Categories
Food Recipes

Ho-Ho-How to Avoid Santa’s Belly

Growing up, I never thought I had a sweet tooth. Sure, I liked Klondike bars with the rest of the 80s kids (and I guess I’ve already revealed my propensity for cereal) but set me free in a candy shop and I’d usually gravitate not toward the jelly beans but to the single bag of salt and vinegar potato chips up by the register.

Salt, not sweet, has traditionally been my flavor of choice, so it’s been strange to me that in the weeks since the wedding, I simply can’t stop craving sugar.

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Mine! All mine!

Normally my survival strategy for avoiding unhealthy foods is to just keep them out of my reach: the old “no cookies in the house, no cookies in my belly” diet routine. But there’s one time of year when that’s simply not an option, and it’s upon us: The holidays!

Nutrition bloggers the whole internet over will give you tips for keeping your sugar intake down between Advent and Epiphany, and I’ve even joined them in holiday seasons past. Some of the tips are good ones, like avoiding non-special holiday food (i.e. tree-shaped pretzels) you can eat any time of year, but other tips, like not even letting baked goods into your home, simply don’t make sense.

Why, you ask? Because I like baked goods! And I like holiday flavors! And I like sugar! And if someone gifts you a plate of homemade cookies, you’d be a real Grinch to decline.

That said, there are ways to have your cake and eat it too, or — since that idiom never made any sense — have your holiday treats and keep them from being total and utter sugar bombs. How, you ask? Cook them yourself.

Now I know between all the wrapping and caroling and decking the halls you won’t have time to bake all the holiday classics alone, but even opting to bring one (slightly) lighter dish to your next seasonal fête can be a smart move in waistline preservation. And that doesn’t always mean starting with a Cooking Light recipe. Sometimes, with a little practice and experimentation, you can take a traditionally heavy recipe and lighten it up with a few key substitutes.

When choosing what dessert recipe to make, I always look for three things:

  1. Can I swap out any of the white flour for whole wheat flour?
  2. Can I swap out any of the vegetable oil or butter for applesauce or yogurt?
  3. Can I find a way to incorporate fruit or nuts, even if they aren’t in the original recipe?

Now I know some bakers are turning in their graves, because these swaps won’t work for every dish. Some delicate nibbles would get too heavy with whole wheat flour, and some classic cookies wouldn’t crisp up without good old fashioned butter. But other recipes are pretty forgiving of swaps like these, especially bars and loafs with a little more give.

Take, for instance, the gingerbread I made last weekend from a Food & Wine recipe:

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Thanks, F&W! Copyright here.

I was first drawn to it because it already meets requirement three — it includes fruit. And since it’s in loaf form, I knew it would take more kindly to swapping out half of the flour for whole wheat flour. (I chose to do a mix to keep it from getting too dense while also getting most of the fiber and nutrition the wheat variety brings.) Canola oil is already one of the healthier vegetable oils, sporting low saturated fat content and some Omega-3 fatty acids, so I only swapped half of it — substituting one 1/4 cup for the same volume of unsweetened applesauce. And obviously, I kept the sugar content at full tilt. I’m not a monster.

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Bonus view of my new country house kitchen!

Now I didn’t remember to take a photo of the end product, but it was delicious indeed. And while no one could argue it was the healthiest dessert, knowing that some wholesome goodness went into it made me feel a little less guilty about having a slice of gingerbread smothered with beef stroganoff for breakfast the next morning. (No, I’m not pregnant; I just have unique tastes in food.)

It’s only December 17, so why am I giving you my holiday post today? I’ll tell you why: because I won’t be anywhere near a computer when actual Christmas week rolls around. Ben and I will be on our honeymoon down under, putting all my good advice aside and consuming our weight in beachside cocktails and kangaroo burgers. Don’t worry: I’ve arranged a guest post to publish on Boxing Day to give you a little taste of running inspiration while I’m out of pocket.

In the meantime, have a very happy holiday, folks! I know I will — I’m seeing this babe during a layover in Hawaii tomorrow!

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Categories
gear Uncategorized

Santa Claus Is Running to Town

Some people are hard to buy gifts for — the girl who has everything, monks who forgo all possessions, my dad — but don’t worry: runners aren’t one of them.

Whether we’re spending 15 miles a week hitting the pavement or 150, us runners tend to go through apparel at a rapid clip, and there’s nothing we’d like to find inside our stockings more than, well, stockings themselves. (Ok, fine, they’re called tights. I was trying to be clever here.) Also at the top of any runner’s wish list: new shoes that match the model and size of our favorite pair, wicking tops, headbands, hats, gloves, and let’s not forget the gold standard of gift-giving: industrial-sized tubes of Body Glide.

