Month: March 2011

Ingredient Spotlight: Plantains

As I was wandering around the produce section of my grocery store this past weekend, the basket of plantains caught my eye. I absolutely love them, but rarely have them, so when I realized how long it had been, I quickly grabbed one and put it in my cart.

Though closely related to bananas, plantains are much bigger, greener, and starchier. They cannot be eat raw like bananas and must be boiled, fried, or baked for consumption. They have three stages of ripeness – green, yellow and black. Green plantains are the starchiest and most like potato or yucca root, and are therefore used in a lot of savory dishes. As they turn yellow, they become semi-ripe and are just slightly sweet, but still pretty starchy. The final stage of ripeness is when they turn black, which is their sweetest stage. They can take anywhere from 5 to 10 days to fully ripen and go from green to black, and sometimes even longer in the winter.

Plantains are loaded with health benefits, including:

  • High in potassium, fiber, Vitamin A, C, and Magnesium
  • Low in calories, sodium, and fat
  • No Cholesterol
  • Help promote digestion

One of my favorite ways to have plantains is in the form of tostones. Tostones involve taking green plantains, frying them, smashing them, and then frying them again. Most of the time this is done using a large amount of oil, and while delicious, they are not the healthiest.  I decided to experiment a bit and used only nonstick spray, water, and salt, and these turned out incredible. The trick here is adding water to steam and sodten the plantains during the first stage of cooking, so they still soften and get crispy, but require no oil.

The first step with any preparation is to peel the plantain. You start by cutting off both of the tips.

And then slice through the skin down the length of the plantain.

Next, carefully peel back the skin with your fingers to loosen it from the flesh of the plantain.

Continue to loosen the skin until the plantain is fully peeled and separated from the skin.

Though it looks very similar to a banana in this stage, you’ll notice that the plantain is a LOT firmer than a banana and stands up quite well to a knife. Slice it up into equally sliced pieces.

And then transfer it to a heated pan over medium heat, coated with nonstick spray.

Your goal in this first phase of cooking is to get the plantains both browned and soft, so keep the heat over medium and turn it down a bit if you need to. Once one side is browned, flip them over.

To avoid using oil, add about 1/2 a cup of water to the pan and cover it, letting the steam soften the plantains.

Once the water has evaporated away, uncover the pan and check the softness of the plantains. You should be able to press down a bit without much resistance. Total time for this stage is about 8-10 minutes in the pan.

Salt the plantains at this stage, and then remove them from the heat.

Now comes my favorite part – flattening the plantains. I used the flat side of a knife and the fleshy part of the palm of my hand to flatten them (similar to how you flatten garlic), but you could also use a tortilla press, a heavy pan, or anything else that’s flat.

They should look like this once flattened:

Repeat until all of the plantain pieces have been flattened.

Now comes the last part – pan frying the plantains one last time. Return the pan to the heat and coat with more nonstick spray, and place all the flattened plantains back in. Sprinkle with a bit of salt, and then cook both sides evenly.

The goal this time around is just to crisp and brown them up a bit more. Cook for ~2 minutes on each side, and then you’re done!

They are ready to be eaten now, so you can just serve them as a side like this, or eat them like chips with some sour cream. They are totally delicious, and this entire recipe is 6 pts+ (depending on the side of your plantain – I weighed mine at it was 170 grams).

I decided to make a quick wrap with the tostones, so layered three on a whole wheat tortilla.

I added 1/3 cup of brown rice and 1/2 cup black beans on top.

Plus 2 tbsp of light sour cream, and that’s a wrap. Bad joke, I know.

This entire wrap was 8 pts+ and completely delicious.

The crispy plantains paired well against the creamy sour cream, and were a perfect addition to the rice and beans in the wrap.

While the flavors and textures were spot on, next time I’d either use less filling or more tortilla, because it was a bit messy to eat. Personally I enjoy getting a little dirty when I’m eating something as delicious as this, but if you’re in public or are more proper than I am, you might want a bigger tortilla.

Have you tried plantains before? Ever cooked them at home? Are you a fan or not so much?

Whole Foods Weight Watcher: Quick Meal Ideas

So it seems like the general consensus in the comments section of yesterday’s post was to keep the grocery store/menu planning posts going. Glad to know you all enjoy the ideas and planning tips because I really like writing them, too! Bargain shopping and menu planning are two things I have a knack for, so I’m happy to share I just wanted to make sure you all didn’t feel like it was overkill.

And honestly, it helps me stay on point and put a little more thought into planning than I would otherwise so its win-win! The only problem will be that starting in April/May when farmer’s markets open, I’m going to start to do a lot of my produce shopping there so I won’t be doing all my shopping on the weekends, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

Quick Meal Ideas

This week I’ve had an especially busy week, but have still managed to prepare all my meals at home! Monday night I was at work late, so didn’t get home until 7:30, and last night and tonight I have Weight Watchers meetings, so won’t get home until 8:30/9. I much prefer getting home at 5:30/6 and having the night free to putz around the kitchen and relax, but I don’t always get that luxury.

Weeks like this make cooking at home a real challenge, but with a little planning and enough ingredients on hand for a quick meal, its quite doable. I make sure to always have enough staples on hand with a long enough shelf life that I can make a balanced meal just by digging through my pantry, freezer, and into the depths of the fridge. Sometimes this is planned like when I know I have something going on and will get home late, but sometimes things come up and I walk in the door later than planned and hungry!

