Archive for October 2013

Slow Food UW Cafe Lunch – 10/23

October 24th, 2013 — 5:12am

DSC00674As soon as I heard Melly Mel was involved with this week’s Slow Food UW Cafe, I knew it was a meal not to be missed. I made my first visit to Melly Mel’s restaurant this past summer, and it was a transformative experience—the chicken and waffles were otherworldly, and Melly Mel is unlike any person I’ve ever met before. She’s truly one of a kind.

The Cafe menu included beef and vegetable lasagna and a few sides: green bean casserole, coleslaw, and cheesy grits. I ordered the vegetable lasagna and the cheesy grits. In hindsight, the combination was a bad choice—too cheesy and one dimensional. On their own, they were great—the vegetable lasagna with kale and squash was creamy and rich, and the grits were the ultimate comfort food, punctuated with pieces of sundried tomatoes, providing a nice flavor punch. But I found myself with food envy as I gazed at the meals of my dining mates, wishing I had ordered the meat lasagna and coleslaw.DSC00678

Melly Mel herself was in the kitchen working with the UW Slow Food crew. At one point she came out to introduce herself to diners and talk about the meal and her restaurant. I’m so glad Slow Food UW collaborated with Melly Mel for this week’s Cafe lunch. I hope as many people as possible can meet her and taste the incredible soul food dishes she lovingly prepares. She’s a Madison treasure.

If you missed the Cafe lunch, go visit her restaurant. You won’t be disappointed. DSC00677

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Ironman Wisconsin Race Report

October 15th, 2013 — 12:56pm

IM2013Although I had experience on my side leading up to Ironman Wisconsin, this year’s race presented me with a new challenge. When I took my current job a few years ago, I knew the biggest event I’d manage fell precisely the same weekend of Ironman Wisconsin—every year.  Four 12 hour days on my feet and unpredictable stress hardly seemed like the best plan for the final days leading up to an Ironman. But when Ironman rolled around in 2012, I found myself sucked into the excitement and registered for the 2013 race in a fog of optimism (or…stupidity).Ironman-1

During the summer, training went well. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some regrets about how much of my summer revolved around swimming, biking and running. There were certainly times I longed for a more carefree and spontaneous lifestyle without the constant nagging feeling of when and what my next workout would be. At the same time, I love being outside and training, feeling the burn of a hard workout, and knowing that I’m prepared.

The week leading up to the race was both mentally and physically exhausting. I had trouble sleeping, and in addition to work, I was also trying to navigate a big life decision. It was all too much. Luckily, I’d had the foresight to pack my gear and transition bags and prepare the week’s meals in advance. I wore compression socks under my pants during my long work days, and just tried to get through the week in one piece.Ironman-4

The weather on race day was perfect. Other than a bit of wind that would come into play during the swim and bike, it was an Ironman dream day with temperatures in the mid-70’s and overcast skies. The fact that Sunday was sandwiched in between two days with sweltering temperatures made me that much more thankful for mother nature’s generosity.

On race day I woke up shortly before 5 a.m. and had breakfast—a bagel with peanut butter, coffee, and a banana, precisely what I’ve eaten before each Ironman I’ve ever done. Larry and I drove downtown and parked, and tears welled up in my eyes as we walked up to the Monona Terrace—I was so excited, and I always get a little emotional thinking of how hard and long so many people have worked for this one day. I then set off on my list of pre-race tasks: dropping off transition bags, pumping air in my bike tires, body marking, adding a pair of socks to my running gear bag, getting my wetsuit on and zipped up, and then finally, walking down the helix to the swim start. I knew I needed to get to the swim start early—you wouldn’t believe how backed up it can get as 2,500 athletes make their way into the water. And I like getting in early for a spot up front.

