Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

When I was first advised to just relax this summer, I used the thought of writing a blog to calm my racing heart and to steady my sweaty palms. I'll still be productive, I reassured myself. I'll write every day. And I have. I've published a post before 7 am each and every day for the last 80 days. As I promised myself I would, I've poured myself into this project with a stream of unfailingly honest posts. 

On My Bedside Table

But I astonished myself by ignoring one of the #1 pieces of advice from the majority of successful bloggers: pick a niche and stick to it. Increased readership is supposedly a result of consistent and original content with a relatively narrow scope.

What does this mean? Don't write about fashion and design one day, and food and fitness the next. Basically...don't write about a tour around Acadia National Park and then about a trip to Target. Don't write about cheesecake and then about neon running clothes. Don't write about a farmer's market and then about ab exercises. Don't write about what's for dinner and then about orchidsDon't write about dorm decor and then about chocolate chip cookie dough brownies. Don't write about flaming hot flounder and then about job envy

Look at the title of this blog. It was my everyday reminder that it was okay good to swap some rigidity in favor of frivolity. This blog was never about or, or, or; it was always about and, and, and. Although I often felt like my blog wasn't enough (not "foodie" enough to be a food blog, not healthy enough to be a lifestyle blog, not exercise-oriented enough to be a fitness blog, not fashion-forward enough to be a style blog, not creative enough to be a design blog, etc.), I've recently realized, with some pride, that my posts couldn't have portrayed me (the good, the bad, and the ugly) any more accurately.

The Good:
Identity Theft?
In Good Company
A Pep Talk
Shelving My Inner Pessimist
The Silver Square

The Bad:
Early Morning Confessions
The Art of Relaxation
It's Complicated
Bringing Up the Rear
A Solitary Sport

The Ugly:
Walking the Line
Resistance Training
Control and I
A Recipe for Disaster
Thickheaded? Sure

The blog has challenged me to be introspective, at a time when I didn't much like what was rattling around in between my ears. It has pushed me to tear up my to-do lists, try new foods at new places, enjoy my rest days, break free from my routine, question that pesky inner voice, and turn on the oven. It has let me dream (remember all those wish lists?) and it has acted as a breeding ground for new interests (writing, cooking, racing, scrapbooking, gardening, dining out, taking photos, etc.). It has catalogued and made easily accessible a summer's worth of memories. It has let me see myself in a way that the mirror never has.

But it hasn't let me relax. Not in the way that The Zac Brown Band croons about (only-worry-in-the-world-is-the-tide-gonna-reach-my-chair). It hasn't given me that uncomplicated and carefree type of living that I've only ever experienced careening down a mountain on a hand-me-down pair of skis and gently rocking on an ancient wooden swing by the bay.

Carefree Living on a Cape Cod Swing

I wasn't been able to shake the self-induced pressure of staying 5 or 6 blogs ahead, in anticipation of a last-minute weekend away or in case of a persistent case of writer's block. Oddly enough, neither of these things ever came to fruition...but lately the blog (which has admittedly brought me so much pleasure) has done more than tiptoe over into the "assignment" folder.

Although I still have so many posts I'd like to share (with an embedded Pilates video, a homemade pasta tutorial, an explanation as to why "water's fine, thanks", a review of circuit-style training, a recipe for roasted red pepper and cilantro pesto, a recap of the Bradbury Breaker, a reaction to my first time trying wild Alaskan salmon, etc.), I know the ultimate challenge will be to surprise myself again by stopping the blog a month earlier than I had planned.

Wild Alaskan Salmon, Courtesy of Brother #2

Can I cope with feeling rudderless? Can I stop saying the word "lazy" without a side of superior sneer? Can I leave my laptop behind for two weeks of sand, sun, sailing, s'mores, shopping, and seafood on the shore? I want to try. 

With that being said, I don't think that this will be the last time I hit "publish". I feel kind of like someone returned a library book that I'd only gotten halfway through. I'm disappointed, sure, but I'm also buoyed by the certainty that I'll end up stumbling across it and checking it out again someday. After all, I never did get around to treating "A Dash of Drivel" to the technological facelift/reorganization it so desperately needs...and I never did get to show off my improved photography skills (now that Brother #2 has taught me a thing or two about shutter speed, depth of focus, aperture priority, exposure compensation, and the rule of thirds).

