Friday, July 31, 2015

July Favorites

Since it's the last day of July and Friday, I have a few favorite things to share from this month. It's hard to believe that August starts tomorrow - I'm ready to pack in as much summer fun as possible, including lots of outdoor time on foot and weekly trips to city beaches. We may add a few road trips to our agenda before a busy fall begins.

Bastille Day 8k
My friend J and I ran the annual Bastille Day 8k race earlier this month, held a few days prior to Bastille Day. This was the 34th year for the race, which calls Lincoln Park home. The race benefits a local children's charity, Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. This is a low key race that's fun to do after work, since it starts after 7pm. The race route took looped north through the path in Lincoln Park, past several boat harbors at sunset. It was unseasonably cool, which was ideal for 5 miles! We finished in 50:52, with just over a 10:00/mile pace.

Door County Vacation

K and I spent 8 nights in Door County {Wisconsin} during the first week of July with his family. We celebrated a birthday, our second wedding anniversary, and the 4th of July holiday. It was a very relaxing week and I can't wait to go back this fall. I posted about our trip a few times, including a joint recipe for white fish with my sister-in-law Kristen of Make the Best of Everything. Check out my 4 Running Tips for Vacation and Door County Hairpin 5k Race Recap for more. I also figured out how to take a selfie on a kayak without falling in the water...

Just Salad

The kind folks at Just Salad sent me a free salad card to try out this new lunch spot that opened downtown late this spring. Just Salad is located in the Gibbons Building at 20 E. Jackson Blvd. I have visited a few times since they opened, and stopped by this week for a lunch break. The salad combinations on Just Salad's menu are endless! My favorite so far is the Ultimate Falafel, a salad with baked falafel, red cabbage, romaine lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, and pita chips. Salads are chopped up before being added to a bowl, which I love because you can taste each ingredient in every salad bite. Just Salad offers local, organic and non-GMO options. I'll be heading back soon to try one of their "summer seasonal" salads.

Millennium Park

Last night I met a few friends for a free taping of the NPR radio show Wait Wait Don't Tell Me at Jay Pritzker Pavilion in downtown Chicago. I spend many Saturday mornings listening to this show while making coffee and hanging out in the kitchen. Wait Wait Don't Tell Me is taped weekly at the Chase Auditorium in Chicago, and syndicated on NPR stations across the country. It was a beautiful {hot} evening, and we had a lovely picnic with wine while watching the live taping. There are still a few more free events this summer in Millennium Park - check out the City of Chicago website for more information.

Recipes and running posts from this month:

4 Running Tips for Vacation | Door County Hairpin 5k Race Recap | Scandinavian White Fish Packets | DIY Blueberry Coffee Creamer | Key Lime Pie Energy Bites | Peanut Butter & Jelly Green Smoothie | Vacation Run: Florence, Italy {+ 5 Florence Favorites} | 6 Layer Veggie Sandwich

Here's hoping August lives up to July in summer fun, running, and healthy eats!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

6 Layer Veggie Sandwich

This vegetarian recipe for 6 Layer Veggie Sandwiches is perfect for a hot summer day, with no oven required. Layer goat cheese, hummus, tomato, arugula, cucumber, and avocado together on multigrain bread for a healthy dinner.

We have reached peak summer temperatures here in Chicago, with a high in the upper 80's all week. It's supposed to reach 90 today and it's so humid out there. The last thing I want to do when it's steaming outdoors is turn on the oven - I'm sure you're on the same page.

6 Layer Veggie Sandwiches to the rescue.

The layers in this summer sandwich include:
Goat cheese
Cucumber slices
Tomato slices

This veggie sandwich is packed with flavor, especially if you use goat cheese and/or hummus with a bit of extra kick. I prefer original hummus, but I like to use flavored goat cheese. Earlier this month when K and I were up in Door County {Wisconsin}, we brought home a container of Wild Ramp Goat Cheese from Door County Creamery, located in downtown Sister Bay, WI. I decided to use this flavored goat cheese in my veggie sandwiches and it did not disappoint - so delicious {this is not sponsored, I just love their products}!

