Sunday, February 28, 2010

Run Bike Swim Cook: Mexico meets Iran

Less than sixteen hours left in February, so it's time to wrap-up our 2010 Run Bike Swim Cook Challenge. For our last cooking challenge, we needed to use barley in a main dish. We decided to make Ash-e-jow, and Iranian/Persian Barley Soup seasoned with turmeric. When we saw all of the lime in the recipe, we decided to add our own Mexican flair by substituting 1/2 cup cilantro for the fresh parsley. The soup was tasty, hearty, and filling--just perfect for these bitterly cold winter days.

Sticking with the barley theme, we coupled the soup with a barley/wheat bread made from Grape Nuts cereal soaked in buttermilk.

Add some fresh asparagus, and you have a wholesome meal the whole family will love.

As far as the rest of the challenge goes, our family has definitely been up and moving! Here are my cumulative totals:

Running: 52.5 miles
Biking: 21 miles
Swimming: 3 miles
And the bonus: 5 hours spent in a tone and flex fitness class.

Since I gave up on the cycling, I decided to aim for a "double-marathon" with the running. Yesterday's 5.5 miles on the treadmill were torturous, but I made my goal.

And now for the real athlete. Drumroll, please. Over the month of February, Jason logged 106 miles running! That's more than a marathon a week. Way to go, superstar! We're all in awe.

As much fun as this challenge has been, I'm feeling like I need to restore a bit more balance to my life in terms of the time spent on exercise. By the time Jason and I trade off watching the kids so that we can each get a run in, we don't have much time as a whole family. This challenge has been very motivating, so I'd kind of like to find a new goal for the month of March, but perhaps something that involves everyone. Let me know if you have any suggestions. :)

Ash-e-jow (Iranian/Persian Barley Soup)
(Recipe adapted from

* 2 quarts chicken stock
* 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 1 medium onion, diced
* 1 cup uncooked pearl barley
* 1 teaspoon turmeric
* 1 lime, juiced
* 1/4 cup tomato paste
* salt, to taste
* ground black pepper, to taste
* 1 cup diced carrots
* 1/2 cup sour cream
* 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
* 8 lime wedges

1. Heat the chicken stock in a pot to a gentle simmer.
2. Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat and saute the onion until translucent. Add the pearl barley to the pot and stir for one minute. Stir in the hot chicken stock, turmeric, lime juice, tomato paste, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 1 hour.
3. Mix in the carrots and continue simmering 30 minutes or until the soup has thickened and the carrots and barley are tender. If the soup is too thick, add hot water, one tablespoon at a time.
4. Place the sour cream in a small bowl. Slowly pour 1/2 cup of hot soup mixture into sour cream, whisking constantly. Gradually add the sour cream mixture into the soup pot, whisking constantly. Stir in the cilantro. Serve with fresh lime wedges.

Friday, February 26, 2010

So Much To Do

I've found so many fun new interests lately! Running, swimming, baking--I'm even trying my hand at coupon clipping. A new choir, a new playgroup, a new book to read, a new blog to stalk--anything but the same old housework. I'm beginning to think that my new found zeal is nothing but a thinly veiled guise to avoid the unenviable task of getting my house back in order.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Comfortable in Their Skin

As a Christmas present this year, my loving parents spoiled me with a YMCA membership. It's been wonderful! I've discovered that I love swimming, and that in a group class setting, I can actually tolerate strength and flexibility training. Kids play for free, and the girls' swim lessons now cost half as much. Better yet, the gym is only a block away from the preschool, so I've gotten into the routine of dropping them off at school, working out while Eli plays in the daycare, and then hanging out at our fantastic public library until it's time for pick up. How lovely!

Swimming at the Y, however, has taught me much more than how to paddle. I've witnessed the joy of being comfortable in your skin. In general, the crowd at the YMCA leans heavily toward the geriatric side, at least during the times I swim. While showering off in the locker rooms, I catch glimpses of women of every imagineable shape and size. I'm surrounded by women with rolls and dimples, love handles and pudge, an excess of hair or none whatsoever. Amazingly, all of these women are beautiful! They are comfortable in their skin, and they are happy. I've learned so much from watching their smiles and their ease, despite what the world might label as imperfections. These women have lived long enough to know that beauty comes from within, not without.

