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Reflect, Renew, Revive – Part III

Revelation #3: Hypocrisy 

I am a hypocrite. I spend 6 hours a day encouraging children to face challenges, take risks, persevere through struggles… oh and most importantly keep a smile on their face and positive attitude while they do it. Anyone who has any recollection of how difficult and disheartening it was to learn how to read or to conquer the ridiculously inane rules of the English language can sympathize with my first graders. Add to these uphill battles the weight of developmental differences and you now have the kid struggling to remember what letter makes what sound sitting across the table from the kid writing a captivating ten page realistic fiction story. Every day mantras such as “Mistakes are proof that you are trying” and “Each person’s “best” is different” and “With practice comes progress” are lovingly and honestly bestowed upon my students. And yet, I will avoid writing a post because I don’t have a riveting story to tell or will make the choice not to share a recipe because I couldn’t capture a single photograph that met my self-imposed blog-worthy criteria. I will likely never be the kind of blogger who earns a profit, offers cool giveaways, and is sent complimentary items from major brands. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t hone my culinary skills, refine my writing, and learn how to capture a breathtaking photograph. It is time to practice what I preach, put my ego aside, and compromise with perfection.

Recipe #3: Spicy Smoked Maple Tofu

tofu

Not long after my ode to breakfast post, I dedicated a subsequent post to lunches. In particular, the obstacles that get in my way of eating (and enjoying!) “exciting”, healthful  lunches while at school. In that post I featured a recipe for a Tofu-Edamame Salad that was my obsession at the time. I am back to the reality of lunchtime as a first grade teacher, but haven’t ventured far from my favorite summertime lunch. My newest “go to” lunch is Spicy Smoked Maple Tofu bites. The maple syrup and rice vinegar create an irresistible flavor combination while the nutritional profile of the tofu satisfies my mid-day meal needs. I like to take a few of these delectable little nuggets along with some bite-size raw veggies and rice crackers for a well-balanced meal that satisfies my hunger along with my “no utensil” clause.

The recipe can be found at Edible Perspective. Even more impressive than the tofu is the photography on this site! Prepare for mouth-watering.

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A new school year has officially begun. On Wednesday morning I welcomed 19 adorable and eager 6 year olds into my first grade class. Behind the facade of their well put together outfits, shiny new shoes, and trendy new backpacks were timid, uncertain little kids who I’d guess had laid in bed the night before just hoping that their new teacher would be nice and would take care of them. Little did they know that said teacher had been sending out her own silent wishes for them to think she was kind and to know that they would each have a special place in her heart. Behind the facade of my mega-watt smile and brightly colored, super organized classroom I was fighting my own first day jitters. The first three days were a whirlwind of early mornings and late nights with the in between filled with getting to know one another and establishing routines. By Friday I was hoarse, mentally and physically spent, and a little voice chirping “Ms. Stoever….” was on repeat in my head. The days of morning reading, hot breakfasts, freshly made lunches, mid-day workouts at an empty gym, and a to-do list consisting of only frivolous errands are definitely over. But, just as my students’ nerves weened over the first few days so did my longing for my summer life. I proudly watched on as their true personalities and confidence began to shine through, friendships started to blossom, and laughter became our soundtrack. When we all gathered on the carpet on Friday afternoon to talk about the highlights of our first week together and the shy little girl in pigtail braids at the back of the carpet raised her hand and whispered “My favorite part of the first week was meeting you” the remaining grasp on those summer vacation luxuries dissipated. I was quickly reminded that there are few things in life as satisfying and rewarding as touching the lives of children and that makes everything (even plain yogurt breakfasts and raw veggies lunches) that much sweeter.