The key to veggie sandwiches not falling apart is having a "binder" on each slice of bread - spread goat cheese on one slice and hummus and the other. Smash everything together and dinner is ready. Next time I'm planning to add heirloom tomatoes to kick things up a notch. When I first made this sandwich a few weeks ago, heirlooms weren't available at the farmers market yet.

This is barely a recipe because it's so easy to put together, but I wrote it out just in case :) Stay cool out there!

6 Layer Veggie Sandwich
Yields: 4 sandwiches

8 slices of multi-grain bread
1 avocado
8 Tablespoons goat cheese {apx. 2 Tablespoons per sandwich}
8 Tablespoons hummus {apx. 2 Tablespoons per sandwich}
4 handfuls arugula
1 cucumber {sliced}
1 tomato {sliced}

How to~
*Toast your bread. Layer the sandwiches, spreading goat cheese on one slice of bread and hummus on the other slice. Add tomato slices, arugula, cucumber slices, and avocado.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: None
Total time: 10 minutes


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Vacation Run: Florence, Italy {+ 5 Florence Favorites}

A few weeks ago I posted 4 Running Tips for Vacation. Today I'm back with recap of a vacation run from last summer in Florence, Italy, plus five of my favorite things to do in Florence. My favorites include a few fantastic places to eat, a countryside bike tour from I Bike Italy, and a climb up Giotto's Bell Tower.

K and I spent three nights in Florence during a trip to Europe last summer, where we visited Italy, Switzerland, and Germany. We agreed afterward that Florence was our favorite city destination. This recap has been a long time coming! Florence is a beautiful and charming city with an incredible amount of history and culture to take in. We visited museums and wandered for miles, filling up our water bottles from free public fountains along the way. We also took breaks to rate gelato flavors every day {chocolate orange was the winner}. Gelaterias are on almost every corner.

We stayed at Boscolo Hotel Astoria, which is in the heart of the historic center of Florence. This hotel was the perfect location for exploring the city on foot, and the rooftop view can't be missed. {above}.

Florence Run

One thing I noticed about the city infrastructure during our first afternoon in Florence was the incredibly narrow sidewalk. It varies by street, but in general it's difficult for two to walk {or run!} side by side in the historic area.

This fact, combined with generally crazy traffic {cars, scooters, and bicycles}, and the high summer tourist season meant it was not a good idea to start a run near our centrally-located hotel. I read about the busy "Historic Centre" in advance of this trip, but it was even more full of people and action than expected.

On our second day in the city, we completed the Advanced Bike Tour in the hills of Tuscany through I Bike Italy. It was a wonderful day and I highly recommend it. However, the hills were much steeper than I was used to biking on, being from the Midwest and all.

We planned to fit in a run the morning after the bike tour. It was a good "shake out the legs" workout after climbing hills on bikes for hours. On this run, I didn't worry about how far we went or how fast. Instead, we decided on 75 minutes and stuck with it. We walked south of our hotel towards the Arno River, to find a wider sidewalk and a park we had biked through the day before.

It turns out a small map and compass are key to travel running. We ended up getting lost briefly on winding, angled streets. This short detour took us through the Universedad di Firenze area, which leads to a quiet, residential neighborhood. We ended up finding a wider river sidewalk path southeast of the Ponte Vecchio {"Old Bridge" - above}, a famous pedestrian bridge with dozens of small jewelry and goldsmith shops. This bridge was previously the only way to cross the Arno River in the city, until 1218.

The run took us through the Parco dell' Anconella, a park with lovely shaded trees and views of people rowing quietly on the river. After running through the park, we turned around and wandered back towards our hotel to start our final day of sightseeing. This running experience was the perfect way to see Florence in a new light, and proof that you don't have to completely give up your training regimen, even when you're on vacation.

