Sunday, February 27, 2011

Run Swim Bike Cook Wrap-Up

I'm kinda sleepy, but before hitting the sack, I wanted to wrap up Run Swim Bike Cook 2011.

To make a long story short, I finished. I've attempted RSBC in the past and conquered parts of the challenge, but this is the first time I've actually been able to complete everything.

According to dailymile (the online program I use to track workouts), during the month of February I ran 28 miles, swam 2.4, and biked 116. Whew! I was definitely challenged. While I'm not sure I'll ever manage to repeat this success, I'm grateful to have had good health and the motivation to keep going. It always feels rewarding to set a difficult goal and accomplish it.

As for this week's challenge, we adapted this Thai Red Bean Dessert slow cooker recipe to use the fresh coconut we got in our Bountiful Basket. I'll let the pictures tell the story:

Okay, I confess. Despite our best efforts, our homemade coconut milk turned out to be little more than coconut flavored water. Fortunately, I had purchased some canned coconut milk as a back-up. Overall, the dessert was tasty, although I would recommend using lite coconut milk and less sugar. I enjoyed topping ours with fresh coconut because it gave the pudding a bit of crunch. One of our daughters loved it because it was so sweet, while the other daughter called it both good and "unusual." I think she found the gelatinous texture to be rather strange. Personally, I enjoyed the mouth feel; it seemed simply, well, Asian.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Run Swim Bike Cook: Week 3

Run Swim Bike Cook has me so busy moving that there's not much time left for blogging. Overall, this venture has been rough on housecleaning but good for my soul.

Here are the exercise totals:

Run: 5 miles (21 total)
Swim: 1 mile (1 total)
Bike: 28 miles (94 total)

I'm glad that I finally got in the pool in this week. My Mom came into town for the weekend (hooray!), giving hubby and me a chance to swim together. The pool was really full, so we ended up sharing a narrow lane. Normally, this would have been annoying, but bumping into my sweetheart every time we crossed paths was mildly romantic. I guess that's what happens when you combine two novice swimmers without goggles. What can I say? Love is blind.

As for the biking, I'm still slogging along. While spin class is torture, I had a great outing with the kids in the trailer. We picnicked at the sand dunes, dodged ducks at the park, and checked out games at the library, all before heading back home to take care of a stinky diaper.

And running? While I only had time for one run across town this week, I'm hoping to start logging more miles soon. I'm toying with the idea of the Utah Valley marathon in June. I don't know much about this race though, so feel free to share an opinion if you're familiar with it.

Now for the citrus for supper cooking challenge (drumroll, please). After getting some unfamiliar produce in our Bountiful Basket, we branched out with Middle Eastern Lemon Chicken with Jerusalem Artichokes.

When I first saw these knobby vegetables in my fresh produce basket, I thought someone had gone a little happy with the ginger. It turns out that these Jerusalem artichokes are actually the tuber from a species of sunflower. Challenging to peel, but a rather tasty little root.

We adapted a recipe found on this website, substituting chicken breast for the chicken thighs. I loved the strong lemon flavor combined with simmering garlic cloves. The real splurge, however, was the saffron. It cost me $12.99 for a gram! Apparently saffron is so expensive because the delicate red stigma from the saffron crocus must be harvested by hand. When Talia wanted to smell it, I jokingly told her not to spill it because it was worth more than she was. This got me thinking--at $13,000 a kilo, Talia's saffron weight is worth over $200,000. What can I say? My children really are priceless.

I'm not certain how much the saffron enhanced our recipe's flavor--it would have been fun to do a comparison--but it certainly gave everything a gorgeous lemon color. The result was a citrus-y supper to celebrate!

And, just for kicks, here are a few pictures of a recent lunchtime adventure with hummus. In the last RSBC challenge, I mentioned that our kids like to play with their food.

Can't imagine where they learned it from...

Happy eating!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Run Swim Bike Cook: Week 2

True confession: I nearly quit Run Swim Bike Cook this week. I've been working myself saddle sore to knock down the 112 miles of biking, and it's been hard. After a chilly early morning bike ride where my fingers got so cold I could scarcely change gears (good thing I didn't need to brake), I was simply burnt out. The good news is that I logged 45 more miles this week. The bad news is that I still have 45 left to go.

Cycling has always been challenging for me. I generally feel slow and a little awkward. Clocking these miles has been tougher still since I'm often hauling an extra seventy pounds of bike trailer/munchkins. On the positive side, the practice is starting to pay off. I feel stronger and more confident on my bike. It's also creating some good family memories. The wee ones have really enjoyed our long bike rides to play at different parks in the warm afternoon sun. And, so have I. While I certainly could never manage 112 miles on a stationary bike, given the advantages of mild February weather and gorgeous scenery, I just might make it. Maybe.

