Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cherry Pie Smoothie.

This Cherry Pie Smoothie is a healthy breakfast version of my favorite summer dessert, combining frozen tart cherries, almond milk, oats, greens, and more.

It has been a hot minute since I posted a new smoothie recipe. Smoothies are still a frequent breakfast staple in this house, in-between versions of overnight oats. One of my favorite smoothie concoctions for summer is a Green Peach Smoothie, which reminds me of peach pie because of the cinnamon + vanilla flavors. I have been thinking about how to make another summery pie into an acceptable form of breakfast, and I think this is it!

Tart cherries are the best summer treat, especially if they come from Door County in Wisconsin. I can't wait to head up there later this summer, but until then this recipe will have to do. This smoothie also includes rolled oats to give it extra staying power for a busy morning.

Cherry Pie Smoothie
Makes 2 smoothies

3 handfuls kale or spinach greens
2 bananas
2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 cup frozen cherries
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/8 teaspoon almond extract

I leave you with the peony bush in my yard - while taking smoothie photos this morning, I noticed they are so close to fully blooming. Can't wait!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Five Chicagoland Races in June.

Memorial Day weekend always marks the "unofficial" start to summer for me. I can't wait for al fresco dining, bike rides along Lake Michigan, barbecues, and summer travel plans! Evening walks and warm morning runs are also at the top of my list. Registering for a few fun races is great motivation to train. There are so many fantastic road races in the Chicagoland area over the summer months, so I'm starting a new monthly feature to list a few interesting race options.

Where will you be running this summer?

June 6

Capital Nutrition Run for Vets 5k - Orland Park

{Image via Run for Vets 5k website}

Capital Nutrition is hosting its 3rd annual Run for Vets 5k race, to raise awareness and funds to help military veterans heal emotional wounds by pairing them with shelter dogs. This race helps both shelter dogs and veterans. Proceeds go to the Pets For Vets charity. Race organizers have also teamed up with the Disabled Patriot Fund. Their goal is to provide financial relief for local U.S. veterans in financial crisis or in need of financial aid.

There are goodie bags, t-shirts, and other prizes for runners. Register for the race here 

June 14

PAWS Run for their Lives 8k Run/4k Walk - Montrose Harbor, Chicago

PAWS Chicago is a local no-kill animal shelter in the city, and the annual 8k run/4k walk race is a fundraiser to benefit homeless pets. 100% of donations from participants help the organization rescue thousands of homeless kitties and dogs yearly. This cause is close to my heart, as I have a cat rescued from a local animal shelter. Register for the race here.

I ran this race in 2014 {race recap here} and I'm back this year with a team of runners to raise money for PAWS! Our team is Dogs and Cats Living Together. Taken from Ghostbusters, obviously. Check out my fundraising page if you are interested in donating - every dollar counts. My team is currently in second place overall among fundraisers!

The Double Road Race - Villa Park 

 {Image via Double Road Race website}

This is a race created by Bob Anderson, the founder of Runners World Magazine. The race includes two running stages - racers get a halftime in-between. Halftime is referred to as the Recovery Zone. As described on the website,  this is where runners can stretch, listed to live music, talk with healthcare professionals, and even get a massage! Read more about the background of Double Racing here.

There are three options for this race - a 15k {split into a 10k and 5k}; an 8k {split into a 5k and 3k}; and a Kids Cup Challenge {split into a 1 mile and half mile run}. Register for the race here. {<-- affiliate link}

June 21

Color in Motion 5k - Montrose Beach, Chicago

 {Image via Color in Motion website}

This popular fun run 5k comes back to Montrose Beach this year. Runners/walkers wear white t-shirts and are hit with a variety of colors during the race. The dye is safe and washable after the race. The Color in Motion 5k is partnering again with Special Olympics Illinois. Special Olympics Illinois provides opportunities for more than 21,000 athletes, 40,000 volunteers and thousands more people statewide through 19 area programs in all 102 counties of the state. A portion of all proceeds from the race will benefit Special Olympics Illinois

If you want to join in on this vibrant event, register for the race here.

June 27

Proud to Run 10k Run and 5k Run/Walk - Chicago

{Image via Proud to Run Chicago website}

The Proud to Run race is part of Chicago's Gay and Lesbian Pride Week activities. The race is an annual event that has been running {literally!} since 1982. Read more about Proud to Run here.