5 Florence Favorites

1: Sandwich from L'Antico Noe

L'Antico Noe has amazing Italian sandwiches. It's a great stop for a quick sandwich to go, or you can dine on a few tables outdoors {Volta di San Piero 6R 50122, Florence}. We stopped here for lunch during a day of seeing the sights on foot, and found a beautiful pottery shop at the end of the block - Sbigoli Terrecotte {Via Sant’Egidio 4r, Florence}. This is a lovely, family-owned ceramics store. We brought home a few pieces that fit easily into our backpacks - two espresso cups and two small bowls that are now home to tiny succulents in our living room.

2: Bike tour through Tuscany with I Bike Italy

As I mentioned above, K and I finished a full day bike tour with I Bike Italy on this trip. The tour included a small group of tourists from several countries, and an Italian guide. We biked through the hilly Tuscan countryside, with a stop for lunch at a vineyard. Our afternoon bike ride back down to the city included a stop for wine tasting and olive oil tasting at family-run establishments. This tour was a lovely experience! I noticed the company added a running tour option this year as well - The Florence Run. If you're traveling to Florence and looking for an active day, I highly recommend using this company. I Bike Italy has outstanding reviews on Trip Advisor, and several different tour options.

3: Dinner at Quattro Lione {Trattoria 4 Leoni}

Quattro Lione was recommended to us by a friend, and it ended up being my favorite meal on our trip {Via de'Vellutini, 1r | Piazza della Passera, 50125 Florence}. This restaurant is perfect for a special night out, and absolutely delicious. I had gnudi, and we shared the cheesecake for dessert after reading its praises on Yelp. We made a dinner reservation few days in advance through our hotel concierge, but I've heard it is recommended to reserve a few weeks in advance. If you make it to Quattro Lione, don't forget to try a bottle of their Chianti.

4: Climbing Giotto's Campanile {Bell Tower}

The Duomo cathedral is one of the most famous attractions in Florence, and you can get your sweat on climbing it with a reward of fantastic city views. However, we visited Florence during high tourist season {early July} and the line to get tickets to climb the Duomo was long. I have an alternative for you - next to the Duomo is Giotto's Bell Tower, designed in 1334 {Piazza del Duomo | Historical Center, 10000 Florence}. During our visit, the line to climb the Bell Tower was minimal and it's approximately the same height as the Duomo {and only a few hundred feet away}. Climbing the Bell Tower allowed us the same experience, with gorgeous views of the Duomo and the city. It was 400 sweaty steps up to the top, but well worth it.

5: Wandering Mercato Centrale {to eat!}

Eating is clearly a theme on my favorites list. There is just so much fantastic food to try in Florence! Visiting Mercato Centrale is a must do {Piazza del Mercato Centrale, 50123 Florence}. The market is located in the historic center of the city. The first floor is an open-air market, with a variety of stands for produce and other eats. The second floor is a collection of restaurants with seating in the middle of the building. You can find anything your heart desires in this market. We watched the World Cup here and stopped by for lunch AND dinner during our time in Florence. It's a gorgeous space and the food is fantastic.

I hope you enjoyed my Florence experience! We can't wait to return someday.

{A similar version of this post was originally published on the NBC Chicago Stride blog in August 2014.}

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Peanut Butter & Jelly Green Smoothie

This healthy Peanut Butter & Jelly Green Smoothie is a perfect "milkshake" for breakfast, combining a few of my favorite ingredients - blueberries and peanut butter.
This post contains affiliate links.

One of the first recipes I posted on this blog was a "PB&J Smoothie." I discovered green smoothies two summers ago and I've made countless combinations ever since. The Peanut Butter & Jelly Green Smoothie makes at least one weekly appearance for breakfast, and I've updated the recipe after experimenting with ingredients. This smoothie deserves a new post given how delicious blueberries are right now!

The key to a perfect Peanut Butter & Jelly Green Smoothie is to use frozen banana slices and fresh blueberries. Frozen banana slices add a delicious, creamy cold texture to the smoothie, and fresh blueberries have a much better taste than their frozen counterpart. I have been picking up cartons of blueberries at the farmers market on Saturday mornings, and supplementing with grocery store berries during the week.