I am still committed to trying to incorporate some of my favorite meal discoveries from this summer into my school year repertoire and I hope to report back on my progress in future posts (hopefully iPhone photos with Crayola inspired backdrops will suffice!) But, the following recipe earned its spot as the first of the school year with flying colors. You see, along with the return to my old routine comes the reemergence of the late afternoon energy plummet. A piece of fruit is my usual go to for a quick sugar rush, but I eat plenty of fruit as is and was hoping to find an alternative that would provide me with a bit more nutritional balance (in terms of stamina a combination of carbs and protein goes a long way for me). I came across this energy ball recipe on one of my favorite sites. Brittany of Eating Bird Food has a plethora of healthful, tasty original recipe creations, but this particular was acquired from a Whole Foods cooking demo. Being a WF fanatic myself (and with a name like Heady Goo Balls) I had total faith that these little balls would do the trick. I whipped up (more like pulverized… but no post is complete without at least one cliche) a batch at the beginning of the week and popped one each day when I felt the onset of the afternoon crash. Though small in stature these babies pack a nutrient-dense punch that got me through the end of day clean-up/set-up plus the dreaded hour+ long commute home. And if that isn’t enough to convince you to make yourself something that includes a blend of grasses as an ingredient they got an “Mmmmmm!” from Nick which is about as rare as a “I’m not going to cook tonight” from me.

My adaptations to the recipe were minimal so head over to Brittany’s site for the specifics (be sure to allow yourself extra time for browsing!) I omitted the bee pollen granules and used a cookie baller for scooping which resulted in 13 tablespoon sized balls. That means I’ve got plenty to keep me ballin’ through school week 2.

Original Source: Heady Goo Balls from Eating Bird Food

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*Disclaimer* This post along with my previous one are intended to be celebrations of summer vacation. By no means am I complaining about my “real life” the other 10 months out of the year…. I am simply stating the facts. I LOVE my job and wouldn’t trade it for the world. And for that I am most grateful. Now on to more important things like this ridiculously tasty salad.     

I know I promised not to harp on the many reasons why I love summer vacation… but I’m recanting on my promise (tsk, tsk) because there is one more thing that I have been relishing extra this summer. Lunch…. that crucial mid-day elixir that gets us through the work day. “But… you’re not working. So why is lunch so remarkable these days?” you may ask. Let me explain…

Unlike my qualms with a typical breakfast spread I am actually quite fond of traditional lunchtime foods. Salads, soups, sandwiches, spreads… now those are my kinda foods. Rather my lunchtime woes are once again rooted in the circumstances surrounding my meals on a typical school day:

  1. Timing – Hungry or not here it comes! My lunchtime coincides with that of my students so it is reliably from 11:25 a.m.-12:20 p.m. (this is a very loose interpretation… see below). Therefore, I eat when the clock tells me to rather than when my body says it’s time. Sure, I could dig into my lunchbox at 1:30 if I wanted to (I am the teacher after all!) but I would have to brace myself for a 6 year old inquisition. What are you eating? … That looks/smells funny!… Ewww! I hate that!… I’m hungry too. I want a snack. Hence, I choose Option 1.
  2. Lunch “Break?” – By the time I walk my kids to the cafeteria and use my super teacher powers to squelch the inevitable tears over lost lunch cards/seating arrangement gripes/what mom packed in Johnny’s lunchbox it is 11:35 a.m. By the time I go to the office and check my physical mailbox followed by getting back to my classroom to check my virtual mailbox it is 11:45 a.m. By the time I respond to said mail (and voicemails and handwritten notes) it is 12:00 p.m. By the time I set up the excessive amount of materials required for our hands-on math workshop it is 12:15 p.m. and time to sprint to the bathroom (even my bathroom breaks are time restricted… not even nature trumps the rigidity of a teacher’s schedule) and make it back to the front doors just in time to greet the rosy-cheeked children coming in from recess. The aforementioned schedule is actually the description of a highly desired “free” lunch period. On the other days I’m committed to meetings with my colleagues/administration/parents which means all those other tasks get nixed and/or completed in a condensed tornado like fashion. So there is no actual “lunch time”. Consuming my meal is entwined in all of my other mid-day duties… it is multi-tasking at its best.
  3. Menu – As I mentioned above I have a propensity for most foods deemed lunch worthy. The complicating matter is not what I want to eat, but rather what I can eat at school. Anything that needs to be eaten warm is out of the question because of the precious time that it would take to walk to the teachers’ lounge (which is on the other side of the building), stand in front of the microwave (which I avoid at all costs to begin with), and then walk back to my classroom. Meals that require more than one utensil are also off the acceptable foods list because they entail actually sitting down and using both hands which does not bode well with my multi-tasking ways. Garlic, ginger, parmesan cheese… not in my lunch! Why? Because have you ever walked into someone’s office after they devoured an over-stuffed tuna sandwich?! Yea… we all have and we all remember it because it’s scarring. Hence why foods with pungent smells are off the menu as well. I’d like for my students not to forever associate me with an undesirable aroma (plus there is also no better way to lose the focus of a 6 year old then to invade their nostrils with a “stinky” smell). Lastly, given the skyrocketing percentage of young children with food allergies I have inevitably had a child with nut allergies in my class every year. This means no nuts or nut products in the classroom for risk of cross-contamination. So much for that un-picky palate.

