Megan Monday: Granola Girls

Monday, January 31, 2011

I love granola.
It is a well known fact that Megan likes it too. Well, it's well known if you had the pleasure to live with her. I'm pretty sure granola was a staple for Megan while we lived together, the others being Cracklin' Oat Bran cereal turkey sandwiches and saltines. And let me tell you, that Cracklin' Oat Bran is the best cereal ever. But I am not giving you a recipe for Cracklin' Oat Bran so let's move on.
The granola options in the grocery stores are out of control. People hear granola and think it's synonymous for healthy, so every food maker in the country got the idea to make 12 varieties of granola, leaving me all hot and bothered with the amount of options. I peruse the boxes for calorie, sugar and fiber counts, and lose my mind trying to keep track of which is the best choice (and on sale, too!)
Instead of having one more reason to lose my mind, I make my own.
The best thing about granola is it requires little planning on your part. There are a few ingredients you should always have in a well stocked pantry; they happen to be a lot of what you need for granola.
Try to keep some variety of nut, olive oil, honey, old fashioned oats and either a seed (like sunflower), or flax seed and/or wheat germ in your cabinet. Most of these items are relatively cheap and they can be used in a ton of recipes, like cookies, cakes, muffins, etc.
You can truly build any type of granola with those main ingredients. Currently, my imagination is being sucked dry by the immense amount of reading I have for the semester. I'm talking 250 pages in ONE week for ONE class. Occasionally, I need a break, and for me, building my own granola sparks my creativity more than making a collage, trying to pretend I can knit, and the list goes on.
I know Megan is super busy with running, teaching, grading, wedding planning, and trying to find time to sleep. I promise the granola only requires a little effort and you can store small baggies of it in your desk and eat it all week long.

TIP: For snacks like granola, it's easy to go overboard on portion size. Once your snack is ready, divide into serving sizes and pour into small baggies. Stick them away until ready to go. This saves you from grabbing a mystery amount while you're running out the door, late, hoping to get some grub for the long day ahead. It's times like these that we can easily get off track from our healthy eating goals. Plan ahead and you'll always have ways to stay on track. Plus, you can eat your portioned granola straight from the bag, on yogurt, poured over milk, with fruit, or even on top of a smoothie. Gotta love the versatility.

Preheat oven to 350.

3 cups old fashioned oats
1/4 flaxseed and/or wheat germ
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup honey, or maple syrup/brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I prefer pecans or sliced almonds, but pistachios, walnuts, etc. work well too)
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup each of 3+ types of dried fruit (I scored and found dried pomegranate seeds at Trader Joes!) I also used chopped dried apricots and dried cranberries- try dried cherries and blueberries
1 cup coconut, if desired
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tsp. cinnamon

Mix all dry must haves in a bowl. Add olive oil. Then add sugar choice. If using honey, drizzle slowly to combine easier, or you'll have big clumps with sugar and lots of pieces without.
Place mixture on a cookie sheet with parchment paper (preferably one with an edge, so the granola doesn't slide around).
Put in oven for about 25 minutes. Halfway through, stir mixture to keep it from turning black. Remove mix when it's toasty golden brown.
Let cool, return to an airtight container and add all your choice items. Go with whatever you're craving- no rules here (there should be somewhere in life that you're not required to follow any rules.)

Butternut Squash- it really is worth it's own post

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

This is a short and sweet...very sweet post.
Sweet because butternut squash is just that. If you haven't had it, you may not believe me, but truly it is. Winter can be a frustrating time in the produce department (and in the eating healthy department in general).
Butternut squash, its healthy qualities, sweet taste and vibrant color, will get you through.
Use it in
-risotto (it's truly fab here, If only my picky fam loved risotto as much as I, ugh.)
-stir fry
-by actually makes a great side dish. And since I started this week with some cheats, let me tell you another. Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Im sure some other places, actually sell the beautiful stuff pre cut. (Start sining Hallelujah). In general, I hate to do that because it's in a plastic bag and God (and anyone who has ever met me) knows how I feel about those, but here's the thing. Sometimes life gets busy..really busy. And during those times you have little time to cook a healthy dinner, let alone cut a freakin' giant butternut squash, which is seriously one of my least fav things to do in the kitchen. So, I give you permission to treat yourself to something healthy and waste that little plastic bag.