I also ran 8 1/2 miles this week, giving me a total of 16 miles. I only planned for a 5 mile run around a loop course, but 4 miles into the run, I discovered that the trail was being torn up by a menacing bulldozer. I had no choice but to turn around and run back the other way. I'm just grateful I finished in time for preschool pick-up!

No swimming yet--I still need to renew our family pass to the local aquatic center.

The cooking challenge: a snack using sweet potatoes. Okay, more true confessions. After glimpsing all of the amazing hazelnut breakfast concoctions created by the other RSBCers last week, I felt totally intimidated. My own cooking, by comparison, just seemed, well, lame.

And then I realized that comparing is even lamer.

Run Swim Bike Cook is a personal challenge, not a competition. It's never been my goal to run the fastest or bike the farthest: why should I care about cooking the best? (Or worst, as the case may be...)

So why am I doing this? This year I'm striving to complete the triathlon to give me a better respect for the Ironman triathletes that are coming to St. George in May. When our family cheers them across the finish line, I'm going to applaud in awe; in a single day, they will accomplish a feat which I am struggling to finish over an entire month.

As for the cooking, I want to expand my culinary comfort zone while helping my family to make healthy food choices. Instead of being intimidated by all the other innovative ideas, I should appreciate their wealth of wisdom.

And so, instead of trying to compete for the fanciest sweet potato snack, may I instead contribute Sweet Potatoes chez les Wheelers. This recipe may not be particularly gourmet, but it's 100% original.

The inspiration:
Successful snacks at our house fit three criteria: simple, healthy, and fun. We enjoy playing with our food. Pitas, tortillas, bagels, and pancakes are empty canvases just waiting to be adorned. Why not turn a sweet potato into a similar creation? Given the round shape, I expected traditional smiley faces. I was pleasantly surprised when my children created not only faces, but monsters, geometric patterns, even the Grand Canyon. All good enough to eat!

The recipe:

Sweet potatoes
Ricotta cheese
Maple syrup
Favorite toppings (we used mandarin oranges, raisins, and hazelnuts)

Peel sweet potatoes, cut into rounds, and boil for about ten minutes until fork tender. Let cool. Mix ricotta cheese with maple syrup and spread on sweet potato rounds. Let your imagination run wild as you adorn with your favorite toppings.

The result:

Some Seriously Sweet Snacks.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Life Lessons

A certain Anonymous fatherly figure of mine frequently inquires, "How's your car working?"

Lately the answer has been, "Not well."

A week ago Saturday Jason came home with a huge bolt in the front passenger side tire. When we tried to put on the spare, we discovered that we don't actually have a jack. Fortunately, some kind neighbors were willing to loan us theirs.

Monday morning I brought the tire into Walmart, fearing that it might have to be replaced. Much to our delight, they were able to patch it instead, saving us the cost of a new tire.

I meant to return to jack immediately, but forgot, which turned out to be really good thing because we blew out our rear tire completely while driving by the same Walmart on Wednesday. So much for not having to purchase a new tire! Worse yet, the tire blew while we were driving Jason to the airport, causing him to miss his flight. Oh, the trials of life!

True to form, unfortunate events always seem to come in threes. I swung by Walmart yet once more on Saturday morning following a morning jog. When I went to get back into the mini-van, the side door wouldn't open and was beeping. When I turned on the ignition, it was dead. I immediately went to phone Jason and discovered that my cell phone was dead too.

Pulling out the jumper cables, I flagged down a truck, but we couldn't get the van to start at all. Desperate, I went inside and found a payphone to try and get ahold of Jason. No luck. At a loss as to what to do, I called our emergency roadside service through Geico (since we've already used our AAA service twice recently) and asked them to send a tow truck. Immediately after, I managed to connect with Jason. He thought the problem really sounded like the battery, and recommended that I just buy one at Walmart instead of having the car towed.

And so, canceling the tow truck, I went down to the repair center (where I am now known as a regular customer.) The same man who removed the bolt kindly offered to drive his truck over and try once more to jump the car before putting in a new battery. He hooked her up, I turned on the ignition--nothing. Rechecked the connections--nothing. Then he asked if the car was in park. It wasn't.

Naturally, the mini-van then started up like a charm. Never even needed a jump. Oh, the depths of my shame! I was so embarrassed that I immediately went home and wrote "Dufus" on my forehead. At least I was smart enough to use washable marker, and no, I am not idiotic enough to post the photo here.

