Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Homemade No-Bake Granola Bars

Granola bars are one of the best snack foods. They're portable, so it's easy to have one with you, no matter where you are. I like having them around when I'm traveling, and in my gym bag as a pre-workout snack (or post-workout snack!)

They're packed with lots of energy-rich food, like oats, nuts, and dried fruit. Best of all, when you make them yourself, you can decide what to put in them! Feel free to switch out any of these ingredients for your favorites - you can switch out peanut butter for any nut butter you prefer, and use your favorite nuts and dried fruit instead of those listed. Coconut would be a great addition. You can even add chocolate chips! However, if you are doing that, I would recommend waiting until everything has cooled slightly, so you don't melt all of the chocolate.

I know you might be wondering, well why would anything be hot if these are no-bake bars?? You do end up heating things - you heat the honey and peanut butter together, so they're liquid enough to coat everything well. And you toast the oats and nuts for better flavor. If you don't want to turn on your oven, you can skip that step, but I would recommend using pre-toasted ingredients if possible. For the part on the stove - well you can use your microwave if you really don't want to turn on the stove. These are called "no-bake," because you don't have to bake the bars once you press them out in the pan.

Recipe: Homemade No-Bake Granola Bars
Yield: 16 large bars or 24 small bars

2 cups rolled (old fashioned) oats
3/4 cup wheat germ
1 3/4 cups seeds/nuts (we used 3/4 cup pecans, 3/4 cup almonds, and 1/4 cup of a sunflower/flax seed combo)
2/3 cup honey
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup dried fruit (we used 1/2 cup chopped dried plums and 1/2 cup raisins)


Preheat oven to 400 F and line a large baking sheet with foil. Mix together the oats, wheat germ, and nuts, and spread out on the pan. Bake for 10 minutes, keeping a close eye on them so they don't burn.

Line a glass 9x13 pan with wax paper, and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a small pan (I like using a small nonstick frying pan to make it faster), mix the honey, peanut butter, salt and vanilla over low heat, until melted and well mixed.

Pour the toasted oats and nuts in a large bowl, and add the dried fruit.

Pour the melted honey and peanut butter over, and stir until everything is evenly mixed. Dump out into the prepared pan, and use an offset spatula to press down evenly. Make sure you press down really hard - this will prevent the bars from falling apart later.

Cool completely before cutting - it works best if you have refrigerated them first. The bars keep well in the fridge, since it prevents them from being sticky. If you would prefer to eat them at room temp, just pull them out of the fridge one or two at a time, about an hour before you want to eat them.

You can cut these into however many bars you would like. If you want them to be the typical "granola bar size," you can cut them into 16 bars (8x2). You can make them a bit smaller, and cut them into 24 bars also (6x4). I have included nutritional information for both sizes below. I find that it's easiest to lift up the wax paper, and put the whole thing on a cutting board. Use a large, sharp, non-serrated knife and press down firmly with each cut.

Nutrition (for 16 bars/for 24 bars):
247 calories/165 calories
12 g fat/8 g fat
32 g carbs/21 g carbs
4.5 g fiber/3 g fiber
6.8 g protein/4.5 g protein

The calories might be a bit high in the large bars, but they're packed with so much good stuff!

Nuts and oats, freshly toasted

Honey and peanut butter melted. 
Don't mind my dirty stove...

Nuts/oats in a large mixing bowl

Prunes/raisins on top, honey/peanut butter mixture ready to be poured

Action shot!

Start mixing everything together until it looks like the picture on the right

Press everything down REALLY firmly, so you have compact bars that don't fall apart

Finished product!

Close up - you can see what a great job Joey did of cutting them

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Charlottesville Women's 4 Miler - 2014 Recap

I recently wrote a very belated post about the running I did in August, mostly emphasizing that I had barely done any! This was even with the extra effort I made to get in some miles in preparation for the Women's 4 Miler. I remember feeling unprepared last year for the 4 Miler, but this year was even worse. And then, to add onto that, I came down with a cold 5 days before the race. Joey caught the cold about a week before I did, so I unfortunately knew what to expect. In the days before the race, I barely had enough energy to do my normal activities, let alone go out for a run. The last run I ended up doing before the Saturday race was on Tuesday. I had planned on doing a run on Thursday, and a little shakeout jog on Friday, but couldn't muster the energy.

