Categories
Food

Cereal Girl

Although my wonderful parents undoubtedly hoped fun family outings and visions of sugarplums would dominate my childhood memories, I’d wager at least 40% of my youthful remembrances are about none other than cereal.

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And I’m not talking about the podcast.

Yes, you heard me right. That crunchy, processed, sweet breakfast staple of the 80s and 90s was a huge part of my childhood, and it’s present in an alarming number of memories from my formative years:

  • I remember Mom traveling out of town and Dad conspiratorially scooping a giant ball of mint chocolate chip atop my Frosted Flakes.
  • I remember whipping up a batch of peanut butter-Cheerio bars between Full House and Family Matters for our TGIF snack.
  • I remember realizing my then 14-year-old sister was a bona fide adult when she stopped eating Crunch Berries and started requesting the very grown up Raisin Nut Bran as her breakfast of choice.

I mean, my brother and I literally played a cereal-themed computer game called Chex Quest for years that we got in a cereal box in 1996. Let’s all process that for a second.

In my family, weekends were for waffles, but every Monday through Friday, the cereal boxes made their way to the breakfast table en masse. We’d read the backs of them, we’d jostle for the toys inside, and then we’d head off to school, only to do it all over again the next morning. And so it continued for years and years, but then something crazy happened: cereal stopped being my breakfast of choice.

I don’t know what ultimately did it — maybe it was my newfound understanding of protein and fiber, maybe it was the fact I’d moved to the city of bagels, maybe it was that cheesy eggs seemed a better cure for the hangovers of my early 20s — but somewhere along the way, I stopped eating cereal.

And it turns out, I’m not alone. With the rise of low-carb diets, eating on the go and America’s fascination with Greek yogurt, good old milk & cereal has had a tough go in recent years. I realize my instagram isn’t scientific, but I definitely see more pictures of chia seed pudding and eggs Benedict than I do bowls of Raisin Bran, and I bet you a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch that you do, too.

That said, I think cereal can still have a place in an adult diet, even for an adult like me trying to limit the intake of processed foods. In fact, one of the best recipes in my repertoire sports breakfast cereal as one of its main ingredients. The recipe, inspired by the other great Anne blogger on the internet, is always a crowd pleaser, and if you’re looking to get some Kelloggs back into your diet, here’s a delicious way:

Cornflake-Crusted Chicken Fingers

Ingredients:
1 package chicken breast or, if you’re super lazy/brilliant, already sliced chicken tenders
1-2 eggs
1 T hot sauce or dijon mustard
2 cups cornflakes, crushed
a mix of your favorite spices to taste (I usually do garlic salt, paprika and black pepper – 1/4-1/2 teaspoon)

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  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. In a shallow bowl, add your spices to your crushed cornflakes.
  3. In a different bowl, crack your egg(s), and stir in with a fork either the mustard or hot sauce to give it some flavor.
  4. Once your chicken is tender sized, dip each one individually in the egg and then into the corn flakes, coating completely.
  5. Place the coated chicken on a sprayed cookie sheet, then bake about 12-14 minutes or until cooked through.
  6. Enjoy, in this case, with roasted carrots and parsnips.

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This recipe can be tweaked in so many ways: when I was on Whole 30, I used flax seed and unsweetened coconut instead of cornflakes; when I was at the new house without any spices, I crushed up a bag of Old Bay potato chips and mixed them into the cornflake mixture for flavor; when I’ve found myself eggless, I’ve used yogurt instead as the pre-cereal base. Either way, it’s an easy, delicious meal, and one I hope will find its way into some of your kitchens as well.

What are you cooking with cereal these days? If your answer is rice crispy treats, please come find me immediately. I want one.

Categories
Food

Five a Day

Most of the advice I internalized in 1991 was probably flawed.

For instance: If your distant cousin arrives at your Chicago apartment straight of the boat from the fictionalized island of Mypos, you should absolutely bring him on a double date with the girl you want to marry. No wacky antics with ensue; no way, no how.

Likewise: If your wife dies and leaves you raising three young girls alone, the best solution is to invite her playboy brother, your comedian friend and his beaver puppet to come live in your San Francisco basement. Totally sound parenting advice.

(Clearly, most of my formative memories were made on Friday nights on ABC.)

But while the Foster-Lambert model of how best to integrate a blended family under one roof may not be worth simulating in your own post-divorce reality, at least one piece of advice I gleaned in the early 90s still holds true today:

Eat five fruits and vegetables a day.

(You may be asking yourself: did I need such a long-winded reference-laden lead-in to that statement? Did Feeney need to apply for a high school principal vacancy the same year Cory and Shawn graduated middle school? I rest my case.)