Lessons learned: put the car in park, always keep your phone charged, and stay far away from Walmart!

Run Swim Bike Cook: Week 1

This week's culinary challenge for Run Swim Bike Cook (where the Ironman meets the Ironchef) was to use hazelnuts in a breakfast food.

Our family loves breakfast and we love hazelnuts, so this one was easy peasy. We first attempted a hazelnut, apple-cinnamon breakfast pudding that put some leftover whole wheat bread to good use. (I'd originally intended to give it away as a thank you gift, but it turned out so dense that I was embarrassed to pass it along. Some things in life, like waiting for bread to rise, simply can't be rushed.)
Here's the recipe, adapted from Clements and Stewart's 2010 cookbook, "The Diet Rebel's Cookbook: Eating Clean and Green."

Hazelnut Apple-Cinnamon Breakfast Pudding

1/4 cup water
4 apples, washed and cut into chunks
6 slices wheat bread
5 eggs, slightly beaten
1 banana, mashed
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 c. toasted hazelnuts.

Combine water and apples in a saucepan. Cover and simmer until apples are soft, then mash with a fork. Tear bread into bite-sized chunks and stir into apples. Pour eggs into bread and apples and stir well. Cook on medium-low for about 15 minutes, until eggs are cooked. In a bowl, mash banana and stir in cinnamon. Pour banana into bread mixture, stir well, and fold in hazelnuts.

The plus side to this recipe: no added sugar. The downside to this recipe: no added sugar. In retrospect, I really wish I'd used sweet apples instead of my tart granny smiths. A red apple also would have created a bit more color contrast since the apples aren't peeled. Other than that, the dish was tasty and well-received by the family crowd. We sweetened it up with a dollop of freshly whipped cream initially. As a late night snack, we enjoyed it with ice cream, and the next morning it was even better heated up and served with a bit of Silk Coconutmilk. Mmmm.

Still craving more hazelnut, we also adapted an Apple German Pancake recipe from the same cookbook to use the fresh pears we'd just gotten in our Bountiful Basket. Here's our version:
Whole Wheat German Pancakes with Pear

2 cups freshly ground whole wheat flour
Juice from half a lemon
2 cups water
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup honey
1/2 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 c. sugar
1 t. baking soda
2 T. butter
4 medium pears, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced

Mix flour with lemon juice and water and cover with a moist towel. Place in a warm place for 12 to 24 hours. After it has had a chance to sit, add eggs, honey, salt, sugar, and soda and stir well. Preheat oven to 350. Place butter in a 9x13 pan and melt in preheating oven. When the butter has melted, remove it from the oven and layer the bottom of the pan with pear slices. Pour the batter over the pears and bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Serve warm with a light schmear of with Nutella (hazelnut chocolate spread.)

Here's the dish naked:

And married with Nutella:

Advantages of this recipe: 100% whole wheat flour. Disadvantages: I can't really think of any. Sweet pear coupled with chocolate and hazelnut--it's the perfect combination. The whole wheat gave the dish a bit of texture and crunch, yet souring and soaking the wheat first kept it from feeling too heavy. If I were to change anything, I might cut out the sugar and use only the honey. The pears were so sweet that it wasn't really necessary, especially when topped with Nutella.

Here's an update with the exercise:

Running: 8 miles
Biking: 10 miles plus a spin class = 22 miles
Swimming: 0
Bonus: Kickboxing class

Hopefully next week I'll get in the pool!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Punxsatawney Phil's Prediction

On February 2nd (Groundhogs Day) we explained to our daughters that Punxsatawney Phil had not been scared by his shadow; thus, spring was on its way. The joyful news was greeted with enthusiastic shouts of "Hooray!!! Spring!"

Early the next morning, Talia asked "Is it cold outside?" Opening the front door, she answered her own question with a chilly "brrr" before continuing, "But I thought it was spring?"

Alas, some things must wait. Fortunately, she hasn't had to wait long here in St. George. Currently it's a sunny 58 degrees outside. Earlier today, I loaded the younger kids in the bike trailer for a long cycle to go see the ducks. Afterward we ate our lunch out on the trampoline before lying down for naps with the sun streaming in through the windows.

Gosh, I feel spoiled. In the past, I've always disliked February. Despite its being the shortest month, its gray skies and cold damp seemed to linger forever. I guess I'll just have to remember February's beauty when the brutal August heat scorches St. George for a full 31 days.