Some things you can always find in my kitchen for quick meals:

  • Eggs
  • Canned Tuna (in water)
  • Canned Beans (Chickpeas, kidney beans, pintos)
  • Cheese (Shredded, goat, sliced, babybels)
  • Soba Noodles
  • Corn Tortillas
  • Frozen Veggies
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Salsa
  • Greek Yogurt
  • English Muffins/Bread of Choice

Having a few quick to throw together, but still healthy meal ideas can be a life saver in a lot of situations. Or, if you just don’t love to be in the kitchen but still want to cook for yourself, all of these ideas are on the table in less than 15 minutes, some a lot less.

  • Linguini with Clam Sauce – Cook 1 serving of linguini or spaghetti (preferably whole wheat). While that is cooking, add 1 tsp olive oil, 1 clove crushed garlic, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and some fresh parsley if you have it on hand. Next add in a whole can of clams with their juice, and let simmer until the pasta is done. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the white clam sauce, and toss to combine. Garnish with fresh parmesan. (8 pts+)
  • Tempeh Tacos – Grate a block of tempeh on a cheese grater, and combine with a sautéed onion and a packet of taco seasoning (I love Trader Joe’s brand!). Let cook for about 10 minutes and serve over a salad or with tortillas and all the fixings. (11 pts+ for entire filling recipe)

  • Buffalo Tofu – This one does need a little planning because you want to press the tofu ahead of time. I have a TofuXpress (which I hiiiiiiiighly recommend if you eat tofu) so I just placed the tofu in there in the morning, and then when I got home I was eating within 10 minutes. If you don’t have a tofu press, you can wrap the block in paper towels and place on a plate with another heavy plate or pan on top. Once the tofu is pressed, heat a pan over medium heat and spray with nonstick spray. Cut tofu into desired size and cook for 6-8 minutes, turning frequently until it’s browned on all sides. Place the cooked tofu in a tupperware container and add in a generous amount of Frank’s Red Hot, cover the container and shake. Top with crumbled blue cheese and serve with celery and/or over a salad. (1/4 block of regular organic firm tofu with 1 oz. crumbled blue cheese = 6 pts+)
  • Microwaved Sweet Potato with Black Beans – Wash and poke holes with a fork into a sweet potato, cover with a wet paper towel and microwave on high 6-8 minutes or until soft. Meanwhile, open a can of black beans (or chickpeas, kidney beans, refried beans, baked beans, etc), rinse them, and add 1/2 a cup to the potato once it’s done. Top with salsa, goat cheese, greek yogurt, or any combination of toppings. Serve with a salad or steamed veggies (from the freezer!). (6 pts+ for a large sweet potato with 1/2 cup beans plus pts+ in toppings)
  • Egg scramble – Eggs are great any time of day. Beat 1 egg with 2-3 egg whites and set aside. Take frozen veggies and heat through in a pan with nonstick spray. Once veggies are defrosted, pour in egg mixture and cook until eggs set. Add in fresh herbs, crumble goat cheese or feta on top, or serve with salsa. Toast on the side, and you have a rounded meal. (7 pts+ for 1 egg, 3 egg whites, veggies, 1 oz soft goat cheese, 1 slice ezekial toast)
  • Tuna Pasta Salad – This one is great made ahead of time (and also what I had for dinner last night!). Cook 1 serving of whole wheat pasta and rinse with cool water. Mix it with a drained can of tuna, light mayo or greek yogurt, and chopped celery, carrots, and/or onions. (9 pts+ for 1 serving pasta, 1 can water packed tuna, 1 tbsp light mayo, celery and red onion)

  • Soba Noodles with Peanut Sauce – Soba noodles are made from buckwheat and are DELICIOUS, plus ook in just 6-8 minutes. While the sobas are cooking, defrost asian veggie mix in the microwave. While the veggies and noodles are cooking, make my peanut sauce and toss everything together. The peanut sauce and noodles pack enough protein to make this a complete meal. (7 pts+)
  • Black Bean Quesadillas – Heat a pan with nonstick spray and add in a corn tortilla, flipping so both sides are heated. Add in 1 serving of shredded cheese, 1/4 cup of black beans, 1/4 cup of frozen corn, and 2 scallions, chopped, and cover with other tortilla. Flip once tortilla begins to brown and continue to cook until cheese is melted and tortillas are crispy. Serve with salsa, greek yogurt (extra protein!) and a salad for an extra veggie kick. (7 pts+ if served with 1/3 cup greek yogurt)
  • Spiced Lentil Mushroom Tacos – If you use canned lentils like I did for this recipe, it will take 10 minutes from start to finish. You basically cook mushroom, onion, and garlic, then add in the lentils with taco seasoning and cook until the flavors combine. It’s almost scary how meat like this taco filling is! (8 pts+ for entire filling recipe)

lentil tacos

  • Mexican Mashed Beans – Take 1/2 cup of pinto beans and combine with 1/4 cup of salsa and 1 tsp of cumin. Mash and place on a toasted english muffin. Top with 1 serving of cheddar or mexican cheese and microwave or broil for 5 minutes until cheese is melted/crispy. (7 pts+ with english muffin, 1/2 cup beans, and RF cheese)
  • Eggy Pasta – One of my favorites. Cook a serving of pasta, and while that is going heat oil and garlic in a pan with any herbs you’d like. Add the cooked and drained pasta to the pan with the oil and garlic, and crack an egg directly into the pasta. Stir quickly to cook the egg through and it will coat the pasta with an almost alfredo-esque sauce. (9 pts+ with 2 oz pasta, 1 tsp oil, 1 egg, and 1 tbsp Parmesan)

Hopefully that gives you a few quick ideas that are a little outside the box!