Roasted butternut squash
In general, you'll always want to start by doing this and then add it to whatever. Except your bowl of ice cream. Pllease don't do that.
Set oven to 350 degrees.
If you are June Cleaver, buy a butternut squash (don't worry too much about what shape and size to buy.) Cut off the top and bottom, peel the skin, spoon out the guts, cut into chunks and place on a cookie sheet.
If you are not June Cleaver and don't have time to make homemade doughnuts, lemonade, tuna casserole and roasted squash, buy the stuff in bags and throw it on a cookie sheet.
You DON'T need oil for this. If desired, sprinkle with salt, pepper and choice of herbs.

Megan Monday: Cheats

Monday, January 24, 2011

One of my dearest friend's from college, Megan, has a lot of exciting stuff happening for her in 2011. The greatest of them is her wedding in July- I know in just a few short months I'll say I can't believe how quickly it arrived. As she begins to embark on a huge new step in her life, Megan is also taking on a lot of new challenges including becoming a runner and trying to be as healthy as possible.
Of course, I am happy to give Megan any knowledge I can about running and eating healthy. I am by no means a Jillian Michaels, but it's comforting to have a friend you can talk to, and her new goals inspire me as well.
So, from here on out (or until Megan says I don't need you anymore) I'll dedicate a post to Megan every Monday. In general, the posts will have a recipe and a tip to help her (and maybe you too?)
Also, please leave Megan comments to help inspire her- we all know how hard it is to commit to things, like train for a marathon, when daily life constantly gets in the way. With her permission, I'll post updates of all the rock star accomplishments Megs makes along the way.
This week's recipe, Sloppy Joes, is actually a cheat recipe for a couple of reasons.
First of all, I know how tough it is to cook healthy when you're one or two people- what the heck do you do with all the food? Isn't it just easier to go out? Without a doubt it is, but there are a couple of cheats that help simply the responsibility of putting good food in your body.
The cheats for the Sloppy Joe recipe:
1. Put in as many veggies as you do meat. You stretch the amount of calories you get and don't notice it because you're still getting everything you want.
2. Make a versatile recipe, like these sloppy joes, and find other ways to use it throughout the week. There is nothing fun about eating the same thing every day, 5 days in a row, for lunch AND dinner. For the sloppy joes, serve on buns the first day with fruit and salad and the next day, add some more tomato sauce and serve it over whole wheat pasta. On day three, serve it on a baked potato and if you STILL have leftovers, add a couple of cans of beans and make a hearty chili.

SLOPPY JOES serves 4-6
1 lb. ground turkey or chicken (you want about 7% fat)
1 small onion
1 yellow, orange or red pepper
1 package mushrooms, chopped
1.2 cup chopped celery and/or carrot
(the more veggies the better!)
1 T Worcesheter sauce (Amy's brand makes a GREAT vegan one that tastes better than the original)
1 T red wine vinegar
3 T tomato sauce
3 T tomato paste
1 t parsley
1 t black pepper

In a large skillet, cook meat until no pink is left- chop it up as you go to get to small pieces. Remove from skillet and place in bowl.
Next, cook chopped veggies in the small skillet you used for the meat- do not rinse skillet.

Once soft, replace meat and add vinegar and W. sauce. Let simmer on medium for 2 minutes.

Add sauce and paste and let cook on medium for 5-10 minutes.
Keep on low until ready to serve, or put in tupperware and save for later.
Once ready, serve on whole wheat buns with a salad, veggie sticks.

TIP: Determine how much weight you want to lose from the get go. On post its, write the weight you hope to get to and every pound in between, i.e. 170, 169, 168, 166, 165...Line the post its on a wall, mirror, planner, etc. Each time you lose a pound, remove a post it note, crumbe it up and throw it away- it serves as a great reminder of the progress you're making.