The event takes place along the lakefront, focusing on celebrating pride in and raising funds to support the greater Chicago area LGBTQ community. This race is organized by an all volunteer, community based board of directors. Register for the race here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Superfood Vegan Chocolate Pudding.

This Superfood Vegan Chocolate Pudding recipe gives pudding a makeover with almond milk, cacao powder and naturally sweet dates.

This post contains affiliate links. 

Before I get to the healthy dessert recipe today, I have to share a Chicago story about chocolate. I work downtown in the Loop, and several times a week I get a strong whiff of chocolate walking to and from the L. When I saw it's strong, I mean it - the scent is similar to opening the oven in your kitchen to a baking pan of brownies. The chocolate smell comes from Blommer Chocolate Company, located downtown in the West Loop.

This phenomenon has been written about many times {WBEZ; Chicago Tribune; and Fodor's Travel}. Someone even created a Daily Chicago Chocolate Smell Map to track the odor. Whenever I smell the Blommer factory, a chocolate craving inevitably hits. I finally have a healthy snack to answer for this - Superfood Vegan Chocolate Pudding!

I was home visiting my family last week, and I had the urge to create a new healthy snack recipe. While perusing my mom's cupboard, I found Cacao Powder, a version of raw unsweetened chocolate that is considered a "superfood." Cacao powder contains flavonoids, which may help lower blood pressure and blood flow to the brain/heart. {source} I decided to make this  pudding in individual serving cups, using vegan milk.

Instead of processed or refined sugar, this pudding is sweetened naturally with Medjool dates. To create a very creamy pudding consistency, I pureed pitted dates in a blender with unsweetened vanilla almond milk prior to cooking the pudding on the stovetop.

I hope you enjoy!

Superfood Vegan Chocolate Pudding
Yields: 9 servings

5 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
6 Tablespoons cornstarch
8 dates {pitted}
3 Tablespoons Cacao Powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

*Puree dates with almond milk in a blender, until smooth.
*Remove the milk/date mixture and whisk in cacao powder for ~2 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract.
*Divide the liquid mixture in half - to one half, add 3 Tablespoons of cornstarch. Add the other half to the stovetop in a pan on medium low.
*When the liquid comes to a simmer, add the rest of the cornstarch and whisk until smooth. Add the other half of the liquid mixture and continue cooking.
*Whisk every few minutes to ensure the pudding stays smooth. Continue cooking on medium low for ~10 minutes, until the mixture comes to a boil and begins to thicken.
*Turn the heat to low and continue cooking for at least ~5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
*Pour pudding into ramekins. Chill in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 2 hours.

{Adapted from hell yeah it's vegan! - Vegan Chocolate Pudding}

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Best Places to Run in Chicago: Ravenswood.

Instead of sticking to the usual lakefront path on your weekend run, consider mixing it up with a neighborhood jog through Ravenswood to get your miles in.

Since I moved to Chicago in 2008, I have lived in or within walking distance of Ravenswood on Chicago's North Side. It's a relatively quiet, but beautiful, neighborhood bordered by Montrose Avenue to the south, Ashland to the east, Foster to the north and the Chicago River to the west.

Running in a new neighborhood is a fantastic way to get to know the area, and Ravenswood is a neighborhood that seems built for runners. From its leafy, historic side streets to its many wonderful small businesses, a route through Ravenswood is perfect for a serene Saturday morning run.

If you have time to make a day trip out of it, make sure to stop by River Valley Farmer's Table for lunch or Margie's Candies for ice cream post-workout.

Here is my suggested 5k running route through Ravenswood:
  • Start at the Montrose Brown Line station and run east a few blocks to Paulina Avenue
  • Heat north on Paulina to Winnemac Avenue
  • Go west on Winnemac to Winnemac Park, and follow the path across the park and back
  • Run east on Winnemac to Hermitage Avenue
  • Head south on Hermitage, ending at Montrose

{This post was originally published on the NBC Chicago Stride blog in May 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.}

Friday, May 8, 2015

Meyer Lemon Snack Bars.

I'm on a lemon kick! A few weeks ago I posted Lemon Cream Pie Overnight Oats, and this morning I have a new citrus recipe for you - Meyer Lemon Snack Bars.