What is your go-to meal to make when you’re running low on time?

The Aftermath

Wow. You guys rock. Thank you so much for all the supportive comments/emails on yesterday’s race recap. I can’t even articulate how much the support means to me, so I won’t even try. 🙂

Onwards!

Foam Rollin’

The aftermath of the race was a little hard on my body. I didn’t really stretch much when I finished because it was cold out and I kept running into people and chatting/waiting in lines (excuses, excuses). This was a pretty huge mistake. I woke up Sunday SO stiff I could barely get out of bed. To top it off I had this weird pain in my right foot, and my quads and hamstrings were just so tight it hurt to sit/stand/move/do much of anything.

I went out to Target to do some random shopping and decided to check to see if they carried foam rollers. I’d heard it was great for loosening up and had never used one before, but I honestly had no idea if Target would carry them. In the exercise section, I ended up finding three different ones and was debating between which one to get – and then I saw this sticker on one of them.

$6.24!?!?! I bet you can guess which of the three I went with.

It is this foam roller (I got it cheaper than on Amazon!!!) and I went home and proceeded to open it up almost immediately. I popped in the instructional video that walked me through rolling out my hamstrings, IT band, quads, calves, butt, and back. OUCH. I kept periodically screaming out in pain and Wil couldn’t understand why I was voluntarily doing this to myself.  I didn’t really have a good response for that one either.

To be honest, after using it once I didn’t notice too much of a difference and was still quite sore when I woke up yesterday morning. But, I decided to give it another go and WOW – what a difference! It hurt a little less yesterday than the day before, and afterwards, I felt SO much looser it was kind of ridiculous. It hurts so much while you’re doing it, but makes such a difference afterwards that I can’t believe I waited so long to jump on the foam rollin’ bandwagon. I’m just glad I finally came to my senses!

So, what next?

I have a 10 mile race coming up on Sunday that I signed up for by accident, not realizing it was the weekend after my half. That said, I still plan on running it but I might try to take it a little easier/snap photos of the cherry blossoms rather than race it. We’ll see if that actually happens. After that, I have a 5k next Friday (April 8th) and that’s it on the race schedule for right now (besides you know, the full marathon…). I’m thinking about finding another half to sign up for though to try to beat 2:10. If it’s a flatter course and I sleep more than 3 hours, I know I can do it! Racing is so addictive!

Grocery Shopping

Sunday afternoon I also did my final trip of the March shopping challenge and came in WAY under budget this time! Here’s the breakdown of the first four weeks:

  • Week 1 – Trader Joe’s – $68.97
  • Week 2 – Whole Foods – $38.84
  • Week 3 – Harris Teeter + Trader Joe’s – $75.35
  • Week 4 – Whole Foods – $37.92

I revisited Harris Teeter on Sunday for the last trip of the challenge, mostly because I was feeling too lazy to go elsewhere. The Teet (as I like to call it) is the closest grocery store to me, and then tend to have really good produce, but prices can be super expensive if you’re not careful. But you know me, careful I was!

First up, the produce.

  • Organic baby lettuces
  • 6 bananas
  • 1 plantain
  • 4 grapefruits
  • 2 mangos
  • 2 avocados
  • 5 apples
  • 1 english cucumber
  • bunch scallions
  • bunch cilantro

  • SO Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk ($1! On sale for $3 with a $1 off coupon that they doubled)
  • 8 Grain Flour Tortillas (2 pts+ each)
  • Frozen Eggplant Parmesan meal
  • Light Sour Cream
  • Cherry Preserves

All that stuff, and I did quite well!

  • Week 5 – Harris Teeter – 33.71
  • Monthly Total: $254.79

I think I showed that you can eat pretty well on a tight budget, coming in just over $50 a week on average for the month. This was mostly food for one since Wil and I only eat together 2ish nights a week, but included all breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners for the week. I did things in reverse this time with meal planning – went shopping and then planned my meals. I knew I had a lot of protein (frozen shrimp, tofu, tempeh, beans) so I wanted to focus mostly on produce, and I did that quite successfully. Here’s what I came up with in the aftermath.

Breakfast Lunch Snack Dinner
Monday Oatmeal w pb + frozen fruit, banana Leftover Mexican Salad Greek Yogurt Buffalo Tofu w/Blue Cheese + Celery
Tuesday Peanut butter oats w frozen fruit mix, banana Buffalo Tofu Salad w crumbled blue cheese Greek Yogurt + Grapefruit Tuna Pasta Salad (Pasta w tuna, light mayo, celery, red onion)
Wednesday Wheat Berries w Greek Yogurt “Sausage” with pasta, broccoli, and sauce Carrots + hummus, babybel Black Bean, Brown Rice, and Plantain Wrap
Thursday Peanut butter oats w/frozen fruit Black Bean, Brown Rice, and Plantain Wrap Mini brie w/crackers + veggies Mashed pinto beans w/salsa + cumin on English muffin w Mexican cheese, broiled
Friday Wheat berries w greek yogurt and frozen fruit, banana Leftover mashed pinto beans w/English muffin Apple w peanut butter, grapefruit Soba noodles with tofu and veggies

Looks good to me!!

A few questions for you today.