For greens, I use turnip greens, spinach, or kale. Make sure to add plenty of unsweetened peanut butter {any nut butter will do}. I promise you can't taste the greens! I also started using steel drinking straws a few weeks ago with my smoothies, which are sustainable and easy to clean.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Green Smoothie
Yields: 2 smoothies

3+ handfuls greens
2 bananas {frozen; sliced}
1 and 1/4 cup blueberries
2 Tablespoons unsweetened peanut butter
2 cups unsweetened almond milk

Optional: 2 Tablespoons plain yogurt

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: None
Total time: 5 minutes


Friday, July 17, 2015

Key Lime Pie Energy Bites

This simple snack recipe for Key Lime Pie Energy Bites is perfect for a healthy snack, with only four ingredients and no added sugar.

Happy Friday! This week has absolutely flown by and I can't wait for the weekend. We have good friends visiting and staying at our house, and plans to enjoy the beach and attempt to stay cool in the very hot weather that's on the way {I heard a rumor about a 100+ degree heat index on Saturday - yikes}. When it's smoking hot outside, the last thing I want to do is turn on the oven. Enter no bake energy bites.

This particular version of energy bites is very dessert-like, channeling the flavors of Key Lime Pie. You can also use regular limes if you don't have access to key limes. Key limes are a lot smaller than regular limes, and are considered ripe when they are closer to yellow in color - yellow means a sweeter lime taste. {source} I found a bag of key limes at my local Mariano's grocery store. You can also use regular limes or lime juice if needed.

I made this recipe twice over the past month, and I rolled half of one batch in unsweetened coconut flakes for a bit of extra crunch. Either way, these bites are perfect for a hot summer weekend snack!

Key Lime Pie Energy Bites
Yields: 16 energy bites

24 pitted dates*
1 cup raw almonds
1/3 cup golden raisins
10 key limes {juiced, seeds removed} or 3 Tablespoons of lime juice

Optional: 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

*Note: I used California dates for this recipe, which are smaller than Medjool dates.

*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 use a medium cookie scoop and your hands to form the mix into balls.
*Optional step: Roll in unsweetened coconut flakes.
*Refrigerate covered for ~2 hours or overnight to harden.
*Keep refrigerated in a covered container - these bites should last cooled for one week, and longer if frozen.

For more energy bite ideas, check out these recipes:

Monday, July 13, 2015

DIY Blueberry Coffee Creamer

I have an easy, do-it-yourself recipe for Blueberry Coffee Creamer to share this morning that only contains three ingredients and no added sugar! This recipe makes enough creamer to add flavor to your morning coffee all week.

This post contains affiliate links.

I'm a daily coffee drinker, and I used to always sweeten my cups with flavored coffee creamer. Over the past year, I have phased this out of my diet after I realized how many additives are included in most coffee creamers. Many versions don't even contain "real" dairy. I cut flavored creamers entirely in January of this year, and started doctoring up my coffee with unsweetened vanilla almond milk and a splash of half and half instead.

Sometimes I miss the extra sweetness from flavored creamers, but I prefer to avoid adding sugar to my breakfast as much as possible. I ordered blueberry powder last week from Amazon with the idea that blueberry flavor would make a perfect addition to my coffee. Turns out it does, and this DIY coffee creamer takes just a few minutes to make!

Blueberry powder is made from real blueberries with no added sugars, containing 1/2 cup of blueberry goodness in each Tablespoon. I used two for this recipe, which gives this creamer tons of delicious blueberry flavor. I stored my DIY creamer in a glass cruet dispenser {pictured below}, which is perfect to add just the right amount of flavor to a morning cup.