But in the mystical land of summer vacation there are no time restraints, meetings, tasks to tend to, or children to care for. Lunch = eating whatever I want whenever I want.  And I love it. This summer I’ve eaten hot meals, meals with stinky cheeses and nuts galore, meals that I prepared minutes (rather than hours) before consuming, and meals that required sitting and actually chewing. I’ve experimented with new recipes that are school-friendly and those that will have to be reserved for summers, holidays,and snow days (we’ll broach the topic of these little gems come winter!) Come 11:25 a.m. on September 5th nostalgia may be tugging on the hems of my first day of school clothes, but come 12:20 p.m. when I get my first “I missed you at lunch!” hug it will all be worth it!

This salad has been one of my favorite creations of the summer. It’s cool and crisp and the sweet agave and rice vinegar, savory soy sauce, and rich sesame oil meld together perfectly. The combination of tofu, edamame, sunflower seeds, brown rice, and colorful veggies will satisfy your taste buds as well as all of your nutritional needs (protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals… it’s got it all!) And with the school year just around the corner the fact that it can be made the night before and eaten cold with just one utensil makes it a winner!

Tofu-Edamame Salad

Serves 1

Ingredients

Salad:

  • 3 oz. baked tofu (I bake a whole block of tofu at a time using this recipe http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipe/easy-baked-tofu and use it in different dishes throughout the week)
  • 1/4 cup cooked edamame
  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice (I have also used quinoa in this recipe with equally as good results)
  • 1/4 cup chopped red pepper
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrot
  • 2 TBSP chopped scallions
  • 1TBSP roasted sunflower seeds

Dressing:

  • 1tsp agave nectar (or honey)
  • 1 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1tsp natural rice vinegar

Directions:

  1. Combine salad ingredients in a medium bowl.
  2. Whisk together dressing ingredients in a small bowl.
  3. Drizzle dressing over the salad and toss to coat.
  4. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for lunch on the go.

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What do a first year anniversary, a vacation of a lifetime, aging grandparents, family members sprinkled across the country, and a national tragedy all have in common? They are all a timely reminder to me that life is unpredictable… there are no promises, no guarantees, and at times no answers. Let’s be honest… life can be unfair, cruel, and at its lowest moments seemingly unbearable. So why then do we grasp onto life with unparalleled fervor? Why do the words “life is precious” slip off so many tongues with ease? Because in life there is love. No matter where your ambiguous journey may take you around each corner is the possibility of discovering new love and even in the simplest of moments along the way old love can continue to grow. Love is beautifully mysterious in its own way as it can be unveiled in the most unexpected of entities. Many of us are blessed with love amongst the branches of our family trees, both the one who are born into and the one we plant the seed for. But, how many of us have also discovered love in a golden friendship, a furry pal, or a classroom full of first graders… at the age of 2, 22, 42, or 92?! No matter where, when, how, or with whom love is found it is magical. Love soothes us in the darkest of  life’s moments and sets our world ablaze in the brightest. Love is life’s gift.

