Kelly the Culinarian: January 2012

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Suburban Crafters Party

Inspired by Pinterest, delivered with wine and chili, the first meeting of the Suburban Crafters Association met at my house tonight. We each made a monogrammed letter that was personalized in whatever manner best suited us. I tried two different versions - a small letter that was covered in book pages for a wall inside and a large letter wrapped in yarn for the front door.
It was a super fun night that included lots of food and moscato. I made vegetarian chili with baked potatoes, both cooked in the crock pot, served with all the fixings and corn bread. Becca brought caprese salad and Tara brought raspberries with white and milk chocolate chips. So delicious.

All and all, it was a very successful night. Check back tomorrow for my vegetarian crock pot chili recipe, which was a big hit.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bring Home Baby Belle the Bike

After much searching, anxiety and concern, I finally found THE perfect bike! It's a Giant TCR Aero Composite Bike, complete with bike computer, aero bars and a double water bottle holder. Don't act like you're not jealous, because this bike is hot.

Currently, the bike I've named Belle is in my car, awaiting a trip to the bike store. The lady I bought it from had mountain bike pedals on it, and I've been unable to get them off and swap them out for the original pedals. These suckers are stuck on like glue. I imagine Belle and I will be spending many hours together in the coming months and hopefully, in the coming years.

I'm super excited to finally have my road bike settled so I can get started with training for my first triathlon. I'm already signed up and ready to go, so now it's a matter of training and getting myself psyched.

And despite the awesome deal I scored on this bike, it's still not my favorite Craigslist purchase. That titled is reserved for Napoleon, who is priceless.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

11 Things About Me

These bloggy games are so much fun. I was tagged by Amanda a few days ago for 11 Questions, but I haven't gotten around to it because of work/headaches/general laziness. Mostly, the laziness. I had to jet from work early yesterday because of my first migraine. I had no idea that four cups of large coffee and a soda were bad for me ... I learn something new every day.

I also learned today that my car needs another $1,200 of work. Coincidentally, it also gave me a headache. I've spent way too much on my car in the past six months, including a 100,000-mile tune up, airbag sensor nonsense, a new water pump for the windshield wiper fluid and other stuff I don't even remember. Now, I need new shocks, struts and a stabilizer bar. I think I'll just give up and walk to work.

Back to the business at hand. Here are Amanda's 11 questions about me:

  1. Favorite race/event and why? My favorite race was my last race, which was my first half marathon. The Big Hit Half Marathon was such a cool experience. I ran it faster than I ever thought possible and proved to myself and everyone else that I can stick with it, follow a training plan and finish strong.  
  2. Were you a Princess or TomBoy? Eh, neither so much, but if I had to choose, I think I tended towards the tomboy thing. I'm not so maternal, so while I played with dolls and watched Disney, I liked to swim, play video games and read more than anything. I think I was a feminist from an early age, because I can remember watching "Grease" and being disappointed at the end that Sandy changed herself to be with Danny.
  3. Who or What inspires you & why? I find inspiration everywhere. I find my mom's sacrifice for her family inspiring, my dad's self-made success inspiring and my husband's dedication to higher education inspiring. I find Katie's weight-loss story and blog inspiring and I found Kara Goucher's book about running for women inspiring. Sometimes, I'm inspired by nice weather to get out there and run, and sometimes, I'm inspired by the promise of Taco Bell.
  4. Do you have more “online” friends or real life friends? Real-life friends, for sure.
  5. 20 Year Class Reunion….Are you going, legitimately busy or you wouldn’t be caught dead stepping in the door? I'll have to wait and see how I feel when I get there. Right now, I think I'll skip it. Why would I want to hang out with people who made me miserable as a teenager when Facebook has allowed me to keep in contact with the people I actually care about?
  6. Do you prefer Flowers or Candy from the significant other or should they save the $? Candy, a million times yes. Lindt chocolate, please.  
  7. If you were rich and famous and had the balls guts to name your kid something outlandish, what would that be? First and Middle name, please! First, I'd have to have kids. That would be the first hurdle. I named my dog Napoleon, so I have no issues with awesome names.
  8. You’re in a marathon, in first place, on world record pace…..You have to “go”. Do you stop for a port-o-pot, and possibly lose the race and miss the world record or do you go in the street for the world to see? If it's OK for Paula Radcliffe, it's fine by me.
  9. Why do you run? To kick ass. I started running to end a weight-loss plateau. While I'm still in a war with my weight, I've found a lot of peace and reward in running. And I love the bling.    
  10. Favorite type of run: Group, Solo, Tempo, Long Run, Speed Work? Long runs. Me, the road and my music. Life falls into place after miles with your thoughts.
  11. Most adventurous “out of character” thing you’ve ever done? I've been sitting here for a half an hour and can't think of anything that would make someone say "that chick is nutso!" but traveling with my parents in their trailer to watch a quidditch match generally makes people say, "hmm, tell me more."

