Dinner Dash: Sweet Kale Salad

As a follow up to my last post on the Smothered Pesto Gouda Chicken, I made a Sweet Kale Salad to go along with it that turned out really well.  And since my recipe plugin doesn’t like to let me post more than one recipe in a single post, you all get TWO posts!

Kale Salad and Smothered Pesto Gouda Chicken

Here’s the Sweet Kale Salad recipe:

Sweet Kale Salad
 
Prep time
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A simple kale salad that even my kids would eat.
Author:
Recipe type: Salads
Cuisine: salad, side
Ingredients
  • 10oz Kale
  • 1 Yellow Onion
  • 2 Lemons
  • 2 tbsp Avocado Oil (Olive Oil would work too!)
  • ¼ cup Honey
Instructions
  1. Chop the kale into about ½” sized pieces and place in a large bowl.
  2. Half and slice the onion and add to the kale.
  3. Squeeze the juice of the two lemons over the kale mixture.
  4. Drizzle the oil and honey on the kale mixture and toss.
  5. Let set in fridge for 30 minutes to marinade the kale.

 

Letting the salad marinade for a half hour after tossing helps the kale to soften up a bit with the acid from the lemon juice, making the kale less crunchy and generally more palatable.  Then the honey adds sweetness to counter the bold taste of the onion.

Enjoy!

Dinner Dash: Smothered Pesto Gouda Chicken

I do a lot of cooking.  I’m the primary chef in our house, and I do a lot of experimenting.  I’m definitely not a stickler for recipes, and try to make a lot of what “sounds good” or make things to my taste at a given time.  At the same time, I try to make healthy meals that my whole family will enjoy (and that’s saying something with 5 and 3 year old boys).

Tonight’s Smothered Pesto Gouda Chicken and Sweet Kale Salad turned out really well and was really easy, so I thought I’d share my “recipes” with you all in case you want to try them or get inspired yourselves.  Perhaps I’ll do more of this in the future.

Kale Salad and Smothered Pesto Gouda Chicken

 

Here’s the chicken recipe.  Look for the kale salad in another post.

Smothered Pesto Gouda Chicken
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Chicken breast smothered in pesto gouda cheese.
Author:
Recipe type: Chicken, Dinner
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 4 Chicken Breasts
  • ¼ lb Pesto Gouda Cheese (I found it at Trader Joe’s)
  • Salt and Pepper
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350.
  2. Place the chicken in an oven-safe baking dish and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes on the middle rack.
  4. Add slices of cheese on top of the chicken, turn the oven up to 400 and move to the top rack for 5 more minutes.
  5. Let cook and serve.

 

Adding time at the track…

This week I did my first organized track/speed workout since high school.   Last year I did do one track session on my own,  but never got back to the track and focused on increasing my miles for my first marathon. This year,  with a focus on getting faster,  I am hoping to join a group and make them a regular part of my workouts.

This week was a mile warmup, high knees, butt kicks, a pair of strides,  6 800m repeats and a mile cool down.

I was aiming to do my repeats at my goal 5k pace (8:00/mile goal,  so 4:00 for 800m) and was able to stay fairly consistent over the course of the workout.  I noticed that I was hitting the 200m mark around 55 seconds on each of my repeats and slowing from there to my goal pace, so I do need to work on holding a consistent pace over the distance.

Still,  for my first workout like this in 20 years,  I was pretty happy with my performance.   Looking forward to next week now!

“Short” run with some new Guides

So, today was the first day of the year getting out on a run from home where I was able to wear shorts (in the upper 40′s at lunchtime today), and I was ready and raring to get out the door. What a great feeling.

It was also my first run on a pair of Saucony Guide 7′s that I picked up over the weekends to replace the New Balance 860v3′s that I polished off in my marathon in November. In the meantime I’ve been running in a pair of New Balance 870v2′s, and I needed something new in my rotation.

I’ve had my eye on the Guide’s for a few months now, and I really liked the feel of my run in them today. They do give me a sensation of leaning or rolling forward a little more than my last few shoes, which makes it a little hard to hold back on my pace, even on the hills I tackled (“hardest hills ever” according to Smashrun, which at least dates back to August). Still looking forward to getting them broken in, though.

