Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Run, Swim, Bike, and Cookin' with Barley

February's nearly gone, and it's time to wrap up Run Swim Bike Cook for 2012.

Running went well this week--I logged another 22 miles for a grand total of 82. Hopefully this leaves me in good shape for the half marathon Jason and I plan to run in two weeks. (Speaking of races, congrats to my brothers-in-law and their awesome lady-folk for rocking their recent races, whether in New Zealand or Maryland!)

As for the swim, having already logged my 2.4 miles, I didn't get wet beyond the bathtub. And despite the fact that I still needed to bike 92 miles to complete the Ironman challenge, I only added one more mile. While Leap Day may hold some wild surprises tomorrow, I sincerely doubt that biking 91 more will be one of them. On the positive side, I did hike a bit in Snow Canyon with a friend, as well as sneak in two more Zumba classes. A true confession about Zumba--the dancing's actually starting to grow on me. I'm discovering that the more I go, the less I care about how ridiculous I look when trying to shake my patootie.

And now for the culinary grand finale. To qualify for the challenge, it had to have barley. Thanks to some unique bounty from my Bountiful Basket, I also hoped it would also jerusalem artichokes. A google search popped up "Barely Risotto with Jarlsberg and Jerusalem Artichokes." Jarlsberg--the beloved cheese that we had just barely stocked up on at Costco. Eureka!!!

My plan was so lovely. I would clean the house, put the kids to bed, then play chef in the kitchen while Kenny G kept me company. Jason would come home from Puerto Rico to a romantic table set for two. Risotto, stuffed mushrooms, fresh salad, and of course, dimmed lights and candles.

And then, there was the reality. The discovery that "getting in after 10" meant arriving in Las Vegas around ten. Between Jason's delayed flight, the long shuttle ride, and the different time zone, he didn't make it to St. George until well after 2:00 am. Instead of cooking my dream meal in a peaceful, quiet house, I struggled with hungry, cranky kids who couldn't understand that risotto cannot be rushed. The mushrooms were too spicy for them, the salad never got made, and as for the risotto, well, may I offer a direct quote from Talia. She took one bite, looked at me, and said in her sweetest voice, "Mom, I don't like this dinner, and so can you never make it again?"

So much for my dream dinner. While Jason and I both liked the risotto, when it comes to family-friendly meals, these other favorites keep finding their way to our table again and again:
Iranian Barley Soup, Southwestern Barley Salad, and Vegetable Barley Casserole. (We adapt this Weight Watchers recipe by adding in a can of black beans and a bit more cheese.)

And just in case you're just dying to make the risotto, here's the recipe from Norseland's website. It's listed as their recipe of the month with the claim that "Ja! it's really, really good."

Barley Risotto with Jarlsberg and Jerusalem Artichokes

Serves 4

* 150 g barley, soaked overnight
* 150 g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and finely diced
* 2 artichoke hearts, cut into thin wedges
* 3 shallots, finely chopped
* 1 clove garlic, minced
* 50 ml olive oil
* 200 ml white wine
* 700 ml hot chicken stock
* 1 tbsp. butter
* 100 g Jarlsberg, grated
* salt and pepper
* 1 tbsp. lemon juice
* Parsley, chopped

Heat half of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic, artichoke hearts and Jerusalem artichokes and sauté until lightly golden. Remove from skillet and reserve. Heat the remaining oil in the skillet, add barley; cook, stirring constantly, for about two minutes. Then add white wine; cook and reduce by half. Add one cup of chicken stock; simmer, stirring occasionally, until almost absorbed. Continue to add chicken stock in this manner until barley is tender and mixture is creamy. Add the artichoke mixture, cook just to heat through. Stir in butter, Jarlsberg, lemon juice and parsley; season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jalapeño-Lime Frozen Yogurt

One of the greatest perks of Run Swim Bike Cook is that it forces me to abandon my boring mealtime routines and try something daring in the kitchen. This week's culinary challenge--a spicy dessert--definitely surpassed my comfort zone. While I selected the recipe right away, it took a few days to garner enough courage to actually try it. Even as I served this dish to visiting family, I was full of apologies for using them as guinea pigs. In retrospect, I needn't have worried. Our jalapeño-lime frozen yogurt was pretty delectable, even if I do say so myself. A thousand thanks to RSBC for inspiring me to create a dessert that I never would have braved in a thousand years.