Thanks for reading seems grossly inadequate, especially to those of you that have been around since day 1. Whether you were a silent supporter or an active commenter, an occasional reader or an avid follower, I'd show up on your doorstep with these in hand if I could:

Umami Girl's Classic Blondies (See Recipe/More Photos Here)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Green Monsters

I warned you that it was zucchini season, didn't I? We currently have 10 zucchinis hogging precious real estate in our fridge. Two of them are enormous enough that we could get a game of wiffle ball going out back and the person on deck could have their own zucchini bat to swing around too.

I'm not really amped about backyard baseball though. I'm excited about chocolate cake. Actually, at the moment, I'm mourning my empty plate...but my taste buds are still busy quivering with joy and forgiving me for cutting anything dessert-like out of my life for five months.

A Piece of Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Fun fact: this cake, which just pulled into the lead on my all-time-favorite-cakes list, has 3 cups of zucchini in it. I'll admit I was highly skeptical when my mom announced she was making a chocolate zucchini cake with homemade cream cheese frosting earlier today. The pillow of cream cheese sounded like a winner, but why would you want to add three cups worth of vegetable to an otherwise perfectly good recipe for chocolate cake? Don't get me wrong, I love vegetables...but I like them mixed up in a salad, shoved into a pita, dipped in hummus, or neatly arranged next to my protein and my carbohydrate on my dinner plate.

It didn't take long for my vehement oppositions to change into feeble protests...and when the smell of rich dark chocolate started drifting up the stairs, all pretenses were dropped. I followed my nose into the kitchen and turned on the oven light just to make sure the cake wasn't green or anything suspicious like that. Fun fact: zucchini cake masquerades as a regular chocolate cake (only better). Zucchini is something like 95% water, meaning when it's combined with all the standard baking ingredients it loses its flavor altogether and makes for an incredibly moist cake batter. This is the kind of cake that makes you want to reach back in to rescue the crumbs that cascaded down when you cut your piece. This is the kind of cake that makes you want to run your finger along the edge of the base and lick it clean when nobody is looking.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake, Minus Some Slices

Chocolate Zucchini Cake Recipe:
Serves 8 

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted all-purpose unbleached flour
1/3 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup buttermilk or sour cream
3 cups coarsely grated zucchini
1/2 cup chopped nuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Melt the chocolate and oil in a small saucepan over very low heat.
Cream the butter until light; add the sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
Beat well. Add the melted chocolate and mix well.
Sift together the dry ingredients and stir them into the batter with the buttermilk.
Mix the zucchini and nuts into the batter.
Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
Divide the batter between pans.
Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Cool the cake completely before frosting with whipped cream or your favorite frosting.

Our Favorite Frosting Recipe: 

3/4 cup butter at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
4 cups confectioner's sugar

Cream together the butter and cream cheese until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Slowly add the confectioners' sugar until well-blended, using more sugar if necessary to get a spreading consistency.

As if chocolate cake wasn't exciting enough, today Mom and I also discovered a new kitchen appliance that isn't atrociously expensive (unlike the Breville toaster I'm itching to buy for my little condo back at school). A julienne peeler is such fun. It looks a lot like a vegetable peeler, only there's a sharp toothed blade that's ideal for cutting vegetables into skinny strips. Somehow, changing the appearance of even the most unexciting produce (i.e. the carrot) makes a world of difference when it comes to digging in.

Julienne Peeler, Source

With the Julienne peeler in hand, Mom found another easy but tasty recipe to add to my recipe book (only recipes that I can make with confidence and without 500 ingredients make the cut). Zucchini Slaw, from Sara Foster's Fresh Every Day: More Great Recipes from Foster's Market cookbook, is perfect picnic food. We ignored Foster's suggestions for dressings and piled grilled chicken strips (that had been marinated in Greek dressing) on top. This dish was wonderfully fresh, colorful, summery, and light. It also was awarded big points because the recipe itself didn't require any cooking and only took 10 minutes to pull together!

