What’s Cooking: Cookie Balls

It’s no surprise that I love food, specially snacks and sweets, I mean, even the ol’ Instagram name is “erinrunsforcake.” LOL

So I have spent the last year or so testing out all sorts of recipes that would be nutritious and help me fuel for long training sessions, but also satisfy the sweet tooth and watch my calories. This has been my go-to snack.img_6237

Cookie Balls

  • 1 c. raw oats
  • 1/2 c. oat flour (I use raw oats and grind them up)
  • 1/2 c. ground flaxseed
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 1/2 c. natural peanut butter
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 c. mini chocolate chips

I seriously just dump all of the ingredients in a big mixing bowl, and with clean hands, mix it up and then make little 1″ balls. No baking, no cooking, nothing for me to screw up. Easy-peasy! They sit in an airtight container for several days, although truth be told, they don’t last that long because everyone in the house will walk by and grab one to snack on.

I usually pack two of them in a small container for my after lunch snack and that keeps me away from the candy machine at 3pm. They will seriously fill you up!

If you give this recipe a try, let me know how you like them!

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Planning Ahead: Staying fed while training

imageCoaches will tell you that a big factor to success in marathon and half-marathon training is fuel. While the fuel we consume during the run is important, the more important fuel is what we eat when we aren’t running. It can certainly be daunting to plan out all of your meals, but the alternative is grabbing something from a drive-thru or skipping your run because your kids are screaming that they are hungry and you have to run to the grocery store. I was asked recently how I make training work with my full-time job and kids and all of the other crazy I have going on in my life, so I am outlining my meal-planning process for you.

Meal planning begins every Sunday afternoon when we have the most down-time. My favorite tool is this weekly planning calendar from Post-It that I got from the local office supply store and includes post-it notes that fit in the box and stick completely on the page.

imageThe process begins with writing out any events for the family that might be a factor in meals, such as run nights or school events, down on the bottom of the calendar. Next, I make up post-its for meals I won’t have to cook, including Sunday dinners with parents or eating out at our favorite taco joint for post-run tacos with our running groups. From there, I begin planning out breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. For the most part, we have a handful of recipes that are fast, easy and family favorites, so we stick with those and add in new recipes to try. Most of the process is just using the stickers I had on the previous week’s menu. My lunches usually are left overs of dinner the previous evening and I always include two or three different small snacks because I love to graze literally all day long.

There are a handful of benefits to planning out an entire week at a time:

  1. I can make sure I eat enough protein or increase my calorie intake on days in which I have a hard workout planned.
  2. I can look at an entire week and make sure I have a varied diet that includes different proteins and carbohydrates to keep me interested.
  3. It’s an opportunity to see if I am including lots of different colors in my menu on a daily basis, rather than just relying on green beans!

imageI love that this process lets us go to the grocery store once a week, which saves at least a few hours every week by staying out of the store throughout the week. It also saves a significant amount of money on a weekly basis (can we say “race fees”???) and, most important, I’m not feeling the pressure at 6pm when the kids are asking what is for dinner.

My Weekly Focus: Eat More Color!

I feel like it’s been a million years since I last posted, but life sometimes happens. Spring semester for the kids hit with a vengeance on the calendar and it has been everything I could do to keep running and fueling my body as it should be rather than hitting a drive-thru. I can happily report, though, that I’m tackling it well. I finally got into the habit of fruit-infused water (for real! No more crystal light packets or Nuun tablets to make it all more palatable! LOL). My next challenge to myself (and you as well!) is to bring more color into my food. It’s not just about making sure you get a side of broccoli on your plate at dinner, either. I hate taking pills, including vitamins, and know that I can achieve quite a bit just by being more mindful of the food I eat. This is about eating from the entire color spectrum!