The recipe is super simple. Mix 1 container of plain Greek yogurt with a scant 3/4 cup sugar. Blend it until completely dissolved, or else the yogurt will be grainy. Add in the zest of a lime.
Then add as much jalapeño as you dare. We used half of a jalapeño (seeded) that had been chopped in the food processor. In the end, the result was so mild that we actually added more as a garnish to give our dessert some extra kick.
Pour into an ice cream maker and mix until frozen.
Serve your frozen yogurt with this lime sauce and a few pieces of sugar cone for crunch. Sigh with pleasure as you travel to a happy place--creamy sweetness punctuated by tart, tang, and a hint of fire.
Scoop out seconds and indulge some more. Feel slightly guilty as you scrape out the final trace, knowing that you didn't save any for your husband. Then console yourself with the thought that you'll just have to make some more for him...and you.
Mmmm. I wish I had enough Greek yogurt in the fridge to make more this instant. Jason is to thank for the base idea, as he was the first in our family to experiment with a homemade frozen yogurt. Our family loves to make ice cream, but we needed a healthier recipe than our standard Ben and Jerry's. The yogurt by itself is yummy, but the addition of lime and jalapeño make it a dish worth remembering.

Thanks to Uncle Lance, Grandma Susie, Grandpa Charles, and NomiAnn for sharing it with us!

And as for the rest of RSBC, I've earned my dessert this week!

Run = 26.5 miles, for a total of 60
Swim = 1200 yards, for a total of 2.4 miles
Bike = Zip. 20 down overall, 92 left to go. Probably won't finish this challenge, but I'm okay with that.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


For the past week, our Dad has been on a work retreat in Puerto Rico (el pobrecito). We've been missing him, and believe it or not, I think he's been missing us too. So in case the sandy beaches get to be too much, here are a few photos to help you recollect happy times working together as a family here in St. George.
Dirty tasks like these are always much more nostalgic once you've had a shower.

No, your screen's not dusty. That's dirt all over Eli's nose.
So handsome, just in case you're wondering what we've been up to since you left, here are a few more pictures from Sunday night.
Just in case you're wondering, Talia's clipped the flower to her tongue. Who wouldn't?
And as for Eli, well, we've worn him out with love.
Can't wait to hug you too!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

RSBC: Audaciously Simple Spinach Quiche

It's time to wrap up week 2 of Run Swim Bike Cook.

Run: 7.6 miles (Definitely less than my dream training schedule.)
Swim: 1.7 miles (24 laps to go--woo hoo!)
Bike: 20 miles. As in the most grueling 20 mile ride of my life. I need a word bigger than "hills" to describe my journey. How about dreaded inclines of doom?
Bonus: Zumba class. I accompany a friend to Zumba in exchange for her watching the kids while I teach Spanglish on Tuesday mornings. While I may not be a great dancer, it's definitely worth it.

After so much activity, I should be feeling fantastic, but instead I feel tired. Totally wiped out. I'm not sure if it was the uber-tough bike to the top of Snow Canyon (by the way, soaring down was incredible), too many laps at the pool, too little recovery time, or simply the drain of being a Mom. Whatever the cause, I'm exhausted.

And so, when it came time to cook this week, I tried to be simple. Daringly simple. Audaciously simple. I made quiche, but without the crust. Without cheese. Without cream. Without bacon. Is that even quiche?

I don't know. But what I do know is that it was different. And right now, different is good. This year, Valentine's Day has done me in with its excess of sugary sweets and cookies. The day's barely arrived and I already feel heavy and sluggish and yucky and gross. In a couple of hours the girls will come home from their class parties and infiltrate our home with even more goody bags full of junk. It's so hard to establish healthier eating habits for our family when society constantly sabotages our efforts!