Zucchini Slaw Salad

Zucchini Slaw Recipe (doubles as instructions too):
Serves 4 to 6

2 medium zucchini, ends removed and cut into 2-inch julienne
2 yellow summer squash, ends removed and cut into 2-inch julienne
2 carrots, cut into 2-inch julienne
4 scallions, julienned (white and green parts)
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and julienned (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Now...what to do with the other green monsters I can already see peeking out from under those comically large green leaves? Perhaps I'll make this zucchini and ricotta galette, this roasted zucchini pesto, this zucchini parmesan, this zucchini carrot cake, or these chocolate chip zucchini brownies

Maybe I should start keeping an eye out for cucumber recipes too...seeing as there's 15 of them cozying up to the bags of zucchini on the produce shelf. I'm a little worried I used up all my creativity on zucchini season...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Desktop Delights

I suppose it's a little early to start thinking about accessories for my desk back at school...but there's just something about office supplies.

Sleek staplers, old-fashioned chalkboards, miniature dry-erase memo boards, ribboned cork boards, embellished frames surrounding words to live by, rustic pencil holders (see here for an awesome DIY), streamlined scissors, fabric-wrapped magnets, ballpoint pens, printed push pins, jumbo-sized highlighters, intricate paperweights, oversized calendars, slim calculators, picture frames full of family moments, pliable lamps, vintage bookends, shallow candy bowls, pads of patterned note paper, stacking letter trays, pocket planners...I want them all.      

Just in case you haven't guessed yet, I'm a total sucker for pretty papery things and organizational tools. Since I spend an inordinate amount of time at my desk during the school year, I make a big effort to personalize the hunk of junk that comes standard with any college dorm room. I like my "office space" to be inviting, but not so cozy that I'm encouraged to prop my legs up and browse through page after page on Tastespotting in lieu of hammering out a 10 page French paper. Functional, sophisticated, neat, colorful, and inspirational are also adjectives that come to mind. Although I already have two full boxes carefully labeled desk in the basement, I have my eye on a few new items to spruce up my most productive space.

Desk Decor

(First row, from left to right):
1. Crate&Barrel's Flamingo Berry Stool
2. Campo Marzio's Pen Holder with Three Sections
3. Kate Spade's Long List Pad 
4. Crate&Barrel's White Table Lamp

(Second row, from left to right):
1. ANYTHING's Scissors, Stapler, and Tape Dispenser
2. Paper Source's 2012 Academic Great Big Wall Calendar
3. Kate Spade's Short List Pad
4. Poppin's Black Ruler

(Third row, from left to right):
1. Crate&Barrel's Set of 3 Shiny Silver Memo Clips
2. Chiasso's Rolo Bookends 
3. Kate's Paperie Stationary Set
4. Paper Source's Sparrow's Nest Paper Clip Holder
5. Jonathon Alder's Pencil Set

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Waking Up My Taste Buds

In the absence of 90 degree angles, lined up shoes, multi-purpose cleaners, vacuums, paper towels, uncluttered surfaces, fresh flowers, perfectly made beds, evenly stacked books, sponges, organized shelves, folded laundry, dust-free window sills, fluffed pillows, decorative accents, and crumb-free tabletops, there is disorder.

Ah. That sounds a touch compulsive, doesn't it? A little obsessive? A few miles past tidy, neat, and clean? An exit away from neurotic? Sigh. I'm allergic to mess. 

I don't even generally like food that [really] requires a napkin. I find it very upsetting! when my carbohydrate, my fruit, my veggie, and my meat touch on my plate. I like to cut everything into bite-size pieces that won't fall off my fork and wreak havoc on the order below. Mom's quesadillas are the one exception to this rule. People keep tellling me there are LOTS of exceptions to all rules, and in many cases rules exist to be broken. Hmm...I remain unconvinced.

Messy Eats

There's no way to sugarcoat this...these quesadillas are a disaster, both to cook and to eatThe stove top always looks a little worse for wear (the downside of using minimal amounts of cheese...the fully loaded tortillas have trouble sticking together for the big flip) and the place mats at the kitchen table are always lost under mounds of discarded napkins. But once I'm done waking up my taste buds (and kickstarting my metabolism - fact or fiction?), I can load the dishwasher to my heart's content. For a half an hour, I can eat with my fingers and enjoy my favorite hot and spicy dish.

