So I’ve Been Training for a Marathon

So I’ve been training for a marathon, but I’ve been a little quiet about it. Partially because my blog and social media is mostly about food, and also because I feel as though I’ve been holding my breath until it was time to taper down my mileage and rest, which thankfully it finally is.

*PHOTOS COURTESY OF @RUNVERMONT INSTAGRAM

I started out 2018 by setting an intention with a single word: confidence. I wanted to dive into new ventures this year with a positive, “chin up” attitude, and even if things didn’t pan out, I could look back and admire something I confidently set out to do. Running a marathon is not something that has been on my bucket list for too long, but here I am, trying my hardest to remain confident in my ability to cross the finish line at the Vermont City Marathon in just under three weeks.

When I ran my first half marathon a year ago (although it feels as if I’ve been a runner for a lifetime now) I shared tips and nutrition tidbits from my training, and so I’m giving you a peek into how training for double the distance went down. I’m writing this with 3 weeks to go in my training, but the hard work was put behind me after tackling my last long run of 20 miles this past weekend. I’ve had a lot of thoughts and emotions about this process, and appreciate my readers letting me use this post as part reflection for myself, alongside my technical advice for aspiring marathoners.

And don’t worry, a mini race recap will also be shared once I’ve recovered, but for more immediate updates be sure to follow my social media for a hopefully smiling, medal-wearing face on Marathon Monday.

Marathon Training Recap Thus Far

  • When and Where: I chose to run the Vermont City Marathon in beautiful Burlington, Vermont because it’s where I went to college and you really can’t beat running along Lake Champlain. Luckily this race is held Memorial Day weekend, meaning it shouldn’t be too hot for race day and I’ve gotten to train in cold/chilly/mild temperatures in New York throughout the months of January through May. Personally, I preferred doing shorter weekday treadmill runs when it was cold and dark after work rather than sweating my bum off in the humidity of summer and dealing with tourists in crowded Central Park.

  • How: I followed another Hal Higdon plan, just like I used for my half. I stuck to it for the most part, minus a few days of shorter miles for when we traveled to Colombia. I also played around for a few weeks with when to take my rest day after my long run. My physical therapist suggested that rather than running 3 days in a row during the week I should run after my cross train day and give myself a mid-week break instead. Honestly, I did a combination of her suggestion and Hal’s plan and it really came down to when I needed to do laundry after work…seriously.
  • Nutrition: I definitely had my game face on when it came to proper fueling this time around. As a dietitian I know how valuable proper pre, during, and post-fueling efforts can be. In general, my calorie intake significantly increased over the past few months, along with our grocery budget.
    • During the week I ate intuitively with plenty of carbs, protein, and veggies, but as my long run approached on Saturday I would find myself cooking more veggies versus raw salads, and would choose “white” carbs to help with digestive comfort.
    • I’ve never been one to workout on a full stomach, so I’ve kept pre-run eats quite light- pretty much just a half a banana and some peanut butter. I try to carb-load substantially the night before so that I avoid the eat-bathroom game before (or during) my run.
    • After my long runs I intentionally had recovery smoothie ingredients ready to go- usually a banana, protein powder, maybe some greek yogurt, and almond or soy milk for blending. Not long after I would consume a more dense meal with replenishing carbohydrates and calories. Overall, my appetite on long-run day was big, but not huge. The hunger would usually catch up with me later that week- see some pf my sample eats below.
    • While running a half marathon I could get by with zero or 1 energy bite for fuel during my run, but if I was going to double that distance I know I needed more in the tank. Many of my marathon friends recommended the energy chews over GUs, but I found both to be tolerable and convenient to slip into my run belt. I also had to get used to consuming liquids during my long runs…I’m still working on this one.
  • Injuries: I started out training with a twinge of piriformis syndrome (basically a nervey twinge pain in my glute and down my quad) on my side side,and so I took the advice of friends and established myself with a good physical therapist. I went just about every 3 weeks and definitely noticed my pain becoming less severe. As luck would have it, as I strengthen and fix one side, the other starts to hurt. Long runs started to take a toll on my tight left hip. Needless to say the next few weeks will be jam packed with strength and stability exercises!
  • Mental Toughness: This has probably been the piece I’ve had the most ups and downs with. Training for a marathon is emotionally and mentally draining. You’re out there alone (unless you enjoy training partners- I don’t really) and it’s up to you to keep yourself motivated as each mile passes. I found myself occupied and happy for about 2 podcast episodes, but as I entered the final 1-2 mile stretch of every long run I would start to go into mini-panic mode, thinking “how on EARTH am I going to finish this?”.  I plan on doing some meditation and visualization over the next few weeks to help see myself powering through the home stretch and crossing that finish line.

