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It’s Sassy Soup Month: Kale and Cannellini Bean Soup

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Italians tend to like to cook soup, so why do I make soup so rarely?  I’ve decided that April is Sassy Soup Month.  I have not completely determined what that means, but I’m going to try to make two easy and interesting soups a week for the next four weeks.  There are some classic family recipes that I usually stick to—farmhouse soup, Italian wedding (minus the meat-a-balls nowadays), and minestrone.  But when mom called with a new recipe she had just completed, I decided to give it a try.  It has a lot of (sassy) flavor for such a simple soup!

Kale and Cannellini Bean Soup

Once everything is chopped, this soup only takes 15-20 minutes.

Here’s what you need (try to get as many organic and fresh ingredients as possible):

½ onion and 2-4 cloves of garlic, chopped

5-7 cups of chopped kale

3-4 cups of vegetable broth

4 roma tomatoes, chunked

2 cans cannellini beans

parsley and basil

pepper

Here’s what you do:

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in your pot and add onion and garlic.  Once cooked down (about 5 minutes), toss in your kale and stir until wilted.  It only takes a few minutes for the greens to wilt.

 

Once wilted, toss in the following: 3 cups of veggie broth, all tomatoes, 1 can of beans, parsley, and basil.  Stir and let simmer while you move over to your blender or food processor.

In your blender, blend the remaining can of beans and a cup of veggie broth.  Then, add this and any remaining broth to your pot.  By blending these beans, you are creating a tasty thickening agent.

Let the pot simmer for 10-15 minutes and pepper to taste!  Add a little parmesan cheese to top it off (optional).

Serve with some fresh whole grain bread and you not only have a delicious meal, but you have a full protein!  A vegetarian delight.

Welcome back, blogger.

I envy free spirits.  I’ve always wanted to be one—someone who is comfortable floating from job-to-job or happy with only the clothes on his/her back or moving from place-to-place.  “Living in the moment” would be nice, wouldn’t it?  But it just doesn’t work when you feel the urgent and consistent need to color code your yearly planner.  Nope, I like stability, goals, and a highlighter.

But what I’ve learned over these past few months—months filled with uncertainty and a feeling of utter upheaval (a recession does that to a lot of us, no?)—is that you can still be an adventurer without being a free spirit.  I’m spontaneous in the kitchen, on the rock, and in the woods.  And that’s enough for me.

My poor, little blog—my major creative outlet—has been neglected in 2011 because I’ve struggled with these uncertain months.  I lost track of my hobbies and only focused on the stress.  That was dumb.  So, from now on, less stress and more blogging.  Stability is settling back in, and I am full of healthy living adventures!

Marathon Training: Half the Distance = Half the Stress

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I think most of us have been told at some point to “know your limit.”  Whether it is with exercise, food, work, or even driving a car, that phrase often pops up from someone a little older and a little wiser.  Back in November when I impulsively registered for my first marathon (and registered for a hard one), my logic was that this goal would help me through a time of moving, job changing, financial instability, and the winter blues.  But as I got settled back in Vermont (yay, Vermont!), I realized that although these areas of my life were in an upswing, marathon training put a significant amount of stress on an already stressful few months.  Living between three homes, dodging snowy and icy days, and starting a new job constantly collided with my training schedule.  I began getting nervous that I was behind in my running and I had nightmares of falling to pieces on mile 1 of the race.  I cursed the Vermont snow when I would normally be its top cheerleader, and I began getting angry with myself for not being in better running shape.

A few weeks ago I called my veteran-marathoner and still super-athlete dad for some advice.  His logic is always much more direct than mine.  With a simple “don’t be crazy” and a suggestion of changing my race to the half marathon and registering for a full fall marathon, I sighed a bit of relief.  He reminded me that there is no reason to risk injury or to add more stress to life.  The half marathon is certainly doable, and it is still a wonderful accomplishment.  Now, I am enjoying my runs and not worrying too much about my schedule.