Sandwiched between two Joseph's flax, oat bran, and whole wheat tortillas* (a tasty low-calorie alternative):
Red, yellow, and green pepper
Fresh tomato
Ground beef seasoned with Penzey's Spices (Adobo, Northwoods fire, Cracked pepper, Chili powder, Cumin)
Cabot's hot habanero cheddar cheese
Medium hot salsa

Assorted Veggies

Separate Sauteed Corn (To Appease Brother #3)

In the Making (Pre-Flip)

*In case you're curious about these wraps...

Joseph's Tortilla, Nutrition Facts

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Patterned Plates

I can't be the only person under the age of 21 who is dizzy in love with Anthropologie's dinnerware. I know it's too early to think about furnishing an apartment, picking out china patterns, and buying silverware...but I'm addicted to the "grown-up" section in Anthropologie.

I can't help exclaiming over each and every accent plate, bread and butter plate, fruit plate, appetizer plate, salad plate, dinner plate, and dessert plate...Even though no two look exactly alike, I find them to be equally appealing. I'm dying to buy a few of the multicolored dishes to use as backdrops in my "foodie" pictures (ha - my photography skills are a running joke around here)...but I think they just may be sensational enough to upstage the main attraction.

Some of them look like watercolor paintings splashed onto circles of smooth ceramic. Many of them are carefully crafted by Parisian artists and have a distinctly French motif. I have a hard time justifying spending upwards of $25 just for a stoneware plate...but what kind of a French major would I be if circular plates painted with petites files, pommes, and papillons didn't just call out to me?  

Pretty Plates, from Anthropologie

However, I stumbled upon another use for slightly quirky, mismatched, and brightly patterned plates: wall decor! I'm much more inclined to buy an expensive plate now that I know it can live out on display instead of just collecting dust stacked in my cabinet. That's reasonable, isn't it? Of course, said plates don't all have to hail from Anthropologie...

I'm thinking about mixing in some of the plates we have at home that seem to have lost their brothers and sisters over the years: a vintage floral plate, a delicate keepsake from Greece, a gold-rimmed china plate from my grandma's wedding, a faded but sturdy survivor from my early childhood, etc. Even lonely plates rescued from garage sales, antique stores, or thrift shops would add some personality and make for a good story (like Joy the Baker's).

Source of Inspiration 1

Friday, July 29, 2011

One Bowl Dinner

Have I mentioned how much I love dinners at home?

Thinly sliced grilled pork tenderloin (pre-marinated in a mesquite barbeque sauce)
Rao's tri-colored and homemade farfalle (bow-tie) pasta
Stir-fried garlic scapes, mushrooms, eggplant, bok choy, snow peas, roasted red pepper (grilled outside first), broccoli, and zucchini
...all thrown into a big stir-fry pan and sprinkled with salt and pepper

This was hands down the best stir-fry I have ever had. The blend of fresh veggies, textured artisan pasta, and spicy circles of meat was to die for. All exaggeration aside - this dish was certainly worth risking a fork stab from Brother #3 in the sprint for seconds of pork tenderloin.

Mesquite BBQ Grilled Pork Tenderloin*

*Sad story sidenote: my photography skills aren't getting any better, even after three months of experimenting!

Last night involved a new food to add to my growing list: garlic scapes. A garlic scape is the light green curling stalk of a hardneck garlic plant. While the "real" garlic bulbs grow below, the tender stem (if cut early enough) offers a nice mellow garlic flavor to add a little something to any number of recipes. Mom harvested our garlic scapes right out of the the garden and let me play photographer for a minute before she sliced them up.

Quick Morning Harvest, with Garlic Scapes

Bicycle Garlic Scapes!

Tonight was what we call a "one bowl dinner." Much to my delight, the saucepan just got more and more full as the 6 o'clock hour drew nearer.