DIY Blueberry Coffee Creamer
Makes 1 and 1/4 cups {apx. 20 Tablespoons}

1 cup unsweetened almond milk
2 Tablespoons half and half
2 Tablespoons blueberry powder

How to~
*Add ingredients to a bowl. Whisk for ~15 seconds.
*Add mixture to a blender and puree for ~30 seconds.
*Store in the refrigerator for one week. Shake as needed before adding to your coffee.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Scandinavian White Fish Packets.

As I have mentioned on this blog a few times, my sister-in-law Kristen is the author of the popular blog Make the Best of Everything. Kristen and I were up in Door County together last week for vacation and decided to prepare a family dinner together celebrating Scandinavian ingredients! This turned into a "joint" blog post, and today we are both sharing how to make Scandinavian White Fish Foil Packets, Two Ways.

Door County is located on a peninsula in Wisconsin, surrounded by Green Bay and Lake Michigan. The area has a long Scandinavian heritage, which works well for Kristen and I because we do too. My family is Norwegian and Danish and Kristen's family {my husband's family} has Swedish ancestors. I'm so happy to have married into this family and gained a sister!

We had so much fun on this joint vacation, and I loved spending an entire week with Kristen and her family. For this joint recipe post, Kristen and I decided to make a traditional Scandinavian meal with our own flair, using white fish. Kristen's version of foil packet white fish is Maple-Mustard-Dill White Fish. Click over to Make the Best of Everything to read her recipe! My version is Scape-Dill-Butter White Fish, which can be found at the end of this post.

We went shopping with my mother-in-law for ingredients the day we made Scandinavian White Fish Packets, and our most important stop was at a local fishery to pick up white fish for that night. We visited Hickey's Harbor Fish Market in Baileys Harbor. If you're ever up in Door County and looking for fish to cook, I highly recommend visiting this market!

We went straight home to make dinner. These foil packet white fish recipes are easy to make and a crowd pleaser since you can provide two different flavors. Kristen and I started this dinner with Lingonberry cocktails, made with locally purchased Lingonberry drink concentrate. You can also find it here {<--affiliate link}. To make one cocktail, stir together 1/2 shot of vodka, 4 teaspoons Lingonberry concentrate, seltzer water, two mint leaves, and ice.

We served our white fish foil packets for dinner with roasted potatoes and salad. It was fun to serve fish in two different ways, because everyone got to try different flavors. We ended up splitting the fish into several pieces so we could all get a taste! We baked our foil fish packets in the oven, but you can also put these on the grill. Don't forget to visit Make the Best of Everything for the Maple-Mustard-Dill version!

Scape-Dill-Butter White Fish
Serves 4.

2 white fish filets {de-boned}
3 garlic scapes {chopped into 1/4 inch pieces}
3 Tablespoons dill {finely chopped}
4 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

How to~ 
*Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
*Melt butter in the microwave or on the stovetop.
*Finely chop dill. Chop garlic scapes into 1/4 inch pieces. Add dill, garlic scapes, black pepper, and salt to the melted butter. Mix well.
*Add the butter and herb mixture to the top of each piece of fish {about 2 Tablespoons per piece}. Wrap tightly in a foil packet, approximately 12x12" in size.
*Bake at 425 degrees for ~20 minutes.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Door County Hairpin 5k Race Recap.

How was your holiday weekend? I'm getting back into the swing of things at home. As I mentioned last Friday, I spent last week up north in Door County, in Wisconsin. Door County is a 4-5 hour drive north of Chicago. I had a wonderful time hanging out with K's family. We had a full week of activities to celebrate the 4th of July holiday, wrapping up our last day of vacation bright and early on Saturday with the Door County Hairpin 5k Run/Walk in Fish Creek.

Fish Creek is located in the middle of Door County, with water views on the Green Bay side. The village includes a cute commercial district, with a variety of shops and restaurants. It's also home to Peninsula State Park and the Northern Sky Theater. A few of my favorite places to go in Fish Creek: The White Gull Inn for a traditional fish boil; The Cookery for dinner and wine; and the Blue Horse Beach Cafe for coffee and smoothies.