More than 20 minutes before the start, I was treading water near the inside orange buoy in one of the front rows. As the race start drew nearer, it became more and more congested with extended arms and legs flailing everywhere, and I’d move around to find open water. At one point, a nearby male swimmer announced to everyone around—I’m just confirming that everyone here can swim the course in around an hour. I’m guessing he wondered if some had misseeded themselves? I nodded my head confidently, then turned away to focus on the race.Ironman-2

At 7am, the cannon blew and we were off. Having lined up near the inside buoy, I had placed myself in line with the most direct path, but also in an area where I’d be more likely to encounter aggressive behavior, like elbows and feet directed at my head. But amazingly, it was one of the cleanest Ironman swims I’ve experienced. There were people all around me, but I kept my head down and stayed out of the line of danger. It was also my first time experiencing the one loop swim course implemented in 2012 (it was previously two loops). The course was fine, but it felt like it went on forever. It was also probably the waviest Ironman swim I’ve experienced—not the whole time, but parts of it, like when we were in the furthest corner of the rectangular course.  I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself then as I recalled my favorite activity at water parks growing up: swimming laps in the wave pool. That early training served me well. I finally reached the swim finish in just over an hour (1:02), my slowest Ironman Wisconsin swim, but I figured it was good enough considering the course change and waviness. I was later surprised to learn that it was the fastest in my age group.Ironman-6

Transition went smoothly and I was off on my bike. The first ten miles felt easy and fast—I was likely benefiting from a great tail wind. At some point early in the first loop, though, my legs became really achy. If the rest of the race feels like this, I told myself, I’m in big trouble. That feeling continued for another 20 or 30 miles. I started second guessing my taper, wondering if I should have done more mileage in the final weeks. Or maybe it was from all the hours on my feet at work in the days leading up to the race? Luckily, it did get better, and I felt stronger on the second loop. I focused on drinking a lot of Powerade and taking down gels and two or three salt tablets every hour.

There are many parts of the bike course that are so fun and memorable—especially riding through throngs of spectators gathered and cheering Tour de France style, especially in and around Verona. I loved seeing friends and family at so many points during the day. They all made me smile. I had one more scare going up one of the biggest hills on the second loop—sharp cramps in my calves. I reduced my effort and frantically choked down several salt tablets and Powerade, which thankfully seemed to do the trick. Heading back to Madison on Whalen Road is always a great feeling—after spending 6 hours on the bike, the only thing I want to do is get off. Plus, I love the Ironman Wisconsin marathon. When I get to that point of the race, I always think, okay, I’ve got this. This is the fun part. Total time on the bike was 6:02.Ironman-8

Everything went smoothly again in transition, and I was thankful I had put an extra pair of socks in my transition bag to change into. Besides being severely dehydrated, I felt great going into the marathon and quickly found my running legs. The temperature was cool and ideal for a marathon. My focus was to rehydrate and continue fueling—I took in 1-3 cups of Powerade at each aid station, a gel every third aid station, and a few salt tablets each hour. I drank virtually no water to avoid the sloshy stomach feeling. For the most part, I felt really good and was able to hold a consistent effort, though my energy did ebb and flow. I race-walked the Observatory hill to save energy (someone once told me that it’s important to keep your cadence high when you walk hills). From the looks of my split times (which varied from a 7:19 to a 9:38 mile pace), I seemed to struggle a big in the middle of the marathon (mile 13 to 19 or so), but gained speed a few miles from the finish. It’s hard not to get excited at that point!Ironman-9

My favorite part of the run was seeing my mom and Larry’s family gathered on State Street and other friends along the way, like Jill and Ryan, Matt and Julie, and Kim and Matt. I was so, so thankful for the amazing support.

I finished the marathon in 3:47, with an overall time of 11:03, which put me fourth in my age group. My goal had been to finish the race in 11 hours, so I was right there. It was my second best Ironman Wisconsin finish time. Overall, I was pleased with the swim and run, but disappointed with my bike split. Several people asked afterward if I had qualified for Hawaii. Not this time. I was one place and two minutes away. But that’s okay. I’ve been to Hawaii and I told myself before the race that even in the off chance that I qualified, I wouldn’t take the spot. I hope to go back someday, but not anytime in the near future. For now, there are many other places I’d like to see and explore.

So that’s that. It was another incredible journey. I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to do this race again, and for all of the support from family, friends and co-workers. I’m especially grateful for the love, patience, and support Larry showed me during the months of hard training. I can’t see myself doing another Ironman triathlon in the near future, but someday I’ll be back.

Comment » | Racing and Training

Butternut Squash Posole

October 11th, 2013 — 6:18am


I’ve been eager to start cooking with squash since they started appearing at the farmers’ market last month. I found a great recipe for an easy butternut squash posole, which is a Mexican soup or stew that usually includes meat, hominy and chilli peppers. This version is vegetarian, but still quite hearty with the squash, hominy and diced avocado on top. The best part is that it’s a great weeknight option—very easy and only requires about 20 minutes of cooking time.