Phase 1

Phase 2

Phase 3

Phase 4

And as always, a side-by-side (except not really, because I can't figure out how to get Blogger to let me do this) view of Brother #3's plate and my bowl.

Brother #3's...Mess

My Bowl

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Silver Square

When the first streaks of sunshine sneak past my shades, my routine begins. Almost on autopilot, I fling open the blinds, make the bed, fluff up the pillows, change into running clothes, scoop my hair up into a ponytail, and plug my phone into its charger by the door. I pad across the remaining luxuriously soft carpet and feel a quick jolt as I make first contact with the bathroom's icy cold tile floor.

Scale, Clip Art

Still rubbing my early morning eyes, I slowly approach the silver square that can supposedly measure my body fat, body water, and bone mass. As I wait for 0.00 to flash, I see a lightning-fast slideshow: two slices of chocolate zucchini cake, a wedge of zucchini herb cornbread, a knife slathered with peanut butter, a piece of bread barely visible underneath a melted slice of Havarti with dill cheese, a generous amount of almonds, and a handful of crispy homemade croutons. You're going to have gained weight, threatens that terrible little voice that deserves to be clocked over the head with a ceramic frying pan.

Homemade Zucchini Herb Cornbread

Flickering digits wink up at me for a heartbeat before they register on the tiny screen. It takes a full second longer than that for my brain to process the numbers. Exactly the same as the last two weeks, give or take .1 of a pound! With a whoosh, recollection of all of my recent two-a-days (easy runs, tempo runs, ab labs, pilates sessions, speed work, strength training, circuit training, hill repeats on the bike) flood back into my mind. I stare at my flipper feet for a moment longer before stepping off the scale, reminding myself that maintaining weight is the goal now.

In the past 14 days, I've been exercising smarter and purposely letting myself eat more. I made the decision that overtraining and undereating just wasn't working for me, not physically or emotionally. I'd restricted so many foods from my diet that I was no longer satisfied by anything, and my body wasn't getting close to enough rest or fuel to recover properly. I actually got to the point where I stopped losing weight (even though I was working out like crazy and not eating anything I wanted), presumably because prolonged elevated levels of cortisol encouraged my body to ramp up its fat storage. Now no food groups are off-limits (even though I obviously still get tangled up guilt tripping myself sometimes), I always eat post-workout (no matter how close the next meal may be), and my training plan has built in easy days/recovery runs. I'm still very particular about my food choices and I'm admittedly still a stickler about portion sizes, but I'm amazed at how much less fatigued I feel and how much higher the quality of my workouts are. Honestly, I haven't felt this good physically in over a year.'s still coming along. I'm happy about some of the changes that I'm starting to see in the mirror (my muscles are starting to look more defined and my sternum isn't quite as prominent anymore), but I still obsess over the stubborn curve in my lower belly, the slightly rounded tops of my thighs, and the width of my hips. On the brighter side, I'm much less grumpy now that I'm not shooting daggers at anyone around me who dares to dig into the cookie jar or to take down the baking books. I still can't quite wrap my mind around the fact that eating more is going to improve my health & my fitness level, without making me gain 10 pounds...but I certainly feel encouraged that this is a better direction than before. I'm not sure if this is the diet & exercise plan that I will stick to for the rest of my life, but I'm going to experiment with it. I'd like stepping on that silver square to be about feedback, not about failure or success.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Shelving My Inner Pessimist

That little voice in the back of my head, the one I often want to squeeze into an overflowing closet and slam the door on until I feel better equipped to handle's been rather vocal lately.

Like a broken record, it whines time is running out to an unknown tune.

Thinking of summer's close makes my stomach tighten and my head hurt. There's still so much I want to do: go blueberry picking, visit Moosehead Lake, spend a week lounging around our time-shared Cape Cod cottage (that has seen better days but has an undeniably gorgeous water view), take a ferry to Martha's Vineyard to meet a friend, go to Mainely Custards for the frozen custard of the day, hike up Mount Katahdin, go shopping in New York City, research job opportunities in the writing/editing field, attempt a half a dozen DIY projects to decorate my room at school, learn how to make Mom's orange chicken fajitas, check out the rest of the library's Karen Robards collection, have dinner at The Good Table Restaurant, take a weekend to visit Boyfriend on the lake, sail a Laser with my dad and my brothers, complete a 15 mile long run...the list goes on.

