Wednesday, April 29, 2015

PB&J Energy Bites.

My PB&J Energy Bites are perfect for a healthy snack before a run, with only four ingredients and no added sugar.

For runners, it's crucial to fuel up before and after a workout, especially for long training runs. Healthy snacks that are rich in protein and healthy fats are key, and if they are easy to eat on the go, that's even better.

This recipe for PB&J bites has everything a runner needs for a healthy and nourishing snack before or after a run, and it incorporates flavors that we all know and love -- peanut butter and jelly. This particular recipe was inspired by Larabar.

PB&J energy bites are easy to make at home and require no cooking. All you need is a food processor and a few ingredients. For a snack without added sugars, use unsalted dry-roasted peanuts and unsweetened peanut butter.

PB&J Energy Bites
Makes 18 to 20 bites.

  • 16 Medjool dates (pitted)
  • 2/3 cup dried cherries
  • 1 cup raw dry-roasted peanuts
  • 4 teaspoons peanut butter (unsweetened)
  • Chop dates in half. Add dates, cherries and peanuts to a food processor. Depending on the size of your food processor, you may need to process in separate batches. I split this recipe in half to ensure even distribution of the ingredients.
  • Process the mixture a few times. Stop the processor and use a spatula to re-combine if needed.
  • Add peanut butter and continue processing for about 20 seconds. Keep processing, using the "pulse" function until the ingredients are evenly combined.
  • Remove the mixture from the food processor and form into balls. I used a medium-sized cookie scoop to ensure even sizing for each bite.
  • Refrigerate for 30 minutes to harden. Keep refrigerated in a covered container. The bites should last cooled for up to one week.

You can easily adapt this recipe to include many different flavors. An alternative recipe could include raw almonds, almond butter and dried blueberries, for example.

{This post was originally published on the NBC Chicago Stride blog in March 2015. Chicago Jogger is a regular contributor to NBC Stride. Follow @StrideNBC on Twitter and click here to check out more articles from the blog.}

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Book Club Discussion: The Girl on the Train.

I hope you had a wonderful weekend. It's time for April's book discussion for the Bookish Bloggers Book Club! Please respond to any of the questions below and add your own in the comments section of this post.

This post contains affiliate links.

I excerpted an overview of The Girl on the Train from Amazon in my introductory post:

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut. 

{Image via Amazon}

Q&A Discussion

 1) What was your first impression of Rachel? How did that change throughout the book?

I sympathized with Rachel at the beginning of this book as it was obvious she had been through some very dark days - the end of her marriage, alcohol dependency, infertility issues, and losing her job. However, as the story unraveled further I found myself asking whether Rachel could have been somehow responsible for Megan's disappearance. Rachel become obsessed with the story of Megan's disappearance and was endlessly confused by her own memory losses.

2) What would you have done if you would have seen the things Rachel saw from the train window?

It's hard to put myself in those shoes since Rachel's perspective included many complicated factors - she used to live on the same street as Megan, she was envious of Megan's seemingly healthy marriage, and she rode the train to and from London every day for comfort instead of necessity since she had lost her job and was hiding that fact from her roommate. The train meant much more to Rachel than it does to the average commuter. I don't think I would have noticed the same details that Rachel noticed had I been a passenger on the same train.

3) How does motherhood and the expectations surrounding it impact this story?

Motherhood played a strong role in the story of many women in this book. I think the author was trying to portray the impact motherhood {or lack thereof} has on women. It was an important sub-plot since the story is told from Rachel, Anna, and Megan's perspective:
  • Rachel felt like a failure for experiencing infertility, which seemed to lead to the destruction of her marriage and her dependency on alcohol.
  • Anna was a mother to a young child, however is portrayed by the author as being somewhat detached. This is especially apparent when Megan is hired briefly to watch Anna and Tom's baby so that Anna can rest. 
  • Megan did not seem to want children of her own, however readers are shocked {at least I was} to find out that Megan was expecting a baby at the time of her disappearance.