Butternut Squash Posole (Food Network Magazine, September 2013; makes 4 servings)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1 poblano chile pepper, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano, plus more for sprinkling
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt
1 15-ounce can no-salt-added tomato puree
2 15-ounce cans hominy, drained and rinsed
1 avocado, diced
Fresh salsa, for topping (optional)
Tortilla chips, for serving (optional)

Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the chili powder. Add the squash, poblano, oregano, cumin, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the poblano softens slightly, about 5 minutes. Add 5 cups water, the tomato puree and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cover and bring to a simmer. Uncover and cook until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes, adding the hominy during the last 2 minutes of cooking.

Season the posole with salt and divide among bowls. Top with the avocado and salsa and sprinkle with oregano. Serve with chips.

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Bring the Noyz CX Race Report

October 10th, 2013 — 10:43am

noyes2This past weekend featured two days of cyclocross racing from Noyes Park in Milwaukee. The race was put on by the My Wife Inc. team and appropriately named “Bring the Noyz.” I raced at 1pm each day with the women’s category 1/2 field. Since it was my first WCA race of the season, and start position is based on points, I was lined up in the back both days.

On Saturday, I had a great start and found myself near the front of the pack. But the ground was slick, and I had some combination of bad tread and overinflated tires that caused me to go down repeatedly. Other than CX nationals in January, I’m not sure I’ve ever gone down so many times in one race. It was extremely frustrating. I’d be near the front and then slide out on a corner, only to watch most of the field ride by me. Then I’d bust my butt to move back up again, only to go down and watch the whole thing play out again. Eventually I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere. I rode the last few laps cautiously and finished in 5th place. noyes

The  next day I had family obligations and thought I probably wouldn’t be able to race. But I threw my bike in the car anyway, and it ended up working out. After Saturday’s disappointment, I felt like I had some unfinished business.  This time I borrowed Larry’s newer tires with better tread and erred on the side of underinflating my tires. There were muddier sections from Saturday’s rain, but it was all very rideable. I didn’t have a chance to pre-ride the course, which is usually really important to me, but I hoped it would be fairly similar to Saturday’s course.

I had an okay start on Sunday that put me somewhere in the middle of the pack. Overall, my race was a lot cleaner. No slippage or spills—I felt much more controlled in the corners. Eventually I moved my way up to third, with second place in sight. I got closer and made the pass. The woman in first was a professional and didn’t seem reachable. I continued to ride hard and held second through the finish. DSC00622

I took home a $200 paycheck on Sunday—which just blows my mind. I’m not used to the whole prize money thing. While it’s great to take home money to help cover the endless costs of bike racing, in a small way, I don’t like it. I don’t want money to ever become some sort of carrot that makes me want to race and do well. I want it always to be about the pure love of the sport and motivation that comes from within—pushing myself simply to see how far I can go. Not how much money I can make.

I’m not going to argue about the cupcakes, though. I thoroughly enjoyed my frosting-covered podium cupcake with sprinkles that I devoured in one bite. I totally deserved that.

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Slow Food UW Cafe Lunch – 10/9

October 9th, 2013 — 8:04am

DSC00629I was very excited to spot today’s Slow Food Cafe “cuban-ish” menu complete with carnitas, refried beans, Spanish rice, and sweet potato chipotle soup. I was especially looking forward to the horchata, a milky drink I fell in love with during a recent trip to Spain. My favorite part of the meal was the pork carnitas smothered in queso sauce. The horchata, although different from the kind I’ve tried made with tigernuts, was tasty and velvety smooth. My only complaint is that it was served semi-warm; over ice would have made a big difference. I tried a friend’s soup, and it was too spicy for my tastes, but the flavor was nice. The roasted winter squash carnitas looked great and the garlic-cilantro “secret sauce” sounded especially heavenly. It was my favorite menu of the semester thus far, and other than the temperature of the horchata, it didn’t disappoint. DSC00630

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Chickpea Chocolate Chip Cookies

October 7th, 2013 — 10:29am

DSC00595A few months ago, a friend shared a recipe for chocolate chip cookies. These were not just any chocolate chip cookies; they were grain-free, gluten free, dairy-free, and vegan. That caught my attention, but more than anything, the cookies sounded healthy and just plain tasty. Surprisingly, the main ingredient is chickpeas. I really like the idea of fueling myself with a legume (fiber, protein, iron, etc.) rather than sugar and butter. The cookies do taste different than your standard Tollhouse variety, but I like them. Larry calls them my “healthy cookies.” I tend to make a double batch and store them in the freezer (they taste great straight out of the freezer). The best part, I think, is that  you can eat these cookies anytime—for breakfast, before a workout, for a snack, and of course, for dessert. Or at least I do!