The following words are not intended to be laden with the voice of a preacher. Rather they are a public proclamation and plea from my soul to my self. Slow down… prioritize… make time for those you love… and always say “I love you.”

My first move towards embracing this mantra is to begin a new family tradition of Sunday night  cooking. You wouldn’t be here reading this right now if I did not already cook on a daily basis. The key word there is “I.” Let me set the scene for a typical evening in our home. I am in the kitchen preparing dinner while Nick sits on the other side of our peninsula countertop working on his laptop. Despite our close proximity our interactions and conversations during this time involve minimal eye contact and overly succinct statements. Most sound something like this…

Partner 1: Hey! Guess what…

Partner 2: Huh? I wasn’t listening.

Partner 1: Forget it. It’s not important.

or

Partner 1: Hey! Guess wh…

Partner 2 (interrupting): Hold on. I’m busy right now.

By no means am I suggesting that the two of us should be in the kitchen together every night (the phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen” certainly has validity), but we could “prioritize and make time” to do so once a week. And so we’ve decided that on Sunday evenings we will don our aprons, cue some music, execute culinary teamwork, and admire one another’s work (or at least efforts!). We will sit across the table from one another… actively listening to each other and reflecting on our conversation. We will enjoy a meal made with TLC. We will celebrate and cultivate our love.

Our tradition commenced this past Sunday with a menu of homemade tomato and basil marinara (which we learned to make during our incredible cooking class experience in Rome) and fresh farmer’s market pasta. I was hesitant to blog about this meal because the recipe is unrefined, the lighting was terrible, and I was taking pictures with my iPhone. But in this moment those things don’t matter because in the words of my dear Aunt Tricia “It’s all about the LOVE!”

Tomato Basil Marinara

adapted from Chef Andrea – Cooking Classes in Rome

Makes approximately 4 cups of sauce

Ingredients

4 pounds Roma tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

extra virgin olive oil

salt

handful of fresh basil leaves, chiffonade

Directions

  1. Place a large pot of water on high heat to boil. While waiting for the water to boil use a paring knife to cut a lengthwise slit down the middle of each tomato.
  2. When the water comes to a boil place the tomatoes in the pot for 2-3 minutes. Remove the tomatoes using a slotted spoon and place in colander. Rinse with cold water. (Save the cooking water for your pasta. It now contains vitamins and minerals from the tomatoes…. bonus!)
  3. Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle peel the skin from each. Place a colander over a bowl and squeeze each tomato over the colander to remove the seeds. Chop the squeezed tomatoes into smaller pieces. Set aside the bowl of tomato juice.
  4. Smash the garlic cloves (you can use the bottom of a heavy pan) being sure to keep the skins on. Coat the bottom of a large saute pan with olive oil and place over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot place the cloves in the pan and lightly brown them on each side.
  5. When garlic is browned pour the chopped tomatoes into the pan and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer. After about 5-10 minutes the tomatoes will cook down and release more juices. Add a generous pinch of salt.
  6. Simmer sauce, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. If your sauce is getting too thick you can add the reserved tomato sauce a little at a time.
  7. Once tomatoes have cooked down and flavors have melded to your liking use a spoon to remove the garlic cloves. Then using a pasta fork or potato masher break down the tomatoes to your desired consistency. Finally, scatter fresh basil over the sauce.

Bon Appétit!

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Chapter 6 – Take Two

Coming off two hard earned PR’s I very well could have justified taking a break from running (or at least from race training) and coasted along on the coattails of success for a couple of months. However, my feats had not squashed the little bug in my ear constantly nagging me with reminders of my half marathon disappointment and how I could use my peaking fitness levels as the catalyst towards redemption. The lingering question became “Should I use my accomplishments as a reason to rest and recover or should I use them as a springboard towards silencing my personal demons?”