The concept of five-a-day has been drilled into us since the launch of the 1991 ad campaign, and yet, I’d venture a guess that at least three-quarters of my adult friends don’t hit that mark. (Wikipedia says more than 90-percent of Americans don’t reach the recommended intake, but I’m giving more of my friends the benefit if the doubt.)

And at the most basic level, I understand why. You can order in a bacon-egg-and-cheese bagel, but try ordering in a seasonal fruit salad and you’re going to find yourself with a cup of grapes and out six bucks.

But with a little planning and creativity, the 5-a-day challenge is absolutely within reach. And more importantly: it’s worth the effort. Not only does it keep Michelle Obama off your back, but it helps keep you feeling full and hydrated, since fruits and veggies are jam packed with water and fiber and vitamins and goodness. In fact, with running, I attribute my commitment to eat more fruits and veggies with my ability to maintain my 30-pound weight loss, and that’s no small feat.

So without further ado, here’s my advice on how to get your daily plant count to five:

  • Start early. Muffins and bagels and cereal are the stuff of most American breakfasts, but if you’re waiting until noon to initiate your vegetable count, you’ve already lost 6 hours of possibilities. Instead, aim to add at least one serving of fruits or vegetables into your morning routine. For example, if you’re an oatmeal eater like I am, rather than just adding sweetener and milk and calling it a day, add a mashed banana and tablespoon of peanut butter (plus sweetener and milk, if you like your oatmeal like I like mine), and BAM – by 6 a.m., you have a delicious bowl of banana-nut goodness and only four more servings to go. You can even sneak veggies into that same bowl of oats. This morning, for example, I added a half-cup of canned pumpkin (not canned pumpkin pie filling, but the pure-pumpkin stuff) to my oatmeal, plus a hearty dash of pumpkin pie spice and some milk/sweetener, and I suddenly had a breakfast that tasted like Thanksgiving AND earned me a vegetable point. Other possibilities include adding frozen or fresh berries to yogurt or cereal, stacking sliced tomatoes on your egg sandwich, dropping a heaping cup of greens into your smoothie, or – if you demand a muffin – making your own. I’ve been known to make a batch of these bad boys over the weekend and enjoy them all week, and while one carrot-raisin muffin may not include a complete serving of fruits and veggies, it will certainly bring you closer to your goal than a slice of coffee cake would have.
  • Snack early and snack often. A constant grazer, I need multiple snacks a day to maintain my energy, and I’ve found this is the best way to supercharge my veggie count, particularly at work. An apple at 10 a.m.? One down. Baby carrots and hummus at 2:30 p.m.? We’re at two. If my options are walking to the vending machine in my building or venturing outside to the grocery store for a snack, the lazy girl inside me is inclined to opt for the former, so I make sure to stock my desk drawer and office fridge with a number of options first thing Monday morning that will last me all week. Tip: if you buy five apples on Monday, you’ll be inclined to eat one a day simply so you don’t have to worry about what might happen to them if left at work over the weekend. Having fruits and veggies within reach at home is also key. I know a smart woman (not me) who chops up bell peppers and celery and carrots on Sunday nights and stores them in an airtight container in her fridge all week. That way, when she gets home from work and is aching for a snack, it’s actually easier to grab a handful of pepper strips and dip than it would have been to open a box of Thin Mints.
  • Make your vegetables delicious. If you grew up in the 90s (and I assume you did, or else you wouldn’t have made it past the first 100 words of this post), you probably ate a lot of frozen peas, steamed lima beans and microwaved broccoli florets. That’s what people ate during our childhood, and that’s why we all grew up thinking vegetables were vile. Fast forward to 2012 and the offerings of locally grown fruits and vegetables have simply skyrocketed. Case in point: I had never heard of kale in 1994; I made baked kale three times this week. Brussels sprouts were little more than a punch line in 1996; last week, I ordered them as a side dish to my Stella at a NYC bar. If you try to reach your 5-a-day chowing down on celery sticks, you’re going to burn out fast, but if you get creative with sourcing and seasoning and a couple well-placed slices of pancetta, you’re going to be much more likely to see this challenge through.

How do you sneak fruits and veggies into your diet? And can we all agree Dinosaurs was a strange addition to the TGIF line-up?

Categories
Food

Low-Carb Dieting

When other people think about Middlebury College, I imagine they conjure up scenes of good-looking 20-somethings in matching North Face jackets making their way to 5 a.m. crew practice.

When I think about Middlebury College, I picture a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese.

That’s because the first and only time I set foot in Middlebury, Vermont, I was on a whirlwind Northeast college tour with my mother, and we were both on the South Beach diet. (How, you ask, could someone remember something so specific? Perhaps because the campus’ dining halls served Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and we weren’t allowed to eat it. Coupled with first loves and N’SYNC lyrics, those are the things one never forgets.)