I’ve also realized that I have a “limit” to competition.  I have some power-house friends who run the NYC and Boston marathons and average 6-7 minute miles, friends who will be out running 13 miles in -10 degree weather, and friends who cannot even comprehend skipping a day of running (or running with me and my solid 10-minute mile pace).  Me? Meh-not so much.  I’m competitive to a certain degree—I like to climb hard and reach new goals, and I like to “feel the burn” on workouts—but I have zero desire to do what these crazy friends of mine do (although I fully support their “craziness”).  And I think I got caught up in their definitions of competition instead of sticking to my comfortable competitive zone.   We all have different athletic needs, different bodies, and different goals.  I’m starting to feel comfortable as a runner, and I have found running partners with similar mid-competitive goals.  As always, it’s important to know and be comfortable with your mind and body.

So, cheers to the half marathon in June and cheers to knowing my limits!

Pick Up Some Food Fast (Not Fast Food)

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My food snootiness does not put me above quick, no mess, and no preparation meals.  There are nights when the thought of cooking for two hours actually makes me angry, and I rarely take the time to plan what I am bringing for lunch to work.  So there are a few things I always keep in the kitchen that are healthy, delish, and crazy easy.  There is no reason to ever eat fast food, where even the “healthy” meals usually contain sugars, hydrogenated oils, and some sort of mystery ingredient.  You can make food fast for those nights that cooking is just not an option or for days you forget to make your lunch the night before.

For those moments, I almost always decide on soup and salad.  Imagine organic soups are dairy free (for us lactose-intolerants) while still creamy, and they are certainly healthy and flavorful.  All you do is poor some in a pot or warm it up in the microwave for just a minute.  And for the salad, I always keep a few goodies in the kitchen to spruce up the greens in less than a minute: dried cranberries, can of black beans, and walnuts (and maybe some Cabot cheddar).  In less than 5 minutes you have prepared your lunch for work or made your dinner.  And for less than 10 dollars, you have enough to last you a few days.

So, yes I promote healthy cooking and yes it is my favorite hobby, but no one wants to cook every night and no one is organized enough to prepare lunch the night before.  (Or at least that’s my excuse).  Soup and salad it is!

A Delicious Mistake: Vegetarian Sweet Potato Potpie (Lactose-Free!)

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A friend of mine recently said, “I don’t know how to cook” and I told him that he reminds me of my 15-year-old students who often said, “I don’t know how to write; read; do this; do that.”  Cooking, I’ve learned, is made up of moments of discovery.  Anyone can follow a recipe, just as any student can follow a template, but an inspiring cook like an inspiring student creates by discovering and taking chances.  (Really, what’s the worse that can happen?)  Yes, certain dishes have classic recipes that I love to follow, but the most exciting moments in the kitchen happen when you buy the wrong ingredients and when you put the foods you like into a dish rather than sticking to the ingredient list.  And the result more often than not is deliciously surprising.

I decided that this week is going to be sweet potato week.  There is nothing to hate about sweet potatoes—they are yummy and known cancer-fighters—so to make them the “secret ingredient” of the week seemed logical and exciting.  Yesterday’s goal was to make a vegetarian sweet potato chili, but with a simple “you should make a potpie” from mom, my plans changed and I found myself making a new grocery list.  I rarely eat potpies, mostly because they are usually filled with meat and lactose, and I am pretty sure the “pie” part is more on the unhealthy side.  A lactose-free, low-fat sweet potato potpie brought me to the store.

Because I decided to make the potpie at 4pm, I had no time to make my own pastry top.  Instead, I grabbed what I thought was surprisingly healthy puff pastry dough from the store.  It contains less than 70 calories and is made with unbleached whole-wheat flour and other healthy ingredients.  Perfect!  Once I got home, I quickly realized that there is no puff to the pastry sheets I bought.  I now had two boxes of phyllo pastry sheets.  With a shrug and a giggle I made a somewhat silly looking “potpie” that was loaded with flavor, color, and healthy ingredients.  My mistake turned out to be a healthy substitute!