My only other experiences with a gym have been in a university setting. Overwhelmed by the seemingly flawless bodies of the sorority girls (half of whom have surgically "supplemented" mother nature's gifts), it was hard not to compare and feel dumpy. Swimming at the Y has given me a broader perspective. I, too, want to be comfortable in my skin and happy with my body--right now, this very moment, and no longer ten pounds from now.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Clowning Around Columbus

We played hooky this weekend and escaped to Columbus to visit Uncle Justin and Aunt Brianna. Despite the fact that Justin turned our children into Illini traitors by drilling them in the OH-IO cheer, we had a fabulous time.

Apparently Talia found Justin's medical books to be quite entertaining reading. (Justin just finished his Ob-Gyn rotation--blush, blush.)

Jason also got some good reading time with Eli on his lap.

Eli, however, thought it was much more entertaining to play with Aunt Brianna.

So happy!

But even Eli couldn't compete with Uncle Justin's joy when he got the privilege of enduring multiple marriages to his nieces. Here's his grin after giving Brooklyn the big "I do." I guess polygamy must be coming back into style... :)

The weekend fun was augmented by our culinary excursion to Columbus's North Market, where we caught the tail-end of their annual Fiery Foods festival.

I splurged on a specialty waffle that actually packed quite a bit of punch. A hearty jalapeno-cheese grits waffle was topped with shrimp, green onions, and lots of cilantro. The tasty concoction disappeared so fast that my only regret was not taking a picture to savor the memory.

Unfortunately, Brooklyn learned that no matter how pretty the cupcake, there is such a thing as too much pink frosting. Ah, but the fun was great while it lasted.

After dropping a tired crew off at home for some downtime, Brianna and I slipped away to Trader Joe's to continue our appetizing adventures. Talk about a bonanza! I had a riot justifying all my impulse buys since I can't purchase anything similar close to home. Dark-chocolate covered pomegranate seeds, cilantro and jalapeno hummus, cranberry apple-butter, and don't even get me started on the macarons! Three days later, and I'm still drooling. My one faux pas was the canned aloe vera... What was I thinking? In case anyone else is feeling venturesome and courageous, I still have an unopened can that I would love to get rid of. :)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Cranberry Salsa

This week's Run Bike Swim Cook Challenge was to use cranberries in an appetizer. After a bit of exploring, we decided to make Cranberry Salsa. Oo la la! This recipe was definitely a keeper. It was kind of a sacrifice to give up our very last bag of frozen cranberries, but the result was worth it.

In honor of Valentine's Day, we shaped our cream cheese into a heart-shape first. The deep reds and greens were gorgeous! Perfect for the holidays.

We also found that the salsa's excellent with tortilla chips as well. The sweet and salty mix gives a nice contrast. (It's also a bit healthier minus the cream cheese.) We used one large jalapeno pepper instead of two small, and found, in the words of my eldest, that "it wasn't spicy at all!" (That's a compliment in her world.) A more adult palette might enjoy kicking up the spice a notch.

The verdict from the kids' panel?

Two thumbs up! The only one not interested in the salsa was Eli. He had a different question on his mind...

Got milk? :)

Cranberry Salsa Dip with Cream Cheese
(Recipe found on

1 (12-ounce bag) or 3 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup minced green onions
2 small (approximately 2 tablespoons) jalapeno chile peppers, cored, seeded and minced
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, minced
2 tablespoons finely-grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese
Cranberries and/or cilantro sprigs for garnish

Rinse, drain, and pick over cranberries, (discarding all that are soft or bruised). Place them in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped but not mushy.
Place crushed cranberries in a bowl; mix together with green onions, jalapeno peppers, sugar, cilantro leaves, ginger, and lemon juice. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours so flavors develop (salsa will be too sharp and tart to begin with).

On a serving plate, place cream cheese; cover with the dip. Garnish, if desired, and serve with crackers.

And finally, an update on our exercise from last week:

Miles Run: 12 for me, 20 for Jason
Miles Swum: 1/2
Miles Biked: 7.5 (pathetic on the biking, I know.... :)

Despite my disdain for cycling, it feels great to be moving! Thanks for the motivation, Chou.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Paper Bag Prince

Here's our Paper Bag Prince.

And here are the princesses.

Isn't royalty great?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cupid or Cubmaster?

You know your husband's a Cubmaster when you go to put on your boots and discover they're filled with arrows.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Our Bed

Talia (pointing to Mom and Dad's room): I wanna take in a nap in our bed.

