Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lentil and spinach soup

I might need to make a new tag for "hotel cuisine." We've made some pretty decent meals when we travel, thanks to our usually-amazing accommodations at the extended stay hotels we use. I was intrigued to find some recipes in this, my first-ever, issue of Consumer Reports Food & Fitness magazine. This one in particular comes from a section that focuses on how to reduce the salt, sugar, and fat in our daily diets. Sounds good!

This soup was a sort of experiment. First, I never make anything in this great a quantity when we travel, so finding storage containers for leftovers was a minor challenge. Bonus: I got to test its freezability at the same time. :) Also, the recipe doesn't call for any salt. For a family that's been eating at restaurants for 2 out of 3 meals for more than the past week, that could've come as a giant tastebud shock. Rather than possibly waste the whole recipe on my men for dinner one night, I made this for lunch. The little guy said he loves lentils ("they're so cuuute and tiny, right Mom?!"), but he needed to eat before it was done, so he had leftovers from dinner last night.

Lentil and Spinach Soup
from Consumer Reports Food & Fitness, March 2012
Serves 10

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced (this is very hard to do with incredibly dull hotel knives)
2 cups uncooked lentils (Whole Foods had these on sale!)
4 cups vegetable broth
4 cups water
1 sprig (2-3 inches) fresh rosemary
1 (7-oz) package baby spinach
2 large tomatoes, chopped (heirloom ones were so pretty I couldn't resist!)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1. Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook 5 minutes or until onion is soft, stirring often.

2. Add lentils, broth, water, and rosemary. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until lentils are tender.

3. Stir in spinach and tomatoes. Simmer 10 minutes. Remove rosemary sprig and stir in pepper.
I love the natural light from our 19th-floor hotel room; much better than in my east-facing kitchen. :)

Since I prefer a thicker stew-like lentil soup, I only used 3 cups of the water called for. And since there isn't any other seasoning beyond the small quantity of pepper and rosemary, I more than doubled both and left the rosemary needles in. Without increasing those two ingredients, the soup would've been mighty bland. I was almost instantly regretting my choice of low-sodium broth as I taste-tested at the end of the cooking time.

Making this for my lunch(es) was the right choice. The H and little guy would've griped about it for sure. I added a hefty squirt of lemon and some Parmesan/Romano/Asiago curls from Trader Joe's to my portion. Those greatly improved the flavor and brightened up what could've been a giant waste of ingredients. If I were to make this at home, I'd probably add some chopped carrots when sauteeing the onion, and some kosher or sea salt at the very end.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

This is how we roll

Some people hear that we'll be spending (another) week in a hotel and comment about how great it must be to let someone else do the cooking and cleaning for a change. Well, yes, to a point. I'm not going to turn down fresh towels and someone else making the bed. I won't be begging to vacuum anytime soon. But I'm also not going to let a week or two away from home completely derail our habits.

This time around, we traveled a little "heavier" than we have in the past, simply because we drove here in a rented van rather than flying with limited suitcase space. This allowed me to bring more kitchen goodies than I usually do--such as my smallest slow cooker and our wonderfully amazing rice cooker. Not pictured is the mini bullet blender I usually pack, even when flying, to make my green smoothies.
Lined up here along the edge of the two-burner electric stove that is the bane of my two-week existence are some of the ingredients for lentil soup that the little guy and I are so excited to make.

He's traveled with us enough to know that eating out in restaurants isn't really all that great when you do it night after night. I try to cook dinner for us "on the road" at least twice a week. Last week we had the lemon chicken pasta pictured here, a meatless feast of taco-inspired quinoa and black beans, and a breakfast dinner of gluten-free pancakes and chicken sausage.

With a little planning ahead, the little guy and I are often able to enjoy breakfast and lunch in our hotel room, without being subjected to the insanely delicious-smelling Belgian waffles and heaps of sweet baked goods in the breakfast buffet area. This morning after my 3-mile run, I nuked some Trader Joe's steel-cut oats with fresh blueberries and walnuts, which did come from the buffet, and whipped up a green smoothie to accompany that. My willpower is somehow stronger when I've just broken a good sweat. :)

Lunch this afternoon will either be the lentil soup I mentioned, or PB&J on Udi's gluten-free millet bread, courtesy of the nearby Whole Foods. Oh, how I hate to love that store! But I do enjoy having a wealth of GOOD goodies at our disposal, so I can't get too down about it. Sure beats facing another day of rubbery eggs, fast-food lunch, and overportioned dinners.