Ingredients I used to serve 4:

2-3 sweet potatoes, chopped in bite sizes

1 pineapple

½ sweet onion

2 garlic cloves

4 carrots

1 cup of yellow corn (I used Steamfresh frozen)

2 cups of lactose-free or soy milk

Few tablespoons of whole-wheat flour (or anything you want to use as a thickener)

2 tablespoons of cinnamon

salt and pepper to taste

phyllo pastry sheets

What I did:

In a skillet, sauté your onion and garlic in a little olive oil.  Then add your sweet potatoes and carrots.  Once the potatoes are soft, add the corn and pineapples.

In a small bowl, mix the milk and cinnamon.  Add your thickening agent (flour for me) and mix well.

Pour the milk mixture into your skillet and mix well, keeping the heat on medium.

Once it thickens, line your ramekens with a pastry sheet.  Pour in your mixture, and scrunch a few pastry sheets on top.

Bake at 400 until brown (about 15 minutes).  I served with some homemade pizza!

 

Note: I’ve learned not to buy a whole pineapple unless you have the appropriate tools.  Too. Much. Work.

Marathon Training: what day is it?

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At some point, we all shower, get dressed for work, make coffee and then realize it is a Saturday, when we don’t work on Saturdays.  Or, we go through our Thursday schedule and somewhere around 2pm realize it is only Tuesday.  And my personal favorite is when we go about a Monday morning like it’s Sunday—whoops, late for work.  But what happens when you lose track of your training schedule?  Jumping back into your schedule where you left off may not be the healthiest route and, if you’re like me, it’s a mental debacle.

January has been rough for my marathon training.  I moved, I got the flu followed by some food poisoning, and I’ve just been out-of-running spirits.  (Not to mention the -19 wind-chill outside).  But who said marathon training wouldn’t come with obstacles, right?  There is no giving up—I am conquering this feat with my feet—and if there was ever a time when I need a goal like this, it is now.  So my plan to get back on track begins with a look at where I jumped the rails and how I should’ve handled barriers.  And then, how I will handle them now.

1. Moving: run to pack and pack to run

Everything about moving is stressful: packing boxes, cleaning, packing the uhaul, driving 15 hours (with dogs), and then, of course, unpacking.  As you can imagine, it gets even more difficult to get out and run when you have packed your running clothes and shoes in various boxes.  Lesson 1: pack a small bag with all your running gear and leave it far away from your boxes.

2.  Flu: too sick to run and then sick of running

The flu wiped me out for 6 days—a big schedule interrupter.  But the worst part about it was that when I was feeling better I lost my drive to run.  Being on the couch for a week made me into a couch potato.  And for someone who is not normally a couch potato, it was nice.  Lesson 2: force yourself into a recovery jog just to remind yourself of why you like to run.

Sarah, left above, forced me on a 4 mile run once I recovered from the flu.

3.  Winter-blues: wimpy is as wimpy does

As I’ve mentioned before, winter-running can be awful, and awfully slippery.  But winter even without the running can bring all sorts of woes, and I have found that once winter brings my spirits down my running falls flat too.  Lesson 3:  do fun winter-only activities to remember that winter ‘aint so bad.

A little snowshoeing in a winter-wonderland helps you appreciate winter.

My new schedule:

Rather than following my schedule this month, I have been running whenever I feel up to it.  Bad idea.  Knowing that this mentality is nothing but a lazy way of staying in shape, I’ve re-written my schedule and did a priority check on my lifestyle.  Running had fallen below moving, writing, cooking, and sleeping.  It needs to crawl back up and claim its spot under “waking up.”  So, in attempt to regain my strength and schedule, I’m posting my new marathon training schedule beginning tomorrow.  And this time I mean it.