  1. Be honest – you won’t hurt my feelings. Do you like the grocery store/meal planning posts or is it too much? Once a week might be a bit much but maybe once a month or once every two weeks?
  2. Have you ever used a foam roller before? Would you be interested in a video demo of it?
  3. How long do you normally take off from running after a race?

Race Recap: DC National Half Marathon

I am now the proud owner of not one, but TWO half marathon completion medals!

Saturdays race was both physically and mentally challenging, but I came out a finisher and with a new PR!

But first, let’s rewind a bit.

Friday during the day, I headed over to the expo to pick up my race packet. I headed over there with Liz, and we ran into Mindy on the train. Small world. Even though we got to the expo right when it opened, there was a line out the door! Perfect for asking random strangers to take our photo…

Once we finally got inside, I started getting really excited that the race was finally almost here!

The expo itself was not that impressive – relatively small, not that great of giveaways, and pretty pathetic race swag. You know I love free stuff so I was quite sad about that, but at least I got my photo with Abe!

We picked up our race packets, wandered around a bit, and then got on the train to finish up my work day.

I went to Pizza Paradiso for dinner afterwards for the obligatory prerace carbo loading with a bunch of other bloggers. It was awesome food, even better company, and fun to be around a bunch of others who love health and fitness (and pizza!).

I got home pretty early (before 9:30) and set out all my gear for the morning – something that always makes the race feel imminent!

Camelbak, gloves, knee band, GU, Spibelt, Garmin, my bib, socks, shoes, t-shirt, running jacket, pants.

I had the pre-race jitters like woah and could not get to sleep until 11:30pm. I set two alarms – one for 5:00am and one for 5:03am – and I woke up before either of them went off feeling pretty well rested. As I waited for the alarm to go off (assuming it was just before 5am), I tossed and turned a bit but was wide awake. I finally got out of bed to check the time, and it was only 2:30am! I tried so hard to go back to sleep for another hour+, but couldn’t. I finally got out of bed around 3:45, turned on the coffee, and took my time getting ready. It was pretty surreal to be awake and in motion before 4am, but I actually felt more awake than you’d expect.

I geared up in my Beth’s Journey t-shirt and put my hair in braids for the run.

And then made my pre-race breakfast – two slices of toast with pecan butter and sliced banana.

I also had coffee and water, and then before I knew it it was 5:30 and I was heading out the door. I picked up two friends – Stepfanie and Laura, who were both running in the same race and were staying right near me – and we drove to the race site. I was glad we got there right around 6am (gun time was 7am) and got a parking spot no problem. It was also reallllllly cold out, so I was thrilled they let us inside the armory to stay warm before it was time to get into our corrals.

The morning honestly flew by and before I knew it, I was approaching the start line and beginning my second half marathon! The course was a lot hillier than I was expecting/used to, but luckily most of the hills were rolling so there was as much downhill as uphill. That didn’t make the uphill portions any easier though!

The race was also really crowded throughout. I was expecting it to thin out a lot more than it did after the first few miles, but it stayed pretty packed until the end. I took a GU right before crossing the start line, and then again at 4, 7.5, and 10.5 miles (so 4 total). Miles 1-5.5 were pretty uneventful, and I was really glad to have my Camelbak with me so I didn’t have to stop at any of the water stops!

  • Mile 1: 10:08 (SO crowded!)
  • Mile 2: 9:35
  • Mile 3: 9:28
  • Mile 4: 9:17 (took a GU after this)
  • Mile 5: 9:55

Around mile 5.5, there was a HUGE hill that took everything I had not to start walking. It was once we turned onto 18th street and Connecticut Avenue, and then went under Dupont Circle.

Coming out of the circle all the way up to Columbia was one of the hardest parts of the course for me, but then I spotted my friend Lianne who came to run part of the race with me. She took the above photo right before I screamed her name and she ran in and came by my side with Gatorade and support. I was SO happy when I saw her that I almost started crying. It’s crazy how emotional racing makes me.

It was around mile 6.2 and she kept telling me random stories that helped me focus on what she was saying rather than the fact that I was running a half.

  • Mile 6: 9:37
  • Mile 7: 10:28 (worst part of the hill – took a GU after)
  • Mile 8: 10:01
  • Mile 9: 10:03
  • Mile 10: 9:43

Lianne wasn’t sure how many miles she was going to run with me, and decided she would run the whole rest of the race midway with me! I was SO happy to hear that she wanted to finish with me because her support was really helping me keep going. I think the fact that I slept 3 hours was really starting to kick in and the hills were just really getting to me. (Plus the fact that I was running 13.1 miles…)

The last three miles were HARD. There were only a few hills, but I was just exhausted at this point. I kept repeating “Quitting is forever” over and over so I wouldn’t stop (in my head, don’t worry). Lianne kept asking me if I was ready to pick up the pace and I kept confidently responding “Nope!” Slow and steady…

  • Mile 11: 9:37 (took another GU)
  • Mile 12: 10:14
  • Mile 13: 10:00
  • Last .3: 2:45 (9:13 pace)

I was able to sprint the last little bit to end the race quickly, and while I was so proud of myself for finishing, I was also SO ready for the race to be over.

My best friend/saving grace Lianne and I:

I knew I had PRed but wasn’t sure of my official time. I ended up running an extra .2, even though I tried to stick to the inside of the curves as much as I could!