4) What did you think of Rachel's frequent memory losses due to alcohol? Did you find yourself trying to 'fill in the blanks' for her as the story progressed? Did you think Rachel's memory observations were reliable?

Rachel's memory loss played a very important role in this story. It impacted my questioning of whether Rachel was an innocent party in Megan's disappearance. I was confused by some of the memories Rachel had lost, and I did try to fill them in {without luck, until more details were revealed at the end of the story}. The memories I thought about the most were first, why was Rachel in the underpass in the first place? Second, what caused her to feel negative feelings whenever she walked through that area after Megan disappeared? I wasn't sure whether Rachel's memories were reliable until the end, when Rachel realized she had seen Megan get into the car with Tom on the fateful night, instead of Anna as she originally thought.

5) This is a classic 'who done it' murder story. Did you see the twist coming regarding Rachel's ex-husband Tom being responsible for Megan's murder? When did you think something might be 'off' about Tom? Were you surprised by the end of the story?

I pinpointed Tom as the murderer only when Rachel realizes her memory of being on the stairs involving a baseball bat was about Tom hurting her, instead of the other way around. That was an 'aha' moment for me in this book. Up until that point, I thought either Rachel or Megan's therapist had to be the culprit in her disappearance. I was quite surprised by this plot twist!

Readers: What did you think of this book? Do you have any additional questions or observations to add? Let's discuss in the comments!

Affiliate link:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Lemon Cream Pie Overnight Oats.

When we were kids, my brother's top dessert request on special occasions was lemon pie. Anything lemon, actually - lemon pudding, lemon cake, lemon meringue; you name it and he loved it. I was on the opposite end of the spectrum in the chocolate camp, and I still prefer sweet desserts over tart or citrus-flavored options. Tart fruits often make their way onto my breakfast menu instead - I usually get my fix with a green smoothie. I have a feeling lemon is going to take over in the coming weeks with a new overnight oats recipe channeling the delicious flavors of Lemon Cream Pie.

Have you ever looked carefully at the ingredients for a traditional Lemon Cream Pie? It's a super simple recipe. Martha Stewart's version includes a buttery crust and a filling made with fresh lemon juice, sour cream, sugar, eggs, and salt. I am re-creating a healthier breakfast version of Martha's dish today, using juice from a Meyer lemon, creamy cashew milk, a Medjool date for natural sweetness, and oats.

I used a special kind of old-fashioned rolled oats for this recipe, sourced locally and purchased from Baker Miller in Lincoln Square {check out a recap of my first visit here}. Baker Miller is a stone-mill bakery and restaurant that grinds their own flour and oats from local sources. Check out their online flour shop for more details {this is not sponsored, I just really enjoy their oats}. If you don't have access to Baker Miller, any old-fashioned rolled oats will work for this recipe. I have heard using steel cut oats is delicious too, and creates a chewier texture if that's your jam.

You can use any kind of milk or milk substitute for overnight oats. I tested this recipe with a few different options, and in my opinion cashew milk works the absolute best if you have access to it. Cashew milk is extra creamy compared to almond or regular milk, and the mild flavor works really well with lemon. This breakfast is made even better with the addition of fresh blueberries. I layered blueberries into my jar of oats in the morning after the rest of the flavors melded together overnight.

Lemon Cream Pie Overnight Oats
Serves one.

1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup cashew milk
Juice from 1/2 a Meyer lemon {1.5 Tablespoons}
1 date {pitted and chopped}
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of lemon zest
Pinch of salt

Optional: 1/2 cup blueberries

How to~
*Add all ingredients to a bowl and stir until combined: oats, cashew milk, lemon juice, chopped date, vanilla extract, lemon zest, and salt.
*Cover the bowl and let the oats chill in the refrigerator overnight {~8-10 hours}.
*Add blueberries {or another fruit of your choice} right before eating.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Cooked Review.

I was recently contacted by Cooked, a local company based in Evanston, to review their fresh meal delivery options. Cooked is run by Chef Jona Silva, with help from his wife and business partner Erin. The Silvas' intent in starting Cooked was unburden people from overwhelming demands with a quality alternative to home cooking.