1 2 miles 3 miles Xtrain 30 min 3 miles 6 miles
2 Yoga 4 miles Xtrain 30 min 4 miles 8 miles
3 Yoga 4 miles Xtrain 30 min 4 miles 9 miles
4 Yoga 4 miles Xtrain 30 min 4 miles 8 miles
5 Yoga 5 miles Xtrain 30 min 5 miles 10 miles
6 Yoga 5 miles Xtrain 30 min 6 miles 11 miles
7 Yoga 5 miles Xtrain 30 min 5 miles 10 miles
8 Yoga 6 miles Xtrain 30 min 6 miles 12 miles
9 Yoga 6 miles Xtrain 45 min 7 miles 14 miles
10 5 miles Xtrain 30 min 4 miles 9 miles
11 Yoga 5 miles Xtrain 30 min 6 miles 16 miles
12 5 miles Xtrain 45 min 5 miles 11 miles
13 Yoga 6 miles Xtrain 30 min 7 miles 18 miles
14 5 miles Xtrain 39 min 5 miles 10 miles
15 Yoga 6 miles Xtrain 45 min 7 miles 15 miles
16 Yoga 7 miles Xtrain 45 min 7 miles 20 miles
17 5 miles Xtrain 30 min 5 miles 10 miles
18 Yoga 5 miles Xtrain 45 min 4 miles 8 miles
19 Yoga 4 miles Xtrain 30 min 3 miles 6 miles
20 Yoga 3 miles 2 miles RACE DAY!

What a man in short shorts can tell you: 2010 in review

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Sitting in my friend Sarah’s Vermont apartment this morning with hot tea and EatingWell Magazine in hand, I turned my head slightly to the left to look out at the falling snow.  What I saw amidst the six inches already on the ground and the blowing snow rapidly falling from the clouds was a man.  A man in shorts.  Short shorts, to be more specific.  Before my mind could register the oddity of seeing a man strolling in hot pants in a blizzard, he had vanished around the corner.  Thinking he may need some sort of assistance — like a blanket or a phone to call for his pants — I ran outside after him.  “Nah, I’m fine,” he said when I nervously asked him if he was ok, “sometimes I just like to be cold.”  I took that as my cue to leave him alone, and I returned to my tea.

It was a memorable moment to start off 2011.  And it made me think about my memorable moments of 2010.  Many of my blogger-friends have been posting “2010 in Review via Photos.”  I decided to sift through my 2010 photos just to see what I did during the year, and to my surprise I was inundated with an array of emotions.  How did I forget everything that happened in 2010?  Did I really travel, finish graduate school, move down the country, begin new sports, and basically change every aspect of my life?  Say, what?

Spending a few minutes to remind yourself of what has been done transforms the way you think about where you are going.  You are reminded of your accomplishments, your failures, your family, your friends, and most importantly, your growth.  For me, I am reminded that the moments when I try new things are the moments I am most happy and most proud.  So, here are a few new things and new places that made up my 2010.

 

Joshua Tree National Park, January 2010. My first climbing experience outside of the Northeast and my longest camping experience (2 weeks).

Smuggler's Notch, Vermont, February 2010. My first ice climb!

Shelburne Farms, May 2010. Spending my graduation weekend at Shelburne Farms with my family. Nothing like celebrating a Master's degree on a farm.

Mount Hunger, Vermont, June 2010. Spending my last Vermont hike with Sarah and Smitty (above) before moving South.

Looking Glass, Western North Carolina, July 2010. My first climb in NC after my move to Asheville.

Asheville, NC, August 2010. Becoming a real, organic gardener.

Asheville, NC, Summer 2010. Exploring vegetarian cooking (and becoming obsessed with it).

Asheville, NC, July 2010. Rescuing an abandoned sweetheart in the mountains. Welcomed Balli to the family.

Rumbling Bald, NC, September 2010. My first trad climb!

Asheville, NC, October 2010. Becoming a potter!

Asheville, NC, November, 2010. Beginning marathon training. My first marathon will be in Lake Placid, NY on June 12, 2011.

Milford, NH, December 2010. Ending 2010 with a snowmantini and my parnter's family.

The Pug Hug: the ultimate flu fighter

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Neither nostril will take in air, my ears pop with every swallow, my body fluctuates between shivering and sweating, and I can’t hold my head up for more than 10 minutes.  Flu season.  To make matters worse (please, join in my pity party), I am all alone in a friend’s apartment for the week.  No nurse, no familiar comfort, and no energy to hit up the drug store.  What do I have?  Tea, grapefruit, and my man Smitty (and, of course, countless hours of cooking shows).