It’s kind of crazy I ended up running an extra 2/10th of a mile even though I was conscious of sticking to the inside of curves. Imagine how much extra I would have run if I wasn’t paying any attention!

I found the results tent and got my official time…

2h10min46sec

My first half was 2h16min18sec, so I shaved 5:32 off my time from my first!!!

I was honestly a little mad I finished above 2:10 because I really wanted to break it, and it’s annoying that I ran an extra two tenths of a mile because taking that would have put me under 2:10, but I AM happy that I finished and PRed! You can guess what my goal will be for my next half marathon… yes, I said next.

Thank you to everyone who left a supportive comment, tweet, or email encouraging me for this race! I appreciated every single one and  felt so lucky for all the support I received!

Choice Race Gear

They always say you should never wear, eat, or do anything new during a race that you haven’t tried out before. The weeks of training leading up to race day are not only to get your body physically ready to run the distance, but to also test out different fueling and hydration techniques to make sure you are good to go on race day with (hopefully) no surprises. I’ve definitely had my ups and downs with training, and most of it can all be directly traced back to how well (or poorly) I fueling during the run.

With that in mind, I thought I’d show you guys the gear I plan to wear tomorrow for my half marathon (and that I use for running most long distances in general). For shorter distances, all you really need is a good pair of shoes and some comfortable clothes, but once you get into longer runs (over 6 miles for me), you need to start thinking about hydrating and fueling during the run itself. Here’s what I’ll be sporting tomorrow!

1. Brooks Adrenaline GTS 10

Brooks Adrenaline GTS

I absolutely LOVE my shoes. I’ve tried a bunch of different ones, and these are the ones that fit me best and leave my feet feeling great after a long run. They are light, airy, and super comfortable with moderate support. I was actually wearing the wrong sized shoe for more than a year when I first started running in April 2009. I was wearing 9.5 instead of 9 wide, and it’s made a HUGE difference. Go to a specialty running store and get sized and buy the shoes at the store since they helped you. After you’ve found your shoe, you can buy replacements online for cheaper. I’ll be purchasing my third pair of these after my race!

2. Garmin 305

Now this one isn’t essential for everyone, but I just love my Garmin for outdoor running. It’s great to be able to see exactly how far you’ve run (to the hundredth of a mile!), your current pace, how fast your last mile was, calorie burn, and what time it is (it is a watch after all!). I wear my Garmin anytime I exercise outside (run or bike), but especially on race day, I want to be able to keep track of how I’m doing! (Mental note: Make sure this is charged!)

3. Camelbak Hydration Pack

camelbak-annadel-pack

I’ve experimented with and own many different types of water bottles including a fuel belt and hand-held water bottle, but the CamelBak is hands down my favorite for long distance running. It’s great not having to carry anything in your hands, and the one I have holds 1.5 liters which is perfect for any distance I’ve run to date. Though this seems counter intuitive, you can’t even tell its there because the fit is perfect, plus it’s super easy to drink from while you’re on the go. I didn’t wear my CamelBak during my first half – I just stopped at the water stations for water/gatorade, but this time I’m planning on wearing it so I don’t have to stop as much. It also has pockets to hold ID, keys, phone, and anything else you might need.

4. Spibelt

spibelt

I never knew how much I’d love the Spibelt when I first bought it if I’m being totally honest. It doesn’t move around at all while you’re running and holds so much more stuff than it looks like it would. I mostly use it for fuel during races and runs because it’s easier to access than if it’s in the pocket of the CamelBak. I’m planning on stuffing it with all the GUs and Sports Beans I need for during the race so they are easy to grab when I need them. Most race expos carry them – I got mine the day before my first half marathon and I’ve used it many, many times since then.

5. Sports Beans and GU

sportsbeans gu_vanilla_bean

These are my two running fuels of choice, and I’ve tried pretty much everything out there. I actually like the taste of the Sports Beans a lot and they really feel like I’m eating candy so it makes me happy, but the GUs are easier to take down quickly, so I will be using a combination of the two during my race. My favorite flavors are Lemon Lime for the Sports Beans (tastes like Gatorade Jelly Beans) and Vanilla Bean for the GUs. My plan for tomorrow is to have 2-3 GUs (200-300 calories) and 1-2 packets of Sports Beans (100-200 calories) during the race. I’ll have 4 GUs and 2 packets of beans with me just in case!

I have to freak out for one second… I can’t believe my half marathon is tomorrow!!! AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

Ok, done. 🙂

What is your #1 most essential workout accessory? If you’re a runner, what is your favorite type of running fuel (beans, shotblocks, gus, gummy bears, honey, etc)?

Lentil Bolognese Sauce

When I was a kid, pasta with Bolognese sauce was always a favorite of mine and one of my go-to’s at any Italian restaurant. The thick, hearty sauce felt like a meal in itself, so when ordered with pasta, it was like getting two for one in my mind. It felt like such a step up from regular sauce and I could not understand why anyone would conceivably choose plain old marinara when they could have Bolognese.

That said, I haven’t had Bolognese sauce in a long time.  When I was toying with what to make for dinner last night, I went through the protein options I had on hand – tofu, tempeh, quinoa… and then I spotted the lentils.

I absolutely love lentils. They are delicious, hearty, and cheap, plus are the only dried bean that not only requires no soaking, but also cooks in 15-20 minutes. Lentils make an awesome substitute for ground meat (see my Lentil Loaf and Spiced Lentil Mushroom Tacos) because the texture and satisfaction is there and you can barely tell the difference from the “real thing”. After toying with a few ideas in my head, I decided exactly what I would make for dinner.

