start with something totally out of the ordinary for me. So, I made the buffalo (yes, as in buffalo meat) and sweet potato tacos.

I took the cookbook to Whole Foods to get all of my ingredients.

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For this recipe, you make two separate fillings, which you combine in the taco and top with fresh cilantro. One of the fillings is buffalo, seasonings, and peas, while the other is sweet potato, onion, and bell pepper.

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The only real issue I had (other than almost making the dreaded tablespoon vs. teaspoon mistake with chili powder!) was that the sweet potato didn’t stay as firm and neatly cubed as in the photo in the book. Sweet potatoes are soft, so when you cube them and cook them, they get a little mushy. I also used whole wheat tortillas instead of corn, because I am not a huge fan of corn tortillas (something about the consistency). Here is the final product:

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Mushy sweet potatoes and all, they were delicious and definitely something I would make again! Hopefully this will be good fuel for the very busy week ahead!

Stuffed Peppers

I’m going to try to post one healthy thing I’ve actually cooked each week. For me, this is epic, because I don’t cook (unless you count microwaving an Amy’s burrito). So, this week, I decided to make my own version of stuffed peppers.

I bought these gorgeous, colorful, organic peppers at Whole Foods this morning. The photo doesn’t even do them justice (I don’t have great lighting in my kitchen).

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While those beauties were hanging out on the counter, I sauteed some organic diced white onion in olive oil. I added ground turkey breast, organic spinach, organic mushrooms, salt and pepper.

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After that was all together, I added some quinoa. Full disclosure: I buy the frozen quinoa in the bag at Whole Foods and just heat it up. This girl has a busy schedule!! I don’t have time for preparing my own grains!! I also bought the onion already diced…but I digress.

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Once I had the stuffing together, I cut the tops off the peppers. This being my first attempt at stuffed peppers, I cut the tops off as though I was carving a pumpkin.

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I thought I had made way too much stuffing, but once you start putting it into the peppers, you realize they really hold a lot!! No extra stuffing to be found.

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Once I had them assembled, I put them in the fridge and went for a swim, took a nap, and rode my bike.

Popped them in the oven at 350 while I rode on the trainer. Here is the final product:

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I must say that they were quite tasty! Maybe this “cooking” stuff isn’t so bad after all!

Summer Pasta Salad

Today, I made a summer pasta salad with organic tomatoes, organic cucumbers, and organic cannellini beans that I bought at Whole Foods this morning.
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I added some whole wheat pasta, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt & pepper.

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A nice, simple Memorial Day pasta salad.  I’m not much of a cook, so this is a good start for me trying to be better about actually “cooking” some of my meals.