It’s been an exhilarting few months, and while I’m still nervous, I know I’ve prepared to the best of my ability- here goes nothing! And if you’re thinking about running a marathon or are just curious about more of what goes through a crazy runner’s head, don’t hesitate to send questions, or words of encouragement, my way.

See you on race day!

 

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Picnic Chickpea Poppers

Quick! Your friends have invited you to a picnic in the park that starts in ONE hour- what on earth could one possibly whip up to contribute to the food festivities? This month’s Recipe Redux asked us to shake up our picnic game and create a dish to serve al fresco- so here we go!

When time is short and warm weather is calling allow Picnic Chickpea Poppers to come through to save the picnic day. I would bet that most everyone has a can of chickpeas in their cupboard and a selection of spices in their cabinet, so that even with last minute notice anyone can bring together a tasty snack for a day in the park or at the beach.

These poppers are made with a barbecue seasoning because I have a hard time separating outdoor gatherings from this Southern summertime flavor. They’re not too sweet or spicy, making them a great snack for adults and even kids with more sensitive palates.

Another reason I love this snack is that they’re practically worry-free in terms of food safety! I always recommend being the first to help yourself to the potato and macaroni salads at any outdoor event as the longer those dishes sit out in the sun without proper cold packs, the greater your risk of food borne illness becomes. But with these crispy poppers you can be the picnic participant who puts every parent and food safety czar at rest!

I personally love munching on these by the handful, but they’re a great addition to any other vegetable or grain salad that fellow picnickers may have brought as well.

Picnic Chickpea Poppers

Ingredients

  • 2 cans low sodium chickpeas- drained and rinsed well
  • 1/2 tsp sweet hungarian paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ancho chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil oil

Directions

  1.   Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Add drained and rinsed chickpeas to a mixing bowl. Measure and add each spice to the bowl, followed by olive oil. Toss well with hands or spoon. Transfer seasoned chickpeas to a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
  3. Transfer baking sheet to oven and cook for 40-50 minutes, giving the pan a jiggle halfway through. Poppers are done when slightly browned and crispy, but with a little tenderness still. Serve as recommended above.

For more picnic inspiration, check out my fellow Recipe Reduxers below!


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Anti-Inflammatory Chickpea Burgers

Here it is ladies and gents, another Meatless Monday recipe for the win! While I enjoy all varieties of beans tossed into salads and scooped into grain bowls I sometimes need to put a twist on them to keep things interesting.- enter chickpea burgers. These patties are inspired and slightly tweaked from the Middle Eastern Chickpea Burgers found in the book The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, a cookbook I’d highly recommend for any RD working in oncology and for anyone with or caring for someone with cancer. 

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Kabocha Squash and Pinto Bean Soup

Want to know one of my secrets to conjuring up a delicious and nutritious meal? Always be prepared! Okay, so maybe it’s not that big of a secret, but having a stocked pantry and fridge makes healthy eating come together that much more seamlessly.

Being prepared especially comes in handy when it’s cold outside and a trip to the supermarket sounds far and frigid. This was the situation I was faced with about a week ago, but thankfully could pull together a few ingredients lying behind closed doors to create a dinner (and a few lunches). I encourage you to:

  1. Keep a running inventory of pantry, fridge, and freezer items- think dried and canned beans, canned fish, hearty winter squashes and potatoes, frozen veggies and fruit, and condiments and sauce ingredients
  2. Make a list of versatile fresh and perishable ingredients you need to pick up at the store at the start of the week- the magic word here is versatile (aka things you like and would eat in many forms)
  3. Become best friends with Google and Pinterest for recipe inspiration- type in a string of ingredients that may at first seem like a random assortment that could never turn out tasty and watch these sites turn out delicious recommendations

I ate this soup on what was also Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day and Pi Day (March 14th for all you math neRDs out there), so the only photos I have of this creation are of the soup, plus pie. Try to focus on the soup here, even though there is a chocolate circle of heaven staring at you from the opposite corner!