Instead, I spent as much time as I could resting. On Friday, I walked a mile to the packet pickup for the race, and even that felt taxing. I was in such a fog! Everyone there was so happy and excited, that it helped pick me up a bit. I remembered from the previous year, that they sold race tees from earlier years, and made sure to bring cash with me. I picked up the 2012 shirt (I already had the 2013 shirt from last year) and a pair of running socks, for a total of $8. The 2012 shirt was pink with silver writing, the new 2014 shirt was HOT pink with white writing, and the 2013 shirt I got last year was baby blue with pink writing. All of the shirts are made by the same company, and fit exactly the same - I really like the fit, so I'm excited that I have three of them now!

With the combination of general lack of training, and feeling really crappy, I decided my only goal would be finishing. That was it - there was no way I could make any pace goals. The cold was completely in my head at this point, with congestion, headache, and runny nose. I had some doubts as to whether I would even be able to finish the race!

In the end, not only did I finish the race, but I was just under a 10 minute pace! I definitely didn't feel great during it, and there was a point around 2.5 miles, where I just wanted to stop. I was so glad that I pushed myself through that point, and that I did the race at all. Joey was great, and came out to support me, even though he wasn't through with the cold himself.

One thing I'll note - this is the only race where the distance on my gps device (garmin watch in this case) was actually shorter than the official race distance. Usually I end up tracking slightly longer than the official distance (10.08 miles for the 10 Miler, 5.08 miles for the 8k, 6.42 for the 10k and 3.21 for the 5k - okay, you get the point). This time, the garmin had recorded 3.94 miles for the 4.00 mile race. Last year I used runkeeper, which recorded 4.07, although I've noticed that runkeeper always over-estimates mileage. Either way, this time I had the pleasant surprise of finding that my calculated pace was actually faster than what I was seeing on my watch!

Official results:

Everything set up, the night before the race. This was the first race where I actually wore the race shirt. I think that I can be picky about what I wear when working out, and don't like wearing anything new. Since this year's shirt was exactly the same as last year's (except the color), I knew I already liked it. The 2012 shirt is seen in the bottom left - it's slightly darker in color than the 2014 shirt. And what do you wear when you're wearing a neon pink shirt? Bright orange shorts, of course!

In my typical "post-race" stance. Why do I scrunch my face up so much when I smile? 

My post-race food. Since clearly, running 4 miles entitles me to eat 3000 calories, all in carbs
Btw, that bagel at the top (in the shape of a ribbon) was the best thing ever. I believe it was cherry vanilla with walnuts? Panera needs to make that all the time

Also, I love my new running socks (pictured below)! They only had size large, which I believe is one size too big, but I think they still worked out okay. I would definitely buy more pairs.

Penne with Vodka Sauce

Penne with vodka sauce is one of those dishes I've always been intrigued by. Everyone raves about it, plus cooking with booze always seems like fun. When someone from my lab gifted me with 3 lbs of tomatoes from her garden, and instructed me that they would be best when cooked, I knew I wanted to make this dish. I didn't really think about the fact that I don't normally like tomato sauces. I somehow knew that this would transcend normal tomato sauce.

Almost every recipe I've seen for vodka sauce has started with canned tomatoes, and I would be using fresh. Because of this, I ended up combining a few recipes, and just making everything work with what I had. I'm really pleased with how it all turned out, and would definitely make this again. I'd be curious to see if the flavor profile changes when using canned tomatoes instead of fresh. I would think that using fresh tomatoes would make it taste more, well, fresh. Although they're cooked for so long, that it's possible you end up losing any extra freshness.

Recipe: Penne with Vodka Sauce
Adapted from Serious Eats
Yield: 3-4 servings

2 tbsp butter
1/2 small onion, finely diced/minced
1/2 tsp salt
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tbsp tomato paste
28 oz can crushed tomatoes, or 2 lbs plum tomatoes, peeled, cored and crushed (see below for instructions)
1/3 cup vodka
1 lb penne pasta
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup milk or cream
4 oz goat cheese
parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. This will take a while, so let's get started on the sauce.

2. In a large sauce pan, heat butter over medium heat. Add onion and 1/2 tsp salt, and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper, black pepper, basil, and tomato paste, and stir well. Cook for another minute, being careful to avoid scorching. Add crushed tomatoes and vodka, and bring back to a hearty simmer. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently. This will cook off (most of) the alcohol, and reduce the sauce.

3. Once your pasta water is boiling, add the pasta, and give it a few stirs to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom. Cook until the pasta is not quite al dente. Drain the pasta, but don't forget to save some pasta water. I like using a scoop to pull out the pasta, so I don't forget, and pour all of the pasta down the drain. Let the pasta hang out in a separate bowl until the sauce is done.