Despite my repeated attempts to savor every hour of every day (and subsequently slow down the passage of time), the calendar keeps turning. July is hurtling towards August, and soon the warm weather months will have slipped away entirely for another year.

In order to temporarily shelve my inner pessimist, I'm trying to keep in mind the things that are making me happy. Not having any serious commitments (outside of the occasional doctor/dentist appointment) has been such a welcome relief. Being able to spend time in the kitchen, puttering around the garden, and out on the road with my mom has been somewhere far north of so nice. Having Brother #3 (who doubles as my year-round best friend) around to work out, grill, and bake with has been such a treat. I'm most grateful for the fact that the thought this is the life has popped into my head more times than I can count in past three months.

Of course, there have been some material things worth smiling about too. Here's a look at some of the things that have made me happy this week:

New Easy Reads

Mom's Garden Bouquet

Destination Stickers and a Tomato Red Journal

Progress on the Recipe Book, Part I

Progress on the Recipe Book, Part II

My New Toy!

Turquoise Earrings from The Carry All in Scarborough, ME

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Zuke Season

Tonight's dinner menu: Baked mahi mahi garnished with Tex-Mex zucchini and zucchini ribbons, grilled zucchini, zucchini pie, and thyme garlic hasselback potatoes (fun fact: minus the olive oil, we grew all the ingredients this recipe called for!).

Dinner (On Biking Plastic Plate)

Which of these things is not like the other? Perhaps it's these adorable potatoes?

Thyme Garlic Hasselback Potatoes

Zucchini season is in full swing around here. Since this is one of my favorite vegetables, I hardly blink an eye when Mom unloads yet another basket brimming with zucchini from the garden. Dad, on the other hand, is starting to get a little sick of the green we've been on the lookout for recipes with clever ways to use up our most bountiful ingredient (including a few baseball bats neglected zucchinis).

Garden Zucchinis

All three zucchini dishes for tonight received a thumb's up. The red-hot tex-mex zucchini that we used as a garnish was actually leftover from a side dish we didn't quite use up last night, the grilled zucchini slices are always a big hit, and the zucchini pie was surprisingly good (I am not a pie person but I loved this). My mom tells me it was more like a quiche than a pie...either way, it was wonderfully creamy and full of flavor.

Tex-Mex Zucchini Recipe
(adapted from FamilyCircle's Quick and Easy Recipes)

Mahi Mahi with Tex-Mex Zucchini and Ribboned Zucchini Garnish

(8 servings)
4 slices of bacon (we didn't have any on hand so we omitted this...but I bet it would be delicious!)
6 medium zucchini, chopped
1/2 teaspoon of onion powder
2 teaspoons of chili powder
1/4 teaspoon of ground red cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cup of salsa (we mixed 3 different kinds: one medium, one very hot, one with corn and black beans)
1 1/2 cup of shredded cheese (we decided we wished we had left this out)

If you're going to use bacon, start by cooking the bacon in a skillet until crisp.
Add the zucchinis, all spices, and salsa.
Cook for 15 minutes.
Add 1 cup of the cheese and stir.
Cook for an additional minute.
Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

Grilled Zucchini Recipe
Too few ingredients and instructions to making filling out a "recipe card" worthwhile.

Grilled Zucchini

Zucchini Pie Recipe*
(adapted from Sandra Garson's How To Fix A Leek cookbook)

Zucchini Pie, Minus 1 Piece

(8 servings)
4 cups of cubed zucchini
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
1 small onion, peeled and diced
1/4 teaspoon of iodized salt
4 large eggs
1/2 cup of corn oil
1 teaspoon of dried oregano leaves
1 cup Bisquick (gasp! just close your eyes and do it)
1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Heavily butter or oil a deep-dish 9-inch pie plate or square baking dish.
Mix everything together in a large bowl and pour it into the greased pan.
Bake for one hour at 350 degrees F, or less if using a convection oven.
Serve warm with roasted meat or grilled fish, or as a lunch entree with crusty bread and a tomato salad.
Can be reheated in a microwave.
*This is Sandra's most requested recipe ever, even though it calls for Bisquick (a pre-mixed baking product with a terrifying ingredient list).

