Soup (and Injury) Weather

Bad news first:  I'm injured.  I'm hoping to find out this week if it's a stress fracture or something called metatarsalgia, but the gist is that my left foot is killing me and I haven't been able to run.  That I have ants in my pants is an understatement.  I am just grateful that this happened after all my summer races.  Time to start swimming again!

Good news: This means more time to cook and blog about recipes!  Fantastic timing, too, because cold weather means the oven can be on in the evening and I can get more creative with dinners.  First up: my easy-peasy, go-to, crowd-pleasing Italian Soup.

Don't pictures of big pots of simmering soup make you feel all warm and cozy?  Also, I failed to take a photo of an appetizingly artful bowl of soup, so this is what you get.

Don't pictures of big pots of simmering soup make you feel all warm and cozy?  Also, I failed to take a photo of an appetizingly artful bowl of soup, so this is what you get.

15-Minute Italian Soup

1 yellow onion, diced small

2 cloves garlic, minced

1-2 carrots, sliced thinly

1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans (or 1.5 cups cooked beans)

4 cups vegetable broth (I like the Imagine Organic Low-Sodium variety)

1 large (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes - ideally San Marzano, but any will work

2 cups chopped kale, spinach, or other greens

Oregano, salt, pepper to taste

  1. Heat a large soup pot with cooking spray or a tiny bit of olive oil.  Add onions, garlic, and carrots, and cook over medium heat until the onions soften.  Add a splash of water as needed to prevent sticking.
  2. Toss in your drained and rinsed garbanzo beans and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Add broth, tomatoes, and spices.  (Go easy on the salt, as tomatoes and broth usually have quite a bit of salt already.)  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer for at least 10 minutes.  The key is to let your carrots get soft--any additional simmer time just deepens the flavor.
  4. Add your greens with a good stir when you've got 5 - 10 minutes of simmer time remaining.  Kale and other hardy greens hold up better than spinach if you plan to leave the soup simmering for a while.  
  5. Optional: add 1/4 cup of orzo pasta to the pot once you bring it to a boil, and allow to simmer at least as long as the package's recommended cooking time.  Makes it a bit heartier.  You can also cook the soup without the pasta on night one, then turn the leftovers into a pasta dish for night two--just serve over cooked pasta or heat the soup in a pot and cook your pasta right in the soup (adding a bit of water if necessary).

That's it!  So easy.  

Some serving ideas from our house: I will steal a couple of spoonfuls of this soup from the pot to serve over pasta for the kiddos--they don't really do soup.  My wife adds shaved parmesan to her bowl.  I love this soup served with a giant hunk of garlic bread.

PS - Speaking of garlic bread and not being able to run through the holiday binge fest, stay tuned for a future post on cutting flours out of my diet.  Yikes.

 

 

Summer Snacks & Simplicity

Where does the time go?  As if it weren't scary enough to be careening at breakneck pace toward my 40s, next week is JULY, people.  That means I'm just a week from being able to say that my ultra is a mere two months of insufficient training away.  It is with this terrifying knowledge (and stunning lack of time) that I'm desperately trying to simplify where I can, while also attempting to knock off a few pounds before my training mileage really starts increasing.  With that, I give you two embarrassingly easy snacks-slash-meals that will likely be in heavy rotation over the coming weeks.

Cait's Basic Fruit Salad

1 pint strawberries

2 large bananas

1 - 2 juicy peaches (as juicy as you can find)

1/2 cup+ fresh blueberries (for me, this is as many blueberries as I have the patience to pick from our backyard bushes)

Sprinkling of chopped nuts (I like walnuts for this)

1. Cut everything except the bananas into smaller-than-bite-sized pieces.

2. Combine everything but the bananas in a bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  Refrigerate your (whole) bananas during this time, too.