It's time to fight back. No matter how many Skittles scoot in the door, our family will eat our vegetables, and feel better for doing so. So much for dumb dum dums. Next year we're learning from Popeye and passing out spinach instead.

So here you have it, Audaciously Simple Spinach Quiche, taken from the Paleo Diet Lifestyle.
* 5 large eggs;
* 1 ½ cups fresh spinach, chopped;
* ½ medium onion, chopped;
* 1 clove garlic, minced;
* ½ cup coconut milk;
* ½ tsp baking powder;
* Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste;


1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and coconut milk together. As you continue to whisk, start adding in all the other ingredients.
3. Now you are left with greasing a 9” pie dish and pouring everything in. Bake the quiche for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through in the center.

Eli liked helping to chop the spinach.
Trying his first bite. He followed this with a "yum" and ate his serving all gone.
I asked Talia to smile as big as she liked the food.
All in all, I agree with Talia's assessment. As far as taste goes, this dish was good, but not great. With its two cups of cream, cup of cheese, bacon, and rich crust, my Mom's quiche Lorraine is certainly yummier. Yet when it comes to caring for the long-term health of my family, this is a dish I can feel proud of. And that's something to smile about.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Popsicle Stick Fallacy

Note: In honor of our blog's 500th post, I wanted to share this essay written by my husband as part of his work promoting more energy efficient homes. The darling illustrations are also his original work -- it hardly seems fair that one person should harbor so much talent. Well-done honey, well-done.

(Note to self: I think I need to cut back on the pet names. A couple days ago Eli shouted "Bye-bye honey!" through the window as Jason biked off to work...)

In a desperate attempt to live the American dream, I bought my first home 18 months ago at the beginning of my Rose Fellowship in St. George, Utah.

My wife and I left the kids with Grandpa for a weekend in Illinois and caught a plane to Southern Utah’s desert metropolis in search of the perfect place to settle down. After three days of driving around the area, we found a home that more-or-less met our criteria: It was conveniently situated near my work, and likewise close to a good elementary school. It had three bedrooms and two bathrooms, a yard, a fence, windows, a roof, and most-importantly, air-conditioning (it can get as warm as 120 in St. George in August). Recently remodeled, the kitchen sported stainless steel appliances and granite countertops, and the front room was fitted out with a lovely fireplace.
Despite my past experiences with energy-efficient construction and my training as an architect, not once did I think about how much the home would cost me in monthly utility bills. I didn’t look closely at the water heater or the heat pump AC unit. I didn’t poke my head in the attic to see how much (or even if!) insulation was present. I failed to notice the 1970’s aluminum window frames that conduct both heat and cold most beautifully.

And I’m sure I’m not the first to overlook such things when buying a home.

We all know that a more efficient home will translate into lower utility bills and will better protect our limited natural resources. Why, then, is the residential housing market so resistive to changing the way that we build, buy, and sell homes to better reflect a home’s overall energy performance?

While there are many obstacles to promoting energy-efficient construction practices in the residential market, perhaps the following four points are most indicative:

INVISIBLE. Unless you are one of the lucky few to sport red and blue briefs in public and possess infrared vision, ascertaining the quality of a home’s insulation can represent a bit of a challenge. Especially since real estate agents tend to discourage buyers from punching random holes in the walls and ceilings of the homes they show. Determining the efficiency of mechanical equipment can be easier, but requires a fairly conscientious home buyer.

A BIT DULL. Let’s face it. It’s a lot harder to get excited about well-installed fiberglass batts and an advanced air-sealing package than, say, granite countertops and jetted tubs (although, as far as I can tell, jetted tubs are primarily decorative – the electrician could never wire the thing up and the homeowner wouldn’t have a clue, for as often as they get used). Choosing “green” improvements instead of additional features becomes particularly difficult if it means giving up an extra bedroom or one of the bays in the attached 72 car garage.