I've seen bookmarked recipes for zucchini chocolate cake, zucchini herb cornbread, zucchini slaw, zucchini curry, zucchini ribbon salad, zucchini bread, zucchini casserole, chocolate zucchini muffins, zucchini spaghetti, crispy baked zucchini fries, and sweet zucchini pancakes. I have to say it makes me wonder...will I still be so gung-ho about zucchini two weeks from now?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Snack Time!

Fact: Snack time was the best part of preschool.

What about recess, you may ask? I think recess was more of an elementary school phenomenon. Besides, on my trip down memory lane I seem to remember that all we ever did in preschool was have fun (finger painting, coloring with chalk, zooming down slides, sitting in sandboxes, listening to pretty teachers read the best books, etc.), so eating time trumps playing time in my book.

What ever happened to snack time, anyway? I don't know when I got on the "adult" meal plan, but I don't like it. I'm much happier eating six small-ish meals (breakfast, mid-morning nibble, lunch, mid-afternoon refreshment, dinner, and post-dinner snack).

Now that I've switched to a new training plan (which involves a heavy increase in mileage and a healthy dollop of cross-training), I've vowed to fuel myself properly so all my hard work isn't for nothing. Run more, eat's as simple (and as complicated) as that. I've found that eating little no-guilt snacks right when I feel those hunger pangs helps me avoid overeating at meal times (when I'm in such a rush to get food in my starving belly that I don't even realize when I'm full) and keeps my energy level (and my mood) up. It's amazing how much happier I am when I'm not "trying to make it" with no food between lunch and dinner. Even though I'm still pretty strict about what I eat, at least I've lightened up about when I eat.

Here's a list of the snacks in my rotation at the moment:

1. Sliced apple with sprinkles of cinnamon

Apples with Cinnamon

2. Celery with peanut butter

Celery with Peanut Butter

3. Yogurt with crushed granola mixed in

Yogurt with Granola

4. 100% Whole wheat pita with a slice of turkey

5. Multigrain English muffin with salsa and a slice of cheese

6. Carrots dipped in hummus

Carrots and Hummus

7. Vegetable soup

8. A handful of almonds and half a banana

1/2 Banana and Handful of Almonds

9. Toasted 100% Whole wheat bagel thin with guacamole

10. Dry salad (but made fun with garden produce and fresh herbs!)

Garden Salad

11. Rice cakes

12. 1-Egg omelet with veggies

Vegetable Omelet

13. 1/2 Cup of rice with red peppers and onions

14. Leftovers from dinner (ex: half a grilled chicken breast)

15. Small fruit salad

16. 1/2 Cup of frozen yogurt and a handful of chocolate chips

Black Raspberry Frozen Yogurt with Chocolate Chips

What's your favorite healthy snack idea?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ab Lab, Part II

When it's 85 degrees and humid by 7:30 in the morning, I'm hardly skipping out the door looking forward to sweating through yesterday's breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's hot summer days like today that make me miss winter runs, even with all of the layers and hazards cold weather running entails. All I had to do this morning was put one foot in front of the other for 6.7 miles (with 5 quick strides to avoid getting too comfortable in the marathoner's shuffle). That's all. It wasn't a long run, a tempo run, a hill workout, a speed workout, or even a particularly challenging course. I was actually under orders to take it easy (in preparation for tomorrow's hard run) and I left at 6:30 so the heat wouldn't be too oppressive.

Doesn't sound so bad, right? It wasn't even the slightest bit fun. I felt like I was slogging through a thick wall of humidity, with no escape from the suffocatingly hot sun. I tried, in vain, to convince myself that it was all mental (as I watched steam curl up from the pavement ahead). With salt stinging my heavy-lidded eyes and no cold water in sight (besides a waving sprinkler down a side street that I seriously considered making a detour for), all I could think about was the dreadful prospect of the afternoon run. I'm going to be out here again, in less than 7 hours. 