Hmmm. With such notions of possession, no wonder she always wiggles her way in by morning.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Run Swim Bike Cook: Week 2

Here's an update on our Run Swim Bike Cook challenge, as described at

Miles run: 13.1
Miles swum: 1/2
Miles biked: 15
(At this rate, I'm never going to make 112 miles by the end of February, so if you have any ideas about how to tick off the miles more quickly on a stationary bike, let me know!)

Of course, the true athletic superstar is Jason, who ran 31 miles this past week. Way to go!

This week's cooking challenge is to use butternut squash in a dessert. Given our family's love affair with gelato, we decided to mesh this favorite veggie with ice cream.

Our recipe was quite simple: we combined our classic sweet cream ice cream recipe with 1 cup of pureed butternut squash, sweetened with a touch of brown sugar and our favorite spices. The girls had fun helping us churn the ice cream during our family home evening.

Talia gives us an impatient look. Waiting may be hard, but homemade ice cream is definitely worth it.

The end result: yum! Our creation tasted an awful lot like pumpkin ice cream, which is awfully wonderful if you are a pumpkin afficionado like myself.

In retrospect, I wish I had pureed the squash in our blender instead of with the hand blender. Not only would this have given us a smoother, creamier texture, but our hand blender literally fried itself while tackling the squash. A flash of light, some sudden smoke, and only the terrible smell of burning plastic remained. So sad!

Lost His Marbles

You might think that a person who photographs marbles has lost their own.
However, I think Jason's marbles are pretty enough to sell.

Last week we went to a book signing by Larry Kanfer at the public library. It turns out that Larry graduated from the University of Illinois with an architecture degree during a time of recession as well. Instead of working as an architect, he's supported himself and his family as a very successful photographer. His gallery's just up the street, so if we haven't found work by the time Larry retires, perhaps Jason can take over. :)

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Better Late Than Never

So, after months of procrastination and good intentions, I finally posted pictures of Christmas. Good grief! While at the time I felt like we weren't taking enough photos (we were having too much fun playing with our new video camera), in retrospect I'm glad there weren't any more to sort through.

Anyway, I backdated the post to December 31st so that it's more appropriately placed chronologically in case I ever print this blog. Feel free to take a peek if you're interested in seeing lots of family fun photos.

Coming soon: Thanksgiving. :)

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Run Bike Swim Cook 2010

Attention all Ironman triathletes and chefs! The third annual Run Bike Swim Cook challenge has officially begun! My amazing sister-in-law is co-hosting this year's RBSC challenge on her equally amazing food blog.

While I recommend that you visit for all the juicy details, here's a basic summary of the rules:

You have 28 days (or the entire month of February) to complete any or all of the following fitness challenges:

1) Run 26.2 miles
2) Swim 2.4 miles
3) Bike 112 miles
4) Create a yummy dish using the superfood of the week (and blog about it.)

While I've cheered the RBSC chef-athletes in the past, this is the first time that I've officially committed myself to participating. I'm right on track with the running and I think the swimming will go well too. I'm less confident about the biking, however. I have a hard time getting miles in on a stationary bike (ie, I get bored out of my mind), but I'm also not a fabulous cyclist and feel nervous biking long distances on open roads. So let me know if you have any suggestions about good places for cycling in the area.

As for the cooking, well, I generally prefer to leave that domain to the experts. However, I was inspired by the first challenge: Beans for Breakfast. While we typically don't combine the two, we do do beans and we certainly do breakfast.

And so today I fixed black bean and zucchini pancakes, topped with egg, salsa, sour cream, avocado, and a touch of cilantro. I was tempted by the yummy toppings while reading a recipe for black bean and chorizo breakfast tostadas. Unfortunately, I was turned off when I saw the 30 fat grams per serving. While probably not as flavorful as chorizo, the bean and zucchini pancakes made a much healthier base, and seemed more appropriate for this fitness challenge.

Kinda looks like a turtle.

Breakfast is served!

(Okay, I confess... We ate these at night, but we eat breakfast for dinner so often that I hoped we could get away with it.)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Food Creations

Our family has really enjoyed the FamilyFun: Cooking with Kids cookbook that we recently checked out from our local library. We've balanced out our more complicated creations (like bagels and empanadas) with some simple snack ideas.

Here's a super-easy and healthy snack that we created during a playdate.