3. Just before eating, slice your bananas and mix them into the bowl.  Sprinkle with nuts and serve!

 

Smoky Brussels Sprouts

Best consumed outside in the sunshine

Best consumed outside in the sunshine

1 bag small-ish frozen* Brussels sprouts

1 tsp olive oil (optional), plus a dash of salt & pepper

1/4 cup prepared tahini sauce - or tahini mixed with lemon, garlic, and salt to taste

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 tsp chipotle powder, or to taste

1. Preheat oven to 475.  While the oven is heating, toss frozen sprouts in a bowl with the oil and salt & pepper.

2. Line a baking sheet with parchment (optional but recommended), spread the sprouts evenly on the sheet, and pop into the preheated oven.

3. Start checking on your sprouts after 15 minutes, and check tenderness with a fork every 5 minutes or so.  You want them just tender with a bit of charring on the outer leaves.

4. While your sprouts are cooking, mix tahini sauce, vinegar, and chipotle into a deliciously smoky sauce.  I like mine thin enough to drizzle, but it's also good as a thicker dip, so thin with water or vinegar to your liking.

5. Put all your cooked sprouts into one big bowl, drizzle with sauce, and eat the entire thing.  (There's no shame in it, because VEGETABLES.)

*I use frozen because my obsession with Brussels sprouts means that I've tried them just about every way you could think to make them.  My hands-down favorite is roasted-from-frozen---I have no idea why, but they cook so evenly and turn out almost creamy.  

Real Time Off

As an HR manager and mom, people watch what I do for guidance at home and at work. I have to watch what I say around my 3-year-old, lest he become a foul-mouthed little angel, and I really have to watch what I do in front of staff at the wonderful organization where I work. Even if I really need to catch up, I avoid sending emails late at night in case the recipient thinks that means he needs to be working late too.  I often try to appear unavailable on days off, even if I'll just be hanging out and totally able to field a few questions.  I take long lunches on workout days and don't act overly concerned about my time away (even if I'm feeling the pressure).

Someday soon, I write a nice rant about how vacation isn't really vacation when you have little kids at home, but today I'm thinking about vacation time and all those dedicated coworkers of mine.  

Someday soon, I write a nice rant about how vacation isn't really vacation when you have little kids at home, but today I'm thinking about vacation time and all those dedicated coworkers of mine.  

Hattie Hill wrote a nice reminder about the benefit of truly taking time away when you're in a leadership position at work, timed perfectly for today.  (Today, I emailed work to say I wouldn't be in because I'm sick, but I've already spent at least 2 hours working this morning. Stop the madness.) Basically, even when not in management, our collective behavior helps to set the tone for the workplace.  If we don't take vacation seriously, it encourages others to work too hard; if we apologize for taking care of our health--including mental health--before taking care of the bottom line, that sets an unhealthy standard for the whole team.  

I'm going to keep all of that in mind this summer and, as I look forward to a lot of long weekends away this summer, I am going to try my hardest to:

  • Tell people I'm unavailable when I'm on vacation.

  • Remove my work email from my phone when I'm taking paid time off.

  • Broadcast my vacation plans to everyone I talk to at work, so they feel encouraged to take time off too.

  • Find ways to get everyone to take extra non-work time this summer--whether that's closing early on Fridays or mandating a long lunch on sunny days.

 

How about you, friends?  Do you truly unplug on vacation, or should we all work on this together?

Let's call it The Summer of Real Vacations.  (You know, unless you have little kids...)

 

Mother's Day and Mount St. Helens

Before having kids, Wife (whom I'm now going to call by her name, Liz, because we're all friends here, right?) and I used to hike, climb, camp, and generally explore the outdoors almost weekly.  Now that "exploring the outdoors" means "check out the worm on the sidewalk in front of the neighbor's house," an opportunity to spend a day on a mountain with friends is a beautiful and rare thing.

Liz and me on the summit of South Sister, before kids (and before good taste in summit beer, apparently).

Liz and me on the summit of South Sister, before kids (and before good taste in summit beer, apparently).