But mostly, I was excited to get a run in with warmer weather. I’ll have to get back out there tomorrow before the snow tries to come back on Wednesday.

Struggling with Running Slow

As I progress as a runner, one of the tings I tend to struggle with is running slowly.  I’ve done enough reading on training to know that I should be doing the majority of my runs at an easy pace.  However, actually putting that into practice is a bit more difficult.

For example, I went out today with the intention of running an easy 3 miles, followed up by some core exercises.  For me right now, that should be about a 10:30/mile pace.  However, I went out and pushed a little bit harder than that, going out at 10:08 for the first mile and then pushing under 10:00/mile for the next two.  Now, that’s not too much faster, and not uncomfortable for me, but it’s faster than I should be going.  Yet, it’s almost exactly how fast I want to run.

That’s right, I want to go faster than I should be going.  I want to be running faster, and I am getting faster.  And, in my mind, the way to keep getting faster is to keep pushing it faster…each and every time.

Yet, I also know that’s not how it works…it makes for a bit of a conundrum and challenge.

I know I could spend more time checking my watch to make sure I don’t go too fast.  Or I could focus on my breathing to make sure I’m staying at a conversational pace.  I think I’d trend towards the latter, even if I might freak out a bit if I came in much slower than I had hoped.

Anyone else have any suggestions on how to keep easy runs in that 65% effort zone?

Baking Roundup

So, this started out as a short post until I realized how behind I was.  I wanted to clean out the bin of baking that has been accumulating on me.  It’s amazing how quick they build up!

Raspberry Citrus Cupcakes

These were cupcakes I had made in the past for my sister’s bridal shower, but while I was on a business trip, I had some friends request that I make them at their house.

Making Frosting By Hand

However, there was a bit of a problem when their mixer broke (aka “fizzled out with the awful stench of motor burnout”).

So, since everything else was ready to go, I got to do it all by hand!

However, everything else at least went smoothly as I made the citrus cupcake base, filled them with a dollop of raspberry preserves and topped them with a buttercream frosting made with fresh raspberries.

photo photo_3

The end result still turned out pretty darn good, and my friends loved them and appreciated the extra effort.

photo_5

Spider-man Day Cupcakes

My son’s school had a special Spider-man Day and asked me to make some cupcakes, so I decided to hit up the food coloring on basic yellow cake.

Spiderman Cupcake Bases Spiderman Cupcakes

My Aunt’s 60th Birthday Cake

Over the summer, my aunt had her 60th birthday, and we usually have a family picnic a few weeks beforehand, so we surprised her with a personalized cake:

Bowling Cakes

The bowling ball is a dense chocolate cake with a strawberry preserve filling, and the pins are a lemon cake with lemon curd filling.

For reference, the pins were done using a vintage Donald Duck cake pan:

Donald Duck Cake Pan

Bridal Shower Cupcakes

For one of my wife’s friends, I was asked to make some bridal shower cupcakes.  She requested my buckeye cupcakes (which are becoming quite famous in these parts, consisting of a chocolate cake, peanut butter frosting filling, chocolate ganache, and a dollop of peanut butter frosting), but I made her a deal that I’d make one more type of my choosing as well.

Bridal Shower Cupcakes

 

So on the right is the buckeye cupcake, and on the left is my creation: a cherry cupcake with honey lavender frosting.  Both got positive reviews, but the lavender one was a bit on the strong side and I’d probably tone it back next time.  However, that was my first foray into using it, so it was a trial.

Ninja Turtle Birthday Cake

So, for my son’s third birthday, he asked me for a Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtle cake.  Unfortunately, the new iteration of the show has yet to produce any such pans, and all of the older ones are going on eBay for around $50.  So I got creative and decided to freehand a picture on top of a cake made with an old astronaut pan.

Me in the process of frosting Raphael In Cake

 

Not perfect, but I was still very happy with how it turned out and my youngest son nearly leaped with excitement when he saw it.

Christmas Donuts

For Christmas morning, we decided to make donuts from scratch.  I prepared the dough the night before, let it rise in the fridge overnight, and let it warm back up and proof in the morning.

Christmas Donuts

The donuts were great when warm, but a little on the dense side.  Next time, I’ll make sure to give them more time to warm back up before trying to do anything with the dough.