Lentil Bolognese Sauce

This sauce is delicious and satisfying, plus much healthier than its counterpart. A cup of regular Bolognese sauce clocks in at 13 pts+, whereas my version has just 3 pts+ per generous one cup serving. This would be a great recipe to make for a crowd because it will please the meatiest of eaters – and you don’t even have to tell them it’s vegan. It freezes well, and can be used anywhere you’d use regular Bolognese sauce – on pasta, in lasagna, with gnocchi, or as pictured below with polenta.

Yields 8, 1 cup servings. 3 pts+ each.

Here’s what you need for success:

  • 1 cup dried lentils (any variety)
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes

  • 1 cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, grated
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped

Plus…

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup veggie stock (or chicken)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

First, cook your lentils. Rinse them and then add them to a pot with 2 cups cold water. Bring to a boil, then down to a simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside. (You can chop your veggies up while the lentils are cooking if you haven’t done so already.)

Heat up the oil in a pot or dutch oven and then add in your onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

Once that’s soft, add in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Next, add in your celery and carrots.

And cook until all veggies are translucent, about 3-4 minutes.

Now, add in the rest of your ingredients – the mushrooms, canned tomatoes (with their juice), cooked lentils, and stock.

Stir to combine and bring the mixture to a boil.

Cover and then turn down the heat and let cook for 20-25 minutes.

Finally, using a stick blender or a regular blender (but be careful and do it in small batches since the sauce is very hot if you use a regular blender!), blend until desired consistency.

I blended mine until the consistency was uniform, and eerily like meat sauce!

Season with salt and pepper if desired and enjoy!

I froze one quart of the sauce, and kept the other quart out to use.

I wasn’t really in the mood for pasta, so when I spotted this tube of polenta from Trader Joe’s in my cupboard I grabbed it.

The entire thing has 9 pts+, so I divided it into 3, and cooked 2 of the servings in a pan with nonstick spray (one for dinner, one for lunch).

Once that was done, I topped half with a generous serving of the Lentil Bolognese sauce and to un-veganize it, added 1 tbsp of parmesan cheese.

The sauce was so thick and delicious and stood up to my fork!

It really packs a punch since its so hearty with the lentils, but I had trouble stopping at just one serving because its so delicious! I see vegetarian lasagna in my near future!

Do you ever make your own sauce or mostly use canned/jarred sauces? What’s your favorite kind of pasta sauce? I love Bolognese (obviously) but vodka sauce is a close second! I usually use jarred sauce, but spice it up by adding my own veggies/spices. This was super easy and delicious though, so I imagine you’ll be seeing this again on here!

Half Marathon Goals: Then and Now

Reading the recap from my first half marathon gives me a little bit of the chills. When I first started running back in April 2009, I could barely run for 90 seconds. The thought of even running a full mile straight seemed so far fetched that I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to do it. I ended up running from April through September of 2009 (5 months) before I had enough courage to run my very first race – a 5k. I ran it with a bunch of coworkers and friends, and even though the race was super unofficial (no bibs, no official time, no swag bags, etc) – the feeling of crossing that finish line was addictive, and so began my love affair with road races.

roadrace

(Side note: In case you haven’t read it, check out this How I Started Running post. It’s one of my favorites and I think sometimes people come across my blog and just assume I’ve always been a runner, when in fact I’ve NEVER been a runner until less than 2 years ago!)

It’s funny because many times if I mention a race I’ve run or will be running to someone who’s not that interested in running, I get asked if I’ve ever won a race, or if I think I’ll ever win one. I can’t help but laugh. It’s hard for people who aren’t runners to imagine doing something that you’ll never win, but the thing about running road races is (unless you’re a superstar elite runner), you’re running against yourself.

You’re running to set a personal distance record.

You’re running to set a personal time record.

You’re running for fun with your friends.

You’re running to show you’ve still “got it.”

You’re running to push yourself towards new challenges.

There are so many reasons to run races – but for someone like me, winning isn’t one of them.

friends

I run to challenge myself, to keep my fitness level up, and because I genuinely enjoy it. Running races feeds my competitive spirit and gives me something to look forward to. With the strict training that comes with any long distance run, it also helps take the guess work out of my exercise routine.Living most of my life as an obese person, where running was never something I was able to even dream of being able to do, leads into the main reason I run – I run because I can.

With that said, for my first half marathon back in September 2010, my only goal was to finish. I had set some time goals in my head before the race, but when I ended up getting a cold the weekend of the race, I quickly readjusted to make my only goal to cross the finish line feeling good. I tried to go relatively slow throughout the race, soak in the bands and cheerleaders, and focus on not losing steam, and I did just that. I finished feeling strong and thrilled with myself for having set both a personal distance record AND personal time record (since that comes automatically for a new race distance).

finishline

For this second half marathon, my goal is not just to finish, but to set a PR. I know that I’ve put in the training to run the distance and that I’ve put in the speed training to run it faster than I did the first time, so I have a few specific time goals in mind.