  • imageReds – This can include beets, cherries, cranberries, red cabbage, red bell peppers and tomatoes. I plan to add frozen cherries to the chocolate oatmeal I eat some mornings to bring in the red family. I really have to be in the mood for tomatoes, but I like the little grape tomatoes and will also include those and some red bell peppers on an arugula salad that I adore!
  • Oranges – This includes sweet potatoes, carrots, peaches and butternut squash. I actually love orange vegetables. Sweet potatoes are so good in place of regular potatoes and carrots are a great snack in the afternoon when I need that crunch factor that sometimes leads me to eat a bag of chips.
  • Yellows – Pineapple is the first that comes to mind for me when I think of yellow foods. In Dallas, I can usually find a pineapple at the store for under $3, so I get it home and cut it up immediately into chunks. It is a fantastic afternoon snack because of the sweetness. Other foods you could incorporate include lemons, yellow squash (mmmm… roasted yellow squash) and pears.
  • imageGreens – Broccoli, kiwi, spinach, green beans. These are all the old standbys. There are a zillion green veggies to incorporate into a diet. But have you tried arugula is you like your salad a little spicier? How about sugar snap peas? These are fantastic with a mix of colorful bell peppers lightly sautéed so they are still very crisp.
  • Blues/Purples – This was easy for me as well because I love blueberries and eat them on yogurt, with whipped cream as a dessert with other mixed berries, etc. You could also try plums and eggplant, purple cabbage, and even purple asparagus!
  • Whites – You have the standard white veggies including cauliflower, garlic and onions, but have you tried parsnips or turnips? My husband makes a really tasty mashed potato mixing half potatoes and half parsnips. This gives it a little more depth in the flavor and the kids love it!

So, my big goal is to make up my menu plan for next week and then challenge myself to add one additional color to each of my meals. I’m thinking my first order of business is to add a bowl of mixed berries with a little whipped cream (fresh of course!) as an afternoon snack in lieu of hitting my co-worker’s candy dish a few doors down… Wish me luck!

My Weekly Focus – More Water!

Some of my favorite fruitI know that a handful of my in-person friends are making a renewed commitment to shedding some pounds, so I wanted to start a weekly check-in with some tidbits to take away. Weight Watchers helped me so much, but the biggest helper of all was the in-person meetings. The lessons I learned from many on the path stay with me to this day. I know that for various reasons, some people don’t do in-person meetings, so I am attempting to bring those tidbits virtually! The added benefit is it will help me reinforce some healthy behaviors for myself.

This week my focus is increasing my water intake. On Sundays, we have a tradition in which my family and my sister’s family all meet at my parents house for dinner. Yep, we still have a big traditional Sunday dinner. It’s pretty casual and can be pretty raucous at times. The conversation turned to all the things you could use a can of Coke for, like reducing the corrosion on a car battery and cleaning a penny. I immediately turned to my sister (she was drinking her soda from the can) and exclaimed, “Why are you still drinking that? You are willingly putting a chemical in you that takes corrosion off of a car battery terminal!!” It was a good laugh, because that’s the kind of overbearing big-sister I am (ha ha ha!), but there was a bit of concern as well.

Truth be told, I drank Cokes back in the day. A LOT. My modus operandi was to drink the fully-leaded one because I believed that the diet soda was terrible for you. That went on for most of my life. When I first started Weight Watchers, I calculated the points for one Coke and nearly stroked out. I only got 26 points and I decided I wanted to use those for food. I went cold turkey. No sodas at all. No diet, no regular, no zero, no nothing. It was hard the first week, but one of my “rewards” that first week was a big Starbuck’s cup that I could fill with water or iced tea. I won’t lie – the second week is worse than the first, but if you can just get it out of your system, it’s worth it. More than three years later, I can still be seen with that cup in my hands almost every waking moment. The cup is 20 oz, so I am in the habit of refilling at least four times a day for 100 oz.

image“But water tastes awful…” I get it. I thought so too. There’s only so much water you can drink before you want to tear your hair out. It’s both tasteless and has a funny taste all at the same time. What to do? Infuse it! There are so many options that you can find on the internet like at http://www.fruitinfusedwaters.com/, but I have my simple favorites:

  • Orange slices – they lend a tasty sweetness to the water when you are having a sweets craving
  • Lime wedge – I ask for limes instead of lemons at restaurants because they have them in the bar and they are something different
  • Lemon wedge – they are ok, but they tend to make the water bitter if you add to many
  • Mint leaves – I love to grab a handful and muddle some of the to really give it a strong infused flavor; the best way to do it is to put them in a small amount of hot water to steep for a bit, then add cold water and ice
  • Cucumber slices – this is the most refreshing way to drink water and is so very tasty on a hot summer day
  • Strawberries – these impart just a hint of flavor and is a great way to get that lightly

So, my challenge to you is to get a cup that you want to carry around everywhere and give this a try. It’s your choice if you want to give up sodas or wean off of them slowly, although I am a big fan of getting it over with quickly. Have I told you that I have an insane amount of energy, even in the mornings, now that I don’t drink sodas???

 

Brunch for a Cause

Cafe MomentumThis morning my family and I had the privilege of dining at a Café Momentum event. Café Momentum is a group of amazing people who are providing culinary training and life skills to some of Dallas’ at-risk youth in detention. These are great kids that maybe took a wrong turn, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn from it and become stronger and better through this program. The group is currently building a restaurant in downtown Dallas with classroom facilities and everything, but in the meantime, local chefs are opening up their restaurants for monthly pop-ups to raise funds for the program.  Tickets are tough to get – you have to be fast when they go on sale – but we have been able to attend a couple of events.

granola parfaitThis morning was the first brunch event for Café Momentum and it was held at Chef John Tesar’s restaurant Knife. The meal was truly amazing. We began with croissants and muffins, Bloody Marys and Mimosas. The second course was house made granola with vanilla yogurt and a blackberry and raspberry parfait.  The vanilla yogurt was tart and mixed beautifully with the natural sweetness of the pureed berries and was beautifully presented in a stemless wine glass. The next course was a watercress, goat cheese and walnut salad.  I will confess now that none of the ingredients are usually what I go for. However, it was scrumptious and I ate every.single.bite. Yep, it was delicious and I hope Chef recreates this dish at the house (hint, hint!).watercress salad

The main course was off the charts! Truffled scrambled eggs, house made sausage, biscuits with sausage gravy, and bacon! You could literally smell the beautiful, savory scent waft from the open kitchen. The sausage was house-made and had a sweetness that made it difficult to not devour. My son was hilarious.

Ohmygod truffled eggs and sausage gravy, also known as heaven

Ohmygod truffled eggs and sausage gravy, also known as heaven

He is firmly in “camp bacon” and was disappointed when the menu did not include bacon. His outburst of glee when he saw perfectly crisp, likely house-cured bacon on his plate was hysterical and those around us couldn’t help but laugh. That being said, seriously, even the bacon was perfect. The biscuit was divine and the sausage gravy was the best I’ve ever had. The final course was banana “pudding,” which was a layer of custard, a layer of caramel and a lighter than air layer of banana flavored mousse, topped by house-made miniature vanilla wafers. Literally, I force-fed myself those final bites despite my being full. I might have needed a moment by myself after that, I definitely needed a nap… hahaha.

Café Momentum’s new dedicated space will be open in December and to kick it all off, Rachel Ray’s show is featuring this program on her show next month some time. While banana puddingwe dined, there was a film crew interviewing the guests, the workers and the dreamers behind this vision. One of the things I am most impressed with is the commitment to pay each of the interns in the program a living wage. In Dallas, a living wage is calculated as $9.17 per hour. A living wage guarantees someone clothing, food and shelter. It doesn’t guarantee someone a new iPhone or the latest $200 sneakers, but the necessities.  Because of the donations, they pay the interns $10 per hour!

The program has unequivocally been a success and it would be amazing to see this movement throughout the country. I have to believe that it would lead to a sea-change on how we view and treat at-risk youth. They are worthy of second chances and a shot at dignity. We just have to offer it.

