Monday, December 29, 2014

January Challenge ~ Green Smoothies + No Sugar.

Now that the holiday season is wrapping up, it's time to get back to a regular schedule and stop any over-indulgence that happened over the month of December. There's nothing wrong with enjoying this time of year - I'll be the first to admit I love everything about the holiday season, including the desserts and special treats {like my family's vertical glass Christmas tree filled with red and green M&Ms, and Norwegian potato lefse spread with butter, sprinkled with white sugar, and rolled up into a few delicious bites}.

No matter what, I tend to over-indulge every year during the holidays and need a re-set in the beginning weeks of the new year. Last year, my 2014 re-set involved many healthy soups using new kitchen gadgets that K and I received as wedding gifts. I experimented with a variety of vegetable combinations, and settled on Roasted Carrot & Cauliflower Soup as a favorite.

In 2015, my re-set will involve daily green smoothies {with spinach or kale} and a commitment to avoid added sugars for the month of January. To me, "added sugars" means anything with extra sugar added - desserts, granola bars, commercial coffee creamer, you name it. K is joining me on this challenge, and I'll be checking in every Monday with a new smoothie recipe. We are committed to drinking an average of five green smoothies every week. Mostly for breakfast, but snack green smoothies count too. For the no-sugar part of the challenge, we still plan to eat fruit and other naturally sweet foods, like dates and figs.

The challenge starts this Thursday, January 1. Leave a comment if you want to join us on a re-set of your own this January!

Here are a few smoothies to get you started:
Green Peach Smoothie
Mango-Banana Green Smoothie
Green Tropics Smoothie
Green Smoothie Base Recipe
Cherry Chocolate Protein Smoothie
"Green" Banana Cherry Smoothie
Five Runner-Friendly Smoothie Recipes

Have a great Monday!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Half Mile Interval Treadmill Run + Favorite Treadmill Workouts.

I don't know about you, but I need a serious run today after Christmas cheer in the form of decadent meals, desserts and family parties daily over the past week! As a contributor to the NBC Chicago Stride blog, I wrote a post on 3 Tips for Winter Running earlier this month. One of those tips is to learn to love the treadmill. Perhaps the weather is not optimal for running wherever you are this week, or squeezing in a treadmill run in your parents' basement is easier than finding time for a route outdoors. Either way, here is my latest treadmill run - a half mile interval workout that anyone can complete for a long or short run indoors.

To top it off, below are a few more of my favorite treadmill workouts from the past year. I hope runners will be motivated to try something new during this long holiday weekend. Happy running!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Chicago Holiday Favorites.

Merry Christmas Eve! I'm in Iowa visiting family this week, but I'm celebrating the holiday with all of you by sharing the best local activities in the city - Chicago is incredibly festive at this time of year. Below are my recent Chicago Holiday Favorites.

Holiday Tea at the Drake Hotel
I attended a work lunch a few weeks ago at the Palm Court inside the Drake Hotel for holiday tea service. The Palm Court offers a special holiday tea from November 15th to January 4th. Tea service includes an individual pot of tea from a huge selection, with a mix of bite-sized lunch items. The lunch includes mini sandwiches, fancy breads, and desserts. We had chicken salad, cucumber, and lobster salad sandwiches, poppy seed bread and mini scones with jam. Desserts included pumpkin mousse, cream puffs in the shape of swans, and bite-sized apple pies. I had chocolate truffle mint rooibos tea to top off the meal. The tea room is beautiful and the Drake is fully decorated for the holidays. There is a harpist playing, and professional carolers take song requests from each table. I highly recommend stopping by the Drake this time of year, even if you just walk through to check out the beautiful interior.

Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo
My friend S and I did a long run to Zoo Lights on a recent Friday evening after work, and ended the night at Home Slice Pizza in Lincoln Park with our husbands. Lincoln Park Zoo hosts Zoo Lights every year, ending on January 4th. The entire zoo is decked out in an impressive display of lights, and admittance is free. There is hot chocolate and beer available to buy, and you can walk through a few of the animal displays to warm up {my favorite is the Kovler Lion House}. No matter what, the most impressive part of this event are the flashing light displays set to music - any Nutcracker tune wins in my book.

Christkindl Market at Daley Plaza
My absolute favorite holiday activity in Chicago is to walk through Christkindl Market to check out the European-style holiday ornaments and have a taste of mulled wine. Christkindl Market is housed every year at the outdoor Daley Plaza, in the middle of the Loop downtown. Earlier this week, K and I had the chance to visit with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law {Kristen from Make the Best of Everything}! Even though it was a rainy night, we made the best of it by finding a spot in a heated tent to enjoy mulled wine.

Have a great holiday!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pomegranate, Chocolate Chunk & Coconut Cookies.

Pomegranate, Chocolate Chunk & Coconut Cookies are packed with delicious ingredients - try a new way to use pomegranate seeds in dessert.

Happy weekend!