Cooked was created in 2014 to share the advantages of healthy eating with busy people. After 15 years of travel, culinary school and cooking under great mentors, Chef Jona Silva's interest in healthy cooking, vegetarian cooking, gluten-free options, and weight management took him to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, where he took classes on nutrition and healthy cooking in 2007 and passed the rigorous examination to become a Certified Chef in 2009.

Cooked supports a holistic approach to healthy cooking and focuses on local ingredients. Check out the list of local purveyors on their website. Erin explains it well: "We stay away from preservatives, use great quality meats, and work with a health coach to make sure our meals are balanced.  We do not proscribe to any restrictive fad diets.  The idea is to replace home cooking, so we want food to be as healthy as what mom would make, not too greasy/too salty.  We care a lot about local economy and love local cultures, so we buy as much produce/meat/etc from local farms as possible. All meats are humanely raised/butchered, with no hormones, antibiotics, animal feed, etc."

As Erin told me: "The great thing about our food is that it is chilled which means that it is ready whenever our customers are-- many delivery companies that serve hot food actually chill it and heat it again when it's time for it to be delivered, but then the meal needs to be eaten immediately and is already cooling and not as hot at the time it's delivered.  It really can't be reheated a second time.  The reason we chose to do chilled meals is because we are aiming to give maximum flexibility by serving food at it's optimal freshness-- dinner is ready when you are!  You can order a bunch of meals in advance and stock up for the week, or order same day for just one evening-- the service is very flexible and can be used routinely or just on the busy days."  

Since meals are chilled, they come with heating instructions. The labeling is clear and easy to understand. However, I found I needed quite a bit less time in the microwave than recommended since the meals are fresh.

One of my favorite aspects of the Cooked menu is the variety of options for both lunch and dinner. Cooked also offers juices and even a dessert or two. I selected five meals for delivery during a busy week when K was traveling and I knew having a few prepared meals on hand would be extra helpful. I tried two lunches and three dinners. The meals were delicious! My selections included {listed in order of my favorites}:

*Chickpea-Zucchini Fritters with Cauliflower "Taboule"
*Lunch Bowl #1 {pesto quinoa with mozzarella}
*Lentil Soup
*Pan-seared Tilapia with Spanish Parsley Sauce
*Simple Coconuty Dal {with brown rice}

{Chickpea Zucchini Fritters}

Cooked delivers to several neighborhoods in Chicago as well as a number of suburbs to the north. Delivery is available Sunday through Thursday in afternoon and early evening hours. Check out the Delivery Areas and Times page of their website for more information. If you're local to Chicago and want to try Cooked, check out their website. Questions? Email

{Disclosure: I was provided with a $50 gift card to order meals from Cooked for review. All opinions are my own.}

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Runner Advice: How do you fuel before a race?

My pre-race meal is always a slice of toast + almond butter + banana + coffee + plenty of water. For years I haven't changed this breakfast combination on race days. I asked this question of fellow running and fitness bloggers, and to my surprise everyone had a different answer! As we get into running and racing season again in Chicago and elsewhere, this is the perfect time to come up with new ideas for running fuel.

Angela blogs at Cowgirl Runs: I start off with a cup of coffee (we all know why) and I'll eat either a bagel or 2 Eggo waffles (super classy, I know! but they're easy to digest) with PB about 2 hours before the start of the race. Once I get to the race, right before I drop my bag, I'll have my Vega Pre-Workout Energizer, which is usually 15-30 minutes before. Occasionally, I'll take a gel at the start if it's been a long time since I ate, but it depends on the day.

Laura blogs at this runner's recipes: Blueberry Pie Oatmeal is a great pre-run meal that's full of carbs and gentle on the stomach.

 {Image via this runner's recipes}

Jessica blogs at The Wheezy Runner: I can't eat in the morning, even for races! I've been known to drink a cup of coffee and stash a bagel in my pocket on the way out of the house and slowly eat it to the start line.