Strawberry Chocolate Birthday Cupcakes

For my oldest son’s birthday, we sent cupcakes into school with him and I let him choose what he wanted.  He settled on a strawberry cupcake with chocolate frosting, and then helped to finish decorating them.

Strawberry Chocolate Cupcakes

Monster Truck Birthday Cake

Lastly, one more birthday cake, again for my oldest son, because he got cupcakes at school and cake with the extended family at home (lucky boy!).

We had gone to Monster Jam a few weeks prior, so the boys are still full-throttle into the monster trucks.  So when I asked him what he wanted, he said an Iron Man Monster Truck.

Again, getting creative with the pans, I came up with the following:

Iron Man Monster Truck CakeIf the frosting looks a little more yellowed, it probably is, as this time I did make the switch from plain Crisco to an organic palm oil shortening.  I though it actually tasted much better despite the different color.

So, that wraps it up.  Unfortunately now, my Kitchen Aid Pro is back on the fritz, so I’ll have to get that fixed up before tackling much more.

 

Blogging Thoughts

One of the challenges I have with blogging is that I always feel like I need to write a lot or make the post as meaningful as possible. It’s one of the reasons I don’t do it more often.

However, with all of the thoughts half thunk and ideas never jotted down, the blog just gains empty space instead of becoming any kind of interaction.

That said, I’m going to try working on some more quick posts (like this one). After all, I’m no professional writer, so why treat this like work?

On the run again…

So after six weeks of the Insanity program to keep me fit on the depths of winter,  boredom started setting in (there are only so many times you can go through the videos before you start lip syncing along) and a work trip to Florida and a break in the Pittsburgh weather gave me the chance to get back out and run.  After 4 runs in 5 days, even though it was only 15 total miles,  it felt like reconnecting with an old friend.

So now I just need to stay putting together my routine and figure out when to work in my speed work and weights/cross-training.

Regardless,  I’m back to running and am very excited about it.

Training with the Fitbit Flex

It was about 6 months ago that I received my Fitbit Flex.  It was a Father’s Day gift that ended up getting delayed in shipping, but I began wearing it all the time from that point forward.

Fitbit Flex

In honesty, this wasn’t my first experience with a Fitbit product, as I had received the Fitbit One as a Christmas present in 2012.  While I really enjoyed the product, the downfall for me ended up being that the clip-on solution was difficult for me to keep track of.  In fact, after just 2 weeks, I managed to lose it after clipping it onto a pocket of my dress pants at work.

So, when the Flex came out, I was immediately interested, as I assumed (correctly) that the wrist-mounted unit would be easier to keep track of.  In fact, it’s no more cumbersome than a watch (which I haven’t worn for a while).  One of the funny things is that I do tend to look at it like a watch, but since it only has progress indicator lights it’s no good for that (though the newer Fitbit Force would address this problem).  In the first few weeks, I also had concerns about the durability of the wrist strap, but they have proven to be unfounded.  The

While the indicator lights are initially set to measure progress towards your goal in “steps”, I quickly changed mine to “miles”, as it is a more descriptive measure for me to evaluate in my day-to-day activities.  I currently have mine set with a target of 5 miles/day which is easy to do on days that I run, but a little more of a challenge the rest of the time.  When I hit this target, the lights go off and it vibrates to let me know I’ve reached my goal.  This also matches up well with the 5 indicator lights, which let me know when I’ve passed each mile marker throughout the day with just a couple of taps on the device (to make the indicator lights go off).

The Flex is surprisingly accurate.  I wear it when I run, and when I’ve done my early-morning long runs, my goal notification always goes off just before I hit the 5-mile mark on my TomTom runner.  While I had initially hoped it would be accurate, I’ve found that it is usually accurate within a tenth of a mile, which is more than enough for regular fitness tracking.

Additionally, the Fitbit ecosystem has proven to be versatile.  While most of the time it syncs with the provided dongle I have plugged into a USB port on my laptop and uploads my activity updates straight to the Fitbit site (see my profile), if I happen to be traveling or away from home for the day, I can also sync with my phone via Bluetooth to get more details about my daily activity.