Alex makes sure to thank Chef Tesar for the amazing breakfast, and get him to sign his menu. :)

Alex makes sure to thank Chef Tesar for the amazing breakfast, and get him to sign his menu. 🙂

Roasted Red Pepper & Ricotta-Stuffed Chicken Roulades with Lemon Butter & Cauliflower Puree

I’m always on the lookout for new ideas for dinner.  There are many requirements I have:

  • One portion of the entire meal has to be less than 450 calories, what I’ve typically got left by dinner time
  • It should feel like I got a good-sized portion – none of this two bites and I’m done with dinner foolishness
  • I’d like the cost to be low (I have race fees to pay for, gotta save some bucks! LOL)
  • The kids have to be willing to eat it
  • My husband has to be willing to prepare it.  Have I mentioned I can’t boil water?!?

I found this recipe in Clean Eating’s July/August 2014 issue.

Roasted Red Pepper & Ricotta-Stuffed Chicken Roulades with Lemon Butter & Cauliflower Puree

Serves 4; Hands-on Time: 30 minutes; Total Time: 30 minutes

Roasted Red Pepper & Ricotta-Stuffed Chicken Roulades

Roasted Red Pepper & Ricotta-Stuffed Chicken Roulades

 

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cauliflower florets (about 2/3 of a head)
  • Zest of 1 lemon plus 2 1/2 tsp juice, divided
  • 4 4-oz chicken breasts, each cut crosswise into 2 thin pieces
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup jarred roasted bell peppers, drained and sliced
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp white whole-wheat flour, divided
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium chicken stock

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Fill a medium saucepot with 1 inch water and bring to a boil on high.  Fit with a steamer basket and add cauliflower to the basket; cover and steam until very tender, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a food processor, adding 1/4 cup hot water from the pot, 1 Tbsp butter, zest of 1 lemon, 1/2 tsp lemon juice and 1/4 tsp salt. Puree until smooth, about 30 seconds.  Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, line up chicken on a cutting board and spread ricotta evenly over one side of each piece of chicken.  Sprinkle peppers evenly over the ricotta.  Roll up and secure each piece with toothpicks.  Sprinkle remaining 1/4 tsp salt evenly over chicken. Transfer 2 Tbsp flour to a medium sized shallow bowl and dredge chicken in the flour, shaking off the excess. Mist a medium skillet with cooking spray and heat on medium.  Add chicken and cook for about 6 minutes, turning over halfway, until golden brown on both sides. Mist a large baking sheet with cooking pray and bake until cooked through, about 10 minutes.  Note: Internal temperature should register 165 degrees F when tested with an instant-read thermometer.  Carefully remove toothpicks and slice crosswise into rounds.
  3. Meanwhile, to a small heavy saucepot, add stock and bring to a simmer on medium-high.  In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 tsp flour and 2 tsp lemon juice until smooth.  Add to the stock along with the remaining 1 Tbsp butter.  Simmer for 2 minutes, until smooth and thickened.  Divide cauliflower and chicken among serving plates and top the chicken with the sauce.

Nutrition per serving (2 roulades, 1/2 cup cauliflower, 1/4 of the sauce):

280 calories, 13 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 4 g mono-unsaturated fat, 1 g polyunsaturated fat, 10.5 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 2 g sugars, 29.5 g protein, 390 mg sodium, 94 mg cholesterol

Verdict

The family loved it!  I was hesitant of the pureed cauliflower strictly because that’s such a “diet-y” thing to do.  Why is the potato such an evil little thing?  Rather than using jarred roasted red-bell peppers, my husband took a bell pepper out to the grill and roasted a fresh one from the garden.  So much tastier!  It was filling and flavorful and I would definitely put this in the rotation for the future ask Sean to keep making this.  One thing to note, though – man, there were a lot of dirty dishes! What time we saved in the preparation we gave back in all those darn pots and pans!  Also, hubby the chef said that the recipe wasn’t the easiest to follow and is definitely not for the novice cook because the process of rolling chicken can get messy. The calorie count was good enough that I am able to still enjoy four Biscoff cookies with my evening tea. 😉

 