Post-run Hydration 

After I got home and polished off a few Poland Spring's (and watched the thermometer climb higher and higher into the "red" zone), I decided against running another 4 miles at 3 o'clock. The extra 300-400 calories I'd burn plodding along just weren't worth it to me...not when it was 96 degrees in the shade and the clothes on the line were drying in half an hour. A 4 mile "recovery" run through a sauna on a very tired set of legs wasn't going to help me physically or mentally. Enter the beauty of doing a second workout inside, with the AC blasting. I've done a post about Ab Lab before, but it's about time to share some more exercises to add into the mix. I've never done the exact same core circuit twice - muscle confusion is a great thing!

For new readers, here's the general idea:
-Ab Lab is comprised of any 8 ab exercises
-Each of the 8 exercises is performed nonstop for a 50 second period
-After each individual exercise there is a 10 second rest
-When all 8 exercises have been completed, there is a full 60 second break
-The circuit gets repeated 3 times (24 minutes in total)

1. The windmill with straight legs 
Position yourself on your back, with your legs extended perpendicular to the floor. Keeping your feet together and your legs as straight as possible, lower your legs and begin to make a circular motion. Both hips should be on the ground at all times. Make sure your legs are swooping around like a windmill (you shouldn't just be tracing little circles with your feet). Complete one full revolution before reversing the direction. Try to keep your spine anchored to the floor and don't slide your hands under your butt as a cheat.

2. The "wiggle"
The name of this exercise should serve as an indication of the awkward motion to come. I recommend you try this one in the privacy of your own home - but it burns like crazy once you get the motion down! Position yourself on your back, with the soles of your feet together and your kneecaps pointing outwards. Lift your head and shoulders off the ground and bring one knee in to meet your elbow. Then switch to the opposite side (basically it should feel like you're wiggling side to side). Make sure you're not just bringing your elbows to your knees like you would in a bicycle crunch!

3. Split leg pulses
Position yourself on your back, with one leg outstretched a few inches off of the ground and one leg sticking straight up perpendicular to the floor. Lift your head and shoulders up and crunch up another couple of inches for 1, 2, 3 pulses. After the third pulse, switch the position of your legs, briefly rest your upper body, and repeat.

4. Double leg drop with scissor kicks
Position yourself on your back, with your arms draped loosely by your sides and your legs extended perpendicular to the floor. Keeping your feet together, slowly lower your legs until they are hovering a few inches off of the ground. Flutter both feet in a scissor kick motion for a couple of seconds and bring your legs back up to the initial position. Repeat. Again, make a concerted effort to keep your legs straight and your hands out from under you!

5. Plank with arms on a Swiss ball
This exercise always makes me shake all over. Think of a regular plank, only instead of bracing your elbows or hands on the ground, use a Swiss ball. Make sure you don't sacrifice your form as you try not to tip over...I always have Brother #3 on hand to yell "head up!" and "drop those shoulders!"

6.  Long-arm crunch with a medicine ball 
This exercise always wears out my upper body before my abs. Position yourself on your back, with your arms extended by your ears. Hold a medicine ball (or a dumbbell) in your hands. Your outstretched arms shouldn't move from that spot just behind your ears. All you're doing is trying to curl your upper body into your chest with your arms still sticking out behind you. The "crunching" motion itself shouldn't be that drastic - the point is to make sure only your core isn't getting any help from your upper body's momentum.

7. Swiss ball pass
This exercise, when I'm not too tired to do it properly, always has me moaning and groaning when I try to sit up in bed the next morning. Lie on your back with your legs stretched out on the floor and your arms fully extended over your head. Grab a Swiss ball with your hands and crunch up to meet your legs in the middle. Pass the ball to your feet and lower your legs slowly to hover a couple of inches off the ground. Lift your legs back up to the middle and transfer the ball to your hands again. Slowly lower your upper body until it's a couple of inches off the ground. Repeat. Don't let the ball touch the ground!

8. Side plank with hip drops 
This one is just your dear old friend the side plank, only with rapid-fire hip drops added into the equation. Get in a side plank, lower your hips towards the ground, and then lift them back up until you're back in the generic side plank position. Go for 25 seconds and then switch sides.