Nicole blogs at Fitful Focus: I'm all about oatmeal! This is one of my favorite recipes {Pumpkin Maple Bacon Oatmeal}:

{Image via Fitful Focus}

Kathryn blogs at From Dancing to Running: I always eat a peanut butter sandwich and a banana before a race, along with lots of water. Its worked for awhile now, and if it ain't broke, no point in fixing it! 

Kelly blogs at Tasting Page: I call these Protein Packed Energy Bites and love them before/after a workout.

{Image via Tasting Page}

Janice blogs at Fitness Cheerleader: I eat a boston cream donut before every race in the hopes that it's the secret fuel to help me qualify for Boston. 

Lindsay blogs at Itz Linz: A Blueberry Oatmeal Smoothie by Runner's World.

{Image via Itz Linz}

Kaila blogs at Healthy Helper: These [No-Bake Banana Nut Vegan Protein Bars] taste like freshly baked banana bread without even having to turn on the oven. They are dense, soft, and naturally sweet without any added sugar. I love the different textures from the chewy oats and the crunchy nuts. 

{Image via Healthy Helper}

Lastly, here are a few other resources on running fuel from bloggers:

How to Fuel for a Marathon - the Runner Beans
Fueling with Real Food - Vegas Mother Runner
The Importance of Fueling Properly - Miss Wheezy 

What do YOU eat before a race?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Avocado Asparagus Hummus.

This extra-green recipe for hummus gets most of its color from one of my favorite spring ingredients - asparagus! I made this for my family as an appetizer for Easter last weekend and served it with crackers and raw veggies. We didn't have any tahini in the house, so I added flavor and healthy fats with half an avocado instead. You will need significantly less oil for this hummus since avocado adds so much creaminess on its own.

My version of hummus also uses avocado oil instead of extra virgin olive oil. My mom has a wonderful collection of oils and vinegars, so of course I had to try her avocado oil in a recipe while I had the chance. I only have a handful of oil options at my house - obviously this needs to be fixed. This was my first time using avocado oil in a recipe, and it worked well! Avocado oil is pressed from avocados and includes more than 50% monounsaturated fat, which is beneficial for your heart {source}.

The first step to creating this hummus is roasting up an entire bunch of fresh asparagus stalks. I snapped each stalk in half and chopped off the woody {white} ends to make sure only the best stalks made it into the hummus. After you roast the asparagus {~10 minutes}, the hummus comes together quickly in a food processor. I let the stalks cool for 15 minutes and refrigerated the finished hummus for an hour before serving. I think this would also make an interesting sandwich spread in place of mayo!

Avocado Asparagus Hummus
Makes 2 cups.

1 bunch asparagus
2 Tablespoons avocado oil
1 Meyer lemon
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can chickpeas
2 garlic cloves
1/2 an avocado

How to~
*Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
*Clean and chop the white ends from the asparagus. Snap in half and toss with 1 Tablespoon avocado oil, the juice from 1/2 a lemon, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
*Roast asparagus for 10 minutes. While the asparagus are roasting, drain and rinse chickpeas.
*Let asparagus cool for ~15 minutes.
*Add roasted asparagus, chickpeas, 1 Tablespoon avocado oil, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 garlic cloves to a food processor. Process for ~20 seconds.
*Add the avocado and juice from the other lemon half. Continue processing until smooth.
*Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Nike+ Run Club Speed Workout + Force of Nature Event.

{I received a complimentary pair of Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit shoes as a participant in the Nike Force of Nature event. All text and opinions are my own.}

Last Thursday I attended a speed running event downtown hosted by the Nike+ Run Club, to try the Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit running shoes. Nike hosted three events that day, and I chose the sunrise workout at 6:00 am. Nothing motivates me more in the early morning hours than a group running date, especially when it involves a view like this:

Nike's invitation asked runners to run the way you were meant to with the epic forces of nature. A stage was set up at Queen's Landing, east of Buckingham Fountain downtown, complete with treadmills, a fog machine, and a DJ. We ran at three speed levels during the 45-minute workout. The easy pace {or marathon pace as the trainer described it} was 4.5 to 5.5 mpr on the treadmill. The first speed level was a 10k sprint pace {8.0+ mpr} and the second speed level a 5k sprint pace {9.0+ mpr}. The workout included a series of intervals followed by a brief cool-down jog. The trainer recommended a breathing technique during cool-down: take a slow, deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth to lower your heart rate after a hard interval.