If gifting wearables isn’t your thing, fear not: Santa’s Workshop is brimming with other runner-friendly presents as well. From yoga DVDs and SPIbelts to cookbooks and NUUN, the possibilities are endless. What can I say? We’re easy to shop for. You’re welcome.

You’re also welcome for this adorable action shot of my brother’s ring bearer making her mid-ceremony delivery.

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But back to the gifts. What if you have a runner in your life but your funding’s running a little thin this holiday season? Here’s a suggestion: Embrace your inner 7-year-old and make a coupon book full of redeemables only a runner would appreciate. Some suggested gems below:

  • This coupon is good for 15 uninterrupted minutes of listening you talk about your upcoming marathon, yawn-free.
  • This coupon is good for one personalized sign at your next road race, so long as it’s scheduled to start after 9 a.m.
  • This coupon allows you to take up more than half of the closet floor with your running shoes.
  • This coupon is a guarantee that there will always be bananas, avocados and peanut butter in stock at the apartment.
  • This coupon is either good for one foot rub or one year’s worth of you never commenting once on how deformed your feet have become. Dealer’s choice.

Print ’em off, laminate them if you’re fancy, and I say you’ve got yourself one heck of a holiday gift.

What coupons would YOU want to see, runner friends?

Categories
Food

All I Want for Christmas is Food

Certain things happen once a year like clockwork – New Years, tax season, another Peter Jackson installment of The Never Ending Hobbit – plus the one annual tradition flooding the internet as we speak: holiday eating blog posts.

From Facebook to HuffPost to probably Pinterest (which I was recently disappointed to learn isn’t an online draught beer community), the world wide web is rife with tips this week on how to exit the holiday season healthy and trim and ready for bathing suit season.

Only one of us is nude.
Helpful hint: You can avoid having to get bathing-suit ready by purchasing a convenient summertime cover-up. Warning: this one made with real fur.

Unfortunately, most of the advice on the subject of holiday eating is downright hogwash. And not the good kind of hogwash, that ends with a plate of clean, sizzling bacon.

Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s smart to go into the indulgence-laden holiday season with a game plan in order to kickstart January able to squeeze into more than just your elastic-waist Christmas jammies. But with so many of the so-called tips circling the ‘net silly, arbitrary or downright ridiculous, it’s tempting to ignore them altogether and eat for two (turtledoves) straight through Epiphany.

Take, for instance, these “healthy holiday eating strategies” I found on usually worthwhile website realsimple.com:

At a cocktail party: “Stand more than an arm’s length away from munchies, like a bowl of nuts or chips, while you chat so you’re not tempted to raise your hand to your mouth every few seconds.” (When has an extra foot of space ever stopped me from getting another cheese and cracker, honestly?)

At dinner: “Keep visual evidence around of what you’ve consumed so you don’t forget. Leave an empty bottle of wine or beer in view and you’ll be less tempted to drink more.” (Because hoarding shrimp tails and olive pits is so in this season.)

While Christmas shopping: “Avoid fast-food places that emphasize red in their color schemes. Red has been shown to stimulate the appetite more than many other colors, and many restaurants add it to their decor, in everything from the flowers on the table to the squiggles on the plates.” (Yes, because I’m sure it’s the red advertising, NOT THE FACT THAT YOU’RE GETTING FAST FOOD WHILE CHRISTMAS SHOPPING, that’s behind that holiday weight gain.)

Or my personal favorite ridiculous Christmas eating tip online: “Eat with a small group when you can. One study found that dining with six or more people can cause you to eat 76 percent more, most likely because the meal can last so long.”

What if you have 24 first cousins like I do, huh? Realsimple.com = the anti-Catholic.

But while most tips I found online made me cringe at their absurdity, there are a few pieces of advice I’d say are, in fact, worth keeping in mind as you enter Christmas Week. They’re not going to see you shedding the pounds, no, but keeping them in mind as you rock around the Christmas tree could help you do the only thing you should be aiming for weightwise between Advent and New Years — maintenance.

So without further ado, here’s my list of achievable, sustainable, non-misery-inducing holiday eating tips.

  • Indulge in your seasonal favorites, but skip the snacks you could have any time of the year. Seriously, which of these sounds wrong to you? “I really shouldn’t, but it’s Christmas Eve, so I’m going to treat myself to a piece of Gram’s mincemeat pie.” vs. “I really shouldn’t, but it’s Christmas Eve, so I’m going to treat myself to these Cool Ranch Doritos.” Skip the extra calories without any seasonal significance, and save room for that favorite fruitcase instead.
  • Offer to contribute your own dish. If you aren’t hosting the holiday party or dinner yourself, plan to bring along an appetizer or side to add to the spread — and make it something on the healthier side. That way, as you’re overfilling your plate because you have more than six friends (ahem), at least you’ll know one dish along the buffet won’t completely undo a year’s worth of good eating. Could be a plate of crudite and hummus, or a side of roasted Brussels sprouts, or even a healthier version of a holiday classic, so long as you know exactly how many sticks of butter went into it.
  • Commit to getting out and moving every day. You don’t have to sign on for a holiday streak like this stubborn runner, but resolving to do one active thing a day between Christmas and New Years is a great way to undo the previous night’s damage. Whether it’s taking your younger cousins sledding or playing some touch footfall or walking the dog around the block, getting your heart beating again is the best way to counteract that gallon of gravy you drank the night before.