Chickpea Chocolate Chip Cookies (slightly adapted from Texan Erin Baking; makes two dozen one-inch cookies)

3  cups canned chickpeas, well-rinsed and patted dry with a paper towel
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 cups natural peanut butter or almond butter
1/2 cup honey
2 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt if your peanut butter doesn’t have salt in it
3/4  cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup ground flax seed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients, except the chocolate chips, in a food processor and process until smooth.

Stir in the chocolate chips. The mixture will be very thick and sticky.

With wet hands, form into 1 1/2 inch balls, and place in rows on a Silpat or parchment covered cookie sheet. Press down slightly to flatten each ball.

Bake for about 8-10 minutes. Using a spatula, remove the cookies from the pan and place on a cooking rack to cool.

Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week, or in the freezer.

1 comment » | Kristin's Kitchen

Fregola with Charred Onions and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

October 3rd, 2013 — 6:36am

DSC00464I love when fresh cherry tomatoes are so plentiful in the late-summer/early-fall. I buy a few pints each week and use them in everything. This recipe from Food & Wine is one of the best I’ve tried recently. Fregola is a type of pasta from Sardinia that looks similar to couscous. It’s made of semolina dough that has been rolled into tiny ball and toasted in the oven. I found fregola at Fraboni’s. It was expensive for pasta ($7), but worthy of a try. I loved the flavors and textures of this dish—oven roasted tomatoes accented by fresh rosemary served over a bed of al dente fregola garnished with torn basil leaves. I enjoyed the dish as an entree, but it would also make a great summer salad. And it would be even more beautiful if you used a variety of cherry tomatoes—orange, yellow and red.

Fregola with Charred Onions and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes (barely adapted from Food & Wine)

1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 rosemary sprigs
2 thyme sprigs
Freshly ground pepper

2 medium red onions, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

3 cups fregola
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup torn basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the tomatoes with the olive oil. Add the rosemary and thyme sprigs and season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the tomatoes are ready to burst. Strip the leaves from the herb stems and discard the stems. Increase the oven temperature to 350°.

Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Brush the onions with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over medium-high heat until nicely charred, about 3 minutes per side.

Transfer the onions to a baking dish. Add the vinegar and the 1/4 cup of olive oil and bake for 20 minutes, until tender. Let the onions cool in the liquid, then coarsely chop. Reserve the liquid.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fregola and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fregola is al dente, about 15 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

While the fregola is still warm, add the onions and their cooking liquid, along with the tomatoes and crispy herbs. Stir in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with basil and serve.DSC00458



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Slow Food UW Cafe Lunch – 10/2

October 2nd, 2013 — 11:32am

DSC00606Today’s Slow Food Cafe menu featured great seasonal sandwiches and sides. I opted for the toasted eggplant & swiss sandwich with caramelized onions and pepper relish; the black bean salad with cilantro, cherry tomatoes and cucumber; and the gazpacho with chili garlic oil and basil. Oh yes, and dessert: basil-lemon meringues. Dessert was probably my favorite part this week. The meringues were sticky and difficult to remove from the plate, but they had wonderful texture and flavor. Luckily, I grabbed one from the first batch; later batches looked disappointingly flat. I’d love to try making these myself. DSC00608

In other Slow Food news, there is a new table in the dining room that is designated for “people eating alone.” It features a flashy sign that alerts everyone that you. are. eating. alone. I’m sure intentions are good: to connect lone diners with other lone diners, but I don’t necessarily like the idea of singling out people with a big, flashy sign. I’ve eaten by myself several times at Slow Food Cafe, and have never had a problem finding a place at one of the many tables and striking up a conversation with another pair or group of diners.  Luckily, I met a friend for lunch today, but who knows, maybe next week I’ll be at the “people eating alone” table hoping to find a friend. Or what if I don’t want to sit there?

I’m curious what others think of the concept.

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