Anyone who found himself looking for an easy weight-loss fix during the early millennium years undoubtedly tried his hand at a low-carb diet. From Atkins to The Zone to any number of high-protein programs in between, believers were swapping carbohydrates for pork belly faster than they could say coronary artery disease. (Which, to be fair, has nine syllables, so it takes a long time to say.)

I was one of them. Armed with a Dr. Agatston’s first edition of The South Beach Diet, I entered the 14-day kickoff phase, swore off “bad carbs” from orange juice to potatoes and prepared to watch the pounds melt away.

And they did.

As I chowed down on Canadian bacon and reduced-fat cottage cheese, I found to my surprise and delight that the diet’s claims were actually coming true: the scale dropped, my belly flattened and Lloyd Dobler serenaded me with a Peter Gabriel love ballad. It appeared to my 17-year-old self that the South Beach diet was the best thing since sliced bread string-cheese.

But anyone who’s ever found himself forgoing carbohydrates for two straight weeks also knows something else: it’s simply not sustainable. Resisting breakfast cereal for 14 days can give a dieter a sense of perverse satisfaction; resisting breakfast cereal forever can give a dieter a permanent complex. Much like every other low-carb trialist out there, I quickly reverted to my old ways, regained the weight and waited idly by for the next sure-fire diet solution to come my way.

Turns out, that’s not the way it works, and it look the discovery of running and some major caloric accountability to bring myself down to size.

But while I wouldn’t force the full-blown low-carb lifestyle on my worst enemy, even I can admit I gleaned some valuable dietary advice from those arguably misguided pages. Two guiding principles I still choose to follow stand out:

  • Good carbs. Although the South Beach Diet is inherently a low-carb lifestyle, making carbs the indisputable bad guy here, the book argues that not all carbs are as far gone on their journey to the dark side. And I agree. Carbs that include soluble fiber – like fruits and vegetables, legumes and oats – slow digestion and keep you feeling full longer, making them a far superior choice to that glazed donut you were just eyeing. I may no longer read The South Beach Diet book like the bible (or the bible like the bible, for that matter), but I do still opt for whole grain toast over refined Wonder Bread.
  • Good fats. Just as not all carbs are created equal, not all fats deserve a home in the coveted top triangle of your food pyramid (that’s what she said.) Omega 3 fats – found in nuts, flaxseed, tuna and salmon – and Omega 6 fats – found in corn, safflower and sesame oils – can work wonders for a recovering athlete in ways a scoop of chemically-rendered partially hydrogenated oils can’t. I no longer adhere to the diet’s full doctrine, but its plea to choose lean proteins is one I can get behind. (Again, with the she said.)

You may be wondering why I chose to write today about a failed diet fad I attempted in October 2003. The truth is, it was just a long-winded excuse for me to post this delicious low-carb recipe I tried over the weekend:

http://www.recipegirl.com/2012/01/16/cauliflower-crust-hawaiian-pizza/

So there you have it. The big reveal. (Seriously though, make this thing. You’ll be amazed.)

What do you know about nutrition and exercise now that you wish you’d known then? (How about fashion? Would your 2012 self let your 1992 self wear primary colored stir-up leggings? Mine would, because mine’s a jerk.)

Categories
Food

Home Cooked Meals

After a weekend of football-fueled dietary indulgence – including peanut butter flavored chicken wings because apparently I have the nondiscriminatory palate of a Labrador – I woke up from my slothful Sunday afternoon nap ready for a detox. Don’t get me wrong: nothing refuels after a long run like a 100-ounce beer tube from 123-Burger-Shot-Beer (a Danny Meyer establishment, no doubt.) But man cannot live by bar food alone, so once my boy Ed Reed was done clinching Baltimore’s spot in next Sunday’s title game, I put down my waffle fries and vowed to seek out some sustenance.

In a city that delivers 24/7 from an iPhone app that doesn’t demand human interaction, it’s tempting to order in every single meal. But in the spirit of both waist- and wallet-slimming initiatives, I took a page from a more established fitness blogger and on Sunday night cooked my own dinner instead. (That shouldn’t be such a novel concept for the Food Network’s No. 1 fan, but life and/or the pizza place between the 4/5/6 and my apartment always seem to get in the way.)

Fortunately, once I got going on my make-it-myself kick, I couldn’t stop. I whipped up a healthy-ish chicken pot pie for dinner to a chorus of oohs and ahhs from the boyfriend and woke up feeling so much lighter than the morning before that I opted to keep it going and traded my delivery bagel for some home-scrambled eggs. After my three-mile recovery run that morning, I even threw back a green monster for good measure, because anything this ugly in a cup has got to be good for you. (Fortunately, non-ugly things can also come in cups. Case in point.)