Fed Up With Lunch: A blog review (I think that's what I'm writing about, anyway)

Friday, January 21, 2011

The small blessing that comes from procrastinating and having a job where your boss is a 1 year old who sleeps for hours on end, is your discovery of some awesome, thought provoking stuff on the internet.
In particular, this blog.
I stumbled open it via my homepage, cnn (yes, cnn as my homepage allows me to feel slightly smart and less ridiculous than having say, facebook or People as my homepage. Not that I read cnn nearly as much as those other two) Not the point.
The point is that as someone who worked in schools, I can appreciate the effort a lot of schools try to make and I can see the injustices begin served (literally) to children. I respect that feeding 1,200 youngsters is a huge responsibility; so is teaching them, and we’re pretty much failing at that too. Neither of these issues are everyone’s fault and no one’s fault all at the same time.
“Fed Up with Lunch”, provides a way to acknowledge what’s going on, through the words, and taste buds, of a teacher who chooses to eat the same cafeteria meals her students eat, every day for a year. If you have ever worked in schools, please imagine this for one minute. It ain't no Google employee lunch room, people (have you heard about what they offer?!).
There are several questions that instantly pop into my head while gawking at the “salisbury steak” and congealed cheese sandwich, such as, why is it okay for cheese pizza to be served so often? When will schools get some type of fresh salad/veggie/fruit bar instead of throwing soggy green beans at 6 year olds (actually, some already do)? and mostly I ask, isn’t there a less wasteful way to serve all this food? The amount of packaging they use is insane.
Things like this blog, and other healthy school lunch advocates, like Jamie Oliver, with the support of school districts, are starting to change the way kids eat, but it’s such a slow process. Part of the problem is adults don’t SEE what’s going on. Most teachers wouldn’t dare eat these lunches, unless they forget their legit brown bag lunch at home, and how often do parents eat lunch with their kids IN the cafeteria WITH cafeteria food?
It’s easy to say that students have the choice to bring their lunches to school, but be mindful that, in some districts, over half the kids are on free or reduced lunch, leaving them with no other options.
I struggle to believe that there is much better than a home cooked meal with fresh ingredients, and a little TLC from the person providing it. That being said, even if school lunches never make the zagat guide or mom’s cookbook, I’m not sure if there is much more important that providing kids with the necessary tools to have a successful education. One of those tools is a hearty and healthy lunch. Schools efforts to provide things like whole wheat beans, lean meats and veggies are commendable, yet they are being squelched by the mystery meat Mondays, buttered corn and red dyed fruit ice whatchamacallits that play first string in this battle of the school lunch break.
I have absolutely no clue what to do about any of this (besides the fanciful and slightly disillusioned scenarios I’m currently playing out in my head- kids are all eating veggie burgers and baked sweet potatoes in that, by the way- don’t worry, I am a realist, I’m not suggesting that this is what I’m really after for the schools of America), but I feel strongly about the food we put into our bodies, and the crisis most people don’t realize we’re in. How such an intelligent country allowed greed to welcome HFCS, trans fats and processed food products with such open arms is hardly a mystery ($$ talks), but I’d like to believe that deep down, we have a greater desire for what is good... even if sugar isn’t in the ingredient list.

Slow cookin' chicken

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

This is chicken.

Not just chicken.
2 breasts of chicken and one pack of chicken thighs in a crock pot.
A crock pot with 2 oranges (squeezed and cut in half), 2 limes (squeezed and cut in half), a sliced onion, red pepper and green pepper.

And a handful of chopped cilantro, a package of taco seasoning and...
and...gosh, I hope that's all.
It's been so long since I made it, I can't remember.
And all that deliciousness turns into more than just raw meat and fruit when you put it on low for 10 hours or high for 4-6 (or whatever your crock pot tells you it wants to do.) Your crock pot is in charge and you should let it. How often does someone come along and say, "Hey, I know you're really busy and I'd like to lighten your load, let you put your feet up, make someone else do the work for a change." I know you know the answer to that.

Once you're done ogling at your superhero crock pot, drain most of the liquid

(save about 1/2 cup), and discard the fruit skins, bones, etc.

Shred the chicken with forks, or some nifty shredding tool, if they make one and you possess it.

Store the chicken and veggies with the leftover liquid until you're ready to put it on salad, burritos, tacos, a fork, chili, a spoon, chips for nachos, your hand, get the idea.

I made this for an annual "Christmas dinner" we have with our dear fam friends every year. It served about 10-12 people for burritos.
Cut the recipe in half by using one orange, lime, half of the other veggies, half the seasoning packet and some combo of either just 4 chicken breasts, 1 breast with 1/2 pack of thighs, get the idea.

Fact or Fiction

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Here's a new game for ya.
I give you two statements and you guess which is true and which is false.

1. I absolutely hate running on the treadmill.

2. Kale is the most unenjoyable leafy green in the bunch.

Well, did you figure it out?
Those of you I complained to the other day will easily get this one (and there were a lot of you).