  1. Main Goal – Beat my first half marathon time of 2:16:18
  2. Secondary Goal – Finish in under 2:10
  3. Reach Goal – Finish in under 2:06 (cutting 10 minutes off my time)

I think it’s also important to set some non time related goals, so that if all else fails I can still be proud of myself for having covered 13.1 miles. My non-time related goals are:

  1. Fuel Properly – I plan to eat a GU/Sports Beans at mile 3, 6, 9, and possibly 11/12 so I don’t lose steam.
  2. Thank/smile at the spectators – The support that comes from the crowd lining the streets cheering for the runners is priceless. There are many times during races where I start to doubt myself or feel myself fading, and I look up and see a funny sign or someone screaming for me that I don’t even know, and it gives me the little pick-me-up that I need. I want to make sure I thank as many spectators as I can for coming out to support myself and the other runners.
  3. Maintain a positive attitude – I want a smile on my face when I cross that finish line. I’ll accept nothing less!

Just typing all this out makes me realize how soon the half marathon is! This morning marked my very last training run for the race, so no runs left before the 13.1 on Saturday. Crazy!!

Do you have any races coming up and what are you goals for them? If you don’t, have you ever considered running a road race? Why or why not?

Five Focuses

I realize that many items on the following list are things that I should be doing anyway, but let’s be real. There are many days when I stay up a little too late, have one (or five) too many cocktails, or don’t drink as much water as I know I should.

most-people

With my half marathon coming up on Saturday, I want to be extra strict about what I put into my body and how I treat it so that I can run the best race that I am capable of. I know that by now I’ve put in enough training for that, but following the things on my list will ensure that I’m also properly rested and fueled come 7am (yuck!) on Saturday morning.

Five Focuses

  1. Eat Clean. I try to eat pretty clean anyway, but there are definitely areas I still struggle with. I really want to focus on avoiding anything processed this week, eating tons of fruits and veggies, whole grains, and protein.
  2. No Alcohol. This one should be a breeze going forward since I have nothing really lined up, but I had two challenges with not drinking already – dinner on Saturday night, and a reception at the conference last night. Both times I stuck with seltzer with lime while others were drinking, when I normally would have been drinking too. Because I made my mind up before I even went it wasn’t too difficult and I was proud of myself for sticking to the plan.
  3. Lots of Water. Weight Watchers suggests drinking six 8oz glasses of water a day, so each day I drink at least 48 oz of water while at my desk at work, and then more when I get home. I know that I personally need more than that, so this week, my goal is to have 72 oz of water (3 bottles instead of 2) at work.
  4. Extra Sleep. I have been failing miserably in this department – staying up way too late and getting under 7 hours of sleep a night. I know some people can still function well off of just a little sleep, but that is just not me. I am a zombie and not fun to be around if I’m cranked out from not getting enough shut eye. My focus for this week is to be in bed no later than 11pm each night for this week (and I should stick with it afterward the race but we’ll see what happens).
  5. Stretching/Strengthening. I’ve been slacking in this department as well, but last Thursday I went to Bikram, and then yesterday I did The Shred (level 3 which was SO hard!!!). My plan is to try to go to Bikram this Thursday evening again, and make extra time for stretching after my runs, which should be doable since this week they are shorter than they have been (4 miles and 30 minutes tempo).

I want to finish the race looking at least this happy.

sohappy

With my first half marathon, my goal was just to finish. There was little pressure besides don’t die and hopefully be able to walk after, but this time around I have loftier goals so I have to be extra cautious about how I approach this week. I’ll do another post about my specific goals for the race (and goal setting in general) later this week, but bottom line is I know that I have to really focus to make them happen!

On average, how many (1) hours of sleep do you get a night and (2) much water do you drink a day?

A Record

It hardly feels like a Monday when you work not one, but both days of the weekend! That said, I did actually enjoy myself at the conference. It’s kind of fun and rewarding in a way to see everything you’ve worked on for so long finally come together. Today is actually the biggest/longest day of the conference, so I’ll be heading to the hotel this afternoon – I’m not done yet!

Luckily I got out of work around 2 yesterday, so I still had some of the day left. I ended up grocery shopping at Whole Foods on the way home since I drove right by it, and had brought printed coupons with me so I was ready to bargain shop. Just as a refresher – my goal is to spend under $75 weekly, do better at meal planning, and show you guys what I buy/meal ideas once a week for the month on March. You can see the first three weeks here, here, and here.

First up, the meal plan. I’m trying to eat particularly clean this week and have absolutely no booze since my half marathon is Saturday (!!!). I’ll do a post this week about my exact pre-race plans, but here’s what my eating plan is (for now):

Breakfast Lunch Snacks Dinner Workout
Monday (at home) eggs scramble w veggies, goat cheese and dill Leftover Cilantro Rice w Black Beans + Mango Salsa (bring to conference) – almonds, apple, babybel cheese, apple Shrimp (Wil is cooking) The Shred/Yoga
Tuesday Wheat Berries w Greek Yogurt + Frozen Berries Leftover Shrimp cottage cheese w/mango, apple English Muffin w/pintos, salsa, cheese + salad 4 easy miles
Wednesday steel cut oats w/pb flour + banana Leftover bean, salsa and cheese Greek yogurt w strawberries, apple Polenta w sauce and mozzarella, salad 30 minute tempo run
Thursday Wheat Berries w Greek Yogurt + Frozen Berries Out to Lunch cottage cheese w/strawberries, apple buffalo tofu w blue cheese + celery Bikram
Friday steel cut oats w/pb flour + banana leftover buffalo tofu w blue cheese cottage cheese w/mango, apple Pasta with egg, garlic, parmesan, evoo rest

Tonight Wil is cooking dinner for us since I won’t be home until 8ish (and I requested shrimp), and tomorrow night I have another training for Weight Watchers, so I wanted something quick. Other than that – pretty standard!