UNDER-VALUED. Any appraiser worth his salt will attest that you would be better off decorating your yard with an army of ceramic gnomes than wasting $4000 on extra insulation (at least when it comes time to resell). Not only are appraisers unable to give monetary value to specific energy-efficient improvements, there is little or no precedent for using market comparables as it relates to a home’s energy performance.
Assuming you were foolish enough to disregard the appraiser’s advice and installed the additional insulation regardless, your best chances at getting your investment back when it comes time to sell is to wallpaper your kitchen with Xeroxed copies of the last 12 months of utility bills. Then pray that your home will be shown to the kind of buyer who races to the mailbox at the end of each month in fits of anticipation at receiving the next utility bill and seeing just how little they’ve spent on electricity.

UNDER-FINANCED. Perhaps the most damning obstacle in building energy-efficient homes comes from well-established regulations and practices of home lending institutions. (But then, it is easy to blame the banks for any- and every-thing in the wake of our nation’s mortgage crisis…)

When underwriting any residential home loan, banks will typically use income to debt ratios to help establish maximum loan limits. The “front-end” ratio represents your monthly mortgage payment compared with your household’s total income, while the “back-end” ratio looks at total recurring debt (i.e.: your mortgage, plus those pesky monthly bills for that awful paisley recliner you bought last November on a whim) compared to total income.

What banks don’t consider in their calculations is the amount of money you will be spending each month to keep your home at a toasty 76 degrees when it is 13 below with freezing rain outside. In other words, the bank will lend you the same amount of money for a home built of popsicle sticks and insulated with a healthy mix of fiberglass batts and air-pockets as they will for an equivalent-sized home built with 8” Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) and R-50 dense-pack cellulose insulation in the attic.
And the issue with that? Let’s say Mr. Popsicle Stick is approved for a $1250 per month mortgage payment based on his front-end and back-end ratios. He builds his fancy new dream home in Buffalo New York, moves in and finds himself enjoying all the lovely perks of home ownership.

Ms. SIP is likewise approved for a monthly mortgage payment of $1250. She builds her home across the street from Mr. Popsicle Stick; however, in order to afford the higher-performing building materials that she is committed to using, she has to scale back on the size of her house. She moves into her new not-quite-dream home two weeks before Mr. Popsicle Stick completes construction of his McMansion.

Then winter hits (which happens to be September 1st in Buffalo). Mr. Popsicle Stick is horrified to discover that his natural gas bill has jumped from $40 per month to $320 per month. In a desperate attempt to save money, he shuts off his furnace, buys a small electric heater, and huddles up under a pile of blankets in his den where he watches football games and wonders how he is going to survive from Super Bowl Sunday until the end of winter (which, unfortunately, happens to be July 1st in Buffalo).
Ms. SIP’s gas bill, on the other hand, only increases by $10 per month.

Had the bank taken energy performance into account during the underwriting process, Ms. SIP could have theoretically afforded a substantially larger mortgage payment on the basis of smaller monthly-utility bills.

Alternatively, Mr. Popsicle Stick should have qualified for a smaller monthly mortgage payment on the basis of needing to set aside a larger portion of his income to finance his furnace’s voracious appetite. Fortunately, his large-screen TV was Energy-Star rated, so he didn’t miss a moment of the epic showdown between the Giants and the Patriots.
AND YOU PROPOSE…? Obviously, significant changes need to occur in residential real estate before much progress can be made towards encouraging improved energy efficiency. For one, buyers need to be better educated on the full cost of homeownership as well as have some ideas about what they should be looking for when buying an energy-efficient home. Real estate agents, on the other hand, should find out more about a home’s performance and then help explain potential operating expenses to buyers.

One potential solution could require that all listed homes on Multiple Listing Services include an Energy-Star HERS score for new homes, or an average of the last 12 months utility bills for existing homes. Such a listing would begin to give appraisers the necessary tool to make accurate comparable market analyses. And in a like manner, such a listing will give banks a better basis for establishing loan limits.