The truth is, the holidays come once a year, and they’re a time for celebration, not calorie counting. But I know from experience laying in bed holding your stretched-out stomach in agony isn’t the best way to ring in the new year either, which is why I advocate exercising a little (but not too much) moderation this holiday season. That, and getting a fur cover-up before spring break.

What is your best tip for maintaining healthy habits during the most gluttonous time of the year?

Categories
Running Training

Rule Breaker

I tend to think of rules as falling into two distinct categories: the unbreakable vow variety of Severus-Narcissa fame and the bendable, grey-area ones that are more like suggestions than hard and fast canon.

Deciding which rules are breakable and which have some flexibility is a very individual choice, but for me, the line falls somewhere around here. No intravenous drug use? Unbreakable. No swimming less than 30 minutes after eating? More of a suggestion. No infidelity? Unbreakable. Not eating cookie dough for breakfast? More of a suggestion. Vowing never to see another Tolkien film? Unbreakable. Keeping your dog well groomed in the off season?

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Clearly a suggestion.

Whenever I’m training for a new distance or big race, be it the July triathlon that wasn’t or last month’s New York City Marathon, I always download a training schedule that I intend to follow exactly – no cheating! – and for the most part, do, especially for the first few weeks. I wake up early. I log every mile. I’m disciplined and focused and stick to the plan, with my workout routine falling into that first category of rules: unbreakable.

And then something inevitably happens – a hangover, a cold, a Property Brothers marathon on HGTV – and I allow myself to skip one scheduled workout. It’s just one 3-miler. I tell myself. You’ll get back out there tomorrow like you never even missed it.

Does my training suffer from missing one 25-minute workout three months before the marathon? Probably not, at least in the physical sense. But mentally, breaking that training schedule just one single time relocates it from that sacred, unbreakable category to a dangerous grey area. Suddenly, with that one act of flexibility, my training shifts from unwavering to bendable, and skipping another workout the following week becomes significantly easier. Breaking your own rules is a slippery slope, kids, and it can lead to missed PRs and hobbits. And probably heroine.

It’s with this idea in mind – that a once-bent rule is easier to break – that I begin my first full working week as a running streaker. Logging at least a mile a day during my four-day visit to Baltimore was easy, as the weather was clear, my schedule was clearer and I had the best darn running partner on that side of the Mason-Dixon Line.

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But when I arrive back in the city tomorrow, getting out the door before sun-up every single day is going to be a far more trying commitment, and not just because I’ll be doing it solo. Some days I’ll be tired, some days I’ll be sore and – eventually, if I keep this up through Christmas – some days I’ll be lacing up in the snow. Streaking isn’t going to be easy.

But you know what? Easy or not, it might just be worth it. So here’s to relegating it to that unbreakable category and leaving it there, at least for the next 24 days. I might chicken out and do the bear minimum – one mile – more times this upcoming month than I’d like to admit, but at least I vow to do it, no ifs, ands or butts.

So here we go. 24 days and counting – both until I can stop streaking and until I get to see this beast again.

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Of course, when I see her, I might want to take her on a Christmas morning run, and the streak might press on. If you give a mouse a cookie…

What rules won’t you break?

Categories
Running

Naked Ambition

I’ve made a lot of questionable wardrobe choices since launching my running career, from cat ears to tutus to goldendoodle handbags.

But there’s at least one growing workout trend I’ve yet to try: Streaking.

 

“And it’s going to stay that way, young lady!” I hear my father saying now as he replaces the flattering spandex gear I requested for Christmas with ankle-covering, Mormon-approved, streak-free racing get-ups.

No, silly old bear, I don’t mean streaking streaking. I mean completing a running streak: or committing to run at least one mile every single day for a predetermined period of time — and then actually following through, regardless of weather, aches or professional obligations. If you ask me, this kind of streaking seems far more terrifying than the kind of the nudist variety.

I’ve heard about running streaks before — usually in the context of “Old Man Marley killed his family with a snow shovel and has run every day for the last six months! Six months!” — but I only started to consider doing one myself upon reading Marc Parent’s column in December’s issue of Runner’s World magazine.