If you’ve learned anything about me through this saga you could probably predict which way I leaning, but once again it was the Rock and Roll Series that sealed the deal for me. I opened up my e-mail one evening in early December to find an “invitation” to register for the inaugural half marathon in DC in March. The timing was perfect… I could take a bit of break through the holidays and come the new year go full throttle with my training. Add to that my high level of appreciation and trust in the Rock and Roll Series and the allure of a weekend visit to DC during cherry blossom season and I was sold. I ran the idea by Nick who was sold just as quickly because the event was also offering a full marathon. He was gearing up to begin training for a 50 mile ultra marathon in May so a marathon in late March would be an ideal training run for him (a marathon as a training run?! yes… I too never thought I’d put those phrases together) After completing his and hers registrations, the last order of business was to decide on a goal and a plan to lead me to it. Once again, I fell back on my pre-injury comfort pace of 10 min miles and Nick graduated me to a real, intermediate training plan (in contrast to my personalized, “coming back from injury” plan) My only qualm was that by this point a 10:00/mile pace was too comfortable over short to mid distances (which most training runs are) so I settled on training at a goal pace of 9:30/mile with my race day goal being 2 hours10 minutes (just shy of a 10:00/mile pace) and a reach goal of 2 hours 5 minutes (just over a 9:30/mile pace).

Staying true to form I vehemently stuck to my training plan…. stubbornly running my longest distance ever (16 miles) with a raging sinus infection and my race day simulation run (12 miles at a 9:45/mile pace) while battling a nasty stomach bug. You may remember that I consider being subjected to winter weather a form of corporal punishment so training through the winter months should have been a deal breaker for me. However, during the week I run at the gym because early morning workouts at the gym by my school allow me to beat rush hour traffic (anyone out there who needs workout motivation should commit to commuting an hour in the suburbs of NYC… guaranteed to get your butt out of bed before the sun rises everyday). This new training plan provided a lot of variety (interval runs, tempo runs, cadence runs) which kept the monotonous treadmill workouts from getting too stale. I saved my long runs for the weekend and Mother Nature must be a fan of mine because the mild winter weather prevented me from coming home with tears frozen to my eyelids due to hypothermia. All in all, throughout the 12 weeks of training I felt strong (both physically and emotionally) and optimistic… I had genuine faith that with each run I was that much closer to my goal.

On an unseasonably warm March afternoon, Nick and I made the trek down to DC. The hours in the car gave my budding jitters plenty of opportunity to blossom into full blown nerves. I was confident that without any major, unforeseen obstacles I could reach my goal of 2 hours 10 minutes, but the overwhelming disappointment that I had experienced after my first half marathon had left an undeniable mark on my ego and I dreaded feeling that way again. We went through all the motions of our pre-race rituals… picked up our packets and perused the expo, strolled through and admired the city on our way to dinner (thank you Busboys and Poets for accommodating both my vegan diet and our pre-race nutritional needs), reviewed course maps, laid out our gear, set alarms for an hour that shouldn’t be seen on Saturday mornings, and settled in for an (attempted) good night’s sleep.

As the sun was just making it’s way across the horizon the next morning, we were piling onto a bus with our fellow runners from the hotel. Sleepy eyed but buzzing and armed with bananas, water bottles, Garmins, and Gu gels we were a motley crew and some of the first to arrive at the start. Fortunately, the DC Armory opened it’s doors to the racers so we were able to stretch and fuel someplace other than the dewy grass and relieve ourselves in bathrooms that were not portable (winning!). I was perking with anxiety, so much so that by the time we were able to head to our corrals I felt like I had already run the race ten times over in my head. Nick left me for his “I’m way faster than you” corral with his traditional peck and encouraging “You got this!” As the crowd of runners were herded towards the start I gave myself a once over (water, chews, headphones, and Nike+ all in check), pumped myself with as much power of positive thinking as I could muster, waited for the official “GO!”, and released the trigger.