4. Once the sauce has reduced and the alcohol has cooked off, you have a few options. If you like a chunky sauce, then leave it as is. If you want a completely smooth sauce, then (CAREFULLY) put it in the blender. I like it somewhere in the middle, so it isn't really chunky, but still has some texture. To achieve this, I use my immersion blender (also called a stick blender). I can focus on any large chunks, and try to smooth out the sauce, while still retaining some texture. Regardless of what you do, just make sure to be careful! The sauce is hot, and splatters will definitely hurt. Once you have your desired texture, give it a taste, and add any salt and pepper as necessary.

5. Put the sauce pan back over medium heat, and add the milk and goat cheese. Cook 1-2 minutes, until heated through, and goat cheese has melted. Stir in the pasta, and bring back to a hearty simmer. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until your pasta has finished cooking, and the sauce has thickened. Add pasta water to thin out the sauce as necessary. Serve immediately, with a generous sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese (optional, but not really).

This sauce can be scaled up or down, as necessary. If you want to make just a single portion, I would recommend making the full amount of sauce through step 4, and making just enough pasta for one serving, about 3 oz. Then, put the drained pasta in a smaller pan with some of the sauce, and add 1 tbsp milk and 1 oz goat cheese, and proceed as instructed. You can store the rest of the sauce (without any milk/cheese) in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for several months.

Using fresh tomatoes:
Instructions from The Yummy Life
Start with 2 lbs of fresh tomatoes - plum tomatoes work really well. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Using a sharp knife, score an "x" on the end opposite the core. Add tomatoes to boiling water, putting only a few in at a time. Boil for 30-60 seconds, then remove and put in a bowl of ice water. Continue working in batches until all tomatoes have been boiled. Don't leave the tomatoes in the ice water for too long, or they might start to freeze! Once they are cool enough to handle, remove them from the water, and the skin should pull off pretty easily. Put the peeled tomatoes in a big bowl, and (this part is fun), crush with your hands. For best results, crush one tomato at a time - this way you can make sure you pull out any bad parts, and the core. You should get about 3 - 3 1/2 cups of crushed tomatoes, and use all of that for the recipe.

My tomatoes, crushed by hand (it felt pretty nice)

The diced onion on the right, and some rough chopped garlic on the left. It will be minced more finely before I add it in

The onion cooking in butter, not quite ready

The onion has browned more now, and the garlic, tomato paste, and seasoning has been added in

The tomatoes have been added in, as well as the vodka

This is what I call a "hearty simmer" - with lots of bubbling

My individual serving of pasta - 3 oz of veggie penne

The finished sauce, pulled off to the side so I can use my immersion blender

Pasta and a generous helping of sauce, in a small sauce pan

Back up to a hearty simmer, with the milk and goat cheese added

The sauce is exactly where I want it - thick and creamy, and the pasta has cooked perfectly

Bowl of deliciousness

I wouldn't be me if I didn't add a bunch of cheese on top!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Race Recap: Michie Tavern Downtown Mile

This post is way overdue! Two months after the fact, I'm going to tell you about a race I ran in July.

My friend Ann is very well-known member of both the running community and the yoga community here in Charlottesville. She is the founder of the "Runners Love Yoga" movement/philosophy, which promotes yoga as a way to make you a stronger, faster, and less-injured runner.

Ann contacted me about the Downtown 1 Mile, a few weeks before the race. She told me that Runners Love Yoga was holding a Healthy Living Expo, and there was going to be a one mile race that went along with the Expo. Notus Sports, the company hosting the race, was looking for some bloggers in the area that would write about the race and Expo.

I was very excited to be involved, but also a little nervous, considering the fact that I had barely run at all since the 10 Miler in March. I was of course honored that I was asked to participate in a race, for free!

Fast forward a few weeks, and it was the day of the race. It has been threatening to rain all day, and I was really hoping it would hold off. I'm not sure I would have ended up running if it really did rain! I had all of my clothing options lined up, as usual, in preparation.

I got downtown early, so I could walk around, and check out the other race groups. You signed up for a specific type of 1 mile race. The first race was a team relay, that was timed and scored. This was followed by both the family race, and the non-competitive run/walk. Both of these options were supposed to be timed, but not scored, so you wouldn't see your results. The next race was the middle school mile, which was timed and scored for all middle school runners. Finally, the elite races were run for men and women separately, and these of course were timed and scored.

When I signed up, I wasn't sure which group to put myself in. The previous year was the first year this race was held, and it looked like it had been consolidated into one group, since there was a wide range of recorded times. I'm clearly not an elite runner, and never would have put myself in that group normally. However, I did want an official recording of my time, and it appeared that this was the only way I could get it.

They had a bunch of volunteers from Notus Sports to help out with registration

Some runners from the family/non-competitive race. Check out the runner wearing a Runners Love Yoga singlet (bright blue tank)!