The piece, which you can read in full here, chronicles his first running streak, in which he logged miles every single day between Thanksgiving and Christmas after a crazy neighbor talked him into it. “I’ll do it,” he recalls saying out loud to no one in the room. “A running streak is a deal you make with only yourself.”

And for Marc, the experience proved fruitful, particularly considering the lack of fruits — or plethora of fruitcakes — we all tend to devour in this month-long period each year.

“You do almost anything every day for four weeks and you start to get good at it. I no longer got tired on a run. I found out legs don’t hurt on days off when you never take a day off. You never feel guilty about the run you don’t take when you take them all. You don’t have favorite running clothes—you have whatever is clean and whatever works, which is whatever you happen to grab when you reach into the drawer. Individual runs are not important, but running as a whole feels more so. One morning I completed a long run without ever breathing faster than a resting pace. Once I came home after an exceptionally cold run and looked in the mirror at the icicles on my eyelashes and thought, I am officially as crazy a runner as anyone I’ve ever made fun of. Then I took a hot shower and dressed up and looped a belt around my waist and hooked the buckle on the smallest hole — a new hole on a belt I’ve had for more than 10 years.”

His column spoke to me, especially since after crossing that marathon finish line earlier this month, I’ve found getting out the door in the mornings to be a major challenge. Part of that is my self-diagnosed runner’s knee that’s transforming each hard run recovery into an agonizing nightmare, and part of that is my new earlier start time at work, but I’m positive a not minor component of my post-race lethargy is just good old-fashioned letdown after the thrill of the race.

Don’t believe me? Just check out my November running log. Looks embarrassingly like Kansas.

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The truth is, a running streak may be a terrible idea for me this December, since I know my work days are going to be jam-packed and my park precariously icy. On the other hand, a running streak may be just the kick I need to get my mind back in the game and body ready for the new year.

Either way, I’m definitely kicking off the holiday season with a 5K Turkey Trot in Maryland tomorrow, so I’ve already got one day covered. Here’s hoping I can pry myself out of bed on Friday morning, too — and for the next 40 days. It’s just like Lent, but colder, and without the promise of Cadbury Creme Eggs at the end. (Remind me why I’m doing this again?)

Ah well, it’s in writing, so I guess I’m committed. Let the fully clothed streaking begin! Who’s with me?

Categories
Uncategorized

Thank You Notes

As I boarded the train at New York Penn Station tonight en route to Baltimore Penn Station via Newark Penn Station and – oh yeah – the entire state of Pennsylvania – I was fully prepared to use this space to complain.

About what, you ask? For one, about the throbbing ache in my left glute that forced me to cut yesterday’s long run short and forgo today’s workout altogether. Secondly, about how I seem to have lost all motivation to push myself athletically now that my years-in-the-making marathon goal has come to an end. And, of course, about how there are entirely too many Penn Stations along the northeast corridor. I mean, seriously guys. Would it have killed you to use a thesaurus?

But while the Amtrak quiet car isn’t entirely quiet tonight and the world may or may not be coming to an end in a few short hours (two inconveniences of equal importance in my book), I simply refuse to sit here griping as I speed my way toward the Mason-Dixon Line.

Why, you ask? Because – especially after all the heartbreaking tragedy of this past week – I can unequivocally say that I am pretty darn lucky when it comes to my lot in life, glute ache and all.

So without further ado, I will take a page from AliOnTheRun‘s book and bring you my very first installment of Thankful Things Thursday. Why? Because I’m feeling very thankful these days. And because I love alliteration.

I’m thankful that my immediate family – including two members of the military, one Peace Corps veteran and one ballsy power boater who has probably had more near-death experiences than the rest of them combined – are all safe and healthy and converging on Baltimore this weekend. And that they all intend to make me waffles in bed tomorrow, or so I assume.

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I’m thankful for my network of unconditionally supportive friends, from those I met in the church nursery or at afternoon kindergarten to those I met rocking out on the soccer field or blasting Billy Joel at a social house party. And let’s not forget those best of friends whose parents and my parents grew up together.

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I’m thankful that as much as I bemoan the long hours and the building’s comically cold year-round ambient temperature, I generally like my industry, my job and – despite what this photo would lead you to believe – the people I work with.

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I’m thankful that I’ve so fully enjoyed the New York holiday season this year, from baking cookies and sampling the Brooklyn Brewery’s entire winter collection to visiting the Rockefeller Center tree and spending a wonderfully childish evening with the Rockettes and friends. And by friends, I mean Santa.

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I’m thankful that my body was strong enough to push me through four months of marathon training this summer and that my mind was strong enough to push me through four hours of marathon running this fall.

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I’m thankful that six months of private tutoring have finally paid off and that my brother’s dog can now read.

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What are you thankful for?