To be continued…

Do my sentiments over getting to the start line mirror yours about finally getting to a recipe here?! Relax… it has arrived.

Speaking of anxiety… though I love cooking and find it medicinal at the end of a long day there are still those days when I’m driving home watching the minutes tick away as I sit in traffic (remember that awesome commute I have?!) and mentally creating a list of all the things that I could be (and need to be) doing in the few hours I’ll have at home before collapsing into bed and starting all over again. On those days making dinner feels like a chore and I can completely relate to those (my mom *cough, cough*) who swear that at the end of the day they just don’t have the mental or physical energy to pour into cooking a healthful meal. For those who are training for an event and need to get in those training runs (or for those who are simply trying to find a way to squeeze in that recommended 30 minutes of exercise of each day) spending precious time in front of the stove or cutting board may not be feasible… something’s gotta give. Though I have been trying to feature recipes for fueling runners and highlighting their nutritional benefits, I decided to put a different spin on things today and post a recipe that has advantages for both your physical and mental health. This recipe has the potential to come together in 20 minutes tops and if you cook the quinoa in advance you could cut that time down to 5 minutes and have it become a no-cook meal (perfect for the dog days of summer). So save this recipe, stock up on the ingredients, and go for that run/walk/bike/yoga class after work because you (yes you!) really can do it all!

Strawberry Spinach Quinoa Salad

adapted from Cookie and Kate

Dressing ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (I prefer whole-grain Dijon mustard)
  • 2 teaspoons real maple syrup (honey or agave nectar could be substituted)
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped shallot
  • sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

Salad ingredients:

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa or 3 cups cooked quinoa, warmed
  • 1/2 cup goat cheese crumbles
  • 2 1/2 cups strawberries, chopped
  • 6 oz baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup pecan pieces
  • sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. If you did not cook the quinoa in advance do so according to package directions.
  2. Make the dressing: In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, Dijon mustard, maple syrups, and shallot. Adjust flavors to suit your tastes and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Toast the pecans: In a small pan over medium heat, toast your pecan pieces, stirring often, until they are fragrant and golden (approximately 5 minutes).
  4. In a bowl, mix together warm quinoa with the goat cheese. Gently mix in the strawberries and spinach. Toss with dressing as desired and top with pecan pieces.

Serves 4 as a main dish

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Chapter 2 – A Change of Heart

Not long after my 5k accomplishment, and subsequent realization of a budding enjoyment of running, Pro-Activity launched their PACER (Pro Activity Conditioning and Endurance Racing) team. PACER is a social club/athletic team founded on the belief that with courage and perseverance (and an enthusiastic cheering squad!) ordinary people can do extraordinary things. In the year following its founding, I bore witness to some remarkable accomplishments including training for and completing 5k’s, 10k’s, half-marathons , marathons, and a 50 mile trail race, qualifying for the Boston Marathon, summiting Mt. Washington, and smashing PR’s. The feat that I was privy an insider’s view of was Nick’s quest towards completing his first half marathon in Virginia Beach in September 2009. At the time, we were still “enduring” a long-distance relationship which meant only seeing one another on the weekends. In the months leading up to the race, our nightly phone calls came after increasingly intense training runs and our Saturday morning sleep-ins, coffee, and SportsCenter viewings were replaced by “long runs.” The memory that sticks with me most from this time was when on a miserably humid, drizzly afternoon in August I drove Nick across town and left him on the side of a desolate farm-side road so he could run the 11 miles back to my parents’ house. I remember watching the countryside tick by out my car window, slowly turning over to our small town’s quaint main street, and then back to countryside again. All the while I was thinking “I can’t believe he’s going to cover all this distance by running!” When, well over an hour later, he ascended the steep crest of my parents’ driveway the combination of sweat and rain could be rung out of his clothing. Even after a shower and fresh outfit the bloodshot eyes and gray pallor were remaining evidence of his efforts. I clearly remember struggling to figure out why anyone would ever subject themselves to that level of exertion and assuring myself that I  certainly never would (yes… this is foreshadowing).