Home buyers will no longer have to choose between better insulation and the decorative jetted tub.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The World's Best Description of Language Learning

Since school is part of our every day routine, it's easy to take Brooklyn's dual immersion language program for granted. Yet as she becomes more fluent, we are enjoying more opportunities to meaningfully converse in both Spanish and English. Learning a language is so marvelously rich! As Brooklyn and I were hiking in Snow Canyon State Park today, we started to talk a bit about all the flora and fauna. For some reason the word "grass" eluded us. I came up with "cesped" but I think that "hierba" was what she had in mind.

As Brooklyn searched for the right word, she switched to English and said:

"Just give me a minute. I have to turn my brain upside down and put the back all the way in the front."

I just love how she nailed the mental acrobatics of language learning. We're not just leisurely stretching our minds with a bit of español; we are reshaping the way we think.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Algerian Lemon Saffron Chicken

I'm a bit short on time, but here's a quick recap for Run Swim Bike Cook.

Run: 26 miles. Definite progress!

Swim: 0
Bike: 0. Umm, looks like there's room for improvement here.

Bonus: Zumba class. Fun, but I'm still as uncoordinated as ever.

Cook: Last night we ate Algerian Lemon Saffron Chicken with Potato Crust. How's that for a mouthful? The recipe is Chef Zadi's, as discovered via icooktheworld. (See here and here.) This recipe caught my interest in that it A) used up our uncooked chicken, B) required no extra trips to the grocery store, and C) could be prepared in advance on a very busy weeknight. The saffron was an added bonus since we had plenty left over from last year's RSBC.
Ideally, this dish should be baked in a tagine, but since we seem to be short on North African earthenware at my house, I pulled out the dutch oven instead. Sliced onions were topped with marinated chicken, followed by a crust of potato slices. The entire dish baked in the oven, simmering in the lemon saffron marinade. We adapted the recipe slightly by adding a yam in with our white potatoes. Not only did this make the dish more colorful, but it added a splash of sweetness. While perhaps not as traditional, I really enjoyed this variation and might try encrusting the entire dish with sweet potatoes in the future.

Overall, the onions were tasty, the chicken was tender, and the potatoes were flavorful. My only complaint is that the saffron and turmeric masked the fresh lemon juice. If anything, the lemon was a subtle undertone--a canvas for the other flavors to play off of. So if you're in the mood for some simple yet tasty international cuisine, this Algerian dish is a winner. But should you be craving something really citrus-y, it'd probably be best to look elsewhere.


2 tablespoons olive oil
4 chicken breasts, with or without skin (I'm sure that chicken legs or thighs would work too)
1 large onion, sliced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons saffron (I just used a pinch or two of saffron strands--the stuff's pricey)
1 teaspoon turmeric
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup of warm water
12 Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled


Place the chicken breasts in a large plastic bag. Pour the warm water into a bowl, add the saffron, and stir. Pour this into the plastic bag, along with the turmeric, salt, pepper, lemon juice, some of the sliced onion and minced garlic. Place the plastic bag in a bowl, make sure all the chicken breasts are covered with the saffron liquid, then pop it in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Once the chickens are marinated, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and slice the potatoes into medium-sized pieces. Pour the olive oil into the Dutch Oven. Scatter the onions around the bottom of the Dutch Oven and place the chicken breasts on top of the onions. Cover the chicken with the potato slices. Pour the saffron liquid over the potatoes and chicken. Add the garlic, a bit of salt and pepper, and cover. Place in the oven and cook for 45 minutes to an hour.

Very moist and lovely. Serve with the Couscous and Aromatic Vegetables.

Serves 4.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Dirty Hurty Racing, Tomatillos, and Brussel Sprouts

February is here again, and Run Swim Bike Cook is back! For anyone who may not know, the challenge is to conquer the equivalent of an Ironman (run 26.2 miles, bike 112 miles, and swim 2.4 miles) over the span of an entire month while completing three out of four culinary challenges. Ironman meets Ironchef--how cool is that?