I know, crazy, huh?
I LIKE running on the treadmill.
I don't get that bored. I get some sort of sick satisfaction out of it. Who am I? I have no clue why. Running outside is a lot cooler. It wasn't until my drive home today that I really thought about it. My only semi intelligent hypothesis is that when I started to fall in love with working out I did it all in a gym- nothing happened outside and running only happened in 2 minute incriments. I feel safe and comfortable at a gym, and since treadmills live in gyms, so do I.

But, kale, seriously, people?! Oh my gosh, I just don't get it. I think I need to branch out and try cooking it some new ways because I seriously do not think it's worth all the vitamins it packs. I'm trying to take life seriously now that it's January (boy, do I hate January), so my lunches have been intensly healthy. Today was a delish spicy lentil wrap, which is beside the point, but it was good and I needed to share. Yesterday's lunch was the world's worst tasting pear and a salad of kale, walnuts, celery and dried cranberries. If I'm gonna eat something that good for me, I'd at least like to enjoy the lettuce, or in yesterday's case the rubbery bitter green nonsense I stuck with a fork and munched on.
Ok, I'm done complaining.
Feel free to throw recipes for kale at me. Oh, and on that note, if you're having trouble leaving comments, I'm sorry. I'm working on it and hopefully you will be able to leave your lovely, important, smart cyber thoughts soon.

A year of Running: 2010

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

This is a long post. I'm okay with it, and I hope you are too. Wait until you've had a cup of coffee, or you've checked facebook 12 times in 5 minutes and the latest update on your newsfeed is still the same as the first time you checked it, or until your boss has left your office and you decide that the report he wants you to finish is not as fun as reading the blabber I've set forth for you.
I honestly have no idea how it's 2011. I'm thinking back to the beginning of 2010 and losing my mind trying to decide where the year went.
I suppose a lot of it was dedicated to running...something I'm sure I never thought I'd say.
Reading over blogs recently, a lot of people have taken a moment to reflect on their year's worth of ups and downs, recipes, photos, etc. One blog I'm slightly obsessed with, Cate's World Kitchen, beat me to the punch and wrote about her year in running.
Delayed, but nonetheless, here is mine.
As of today, it's been 4 years since I decided to lose 100 lbs., and change my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined. There is no need to get into all the specifics and ways that my life has evolved, but never did I imagine that the journey would lead me to running. Oh, not just running, but a love for running. Yep, I said it. I love running.
Not every day, not every mile, and definitely not when it's 35 degrees and dark outside, but I love it. And anyone who's experienced the unadulterated high that comes from lacing up your shoes, pushing yourself beyond your limits, and ending a few miles with less breath, weak muscles, and more will power than you expected, understands what I mean.
When I blindly ran my first race in November of 2009, I had absolutely no clue what I was getting myself into. The 10k on Thanksgiving, with 30,000 other people, was more miles than I'd ever ran. Then, when I completed that race, with an 11:39 mile pace, a free t-shirt, and my family and a friend at the finish line, I thought MAYBE this could be something I'd do again.
But, I have a tendency to make grand plans without realizing just how much work, effort, blood, sweat and tears will actually go into them. In particular, deciding to run a race a month for 2010. Technically, this is all N's fault, as she decided her 2010 goal was to run a half marathon a month; something I knew I had no business doing, but as with everything, I modified her plan and turned half marathons into any old race I could find.
Let's recap a few highlights, shall we?
I actually only ran 11 races (December's was canceled due to flooding), and the 11 races actually took place in 10 months (July got too crazy, so I stuck two in October).
The first race in January, a 5k, was by far one of the toughest races I ran all year. Batting some health problems, I just didn't feel like myself and my running suffered terribly. I spent Feb and March running a 4 miler

and 10k, mostly preparing for my big kahuna: a half marathon with N, in Portland.