Then came race day and as an official PACER “loudmouth” I had a strategic cheer zone on the grassy divider where the racers were passing their mile 4 and mile 11 marks. I was well prepared with noise makers, a camera, and runner tracking text message alerts, but no amount of foresight could have prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster that I would experience that late summer morning. I watched Team Hoyt members pass by, runners and disabled partners both beaming ear to ear, Team in Training participants proudly running in memory of loved ones, brave cancer survivors and war veterans. Runners of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds  who were all aiming to achieve personal greatness. When I saw Nick at the “reunion area” post-finish line my heart was swelled with pride and admiration. Nick, and every other runner who crossed my path that day, had truly inspired me.

When all was said and done and Nick and I were a couple hours into our lengthy trek back home, I finally asked the question that had been weighing heavily on my mind. “Soooo how far would I have to be able to run in order to even consider training for a half marathon?” I squeaked. “About 5 miles. Why you want to run one now?” he baited. “Ummm, I dunno. We’ll see how I feel in the morning,” I replied in a most non-committal fashion.

And what did that next morning bring? Me, at the gym, putting in my first 5 mile run.

To be continued…

And now for a snack break…

At the most recent race expo I attended I stumbled upon a Larabar booth and felt an instant surge of excitement at the thought of free samples of one of my favorite grab-and-go foods. Larabars have enjoyed quite a bit of publicity recently, especially after being featured on The Biggest Loser, but my first taste came as a result of perusing the “bar” section of Whole Foods in search of a wholesome source of sustained energy for those days that I was exerting a lot of energy while running. The allure of the bar is that it is a pure fruit and nut bar with each flavor containing no more than 9 ingredients (some as little as 2!) As a result they are gluten free, vegan, and free of any colorings, additives, or preservatives. To boot, they are simply delicious. There are 20 different flavors, most of which I have at least sampled, but the Peanut Butter and Jelly variety is my hands down favorite. I am not one to typically scoff at high price tags on healthful foods, but I am always up for the challenge of recreating something with the added bonus of cost efficiency. When I came across Jen’s recipe for a mock up of the Cherry Pie flavor I decided that was my foray into making my own. Using her nut and dried fruit ratios and the label’s ingredients for inspiration I whipped up (more like chopped, pureed, scraped, repeated) my very own Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars.

The benefits rundown:

  • These bars are loaded with heart-healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats
  • Peanuts are a great source of concentrated protein (20-30% protein!)
  • Dates are rich in potassium which for runners is essential in maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance
  • The combination of dried fruits and nuts result in a nice blend of vitamins and minerals, including potassium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, folic acid, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc, and copper

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars

recipe adapted from Use Real Butter and ingredients based on the LÄRABAR site

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups medjool dates, pitted
1 1/4 cups dried strawberries
1 1/2 cups peanuts

Directions

Line a 8-inch or 9-inch square pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

Place dates and strawberries in a food processor and pulse until a gooey semi-paste has formed. The mixture will be very sticky and it takes quite a bit of pulsing to achieve the right consistency (some fruit bits, but not large chunks). Scoop the fruit paste into a large mixing bowl. Pour the peanuts in the food processor and pulse to coarse bits (do not over-process). Empty the peanuts into the mixing bowl with the dried fruit. Knead the dried fruit and peanuts together until combined and evenly distributed (I found using my hands to be most the most effective means of kneading). Transfer the the mixture to the prepared pan and press evenly onto the bottom of the pan. Refrigerate the mixture until it is firm to the touch, approximately 30 minutes. Invert onto a cutting board and slice to desired size.

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“Oh, do you know the muffin man? The muffin man, the muffin man.”

What about the milk man? The farmer? The fisherman? The baker?