{The view from inside Peninsula State Park}

The Door County Hairpin 5k race is an annual event presented by Friends of Gibralter, with proceeds benefiting Gibralter Schools. The race course wound through beautiful neighborhood streets in the woods, on bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan. It was a warm and humid morning, with sunny skies. The first mile was uphill {to get to the top of the bluff!}, but the rest of the 5k was a downward slope which was really fun for a run.

The village of Fish Creek has a population of just under 1,000 people, and the Door County Hairpin 5k race had 1,102 timed running finishers this year. There were a few hundred more non-timed runners and walkers that finished the event as well. K and I ran and my in-laws finished the walk race. This was their first time participating in a race, and I think they enjoyed it! Overall, this 5k race was fun and and well organized.

Race results:
  • Finished in 30:22
  • 9:47/minute mile
  • 574th overall
Participating in a race on a holiday was a great way for us to exercise before barbecue time. We went straight to the 4th of July parade and festival in Baileys Harbor, and ended the day with wine, music, and fireworks back in Fish Creek.

    Friday, July 3, 2015

    4 Running Tips for Vacation.

    Running is the perfect travel workout because it requires minimal gear and can be done anywhere, weather permitting. I am up in Door County in northern Wisconsin this week, vacationing with K's family. Luckily Door County is full of ways to stay active, and the weather has been perfect. Below are four running tips for vacation, and a recap of my workouts so far this week.

    This post contains affiliate links.

    1) Plan Ahead: Map My Run is a great resource to find recommended running routes across the world. For many countries, including international destinations, a search is possible by city or region. Trip Advisor is also helpful to review comments and personal experiences. I have been focusing on trail runs on this trip, since there are so many fantastic state parks in Door County.

    {One active option - a run on Sunset Trail in Peninsula State Park}

    2) Don’t Forget Your Shoes: Also, don’t forget to search the weather forecast before deciding what type of running gear to pack!

    My running-related packing list includes:
    -Running shoes.
    -Two outfits – socks, shorts, lightweight shirt, sports bra, light hat.
    -Running belt.
    -Bug spray.
    -Travel packets of cold water laundry soap. 

     {My favorite yogurt parfait after a morning walk - Base Camp Door County, in Sister Bay}

    3) Keep Safety in Mind: Ask your hotel or local travel office for advice to figure out the safest neighborhood and streets where it is best to run in your destination. Consider bringing compass, a map, and a small amount of money on a run in case you need to take a cab or train back to your hotel. This is not an issue in Door County, but this is a tip I always keep in mind running in cities. I own a travel compass to take on city trips, one that will easily fit in my running pack. I also have laminated, foldable city maps ready to go that came with travel books we purchased. 

     {The view after a run, at Sister Bay Marina}

    4) Relax Your Workout Schedule: Consider leaving your headphones in your hotel room -– use running as an opportunity to experience your surroundings. I plan to squeeze in a run during morning hours when possible, before the heat of the day and vacation mode sets in. Don’t sweat it if your travel runs aren’t the fastest, best workouts. It takes approximately two weeks of rest to start losing your fitness level.

    Here are my vacation workouts for the past week:
    • Sunday: 4 mile run; ~15 mile bike ride
    • Monday: ~20 mile bike ride; 2 mile hike {Eagle Trail} at Peninsula State Park
    • Tuesday: 3.5 mile run
    • Wednesday: 3.5 mile hike at Newport State Park; 2 hours kayaking
    • Thursday: 45 minute early morning walk; 2 mile trail run at Peninsula State Park; 5 miles walking

    Today we are taking a ferry to Washington Island, 6 miles off the tip of Door County, to bike and check out the sites. On Saturday morning we are running the Hairpin 5k race in Fish Creek, to celebrate Independence Day. There will be pie:

    My favorite treat in Door County is cherry pie from Seaquist Orchards. I think it's especially fitting for this week - have an active {and safe} 4th of July holiday!

    {A similar version to this post was originally published on the NBC Chicago Stride blog in July 2014, as I was preparing for a trip to Europe.}