Without a doubt, my favorite race of the year. Could it have been because I challened myself to run 13.1 miles? That I got to run and talk with a friend for 2 and a half hours? That running through the streets of my second home was even better than I imagined, or that I scarfed banana nut french toast from a favorite cafe afterward? Okay, okay, all of the above.
May, June, August were all 5ks and I must admit that after my half, my motivation to train depleted and I got stuck in a slump of churning out the same few miles every day. I think I tend to forget that running is a relationship- one that I must foster and one that will have its ups and downs. I'm still learning tobbe okay with the downs, but the more runners blogs and books I read, and runners I talk to, I slowly begin to tolerate, and hopefully one day, celebrate, those, how should I say it? Shitty Runs.
In October, I set myself up for a 5k and a 10k. Remember those downer runs I'm gonna work on liking? Let's just say they could have preapred me for that October 10k- I was NOT ready. And I kicked myself, er, TRIED to kick myself (I was too weak from those 6.2 miles) for not training better and allowing 6.2 miles to beat me up so badly. But there were Chipotle coupons at the finish line, so all is right with the world.
Plus, my 5k turned out better than I expected and I killed my times in that one. It sorta helps when you are competitive and run it with your bf and decide there is no way in hell you're going to let him get to the finish line without you.

Oh, and one more side note for a minute. Besides N, I need to give a shout out to Erin,

who became my running buddy along many of these races this year. If it wasn't for her (and N's) ability to keep me entertained with gossip, stories and puzzling life questions through these miles, I'm not sure I'd have come out the other side with as much love races as I seem to have acquired.
Somehow we're already in November and I came back with avengance. I had a PR in a Thanksgiving run (my 2009 10k time has been shattered by about a minute and a half per mile)...mostly due to the 16 year old kid I was trying to out run the last 1/2 mile (thank you for that, p.s.).
And that was it...flooding in December, so I slept was pouring down rain, give a girl a break.

I made my plans to run 12 races well known to anyone who would listen, and even those who probably didn't care. I wanted to hold mself accountable for this grand idea I had. People I forgot I told are asking me, "So, are you running 12 races in 2011?"
And to that I say, "Without a doubt I am absolutely not."
Do you know how much money races cost?!
Yeah, this was a big news flash to me. Yes, I appreciate my drawer full of t-shirts (I think I broke the dresser trying to shove them all in) and the photos and race bibs I accumulated

and more than anything I'm happy for the satisfaction, friendships and experiences the races brought me, but my bank account is screaming at me to calm down, and I must obey.
But, don't think this means I'm not doing any races in 2011. I honestly don't think I could ever go back to never racing. It's just too much fun.
Here's what's ahead for 2011:
1 10k (probably my June 2010 run in Lincoln)
1 5k (my October Run for Breast Cancer- this will be an annual thing with the bamfs from 2!LL)

1 trail run (A run I've never tried...could 2011 be the year I become crazier than I already am and decide trail running is my thing?)
2 half marathons (Portland is a definitely and I'm shooting for Urban Cow half in October. Fleet Feet is gonna love me this year)
My other running related goal for 2011 is to blog more about the actual experience of running, whether that be poor training runs, a photo of a gorgeous sunrise, and some more book reviews, too.

As cheesy as it is to add an inspirational quote to a blog post that's already been all about goals, I'm doing it anyway. Becuase I can. Because there is no teacher to grade this and tell me that quotes are cliche and sentimetal (that word is code for sappy sweetness that makes you wanna barf.)
Every journey DOES begin with a single step. It's tough to look at the big picture, or the end result and comprehend just how you could possibly be expected to finish whatever goal you've set out for yourself. Whether it's to lose 20 lbs., run a marathon, save money for your wedding, write your thesis, get to work on time every day, goals are supposed to be challenging. And when you actually achieve them, you get filled with this awesome sense of pride and ability because YOU did it. And maybe along the way you'll modify your goal and decide that a new pair of Jessica Simpson boots are way more important than that extra $100 in the bank this month, but that's okay because the journey is not only about the destination (It's total crap to me to say it's not about the destination at all- be damn proud of where you get to, people). But it is also about every step you take along the way- even the ones filled with shin splints, legs that could qualify for the Jell-o wiggling contest and fallen off toenails (yeah, that happened to me this year).
Goals are for you. No one will arrest you, demote you to 3rd grade (but wouldn't that be fun?!) or send you to Mexico (actually, that could be fun too) if you fail. And when I set my New Year's goals, NOT resolutions, every year, I try to do it selfishly: 100% for myself. Along the way I realize I may be doing some of it for the greater good of mankind, or to help relationships, etc, and if my goals got you thinking about running a race a month this year, or training for your first half, then I've achieved even more than I'd hoped for. And more than anything, my goals come from the sources of inspiration around me. So yay me for having the most hilarious, active, smartest, enthusiastic, running crazed friends around...or races of 2011 could have turned out to be t.v watching marathons instead.