Assembling the mice:

My girls both ended up eating their eggs before they finished their masterpieces. They must have learned patience from me. :)

Today we experienced a bit of tragedy when Brooklyn nose-dived while carrying the pickles to the table.

I was frantic when it happened, conjuring up images of severed arteries. Talia was likewise hysterical with concern about the fate of her pickles. Brooklyn was understandably upset too, being completely drenched in pickle juice (luckily no blood.) Lunch was saved, however, by our cheery veggie bagels, served as a family room picnic in order to escape the pickles and glass.

And just for fun, here are a few more cute pictures. Talia started preschool today, so we captured an early morning smile. Unfortunately, her cheesy grins usually come with squinty eyes.

When I asked Talia to open her eyes, I got this. Totally cracked me up.

Eli, blending with the socks.

Just can't get enough of that smile. :)

Bagel Recipe

As requested, here is the recipe for the yummy bagels that we baked last week.

Fresh-Baked Bagels
(Recipe taken from FamilyFun: Cooking with Kids)

1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F)
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast (not quick-rising)
4 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups flour
1 egg white
1 1/2 teaspoons water
Sesame or poppy seeds

1. Pour 1/4 cup of the water into a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it. Stir with a fork, then let the mixture sit for 5 minutes so that the yeast can thoroughly dissolve.

2. Combine the remaining 1 1/4 cups of water and the dissolved yeast in a large mixing bowl. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the sugar, then stir in the salt. Add 2 cups of the flour and stir by hand to blend well.

3. Stir in enough of the remaining flour, about 1/4 cup at a time, to make a dough that's firm enough to knead. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it with floured hands for about 10 minutes, using as much of the remaining flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. When fully kneaded, the dough will be firm but supple and should hold the imprint of your hand.

4. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, turning it a few times to coat the entire surface. Cover with plastic wrap and place it in a warm, draft-free spot until it has doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

5. Wen the dough is ready, punch it down. Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead it for 1 minute. Divide the dough in half, then divide each half into 4 equal pieces. Shape the 8 pieces into balls, placing them on a floured work counter and dusting the tops with flour. Let them rest for 2 to 3 minutes, then flatten them slightly with your fingers.

6. Fill a large soup pot about two thirds with water. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar and bring to a boil.

7. Working with 1 ball of dough at a time, press your floured thumb down through the center to make a hole. Stretch the dough slightly so the hole is about 1 inch in diameter. It will look like a doughnut. Set the bagels aside on a floured surface, covering them loosely with plastic wrap or waxed paper.

8. Let the bagels rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, grease a large baking sheet and set it aside. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

9. Gently drop two of the bagels into the boiling water. They should float, but don't worry if they sink initially -- they'll quickly rise to the surface. Boil them for 30 seconds on one side, then carefully turn them with a long-handled, slotted spoon and boil them for another 30 seconds.

10. Using your slotted spoon, transfer the bagels to a clean tea towel to drain. Wait a few seconds, then transfer them to the baking sheet, leaving space between them. Repeat with the remaining bagels.

11. Make a glaze for the bagel tops by whisking the egg white and water in a small bowl until frothy. Using a pastry brush, coat the surface of the bagels with the glaze. Sprinkle on sesame seeds or poppy seeds, if desired.

12. Bake the bagels on the center oven rack until they are deep golden brown, about 25 minutes. Then transfer them to a wire rack to cool. Makes 8 bagels

Have fun baking!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Running Weirdness

Something very strange is happening to me. I ran 6.7 miles this morning, and I actually liked it.

When I first started training back in November, I seriously questioned my sanity in registering for a half marathon. Just making it through one mile was so difficult that I couldn't imagine thirteen. In contrast, running this morning felt so great that I actually mulled over the possibility of someday running a full marathon.

What is happening to me?

It's amazing to feel the benefits of regular exercise, even when it's hard. I logged about 40 miles in January, most of which were yucky and unpleasant on a treadmill. The rest were hard earned in some serious cold and snow. Still, I stuck with it.

The result? Endorphin-enhanced joy. January is usually a difficult month for me. Between the post-Christmas let-down and frigid gray weather, I almost always feel blue. This January, however, was happy and light. While running is tiring, I feel more energized during the day. The scales may not register a difference, but gaining strength has helped me feel less discouraged about my lingering baby belly. When I come home after a run, my mind is clear and I feel ready and capable to tackle the day.

Strange, but I like it.