Adventures in Calorie Counting

I admit that I am an anxious mess with my weight.  I joke that I have to keep running so that my fat can’t catch back up.  My obsession with the numbers is fueled by the metrics that are so easily available:

  • I use a scale to weigh myself to the tenth of a pound every morning and before and after a run to make sure I stay hydratedIMG_3547[1]
  • myfitnesspal.com allows me to track every calorie I consume, including the 30 calories in a daily serving of my calcium chew
  • I have a Garmin watch with a heart rate monitor that has been calibrated for my personal fitness zones to track my calorie expenditures and my miles run to the hundredth of a mile
  • I wear an all-day activity monitor to track my steps and my sleep

We are a numbers-driven society.  After having lost fifty plus pounds, I have stalled.  Seriously, like the eighteen wheeler in the middle lane of the freeway.  I have gained and lost the same half pound for at least the last twelve months.  I gave myself a break for a couple of those months as I was recovering from surgery, but I really thought my “last ten pounds” would melt right off once I got back to running in the spring.  To say I was frustrated would be an understatement and I took it to Facebook.  I had no idea that my plea for a good dietician would be such a hot button topic that morning, but apparently we are all in same boat.

I felt like I had a pretty good handle on the calories in and calories out part of the equation. In fact, I was restricting myself to 1300 -1350 calories per day and not adding back anything despite the running I was doing or the cross-training on the other days. My perfectly calibrated Garmin with heart rate monitor would regularly tell me I was burning between 250 calories (on light training days) all the way to 1000 calories for a ten mile run day and yet I was only adding calories on run days longer than an hour and those came in the form of a little gel packet of carbs.

It was tough to hear friends ask me if I was consuming TOO FEW calories. The idea of consuming more calories when my weight had stayed the same at 1350 calories was ludicrous!! If I ate more, I would gain, right? I set out to research the idea before I just willy-nilly added calories and went back up to 190 pounds overnight. I learned that I wanted to be sure I ate at least enough to cover my resting metabolic rate, otherwise my metabolism would possibly slow down. Being 5’1 and over 40, that was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. Seriously, I eat any less and those around me might not be very happy with my attitude.   I sought out an appointment at Cooper Clinic in Dallas. They are the gold standard when it comes to health and fitness and we are so lucky they are right in our backyard. My appointment was scheduled for a few days later.

The appointment was scheduled for first thing in the morning because you have to have been fasting for 12 hours. That meant no food, water, pills, exercise, nothing. I ate an early dinner the night before and went straight to bed. When I arrived, I handed the front desk my paperwork that was emailed to me a few days before. I was ushered into a nice dark room with classical music and allowed to relax to bring my heart rate back down to a resting state after the drive over. The dietician explained how the test would work and then made sure the mask fit over my mouth and my nose was plugged so that the test was accurate. The machine calibrated itself during this time to the ambient oxygen level in the room and was soon ready. The test was easy – all that was required was for me to breathe normally for ten minutes. When the test was over, the numbers were spit out on a two page report based on the test.

1498?!?

1498?!?

Who knew? My resting metabolic rate was 1498! It was a solid 150 calories per day higher than any online calculator. Despite all the dumb things I have done over the years with diet and exercise, I have a higher metabolism than average! Add in the calories I burn just working a desk job and usual activity of living, my weight loss zone was between 1500-1600 calories per day. Christie also instructed me to eat back half of ma calories burned on the “big-burn” days like my long runs. She promised that if I made these changes, I should start to see a little movement in the scale.

Two weeks later, I sheepishly admit that the test was correct. I have increased my calories, all clean and nutritionally dense, and have seen a decline in the scale of about a pound and a half. The trend is definitely downward, which makes me pretty happy. So I call this little experiment a win.

The test at Cooper Clinic ran $103 and included a short consultation with the dietician after to get an idea of what the numbers actually mean. You can get the test at a few other locations for up to $20 cheaper, but it usually doesn’t come with someone that can truly give you advice on how to interpret the numbers. I would say it $103 well spent.