The Flex also offers sleep tracking, which I view as more of a “neat” feature than anything critical.  Basically, I just tap the unit several times until it vibrates and indicates sleep mode, and then do the same in the morning.  I can then go on the Fitbit site and view the quality of my sleep.  The unit will note periods of activity during sleep that may help you better understand your sleep patterns.  However, since I have small children who may wake me at any hour of the night, it’s hard for me to actually act on that data.

Lastly, one of the most convenient features of the Flex is it’s battery life.  I was initially concerned that I’d have to be charging it frequently, but I’ve come to find that it will last at least a week on a full charge, and often closer to 10 days.  And then when I do need to charge it, it only takes 1-2 hours (depending on if I plug it into a dedicated outlet or just use a USB port on my computer).  Often, I just skip a night of sleep tracking and let it charge fully while I sleep.

Ok, so I don’t wear it “all the time”, as I don’t wear it while showering, letting it charge or doing construction projects around the house (the vibrations of hammering or similar activities activate sleep mode too easily), but I do wear it whenever reasonably possible.

In the end, if you like to track your activity and are a stat-geek like myself, the Fitbit Flex is a great addition to your collection.  It’s accurate, easy and convenient without being unreasonably priced.

If you happen to already have a Fitbit product, feel free to send me a friend invite from my profile.

So, I guess it’s 2014 already…

So, I’ve been a little remiss about getting a New Year’s post together (How is it January 26th already???), but it’s about time I got around to it.  Let’s take a look at what I planned for last year and what I’m looking forward to for 2014:

2013

#1 – Lose An Additional 15 Pounds

Well, I had completed this goal at one point during the year, but slipped back around the holidays.  I started the year at 245.2 pounds.  On Nov. 9th, just a week before my marathon, I checked in at a low of 222.9 lbs.

However, the cutback in my training combined with a metabolism/appetite that hearkened back to my high school days and an far to prevalent attitude of “I just ran a marathon, so I deserve this…and this…and this!” brought back some of that weight.

In the end, I finished the year at 233.4 lbs.  It was still almost a 12 pound weight loss, but I know I could have done better.

#2 – Complete Six 5k or Longer Races

This past year, I completed exactly six races:

  1. Emerald of Mt. Washington 5k (3.1 miles) – First race of the year as well as my shortest, and a new PR in 26:53 (by more than 4 minutes!).
  2. Ruckus 2013 (4 mile obstacle course) – Ran this because I won a free entry, and now the series has gone out of business.
  3. Tough Mudder “Pittsburgh” (10.5 miles) – Technically in eastern Ohio, and technically not a race, but a trial of will.  It took me almost 4 hours to slog up and down the hills of this course.  It was well worth doing, but not sure if I’ll be tackling something similar in the future.
  4. Pittsburgh Great Race 2013 10k (6.2 miles) – One of my favorite race events of the year on a mostly downhill course through one of the main arteries of the city.  Another PR here, this time by more than 9 minutes over last year’s time.
  5. EQT 10 Miler (10 miles) – This was supposed to be the tune up for my Marathon (just two weeks later) but it was the best I felt running all year.  I managed to run negative splits throughout the race and finish feeling great!
  6. Charlotte’s Thunder Road Marathon (26.2 miles) – This is the race that I spent half the year training for and the pinnacle of my training for the year.  While I struggled through the second half of the race, I’m still very proud of making it to the end.

#3 – Blog More

In 2012, I only managed 16 posts.  In 2013, that number went up to 28.  So, that’s an improvement at least, though I didn’t set any firm goals for “more”.

2014

#1 – Get (and Stay) Under 225

So, I made progress with my weight, but I still have room to improve.  I’m also now using the fitbit Aria scale to help me be more consistent in recording my weight.  Just a few weeks into the year, I’m already down a few pounds to 231.5, so I’ve just got to keep that momentum going.

#2 – Get Faster

While I focused on stretching out my distance last year, I’d like to focus on completing my shorter distances faster this year.  Time-wise, I’d like to get my 5k time under 25:00 and my 10k under 55:00.  I think both are within my reach with the right training.

That’s it, actually.  I’m already planning on getting in some more races in these shorter distances, and I’m getting through this harsh Pittsburgh winter by completing a second round of INSANITY, as it did a good job of keeping me in race-shape last year.  But, mostly, I want to keep my goals focused so that I can make sure I stay on top of them.