We all ran with the Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit shoes during the workout. The Flyknit shoes shape to your foot like a sock, and are intended to offer a natural running experience. These shoes are almost weightless for running - I have taken them out three times since the speed workout and I'm still a huge fan! Cheerful color options don't hurt either - bright orange is perfect for summer.

I have to admit the speed intervals in this workout were the fastest I have ever run on a treadmill - sore legs the next day proved it. If you want to try a Nike+ Run Club speed workout of your own, I'm sharing a similar running workout tonight that was provided by Nike after the event.

Pace guidelines for the Speed Run Workout:
  • Warm-up: Your pace should be relaxed enough to be able to have a conversation.
  • 10k pace: Run at the quickest pace you can manage that allows yourself to recover.
  • 5k pace: Focus on rhythm and breathing as you run at a tempo slightly harder than 10k pace.
  • Mile pace: Maintain your form and remain relaxed as you run at this fast pace.

Happy sprinting!

Monday, April 6, 2015

March Favorites.

I love the fresh start of a new month - and the warm temperatures that {I hope} come with April spring showers. Like clockwork, it was above 70 degrees last week on April 1! Despite below average cold and a few snow showers, March was a great month and deserves its own favorites post, even though I'm a few days late. From a new recipe for energy bites to a brewery visit and spring plans, April has a lot to live up to.

Favorite Snack:
As a contributor to the NBC Chicago Stride blog, I have the opportunity to post every few weeks on running related topics. I created a new energy bites recipe earlier in March, for a quick and healthy snack that includes my favorite PB&J flavors. These energy bites include just four ingredients - unsalted peanuts; Medjool dates; dried cherries; and unsweetened peanut butter. PB&J Energy Bites come together easily in a food processor too. Head over to my post on NBC Chicago Stride for the recipe.

Favorite Drink:
Chicago has a great local brewery scene that gets more vibrant every year. A new brewery opened this past week on the northwest side of the city - BreakRoom Brewery at 2925 W. Montrose Ave. After months of anticipation, K and I visited for a drink in the late afternoon last Sunday and ended up staying for dinner. The interior of BreakRoom is gorgeous, with high beams, dark wood, and windows as a peek into brewing equipment hard at work. The brewery was full of people, neighbors and kids included. We enjoyed our drinks and the crispy chicken sandwich with brie and warm grapes. The menu is just as impressive as the beers!  Check out Eater's overview for more details.

Favorite Hobby:
This is my first spring with a city yard. After brainstorming with measuring tape, we realized there is plenty of space to add a raised bed garden this year. We're planning to build it this coming weekend, so to prep K and I went to a free organic garden planning class hosted by Green City Market at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. The class was taught by Jeanne Nolan, of The Organic Gardener. Nolan's company has created over 700 gardens over the years. Nolan also takes care of the Edible Gardens at Lincoln Park Zoo, a hands-on garden education program. I was inspired to pick up Nolan's memoir, From the Ground Up: A Food Grower's Education in Life, Love, and the Movement That's Changing the Nation {<--affiliate link}. More to come on our yard clean-up and garden building!

{Image via Amazon}

Favorite Dinner:
For my birthday a few weeks ago, K and I had dinner at a restaurant that has been on my list for years - Topolobampo. It's one of Rick Bayless' establishments downtown {Bayless of Mexico: One Plate at a Time and Top Chef Masters fame}. We made the reservation back in January since tables fill up 8-10 weeks in advance. It was worth the wait! The menu includes 3, 5 and 7 course options. There are categories of dishes to create your tasting menu, such as vibrant and soulful. We chose the 5 course option with a few wine pairings and each had a completely different {but wonderful} meal. I tried avocado with kumquats, poached black cod, prawns, pheasant, and chocolate cake with mango. Certain menu options change every few weeks. I highly recommend Topolobampo for a special dinner experience!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Fresh Juice After Running - A Jamba Juice Review + Giveaway.