This is not to say that we don't indulge when we travel. I did, of course, have to try a real Chicago-style hot dog (spicy peppers? genius!) and sample at least one slice of deep-dish pizza. Both were delicious and have been checked off my to-do list, leaving room for more new things. Like the chocolate-cake shake I've been hearing about, or some almond milk hot chocolate at XOCO... guess I'm going to have to run tomorrow, too. :)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Running less and enjoying it more

That title may seem like a no-brainer to many of you, runners and non-runners alike. I haven't officially committed to switching events, but if the feeling of relief and near-giddiness I had after posting my "Reality check" is any indication, I will be doing so soon. Last Saturday was the first time I've looked forward to a long run with our running group in months. I didn't dread the distance because I didn't really *have* a distance. After being sick all week I was simply hoping to complete a run without stopping to cough myself silly. I made it six miles, in high winds on rolling hills, and felt amazing about it.

This week we're bumming around downtown Chicago with The H. Weather and timing--I have to be done by 8:15am--have forced me to the treadmill for two of my three runs so far, and I've actually (shh...don't tell) enjoyed them. I play with the speed and incline to avoid boredom, and with my headphones up loud enough, I can't hear the drone of the belt. Three and four miles have flown by! I did get outside for a nice recovery run earlier in the week, and I intend to hit the Lakefront Trail again once the snow stops and I have more than 30 minutes to devote to it. For now, I'm enjoying exploring a new-to-us city with the little guy.
I kind of thought that once I admitted I was considering dropping my marathons, I'd suddenly get back on track and prove myself wrong, but taking it easy this week and having a great time doing so just reiterates that my gut feeling is right so far. Running has to fit into my life, not (always) define it. After noticing that my midsection is getting a bit softer than I'd like, I've also realized that I *may* have been using high-mileage weeks as an excuse to eat junk as "fuel."  Cutting my miles will no doubt help me refocus my eating habits and stop using running as a crutch to eat whatever I want. To that end... I brought the latest issue of Clean Eating Magazine with me, and whipped up this lemon chicken beauty in our room:
So that's where I'm at--drinking a green smoothie, watching snow bluster around the skyscrapers, planning our next sightseeing venture. Happy weekend to you all!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Reality check

Today I emailed the contact people for the two marathons I'm registered for, asking if I could change my registration to the half marathon events instead. ::sad trombone::

This is the third time I've been sick enough to fall behind in training, and that's only since training began mid-December. Yikes! Next week's long run is supposed to be 17 miles--no way could I even manage half of that now. I could barely finish five miles on Saturday, and that was on my treadmill, stopping to walk/cough/breathe every mile. I know that pushing myself through another round of illness will only make it worse, and lengthen the time it takes me to get better.

I've also been realizing over the past month or so that whenever I read or hear about someone doing a shorter race, like a half or 10K, I'm actually jealous about it. Don't get me wrong, I *love* running, but I never intended for it to feel like a chore, something I dread doing because I HAVE to. My first two marathons went off without a hitch. I was excited about those, albeit nervous and uncertain, and had a great time at each one. BUT I also stuck to the training schedule really closely and knew I'd be ok even if there was a bad run here and there along the way. So far, halfway into this training round, my bad runs have been far outweighing the good ones. Some weeks, my mileage is barely half of what it should be. That may be partly due to the time of year I chose to train (winter in west Michigan isn't exactly balmy). Regardless, it's not a good place to be mentally or physically.

We've also been traveling with The H more these days, and finding time (and a place) to squeeze in a long run on weekends away from home isn't always easy. This time around I'd been trying to alter my schedule and get my longer runs done during the week, but even that hasn't been working so well--being sick doesn't wait for the weekends apparently.

One of the race directors replied already, saying I have until the day before the race to commit to switching. She suggested I wait it out until I'm completely sure I won't be able to manage the full distance; since there's no penalty in doing so, that's what I'm doing for now. Still waiting to hear from the other one. Admitting I may have bitten off more that I could chew isn't easy, but given my current state I think it's wise. I'd much rather run back-to-back half marathons with a chance of a PR (and a much lower stress level) than risk injury or the dreaded "DNF" in a longer race.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some cough syrup with codeine calling my name.