We all feel lonely at some point, whether it’s justified or not, but being sick pushes loneliness to a level of aggravation, self-pity, and boredom.  With having cable for the first time in 4 years, I have found myself passing hours by watching everything from cooking competitions to news coverage to celebrity gossip.  And I have found that this time killer has only heightened my aggravation, self-pity, and boredom.  An entire hour dedicated to celebrity bodies?  Kill me, please.  Since lifting my arms high enough to hold a book was not a possibility, my only form of comfort and entertainment was my pug Smitty.

Dog therapy has been a hot topic over the past decade.  Therapy Dogs International has conducted many studies, concluding that over 99% of participants experienced positive benefits from having a dog with them.  Dogs create cheer, reduce stress, and increase socialization.  So, it is no surprise that Smitty has raised my spirits during this week of sneezing, coughing, and general suckiness.  But I am convinced that Smitty has done even more.  Here are my very unscientific reasons for how Smitty has helped me fight the flu:

1.  He gets excited when I sneeze

Normally, having sneezing fits of 20 in a row will make me clench my fists and growl with frustration.  However, having a wrinkly, wiggly pug run over and press his wanna-be nose on my shoulder every time I sneeze has changed my negative association with sneezing.

2.  He’s always more stuffy than me

Just take a look at this face.  He sniffles when healthy, which I must say gives me a little perspective.

3.  He listens and responds

I know this may be cheesy and a bit cliché, but when I want to be a whiner the only one that reacts positively is Smitty. I whine, his tail wags.  I whine, he licks my face.  I whine, he snuggles.

Although poor Smitty has gotten little exercise this week as he and I have only made it from the couch to three feet outside the door, I think he’s been happy to give pug hugs.  In fact, I’m typing with one hand as the other has a furry face snuggled in it.

Week 3 Marathon Training: Winter 1, Liz 0.

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Balli enjoying the post-blizzard snow.

I don’t shy away from snow.  I’m from upstate New York where blizzards are welcomed and I’ve lived in Vermont where, well, blizzards are welcomed.  I’ve skied since infancy, I ice climb, and I make a damn good snowman.  But now I’m in a bit of ignorant territory: how do you practice a non-winter sport in the heart of winter?  It’s easy to understand how to snap on crampons and carry ice tools to a frozen waterfall, and it certainly makes sense to pop on some skies and follow a slope.  But, running?  In winter?

Spending the holidays in New Hampshire and during a blizzard has made this week’s training a bit difficult … and a bit painful.  Before the blizzard hit, Jeremy and I decided to try a trail run.  Because there was very little snow or ice, we found the run to be enjoyable and not very dangerous.  It was a beautiful day, and aside from Jeremy’s bloody nose (in which he plugged with moss), we had a nice 3-mile run in the woods.  However, later that night as my arches were throbbing and my knees creaked, I started to realize that a frozen trail, even without snow or ice, can be rough on the body.  Because the ground was uneven and frozen, my joints took many hard hits.  I abandoned the trail running in winter idea.

The morning before the blizzard hit I had a solid 4-mile run on the roads of Milford, NH.  Fighting the beginning flurries, I wrapped up the run feeling good but worried that my next run would have to be postponed many days.  The blizzard soon dumped about one foot of snow on Milford (light compared to our surrounding states), and I waited three days to try a winter run again.

To my surprise, snow was not my nemesis.  Instead, that deceitful black ice took no pity on my rubber soles.  After one mile of dodging snow piles and frozen mounds of slush, my right sneaker lost control on a patch of black ice and swung rapidly above my head.  Attempting to catch my fall, I jaggedly landed on my right wrist.  After a few moments of disciplining that patch of ice, I walked my bruised wrist home to pout about my winter running defeat.  Winter 1, Liz 0.

I see now that to start training for a marathon during the heart of winter in the Northeast may have been a bad decision.  And since I cannot afford to put money into a gym membership, I think this battle against winter will be a struggle.  But, on the upside, I will have some spectacular cross-training days.  Like this nice afternoon of snowshoeing in New Hampshire…