K and I have both been super busy at work lately, and I find it helps so much to have plenty of healthy, easy foods on hand. For me, that includes options with no added sugar for an afternoon snack. I have posted several recipes for energy bites on this blog over the past year {PB&J Energy Bites; Chocolate Strawberry Coconut Energy Bites; and Healthy Pumpkin Spice Bites}. However, this is my first recipe for energy bars!

Meyer lemons have a fantastic little secret, if you haven't tried them before - they are naturally sweeter than regular lemons. The reason Meyer lemons are sweeter is because they were mixed with oranges at one point in time. As I read on the kitchn, Meyers get their signature sweetness from a bit of mandarin orange in their family tree. Meyer lemons are ripe when they are deep yellow in color. I purchased a bag of these beauties at Marianos. You can also find Meyer lemons on Amazon {<--affiliate link}.

This recipe combines almonds, dates, and dried pears with Meyer lemon juice. If you don't have dried pears available, golden raisins would work well as a substitute. I like making bars a bit smaller than what you can buy in the store. That way you can have two! I used an 8x8 Calphalon pan {<--affiliate link} to make these bars, and cut them in squares that are approximately 2x2 inches in size.

Meyer Lemon Snack Bars
Makes 16 bars.

1 cup raw almonds
16 Medjool dates {pitted}
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon {seeds removed}
6 dried pears {unsweetened}
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

How to~ 
*Add all ingredients to a food processor. Process the mixture a few times. Stop the processor and use a spatula to re-combine the mix if needed.
*Keep processing until the ingredients are evenly combined {I like to use the "pulse" function}.
*Remove from the food processor and press into an 8x8 cake pan lined with parchment paper.
*Refrigerator covered for ~2 hours or overnight to harden.
*Keep refrigerated in a covered container - the bars should last cooled for one week, and longer if frozen.

Monday, May 4, 2015

3 Ways to Achieve 2015 Running Goals.

As summer approaches, it's time to take a step back and evaluate -- or re-evaluate -- your New Year's resolutions. If you're having trouble hitting the running goals you set out for yourself early in 2015, don't give up just yet. Instead, take a second look at your resolutions and break them down into doable increments.

1) Choose an Achievable Mileage Goal

Set a personal goal to run a specific number of miles in 2015. If you use a tracking app like MapMyRun or Nike+, it's easily to track your mileage progress on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. The MapMyRun app sends weekly and monthly emails with details on progress, and the Nike+ app allows you to set a challenge for yourself for a specific number of miles over a decided time period, as long as you invite at least one other Nike+ friend.

I find it helpful to create a challenge on a monthly basis, but this year I'm also setting a challenge for the entire year. My goal this year is to run 600 miles, which is an average of 50 miles per month. In 2015, I ran close to 500 miles. I had to take several weeks off mid-summer due to a move and a long vacation, so I know 600 miles would be a challenging but achievable goal in the New Year. (If you want to join the "Chi Jogger 600 in 2015" challenge, add me as a friend in Nike+. My username is Chicago_Jogger.)

2) Identify Areas of Improvement

Running isn't only about pounding the pavement and counting miles. Whole body fitness, endurance and strength are important components to staying health and keeping your goals, too.

If you're struggling with the mileage, stop counting for a while and instead identify two areas that you would like to improve that are related to overall fitness. Commit to finishing workouts on a regular basis that help you achieve these goals. Perhaps you are a regular runner and an expert at weekly cardio workouts, but need to work on core strength. Or you may be someone (like me) who struggles to stay motivated to lift weights every week.

In 2015, I am focusing on arm strength and overall endurance through high-intensity full-body workouts and weightlifting. My resolution is to complete two workouts per week that focus on these goals. I frequently browse Pinterest for workout motivation and ideas, and I'm planning on relying on my husband to teach me new weightlifting moves.

3) Step Out of your Comfort Zone
Lastly, remember that achieving goals is also about stepping out of your comfort zone. You can do this in several ways, including trying a new class. It's a great idea to have other workouts in mind if you need to take a few days off from regular running or when the weather is not amenable to an evening jog.

Many gyms and fitness studios have sales, and you can always find new fitness companies in the Chicago area on deal websites like Groupon. My first step towards this goal was to purchase a 10-pack of dance/core fitness classes from Groupon with a friend. If you're like me and your dancing ability is on par with Elaine from Seinfeld, then this type of workout is the perfect way to do something fun while also pushing yourself to try something new.

{This post was originally published on the NBC Chicago Stride blog in February 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.}