This post brought to you by Jamba Juice. The content and opinions expressed below are that of Chicago Jogger.

Saturday morning started with a leisurely 4 mile run on neighborhood streets, ending with a stop at Jamba Juice in Lakeview to fuel with drinks from their Fresh Juice line. My husband and I tried two juices, and both were fresh pressed right in front of us and delivered within minutes. Drinks in the Ready to Drink Juice Platform are cold pressed and contain 100% juice with no preservatives.

Juice was the perfect fuel after a morning run. I only had a banana before we left, so I was ready for something delicious by the time we finished the workout. We tasted Kale Orange Power and Orange Berry Antioxidant:
  • Orange Berry Antioxidant: For juice lovers that know the more, the merrier, we’ve squeezed this orange and double berry masterpiece. It’s The Works of Juices.
  • Kale Orange Power: Green means go-go-go with this delicious blend of fresh orange juice, kale and bananas. And as good source of vitamins and manganese, it’s hard to stop sipping. Get ready for the perfect fuel to power through your day.

Both juices were flavorful and naturally sweet. Fresh juices are available from Jamba Juice in two sizes, 12 and 16 ounces. The Lakeview location also offers the Tropical Kick-Start and Triple Revitalizer juices, and wheat grass shots if you’re interested in another healthy boost. Juice options may vary by location, but the full menu includes plenty of options:
  • Tropical Greens: For a truly tropical flavor, we’ve combined apples, pineapples, Supergreens, and Chia seeds. This is one island that will never be deserted.
  • Citrus Kick: When you really want to bring up the brightness in your day, try this blend of oranges, apples, pineapples, and ginger. Just don’t forget your sunglasses.
  • Veggie Harvest: Take some apples. Then take some carrots, and beets, and super greens and ginger. Then take a minute to drink it all down and wonder how you ever got through your day without it.
  • Orange Reviver: When your day feels like 5 days, revive with an Orange Reviver. We’ve taken oranges, apples, bananas, beets and Chia seeds and turned them into a spirit-lifting, taste bud-hugging masterpiece of mixology.
  • Carrot Cayenne: Carrots. Apples. Ginger. Cayenne Pepper. It’s carrot with a kick, and it’s going to wake up taste buds you never even knew you had.
  • Garden Medley: Is there such a thing as too many servings of vegetables? Not when they make up a melodious medley like this. Try one and enjoy delicious, perfectly portioned vegetables and a splash of apple, all living together in perfect harmony. Just like Mother Nature intended.
  • Orange Carrot Twist: The fresh, tangy brightness of the orange meets the smooth, earthy sweetness of the carrot. Some things were just meant to be.
  • Triple Revitalizer: Do bananas have juice? Yep. But don’t take our word for it, just ask the oranges and carrots in this awesome blend of potassium-loaded goodness.
  • Tropical Kick-Start: We took the American breakfast staple on a trip to the tropics. The result? A juice blend that will take your taste buds on vacation.

I love how convenient Jamba Juice is and the huge list of of Fresh Squeezed Juices available for a quick, on the go drink. Jamba Juice has always been my number one airport stop for a smoothie while traveling. After trying the Fresh Juice line, I’m also adding it to my list as a stop for healthy, paleo fuel after running.


To try a Fresh Juice from Jamba Juice, make sure to Find Your Closest Store. For a chance to win a $20 Jamba Juice gift card, leave a comment on this post telling me what juice flavor you would try from the Fresh Juice line!

Giveaway is sponsored by Jamba Juice. No purchase is necessary to enter. Leave a comment to enter the giveaway (one entry per person). This giveaway will run until 11:59 PM CST, April 12, 2015. The winner will be randomly selected. Giveaway is open to US residents who are 18 years or older. Winner will be contacted and have 48 hours to reply or the prize is forfeited and another winner will be selected.
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