After I finished walking around, and did some warmup jogging, I waited for my race to start. I felt so out of place! Everyone was clearly a serious runner. I kept telling myself that my time DID NOT MATTER. I knew I would probably be at the very end of the pack (but was still hoping that wouldn't be the case). I was there to have fun, and to support everyone involved.

As predicted, I finished dead last! Thankfully I wasn't too far behind the person in front of me - otherwise that would have been pretty embarrassing. The first women finished in just about 5 minutes - Ann came in 3rd place, even though she was helping organize the Expo! My official time was 8:07 - which is the fastest race pace I've ever had! This was by far my shortest race, but whatever, I'll take a PR when I can! (You can see from the Garmin results below, that I didn't stop the watch right away.)

After I recovered from my race, I hung around the finish to see the men finish. The first one finished in just over 4 minutes! Super fast!

After the men's race ended, there was unfortunately a lot of waiting around time. I wandered over to the area where the Expo was being held, and checked out the booths.

Finally, they started the award ceremony! The volunteers from Notus were in charge, and they had some representatives from Michie Tavern say some words as well. They even had someone there in full colonial dress, to hand out awards!

The top three male elite runners

The top three female elite runners - with Ann, the second from the right

Once the awards ceremony ended, Ann talked a bit about the Expo, the vendors there, and gave an introduction into yoga. She then set everything up so we could have a post-race yoga session! I was most looking forward to this, since it had been way too long since I had attended one of Ann's yoga classes, and now I could do one for free! While I may have been one of the slowest runners there, at least I was somewhat familiar with yoga, so I felt a lot more comfortable in the poses than some of the runners did!

A slightly sweaty post-yoga photo op! Btw, I LOVE Ann's shorts! I'm rocking the race t-shirt (on top of the shirt I came wearing - nowhere else to put it!)

Now that I've given a general recap of the events, I'm going to mention some of my opinions of the event and how it was organized. When Ann reached out to me, she put me in touch with an intern at Notus, who was supposed to take care of my registration and all of those details. I didn't hear anything from the intern until 4 days before the race - at which point, I had figured that they weren't going to give me free entry. I had hoped to get registered in advance, but was told that I would sign up at the registration table (as pictured above), and everything would already be taken care of. I figured that meant either the intern I had talked to would be there, or she would have left my information with them. The people there had no idea who I was, and when I mentioned the intern's name, it sounded like she had promised free entry to quite a few people. Thankfully, they didn't question it, and still gave me entry to the race.

This brings me to my next issue. There was no parking for the event, and there also was nowhere to drop off your belongings. I had Joey drop me off, to avoid the parking issue, but that meant I had to only bring with me what I could carry. Once I registered and got my race tech tee, that meant I had nowhere to put it. I asked if they could hold it for me, and I would come get it after the race, but that wasn't an option. I know it was a small race, but that would have been a nice additional touch.

There was a lot of confusion about the timing of the race (when it would start). I think that a lot of this came from the fact that there were several different websites where information was being reported/provided. The main website was http://www.cvilledowntownmile.com/ but not much new information was being posted there. There was a separate website, on the Notus Sports home page, that gave some additional information. There was also the Notus Sports facebook page, which I'm not sure how I even stumbled across, and that apparently had the most information. I happened to find it the day of the race, and found that the race times for the elite races had been changed. I would have had no idea otherwise, and this wasn't mentioned to me when I registered. Perhaps runners who had pre-registered online were being emailed updates, but since I hadn't done this, I wasn't hearing anything.

My next "complaint" is about the reporting of race times. When I signed up at the race table, they didn't ask for anything besides my name. At first, when the race times went up, they didn't even have my name linked to the bib number and time. They finally added my name, but didn't have my age or hometown included. And again, I had to go through their facebook page to even find the results. The results are not listed on any of the other race websites, including the main one. My biggest surprise was that they did in fact record the family and non-competitive times, meaning that I probably should have run in that group.

The race itself was run very well, which wasn't surprising, since Mark Lorenzoni from Ragged Mountain Running was at the start line. I think my general issues stem from the management that Notus Sports did - it really seemed like they left everything to 18 year old high school/college girls, and these girls weren't equipped to handle that much responsibility.

The last thing I'm going to say is about the Expo. I was so sad to see that only 3-4 groups/organizations had a booth set up. I thought that this could have been a great opportunity for many organizations to reach a lot of the running community in Charlottesville. I'm hoping that this event will be held again next summer (with better management by Notus, or a different group), and that the word will get out to many more vendors and organizations.