Mine has been full of running and eating, with a few festive events thrown in for good measure. I started Saturday with a 7 mile run with the Nike+ Run Club. A few members of my Nike+ Chiberia Challenge team met for the run, and completed the 5 mile route. My friend S and I kept going afterwards to hit 7 miles for the day. We celebrated with a quick visit to Stan's Donuts & Coffee around the corner. I had a lemon + pistachio old-fashioned donut with an almond milk latte. This was my first visit to Stan's and I highly recommend it! My donut had a crunchy exterior and a delicious pistachio glaze frosting. Stan's opened earlier this year, bringing California-style donuts to the Midwest. The original Stan's in L.A. has been open since 1963! I have a feeling this shop will do great in this city as well.

Sunday morning started with more running {you may notice there's a theme here}, with the festive Rudolph Ramble 8k race at Diversey Harbor in Lincoln Park. This was my first time running a holiday-themed race in the city. We had gorgeous weather for the Midwest in December, in the upper 40's. My Nike+ Chiberia Challenge team is currently in first place, and I ran just over 45 miles this week to finish out the first six days of the challenge!

With all this running, I've snacked on a cookie or two most nights this week without regrets. I love cookies with lots going on inside - this version combines pomegranate seeds, chocolate chunks, and sweetened shredded coconut. Pomegranates are back in season through early winter, and you might as well add an ingredient to your dessert that's packed with antioxidants, right?

I reduced the sugar slightly from the original recipe to make up for the sweetened shredded coconut. This recipe makes a large number of cookies, over three dozen using a medium-sized cookie scoop. These cookies also freeze incredibly well. If serving for a party, take them out of the freezer the night before to thaw and they will taste fresh as can be.

Pomegranate, Chocolate Chunk & Coconut Cookies
Makes 3 and 1/2 dozen cookies.

1 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup unsalted butter {2 sticks}
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda {dissolved in 2 teaspoons hot water}
1 and 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chunks
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds
2/3 cup shredded coconut {sweetened}

How to~
*Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
*Cream together butter and the sugars. Add vanilla and eggs until combined.
*Dissolve the baking soda into 2 teaspoons of hot water and add to the mixed ingredients. Add the salt.
*Add flour in several batches, mixing until combined.
*Add the shredded coconut, pomegranate seeds, and chocolate chunks.
*Bake for ~10-12 minutes.

{Adapted from All Recipes' Best Chocolate Chip Cookies}

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Year of Wellness - Call for Nominations.

The blogs on my "follow" list have been full of thoughtful holiday gift ideas over the past few weeks, ranging from gadgets for foodies to gifts for a fitness-loving lady friend. I love reading gift idea lists, but I have one more to throw out there if you're thinking about an extra special holiday gift for a family member or friend this year: consider submitting a nomination for the Year of Wellness Contest from Fitness Formula Clubs {FFC}!

This is the third year of the Year of Wellness, and the winner will receive an entire year's worth of wellness gifts, including personal training, nutrition consulting, massages, and more from various sponsors {valued at more than $15,000}! FFC started this contest to give back to the community, and offer someone the tools needed to start {or in some cases, continue} a healthy lifestyle journey.

The first Year of Wellness 2013 winner was Quinetta Taylor, pictured at the Gift of Hope Lifesaving Partner Awards ceremony this fall. Gift of Hope is an organ and tissue donation non-profit organization. Quinetta applied for the Year of Wellness to continue her weight loss journey as a woman suffering from chronic kidney disease. At the end of her winning year, she had lost an amazing 120 pounds.

 {Daniela Spaid of FFC and 2013 Year of Wellness winner Quinetta Taylor}

Year of Wellness submissions must include a photo and 300 words or less on why the nominee deserves to win {you can also nominate yourself}. Entries will be posted on the FFC website on December 16th, and voting by the public will continue through midnight on December 31st. A panel of judges will vote on the winner out of the top five nominees with the most votes. One winner will be selected in mid-January, and the winner must live in the greater Chicagoland area.  

Entries are due on Monday, December 15th - click here to submit a nomination.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Nike+ Chiberia Challenge and Chicago Jogger.

Calling all Chicago runners! I have an amazing and fun opportunity for a winter running challenge with Nike starting next week... the Nike+ Chiberia Challenge.

The challenge: Run 70+ miles in 13 days {between December 8th and midnight on December 21st}, logging all miles in the Nike+ app. Miles can be logged either outdoors or inside. Five teams are participating, with fifteen runners on each team. There are fantastic prizes available, including a Nike Flash running jacket for the first runner to reach 70 miles. The winning team is the first where all runners reach 70 miles. Winning team members will receive a pair of Nike Flash running shoes! My team is capped at fifteen runners, and spots are first come, first serve.

Click here to register for my team! 