On the Ironman end of things, this year I will likely forego the biking to make time for some extra running. Several days ago I officially registered for the Red Mountain 30K (18.6 miles) on April 21st. (They are also offering a 50K ultra-marathon, but I'll leave that one for the clinically insane.) I was really excited to find a local race that will encourage me to up my mileage without being quite as demanding as a marathon.

As motivating as this 30K may be, I'm even more excited for the half marathon that Jason and I both registered for on March 10th--The Dirty Hurty. Our debut in trail running, this race winds through 13 miles of dirt in Santa Clara and Ivins, even requiring us to cross the creek. To tell the truth, I don't really care much about the race goes as long as I get a shirt with "The Dirty Hurty" printed on it. It just doesn't get cooler than that.

Switching over to the Ironchef, this week's culinary challenge is to highlight citrus as part of a main dish. While I have yet to break out any lemons or limes, tonight's dinner did break us free from our boring weekday cuisine. While Jason took the kids swimming, I tackled Rick Bayless's Tomatillo-Braised Pork Loin. (Try it. It's delicious.) My first time cooking with tomatillos, I felt downright adventuresome as I husked the green beauties and stuck them under the broiler to blacken.

Jason and I both gave the recipe two thumbs up, but the kids liked the side dish even better--roasted brussel sprouts. Likewise making their maiden voyage across the Wheeler dinner table, these crispy-tender sprouts were a definite hit. Believe it or not, Brooklyn ranked this unpopular veggie third--right beneath hawaiian pizza and mac 'n cheese (tied for first) and mallow oats cereal. Surprisingly tasty, if you think you don't like brussel sprouts, I recommend reserving judgment until you've tried them like this.

Gee, between Dirty Hurty racing, tomatillos, and brussel sprouts, February is already off to a great start. Here's to many more adventures!

Ummm... Next question, please.

During story time last night we learned that George Washington, while a man of great integrity, was most likely sterile. When the girls asked what that meant, I explained that he couldn't have any kids. Brooklyn retorted, "Of course he couldn't. He was a boy." When I replied that it actually takes both a boy and a girl to make a baby, her eyes opened wide with incredulity. "It DOES???!!! How???"

Ummm... Next question, please.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Because not every day is Disney...

When perusing Mommy blogs, it's easy to imagine that everybody else's life is picture perfect. Perhaps we post these smiley photos to bring us back to a happy place when reality looks like this:
Or this:
Or this:
Note the missing sheets in these next pics. 2 out of 3 managed to wet the bed.

Sigh.  These are the sights I woke up to this morning. Definitely not Disney.

While I usually try to pick up the house in the evening, yesterday was so awful that I just crawled into bed, grateful that the day was finally over.  I'd deal with the aftermath in the morning. Besides, with Jason out of town, who'd care?

Sensing that I needed more posting material, during the two minutes it took to shoot a few photos, Eli decided to add to the drama with this:
Talia came downstairs (because she apparently thinks that my bed is hers), and I noticed this:
Good thing bangs are in style.

A few hours later, I finally managed to get the kitchen clean enough to start sewing on some Girl Scout patches. Ten grubby, grabby fingers, and the floor looked like this: (In case you can't tell, those are pins.)
In Eli's defense, he did try to clean up. I reassigned him to a different task when he started to complain, "Owie! Owie! Owie!"

You know, when it comes to children, I think the only thing separating an aggravating mess from an endearing one is time. When downloading this photo card, I rediscovered a forgotten moment when the girls turned our kitchen floor into a swimming pool for their My Little Pony. Too cute--but only in retrospect.
They may leave trails of disorder, but they do try to pick up as well--at least occasionally.
So messes happen, and our home is no Disney castle. In the end, I guess that's okay. After all, just keeping up with every day life can be, well, exhausting.