In the meantime, we send our warmest wishes to the many of you who are stuck in the midst of ice and snow. If you need a little motivation to get moving, check out Run Swim Bike Cook 2001, co-hosted by my fabulous sister-in-law and the Mother Runner. The goal is to finish an ironman triathalon over the entire month of February while creating new dishes using the superfood of the week. In the past, I've managed to run, swim, and cook, but this year I'd like to tackle it all.

(BTW: you should never compose a bragging post like this one. Before even posting it, daughter number one came down with a bad headache and a fever. So much for our dreams of hiking!)

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Totally Talia

With the dawning of the New Year, I've found myself suddenly nostalgic about how quickly time is passing. Where did my babies go? Already I feel like I'm forgetting all the quirky things they did as infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. As a safeguard, over the next few days I hope to take a "literary snapshot" of each munchkin before I blink and discover they're all grown and gone.

Today's star: Talia Lily.

Talia is deep. As I've spent more one-on-one time with her these past months, I've been repeatedly impressed by how vibrant, complex, and multi-faceted she is. Energized, she positively dominates the room with her booming voice and boisterous play. Tired or insecure, and she disappears into thumb-sucking, quiet introspection. Ever an enigma, I feel like each day I discover more and more about our Tally Wally, yet it only scratches the surface.

Since my labels fail to capture this spirit that cannot be pigeon-holed, I'll let her own words do the talking. Over the past six months, her language skills have really blossomed, allowing us to better glimpse what goes on in that busy mind.

"All the days I'm hungry."
"I wish candy was food."
"Please can we get some candy when we get home, or some soda, or something sugary?"

Yes, Talia really is that obsessed with sweets. While snitching candy is off-limits, Talia keeps crossing that boundary. Periodically I'll find a step-stool placed on top of a chair so that she can reach the candy bowl on top of the fridge. I've uncovered secret stashes of lollipops and candy canes all around the house. Once the heavy ceramic sugar canister disappeared. I looked all over, wondering where I might have absent-mindedly placed it before I finally found it--in Talia's closet. Hmmm, rather suspicious.
Talia: (Coughs.)
Mom: Bless you.
Talia: I didn't bless you, I coughed.

Translation: I didn't sneeze, I coughed.
Like her mother, Talia "bless yous" often, usually sneezing three or four times in a row. Ah choo!
Talia at the park: Don't you wanna be my friend? Don't you?
I love Talia's optimism here, fully expecting a positive response (despite the fact that the the little girl she was talking to didn't speak English). It also shows her quasi-in-your-face assertiveness. When interacting with her peers, Talia is rarely shy or reserved. Rather, she fearlessly jumps right in. She followed around two ten year-old boys at the park for thirty minutes the other day, fetching their fallen nerf darts until they finally included her in their game.
"You don't see me."

Translation: Don't look at me. I immediately drop whatever I'm doing to look whenever I hear this, because it's a sure-fire announcement that she's up to major mischief.
"Who's stinkering?"

Talia has quite the nose in the family, and is always the first to notice any unpleasant odors. No doubt the sniffing talent comes from the Wheeler side of the family; does the "stinkering" come from mine?
"That's so yum!"
"That's so yuck!"

The linguist in me can't help but notice her unique adjective formation.
"I didn't saw it."

In this utterance Talia has unnecessarily formed the past tense twice with the verbs "did" and "saw." I would explain to my ESL students that since the "do" verb has already been modified, the following verb should remain unchanged ("see.") Of course, I guess nobody's explained that to Talia yet. Isn't it amazing that we ever learn languages?
Other Talia-isms:

From a very young age, Talia's been obsessed with scissors (an obsession second only to her love for sugar.) She'll take random pieces of paper and dissect them into teeny tiny scraps (that she usually leaves strewn around the house.) At the moment, however, she's banned from using scissors completely after cutting the carpet, a doll's hair, and even her own hair.

Last but not least, Talia is our fairy princess. She sulks every time that is forced to wear pants because she is positively convinced that princesses only wear skirts or dresses. Worse yet, since watching Tangled she only wants "long hair" like Rapunzel, so she turns her nose up at anything besides a headband to keep her wild locks out her face. The power struggles are so exhausting that most days I give in and let her pick out her own ensemble. Besides, dressing up makes Talia so happy that I can't help but melt at the sight of Talia prancing around and singing to herself about how beautiful she is. Better yet, if I don't like her outfit, all I have to do is wait an hour and she's certain to be wearing something else. She has more wardrobe changes in a day than I do in a week. While I often find this wearying, as Talia performed her own dancing show for me this afternoon, complete with a wand, jeweled shoes, and glitter tights, I smiled to myself and thought that this stage just can't last long enough.

Remind me of that when I'm picking clothes off the floor tomorrow.