Farmer's Market Bounty

Over the past century our relationship with the origins of our food has become quite detached. Try explaining the meaning of “The Muffin Man” to a class of Kindergartners as they recite it and their eyes glaze over with befuddlement. What do you mean fresh bread was delivered directly to homes by the person who made it?! Didn’t they go to the A&P and pick out a loaf of packaged bread made months ago and kept “fresh” by a large dose of preservatives?! And wasn’t that loaf made by an assembly line of industrial machines… not a skilled baker?!

White Carrots

It’s only in the past year or so that I have begun to discern the difference between the industrial organic Whole Foods style of foods and those that can be obtained from a local producer. I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and was shocked to discover that the average food item travels 1500 miles to our plate. That’s farther than many Americans will travel in a single trip during their lifetime! Just last night I quickly perused the produce section at my Whole Foods in NJ and found bell peppers from Mexico, potatoes from Oregon, clementines from Spain, and blueberries from Argentina. The sheer miles that separate these foods from their roots has an indisputable impact on their flavor, freshness, and nutritional value.

Blue Potato

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Whole Foods and find myself entering into a rarely paralleled state of euphoria when I step over its threshold. I feast my eyes on the aesthetic beauty of their bounty of colorful produce and eagerly explore each aisle in search of wholesome gems that I confidently know are unadulterated by artificial additives, sweeteners, colorings, and preservatives. Alongside the international far I also found locally grown apples and leafy greens. I applaud their efforts to support local farmers and provide shoppers with the opportunity to discover the unique flavor and diversity of local crops.

Ready to Roast

I have a growing sense of obligation to do my part as an individual consumer. I am fortunate to live in an area where there is a farmers’ market open each weekend… a place where I can attach a face to the produce I am buying and chat with that farmer about the agriculture practices, passion, and hard work that went into bringing it to my plate. From my perspective as a lover of healthful food the farmers’ market satisfies my desire for the freshest, most nutrient dense products. As a passionate cook it challenges me to have the ingredients lead to the recipe rather than vice versa. And as a responsible citizen it allows me to play a role in preserving farmland, reducing fossil fuel consumption, and support local business.

Simmering

The bottom line…

I will continue to make my weekly pilgrimage to Whole Foods and consume strawberries in January if I desire them. But, at the same time I will make a conscious effort to become more of a “locavore.” After all, there must be some perks to living in “The Garden State!”

To prove my commitment I present you with a Martha Stoever original recipe. Inspired solely by ingredients purchased at our local farmers’ market (and Nick’s hankering for “stew”). Is it soup or is it stew? You decide.

Roasted Vegetable Stoup - Satisfies Your Mind and Hunger

Roasted Root Vegetable “Stoup”

Ingredients

  • Root vegetables of choice (I used a combination of celeriac, beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and fingerling potatoes): approximately 1 cup of each
  • 1 leek (thinly sliced)
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 1 quart of vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 tbsp coconut oil (or olive oil)
  • 2 tsp Herbes de Provence
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh chopped parsley (optional garnish)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
  2. Scrub and trim ends and any bad spots off of all the root vegetables.  I left all of mine unpeeled with the exception of the celeriac. Cut into 1 inch pieces. Place root vegetables on a foil-lined cookie sheet or roasting pan.
  3. Melt 1 TBSP of coconut oil in microwave. Pour over the root vegetables and toss to coat. Season with the herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss again and spread into a single layer.
  4. Roast vegetables for 30-40 minutes, until tender, tossing once to caramelize.
  5. In a large stockpot melt remaining 1/2 TBSP of coconut oil over medium low heat. Add the leeks along with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for approximately 5 minutes. Then add the garlic. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes or until leeks are softened and translucent.
  6. Just before vegetables are ready pour vegetable broth into the pot with the leek mixture. Add bay leaves and bring to a boil.
  7. When vegetables are done add about 2/3 of vegetables (reserve other 1/3) to the stockpot. Let soup simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
  8. Remove bay leaves. Then using an emulsion blender puree everything in the stockpot to desired consistency.
  9. Add remaining 1/3 of root vegetables to the pot and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  10. Garnish with parsley and serve with chunks of fresh bread

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