Kabocha Squash and Pinto Bean Soup- Serves 3-4

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dried pinto beans
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 medium sized carrot, diced
  • 1/2 large kabocha squash, or about 3 cups, cubed (skin left on)
  • 3-4 cups low sodium broth- chicken or vegetable
  • Cilanto Walnut pesto for topping- 2 handfuls cilantro leaves, 1/2 cup walnut halves, olive oil
  • Olive oil, salt and pepper, and other dried herbs or spices, to taste

Directions

  1. Cook dried beans- place beans in a pot and cover with a few inches of water; cover and let sit in fridge overnight. Alternatively, use the quick soak method by placing beans in a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, and then turn off the heat- let sit for 30 minutes, drain, and continue cooking. To continue cooking after initial soak using either method, drain beans from initial water, then place in pot and cover with fresh water. Bring to a simmer and let cook 30-60 minutes. It’s okay if they don’t get totally tender after an hour, they’ll continue to soften in the soup. or skip this whole step and use low sodium canned beans if that’s what you have!
  2. Start to prepare the soup by heating a large dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add onion and carrot and cook until softened, about 4-5 minutes.
  3. To pot add cubed kabocha squash. Saute for 2 minutes before adding broth. Once broth is added, toss in cooked beans. Cover and bring to a simmer.
  4. While the soup is cooking, prepare the pesto by blending cilantro, walnuts, and olive oil (use your judgement on how much, depending on how thick or thin you desire the sauce) in a food processor. I prefered this sauce a bit more chunky, but feel free to blend until smooth while using more oil as needed.
  5. After 25-30 minutes the squash and beans should have softened. Taste the soup for flavor and add a pinch of salt, a crack of pepper, and I think I remember adding in a shake of ground coriander too- the flavors are up to you!

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Thumbprint Cookies

I received free samples of Swerve mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsered by Swerve and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

Are you celebrating National Nutrition Month and looking to go further with your food and health? Or are you anxiously awaiting the arrival of Girl Scout cookie order forms to purchase your favorite cookies? Maybe you’re observing the season of Lent and went down to New Orleans for a Mardi Gras celebration?

While these may seem like completely unrelated questions and themes, they actually come together in a sweet symphony for my latest recipe- Chocolate Peanut Butter Thumbprint Cookies.

This March I am participating in a Recipe Redux Contest featuring Swerve Sweetener- a natural, preservative-free, and non-GMO sweetener product that hails from New Orleans, Louisiana. And since my husband and I always over order on Girl Scout cookies during the spring selling season, I figured I’d take this opportunity to create my own version of our favorite cookie- the Tagalong or Peanut Butter Patty- with a healthy twist for National Nutrition Month.

I discuss sweeteners with my patients often, but have never been a fan of the colorful packets myself, preferring to use a small amount of the real stuff and avoid the unpleasant aftertaste. Yet, when people I work with are working to manage their diabetes and weight in a more healthy, but still enjoyable way, I would like to put my money where my mouth is so to speak. This is why I love Swerve- it contains zero calories, does not affects blood sugar, and has quite a pleasant taste!

Artificial sugars can be scary to consumers for many reasons, but at the end of the day the most common concerns I hear are about what’s really in the product and what are the side effects to my health? Swerve answers these questions clearly; all of the ingredients for Swerve can be found naturally in select fruits and starchy root vegetables, and are sourced in North America and Europe from non-GMO crops. In terms of side effects, Swerve has another leg up on the competition here. Since it’s main ingredients is erythritol- a common sugar alcohol- Swerve has a high GI tolerance and does not cause tummy troubles like other sugars that end in “ol” and often send people running to the bathroom.

As I mentioned, I wasn’t one to use artificial sugars much- not in my coffee and certainly not in my baked goods- so this baking project was going to be a new challenge for me. Luckily, Swerve measures cup-for-cup like regular table sugar, and so it was with only the normal amount of baking trepidation that I set out to recreate a low-sugar version of a beloved cookie.

Sugar-free baking fears be gone- this recipe turned out to be a winner! The shortbread has a nice crumbly consistency, which I would expect from using the Swerve granulated sugar, and the peanut butter filling was just the right amount of smooth sweetness thanks to the confectioners sugar. To add to the healthy factor, I used whole wheat flour, and only a drizzle of dark chocolate instead of a dunking.