Call it reason #4,365 why my wife rules: A few weeks ago, she took the kids to the coast with her visiting mom so I could join the old climbing crew for the annual Mother's Day Weekend Mount St. Helens climb.  (I should mention here that Liz also let me do this last year, when she--pregnant--stayed home with our toddler so I could go.  Amazing.) 

Some fun facts about Mount St. Helens:

  • There is a tradition of climbing Mount St. Helens in a dress on Mother's Day Weekend.  I have no idea where it comes from, but it's pretty fun to see a bunch of climbing dudes in flowery dresses heading up the mountain.  
  • The "winter route" to the summit, which is the default route through at least late spring, is 12 miles round trip and about 5500 feet of climbing.  This year, it took about 5 hours to get to the summit and 3 hours to get back down.
  • Mount St. Helens erupted in a major way on May 18, 1980, but there have been many smaller eruptions since.  The weekend we climbed, there were several mini-earthquakes detected deep in the mountain, which were apparently linked to "magma activity."

Our wonderful friend Daniel organizes this trip for the dozen+ people who usually go, and I was lucky enough to score a bunk in one of the mini-cabins at the campground.  My friend K and I rolled into the campground by 4pm Friday, ready to yell "FIRST!" when we realized we'd been beaten by at least 10 people who had wisely skipped town early and started in on the beer by noon.  Well played, early birds.

After dinner by the campfire and an unofficial headcount--50+ people in our group?!--we headed to bed early in anticipation of the 3:15am wake-up call.  The weather was super-warm, which meant we needed to get an early start, and we hoped to be heading out on the trail by 5:00am. A smooth morning and mostly smooth caravan to the trailhead had us on the trail by 5:15, and we naturally split into more reasonably sized groups.

It was a beautiful day on the mountain and the breeze kept us cool enough to be comfortable, but the recent heatwave meant we were not fully hiking on snow until much higher up than usual.  Still, I felt great--probably due to the FOUR peanut butter sandwiches I ate on the hike--and it was an awesome day!  We did have an injury and a few folks who took longer than ideal to get back to the trailhead, but in the end, everyone was happily toasting each other around the campfire.  I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story...

Heading up the trail with our goal in sight!

Heading up the trail with our goal in sight!

We were above the treeline before the sun had reached all the nooks and crannies of the mountain.  The temperature difference between sun and shade was huge!

We were above the treeline before the sun had reached all the nooks and crannies of the mountain.  The temperature difference between sun and shade was huge!

Me, checking out the view during a snack break in my lovely floral dress. (Photo credit: Josh)

Me, checking out the view during a snack break in my lovely floral dress. (Photo credit: Josh)

Mother's Day Weekend is one of the most popular times to climb, so it was crowded up there!  We found ourselves having to create new boot pack to scoot around some of the longer lines of climbers.

Mother's Day Weekend is one of the most popular times to climb, so it was crowded up there!  We found ourselves having to create new boot pack to scoot around some of the longer lines of climbers.

The summit celebration included frosty cold mimosas, photos for our moms, and showing a little leg.  We hung out on the summit for more than an hour before glissading (basically sledding on our butts) down several thousand feet.  Note: glissading is the most fun thing I've ever done.  Get thee up a mountain and try it!

The summit celebration included frosty cold mimosas, photos for our moms, and showing a little leg.  We hung out on the summit for more than an hour before glissading (basically sledding on our butts) down several thousand feet.  Note: glissading is the most fun thing I've ever done.  Get thee up a mountain and try it!

By the time we finished glissading and were hiking out, most of us were in tank tops and shorts.  What a great day!

By the time we finished glissading and were hiking out, most of us were in tank tops and shorts.  What a great day!

Of course, I missed my family like crazy, so I was happy to wake up early on Sunday (like I could sleep in if I tried) and head home to them.  That's the thing about having young kiddos--I fantasize about one night away from them for some adult conversation and a full night's sleep, but as soon as I get it, I wish they were there.  I assume this will change when they are teenagers.