(Note: The second half of this post is being written a solid 25 minutes after the first half, because that’s how long it took to pull myself away from googling puppy-in-cup photos. I didn’t know that was a thing, but I’m glad to learn it is.)

Now that my eating habits are once again on track – at least until Ray Lewis works his (allegedly) homicidal magic again next weekend – I can start preparing myself for Friday’s pre-race carb loading session. Bagel-chip lasagna, here I come.

How do you get back on track after a meal – or three – of indulgent eating? And can I justify starting my carb loading on Tuesday? This whole wheat muffin says yes.

Categories
Races Running

The First Race of 2012

As my bedside alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 6:40 a.m. yesterday – that’s a Saturday morning, people, meaning a day of rest in many religions and a day of sleeping late and ordering in bagels in mine – I couldn’t quite remember whether I liked racing enough to justify the painfully early start. I had signed up for the first New York Run Runners race of the year a few weeks ago knowing that having the race on my radar over the holidays would help keep my gingerbread house consumption in check (it didn’t), but the idea of doing a full park loop at 8 a.m. in January suddenly seemed less enticing as race day dawned. As I reluctantly dragged myself out from under my duvet and set about coring apples and pears for the winter fruit salad (note: winter is a really boring season for fruit) I was making for my post-race brunch, the sun hadn’t even crested over the East River yet, and a small but very vocal part of me wanted out.

Luckily, we don’t decide things by oligarchy over here, so I laced up my running shoes, pinned on my bib number and made my way over to the park. And I’m glad I did, because as the starting gun went off and my corral started inching – then trotting – then running – forward, I was quickly reminded of something I first learned on Broad Street last year: I love racing.

I wish I could say I love racing because I always come in first and take home some hefty (and in my fantasy, tax-free) prize money, but – shockingly, I know – my 8:39 pace doesn’t always earn me a spot on the podium.  It does, however, get my heart racing and had me grinning ear to sweaty ear before the first mile marker, Harlem Hills and all, and that’s something.

And now, folks, the top three reasons I like racing.  Drumroll, please.

  • The intersection of the public and private.  Never a practitioner of the buddy system, running is typically a very private activity for me, performed just before daybreak in a delightfully silent Central Park. When I leave the apartment for my pre-work miles, even the most ambitious of tourists hasn’t yet rented his clunky $35/hour bicycle, meaning I can churn out my 4 to 6 music-free miles in absolute peace.  But even the lone wolf in me can appreciate the palatable energy a crowd of 5,000+ runners creates and maintains over the course of a race. Even though I went the full 10K yesterday without a word to anyone else on the course, I still felt an overwhelming sense of community as I wove in and out of the crowds.  Pardon the obscure 1973 children’s literature reference, but racing almost makes me feel like Swimmy the fish, who teams up with his other small, insignificant fish friends to swim in the shape of a giant fish and scare away the local fish bully. Anybody?  No?  Moving on then.
  • The fact that it makes my running log colorful. Hey, it counts. Like many runners, I track my miles on runnersworld.com, and while short runs, long runs and hill workouts are all delightful shades of blue and green, raced miles are recorded in bright red, making my log look less like GB stronghold of ROYGBIV and more like Liberace.

Just try to tell me this doesn’t look awesome.  Just try.  (Unless you’re color-blind. In which case, stop trying. It’s never going to happen. Too soon?)

  • Post-race refueling. Hands down, the best part of racing is eating in the hours after you cross the finish line. Like the good hydrator I am, I always make my way to the water station first, but then it’s over to the food station to see just how seriously each race takes itself. Saturday’s selection included a very respectable and New York-appropriate offering of bagels and apples. Not bad, but I was more impressed by Broad Street’s bananas and soft pretzels or the Baltimore Half’s Maryland crab soup and double-fisted Bud Lights. Stay classy, Baltimore.The fueling continued at the post-race brunch I hosted for a couple of running friends, a couple of their running friends and an accompaniment of nice boyfriends in jeans, including my own, who came out to support their speedy girlfriends but whose preferred kinds of runs are to the liquor store. I made the aforementioned winter fruit salad (using this recipe, minus the salt and pepper, because that sounded weird), this fiber-full bread in muffin form and a delicious and surprisingly healthy egg bake (subbed turkey breakfast sausage for pork sausage, skim milk for whole milk and a multigrain baguette for the Wonder Bread in this recipe).  A full belly and two mimosas later, I was ready to crawl back into bed for a glorious mid-afternoon nap, which was undeniably a more noble and deserved return to sleep than a 6:40 a.m. snooze button would have offered.

Why do you race (or bike or ice dance or whatever it is you love to do)?  And do ice dancing competitions distribute free bagels at the finish line?