I can see many more uses for Swerve in my future and encourage you to satisfy your sweet tooth with Swerve Sweetner!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Thumbprint Cookies- makes 36 cookies

Ingredients for the shortbread

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup Swerve granulated sugar
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons almond milk

Ingredients for the topping

  • 1 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter or your favorite smooth nut butter (almond, sunflower, walnut, cashew)
  • 1/2 cup Swerve confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces dark or semisweet chocolate, either morsels or coarsely chopped (I used Enjoy Life chunks)

Directions

  1. Prepare the cookie base. Using electric beaters, cream the butter and sugar in a glass mixing bowl until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and salt. In 2-3 increments, stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the milk and vanilla; stir only until incorporated. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap (separate it into two balls of dough if it is easier to handle that way) and refrigerate for 2-3 hours, until it is very firm.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Pinch off pieces of dough, and roll into approximately 1-inch circles. Lightly flatten each ball with your hand, trying to ensure that the edges don’t crack too much- I was very challenged by this, so my advice is to press gently. Place the rounds of dough on the prepared cookie sheets, leaving about an inch between (they will spread a little, but not too much).
  3. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until they have a dull finish on top and are just golden on the edges. They will not look fully cooked, but they will continue to harden into the perfect shortbread while cooling.
  4. Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes on the sheet. As soon as they are not too hot, using a thumb or the back of a small spoon, make an indent in each cookie (they should still be fairly soft, so it should be easy to indent them without breaking them). Leave them right where they are for the moment.
  5. In a medium saucepan, melt the nut butter on low heat until it is a thick, easily stirred liquid. Add the Swerve confectioners sugar and stir until incorporated. Add the vanilla last, stirring in until incorporated. Remove from heat. Let it sit for about 10 minutes; the mixture will start to thicken a bit.
  6. Place a teaspoon (a little more or less, upon your taste) of the nut butter mixture in the indent on each cookie.
  7. Melt the chocolate by using the double boiler method (if you have one) or by melting directly in a saucepan on a low heat, stirring constantly to avoid burning the chocolate.
  8. Rather than dipping the cookie completely in chocolate as traditional Tagalongs are, use a spoon to drizzle the melted chocolate over the top surface in a zebra-stripe fashion. Place the chocolate coated cookies on a sheet of waxed paper, nonstick silicone, or even aluminum foil, and let set for 2-3 hours before enjoying.

Stay Sweet!

Want to see more recipes using Swerve? Find them at the Recipe Redux page below!


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Simple Steps to Soup

I may not be your typical meal planner cooking up beautifully crafted recipes for a few hours every weekend, packing them up for service throughout the week. Instead I operate in a more piecemeal fashion and prefer to have different components prepped and ready to go so that I can add them into a variety of meal types as the week goes by.

I recently created a quick and nutritious soup from ingredients already in my fridge and pantry, and I wanted to share my simple steps to getting goodness in a bowl. Cooking up a lunch or dinner packed with good nutrition doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive, or boring. I encourage you to get in your kitchen and start souping!


HeartBeet Smoothie for America’s Heart Month

From the months of October through April, it feels like we skip from one holiday or celebration to the next- Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day, St. Patty’s Day, and finally Easter. Naturally, with festivities come food, usually followed by guilt and despair. Wouldn’t it be nice to dedicate the days surrounding these holidays to health promotion, education, and changes in food and fitness lifestyle?

I certainly think so, which is why I’m happy that February is not only host to Valentine’s Day, but also proudly promotes itself as America’s Heart Month.

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Cast Iron Spaghetti Squash Bake

If you’re a dietitian who loves to cook, and lives in an “average” sized NYC apartment (we’re talkin’ no more than 600 square feet), I’m sure you feel my pain when it comes to kitchen space. When you only have 4 cabinets and 2 drawers, with about a 3 feet long by 1 foot wide counter work space, you learn how to minimize and become quite efficient. Many of my kitchen tools are collapsible (strainers, prep bowls, and yes, even my salad spinner folds into itself), it takes me about 3 minutes to pull out pans and cookie sheets before getting to the crockpot, and my larger appliances don’t even get to live in the kitchen- the large Cuisinart food processor sits in its box in the dining area. Let’s just say, of gadgets I have few. Rather my kitchen serves a practical purpose, and there’s some tools I just can’t do without.

It’s not much, but it’s my home kitchen.

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The Ketogenic Diet: does it work or is it the worst?

You’re two weeks into the New Year- have you checked in with yourself? For those of you who set goals or intentions, how are they going for you? If you chose a Word of the Year, have you seen any rewards from adopting this outlook yet? Mine is confidence, and I can say that I am slowly starting to approach business-related goings-on with an attitude filled with more of the Big C, but I know I’ve got an entire year to fully grow into it- thank goodness!
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