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cooking with Kelly: Slow Cooker Southwestern Chicken Recipe

The inception for this deliciously simple meal came from Hyacynth, who shared her recipe this weekend. I made this southwestern crock pot chicken earlier this week and found a million delicious uses for it. I made quesadillas for Mandy with this as the filling, adding cheddar cheese and sandwiching it between two whole-wheat Flatout tortillas and crisped up under the broiler (please don't tell my sister I secretly fed her healthy stuff. She might claw out a kidney for that injustice). Hyacynth serves this to her kids over a bed of rice, but I also tried cooking up some amaranth to serve with the completed chicken, which also got a healthy dose of cheese and sour cream. My favorite combo for this dish was a scoop of chicken topped with a bit of cheese and eaten with whole-wheat tortilla chips. It was filling, healthy, cheesy and crunchy. The perfect lunch combo, in my opinion.

Slow Cooker Southwestern Chicken Recipe
4 Frozen chicken breasts
1 15-ounce can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 15-ounce can of corn or equivalent frozen corn kernels
1 large jar salsa of choice

Place chicken breasts in the slow cooker, then top with remaining ingredients. Cook on low for six hours, then use a fork to break chicken breasts into chunks. Bake on low for another hour, if possible. This makes at least six large servings and freezes well.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Weekend Away and a Trip Down Memory Lane

Beta Sigma, circa 2006
I haven't been back to my alma mater in years. I went to Bradley University from 2003 to 2006, and it's funny that so much has changed, but so much has stayed the same.

Beta Sigma, January 2012
When I went there, the "gym" consisted of maybe 20 cardio machines for the whole college. Now, they have a sparkling facility that's nicer than most gyms I could buy a membership to, complete with a rock-climbing wall and brand-new machines.  Wonder what that's like ... They even have luxury apartments, which I'm sure even have exhaust fans and stoves that don't leak natural gas, unlike the apartment Alissa and I shared in 2005.

However, the one thing that hasn't changed in the student newspaper office that I spent many, many of my undergraduate hours toiling away. It's still the same smurf-colored blue walls, they still have my futon in the corner and the computer are still the mini-Macs we were so excited to purchase in 2005. The clock on the wall was the same, the bulletin boards, cork boards and paper files are still the same. Rachael even recognized the microwave from her college apartment that she donated to the cause in 2005.

My favorite Beta Sigma ladies and I drove down Saturday morning for the alumni reunion, of which, we made up half of the participants. After a little presentation, we checked into the Embassy Suites, which turned out to be a fabulous deal. We got a two-bedroom suite, along with a drink reception and free breakfast for $110.

We also enjoyed dinner at One World, which holds a special place in our hearts. Hyacynth worked there in college, and we all subsisted on the hummus and spinach dip there for at least half of our college years. The hummus there is to die for - incredibly creamy and nutty, served with pita and cucumber.

I had a southwestern wrap that was awesome, along with sangria. The sangria there is incredibly sweet and doesn't like there's any alcohol in it. Dangerous.

In the end, it was a lovely trip down memory lane, and I got my fill of nostalgia. We stopped by the bookstore and joked about the time we spent on the quad, swapping stories of our undergraduate glory. It's crazy to think I've been out of college for five years ... I'm so old.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cooking with Kelly: High Protein Oatmeal Recipe

One day, maybe I'll write a cookbook that's just oatmeal recipes. I am a huge fan of oats for breakfast, especially if I can add protein to the mix. This recipe combines chocolate and peanut butter, which ended up tasting like a peanut butter cup with a thick pudding-like texture.

High Protein Oatmeal Recipe
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup skim milk
1/2 Tablespoon cocoa powder
1 egg white
1 Tablespoon natural peanut butter

Whisk the egg white, then stir into the oats, milk and cocoa powder. Microwave for 1 1/2 minutes, then top with peanut butter. Or, if you're lucky enough to have an empty peanut butter jar, allow to cool for a few seconds, then pour into the peanut butter jar to enjoy all the peanut butter goodness.

Monday, January 23, 2012

It Starts Now ...

Registration opened today for the Fox Valley Marathon. I am signed up and the countdown has started.
Just 237 days from now, I will complete my first marathon.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cooking with Kelly: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Waffles Recipe

Mmmmm weekend breakfasts are the best. I get a little more fancy and decadent since we have the time to linger in the kitchen and enjoy every bite.

Ever since I bought Tim a waffle maker for Christmas, I've been thinking about all the amazing recipes we could try. This weekend, we tried some delicious whole wheat waffles with chocolate chips. I used dark chocolate morsels, but milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate would be delicious as well.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Waffle Recipe
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
7/8 cup skim milk
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large egg
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Whisk together all the ingredients together except the chocolate chips, then allow to sit for five minutes. In the meantime, preheat the waffle iron to medium-high heat. Mix in chocolate chips, then spray the waffle iron with vegetable oil and add 1/2 cup of batter. Cook for three minutes, or until the waffle reaches the level of crispness you prefer.

This recipe makes three large waffles.