How to Sign Up:
  1. Register for a free Nike+ account and download the app.
  2. Sign up for my team here.
  3. Add Nike Chicago on the Nike+ running app, by Monday the 8th.
  4.  Accept the Chiberia Challenge on the app {released on Monday}.
  5. Run your heart out!
There is a kick-off event happening on Monday evening, December 8th, at the Nike Running store in Bucktown, at 6:30 pm. All team members will run together to start the challenge on the right foot. If you can't make it, no worries - log miles on your own using the Nike+ app! What better way to run off a few {dozen} cookies this season?

{Disclosure: In exchange for participating as a Team Captain for the Nike+ Chiberia Challenge, I will receive free running gear for outdoor running. Thank you for supporting Chicago Jogger!}

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Butternut Squash & Spinach Lasagna.

I'm on a huge butternut squash kick this season! Tonight I'm excited to share a delicious, healthier recipe combining one of my favorite, indulgent winter dinners {lasagna!} while substituting roasted squash slices for the noodles. I made this recipe two ways while testing it, with and without cheese. K and I decided that going the cheese route is the best for this dish, but you could certainly leave it out and add extra sauce, veggies or meat instead. This makes an excellent dinner for four, or two with leftovers. I swear it's even better the second day.

I also substituted cottage cheese for ricotta in this version of lasagna. Some may think that's odd, but my mom has always used it for her lasagna dishes and it's a perfect, healthier substitute for creamy ricotta. I used low-fat cottage cheese because I like the texture much better than the non-fat/skim version. This recipe is also inspired by my recent Factor 75 experience, a local meal delivery service. My favorite delivered dish from Factor 75 {<-- affiliate link} was the butternut squash lasagna. While Factor 75's version contained meat and no cheese, it was absolutely delicious and an excellent healthy dinner for a busy weeknight.

This particular lasagna makes three layers, using a medium-sized butternut squash in a deep baking dish. The key is roasting the squash in 1/4 inch rounds as your first step, before assembling the lasagna. Otherwise you really can't go wrong using squash in place of noodles!

Butternut Squash & Spinach Lasagna
Serves 4.

1 butternut squash
1/2 yellow onion {chopped}
2 cloves garlic {chopped}
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup small curd cottage cheese {I used low fat}
1 jar marinara sauce {24 ounces; I used Bertolli's classic marinara}
1 package {8 ounces} part skim shredded mozzarella cheese
3+ cups spinach
1 egg
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

How to~
*Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
*Peel butternut squash and cut into 1/4 inch round slices. Drizzle with oil, salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and roast at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.
*While the squash is roasting, saute chopped onions on medium heat in a few teaspoons of oil, for ~5 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking for ~3 minutes.
*Prepare the cheese mixture. Start by whisking 1 egg in a small bowl. Stir in 3/4 cup cottage cheese. Add 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Stir in 2 cups of shredded cheese.
*Assemble - add a small amount of marinara to the bottom of your dish. Layer squash, cheese mix, spinach/onion mix, and marinara. Repeat the layering twice, and top with a handful of the remaining shredded cheese.
*Bake assembled lasagna in a covered dish for ~15 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 additional minutes.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Holiday Running Challenge - Weeks 1-2.

K and I arrived home from visiting family in Iowa mid-afternoon yesterday, finishing the weekend by procuring + trimming the tree. There is a long list of Christmas tree lots in the city. We get our tree from the same place every year, Chicago Christmas Tree Lots at the Lakeview Jewel. The trees come from a farm in northern Wisconsin, and I love supporting a Midwest business since we don't have the option to hand select a tree from a farm ourselves.

There is more decorating to come; it turns out my small container from our apartment last year isn't enough to make the rooms in our house festive this year. Before I get distracted by sparkly things, let's talk about running. The thing that most inspires me about reading fitness and running blogs are posts with workout recaps. Weekly recaps in particular are intriguing, to see how other people work fitness into their lives. It's not always clear when there are struggles - a cold, an off week, busy collapse on the couch days. I think it's important to share realistic details about fitness along with the triumphs.

This is the third week of the Holiday Running Challenge, and the miles are right on track so far. I intended to post an update every Monday, but this little thing called life + a hectic holiday week got in the way and an update didn't happen. Updates every other week are more realistic.

Here are the first two challenge weeks:

Week 1 - Week of Nov. 16th:
Sunday - Ran 3 outside
Wednesday - Ran 3 treadmill
Friday - Ran 4 outside
= 10 miles

Week 2 - Week of Nov. 24th:
Sunday - Ran 5 outside
Wednesday - Ran 3 outside
Thursday- Ran 3.5 treadmill
Saturday- Ran 3.1 treadmill
= 14.6 miles

This week, I'm focusing on why to run as motivation. I came across a Huffington Post article a few months ago, titled 19 Reasons To Start Running and it's still on my bookmark list. Most of these reasons are reasons to run for me as well, especially #'s 1, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10. However, my number one answer to the "why run" question is, why not?

{Image from Pinterest, via it's always autumn}

Have a great week - comment if you'd like to join me on this running challenge!