Now in terms of shopping, I was really proud of myself this week. Check out the loot from Whole Foods:

  • Organic Bananas
  • Organic Fuji Apples (sale 1.79/lb)
  • Organic Red Grapes (sale 1.99 lb)
  • Organic Cilantro
  • Romaine salad mix
  • 2 lbs carrots

  • Vegan Roasted Veggie Pizza ($1 off coupon)
  • Edamame
  • Organic Low-Fat Cottage Cheese (WF + Product Coupon = 2.39 total)
  • Frozen Broccoli
  • Roasted, Unsalted Almonds
  • Italian Style Sausages (WF + Product Coupon = 1.49 total)
  • Oikos nonfat greek yogurt (WF + Product Coupon = 3.24 total)
  • Organic Lentils
  • Organic Diced Tomatoes (WF + Product Coupon = .69 total)
  • Canned Kidney Beans

That roasted veggie pizza is something I’ve never tried before, but had a $1 off coupon from the Whole Foods site so I couldn’t resist.

Obviously there is no cheese, which is a little sad for pizza in my opinion, but I think it’ll be fun to try. Worst case scenario I can add my own cheese if need be. Plus, the nutritionals and ingredient list are pretty fab:

The whole pizza is only 4 pts+ and the ingredient list quite short for pizza, full of things I can read! It was only $2.99 with the coupon, and I figured it would be good to have a quick option in the freezer for a night when I don’t feel like cooking.

And now for the moment of truth – the receipt.

All of that for $37.92!! Plus you can see on there that I used $8.25 worth of coupons – a record.

After I got home we went back out to Shoppers to pick up a few extras since Wil needed some things too, and who am I to argue with another trip to the grocery store?

  • 4 Limes ($1)
  • Red Bell Pepper ($1.50)
  • Jalapeno Pepper (8 cents)
  • 3 Mangos ($2 for all 3)
  • Green Grapes (on sale for $2/lb)
  • Celery Hearts ($2)

Under $9 for that extra bit of produce, making this week’s total under $47! Booya.

How do you feel about frozen meals? Do you eat them often, sometimes, or never? What are some of your favorites? I used to eat Lean Cuisines and Smart Ones A LOT, but now I usually freeze leftovers or buy the occasional item I can’t resist at the store (like the sale frozen pizza) but for the most part I only eat homemade frozen meals now. My favorite was always Sante Fe Style Beans and Rice, even though I ate meat back then. I’ve never tried any of the Amy’s Indian meals but have heard good things about those ones, too.

The Best One

Can I just tell you what a 180 today’s run was from last week’s? Granted, I only went 7 miles instead of 11, but if this gives you any indication, afterwards I felt like this:

Can’t fake that!

Rewind a little bit – last night I went to a little comedy show that I read about in the local paper at the Velvet Lounge in DC. It’s funny because the show was early (started at 7pm) and let’s just say the place wasn’t as impressive in daylight. The show, however, was AWESOME and only $5! It was 2 hours with 6 or 7 different comics, and my friend Jillian and I were right up front. It was HYSTERICAL. The headliner was Nikki Glaser who was on Last Comic Standing, and she is this cute little midwestern girl who is so raunchy. You would never expect her to say what comes out of her mouth by looking at her, and she had the whole crowd laughing the entire time she was on stage.

Because I knew I was going to run this morning, I didn’t drink at the bar (probably also why it was less impressive than by night). I had some seltzer and just kind of laughed along when each of the comics asked if everyone was drinking and the rest of the audience shouted YES! back. Glad to report I had an awesome time even though I didn’t have a sip, which is not something I usually do (go to a bar and don’t drink).

I was up a little later than planned last night, so was not thrilled when my alarm went off at 7:30am on a Saturday, but up I got. I toasted an english muffin before I set out on the run and didn’t bring a water bottle or Camelbak with me just so I could get out the door quicker. The weather was GORGEOUS and perfect for running, and off I went! I had a packet of Sports Beans (100 cals) that I ate from mile 4-5 and I seriously felt like a million bucks during most of the run – such a 180 from last week. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Mile 1: 9:16
  • Mile 2: 9:37
  • Mile 3: 9:31
  • Mile 4: 9:18
  • Mile 5: 9:17
  • Mile 6: 9:03
  • Mile 7: 9:07
  • Total: 1 hour 5 min 10 sec – 9:18 pace (!!!)

That is probably the fastest I’ve ever run 7 miles, and I felt amazing afterwards. I’m feeling a lot better about next Saturday’s half marathon and can’t believe I only have a 4 miler and 30 minute tempo run left before then!

After the run, I ate a piece of Ezekiel 4:9 toast with peanut butter made from peanut flour, vanilla extract, and water. (30 grams peanut flour = 16 grams of protein)

I also made a quick smoothie to go with it.

Coconut milk, frozen strawberries, and frozen mango. It was tasty, but missing something – a banana! I’m totally out of bananas and if I don’t eat one today, this will be the first day in MONTHS I haven’t had at least one. I have a banana every morning with breakfast (or for a morning snack) and sometimes another one later in the day. For smoothies, it adds such a creamy sweetness, so without it, it just feels like something’s missing!

I’m off to head to the conference for work for the rest of the day and will be staying at the hotel overnight, so you won’t hear from me until Monday morning. Make the most of your weekend!!

Is there any food you eat every single day?

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