Friday, January 20, 2012

5 Things Friday

1. Our heat might be broken. We had a furnace guy come a few months ago, so I can't figure out why it's only 60 degrees in here ... and dropping.

2. I am all signed up for the Tower Tri in Niles, my first triathlon. I am more than a little terrified, and it doesn't help that I haven't found my bike yet. Know anyone selling a nice, reasonably priced road bike?

3. It took me almost two hours to get home today. I live 10 miles from where I work. It snowed six inches in four hours.

4. I'm getting depressed about my weight. I seriously can't lose the last three to four pounds and it pisses me off. I lost four pounds in my first week of dieting in the summer of 2010. I'll be more than a little annoyed if I can't lose four pounds in three months to meet one of my 12 Goals for 2012.

5. My motivation to finish Insanity is seriously waning. Tonight, I did tabata intervals on the elliptical while watching Mad Men. It was all I could muster.

Cooking with Kelly: How to Make Scrambled Eggs

Eggs are a staple in this house. I buy them three dozen at a time and endure funny looks from the cashier. The reason is that I eat two boiled egg whites each day, plus eggs are the basis of my protein muffins.
I'll even mix an egg white into my oatmeal every now and then for a protein boost
(4 grams of protein for just 16 calories). But I still love scrambled eggs for breakfast, lunch or dinner. This does, however, require a bit of skills, or else you'll end up with rubbery, burned nasty eggs. Here's my method, which this morning, included goat cheese on a bed of spinach.

Perfect Scrambled Eggs
1 large egg
2 egg whites
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1/2 cup spinach
1 ounce goat cheese

Whisk together the egg whites and egg until fully incorporated. The egg whites shouldn't be easily visible anymore. Preheat the skillet to medium heat, then spray with oil.

Pour the eggs into the skillet, then allow to sit for a few seconds until the edges bubble. Using a spatula, pull the edges towards the middle of the skillet, continuing to fold the eggs. Remove from the heat while the eggs are still slightly runny, but don't remove from the skillet right away so the eggs may continue to cook.

Top with salt and pepper to taste and whatever other fixings you choose. I personally like salsa, cheddar cheese or goat cheese.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I'm Self-Hosted Now!

Big changes here. I've changed over from to I thought this would be an easy change, but it's been a bit of a challenge. I have a new e-mail address where you can reach me, It should take 24 hours for all the RSS feeds to work, but it could be up to three days to make sure all the links and photos work. While I sort this all out, enjoy a picture of Napoleon, because he's adorable. And he knows it.

I can't believe I've been blogging for almost five years. I've made the decision to get a little more serious this year about blogging, so you'll notice I'm making some changes. Some are pretty subtle, like the address you'll enter in your Web browser, and some will be a little more noticeable, like the top bar under the header with new pages. I'm working on an "About Me" page, along with another couple changes. If you have any suggestions or feedback, don't be a stranger.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cooking with Kelly: Apple Oats Recipe

Oatmeal is a staple in my house. You can buy a huge tub for less than $2 that will make tons and tons of breakfasts. However, oatmeal every day can get repetitive, if you don't get creative. This apple pie oatmeal recipe came about from my borderline obsessive desire to not waste food. And when apples come in a 10-pound bag from Costco, I need to get creative. These oats are filling and delicious, so give it a try.

Apple Oats Recipe
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup water
1 apple
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon Splenda
a pinch of salt
1 ounce walnuts, chopped
1/2 Tablespoon brown sugar

The night before, place the oats and water in a bowl to soak overnight. I like the texture this adds, but it's your call. In the morning, chop the apple, top with Splenda, salt and cinnamon, the microwave for one minute. Mix into the oats, then microwave for another 20 seconds. Top with the brown sugar and walnuts

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How's This For Product Placement?

Weight loss shakes on an end cap with Valentine's Day candy. Only in America.

Yes, I took this photo tonight at the grocery store. I ran in for OJ for my green monster smoothies, which was an interesting experience. Because I normally shop at Aldi, where there's only three types of orange juice (from concentrate, 100 percent juice or with pulp), I was overwhelmed by all the choices. Who knew there were 20 types of orange juice out there?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cooking with Kelly: Peanut Butter PB2 Protein Shake

I'm not sure how many times I can say I love peanut butter before someone starts to get concerned for me. Peanut butter and chocolate is quite possibly the greatest combination ever, and this particular combination helps me solve the problem of trying to use up a gallon of milk before it goes bad. Because it's just the two of us and we don't eat a ton of dairy, I'll often make up a batch of sugar-free chocolate pudding and freeze it into ice cubes. Then, I can use the ice cubes in protein shakes to add creaminess to my shakes.

Here's a great way to get some protein (35 grams for about 250 calories) without sacrificing flavor. This ends up tasting kind of like a peanut butter cup, but healthy, thanks to a little diet secret weapon I've found. If you're not familiar with PB2, it's a dehydrated peanut product that removes most of the fat and oil, but leaves all the flavor. Add this powder to shakes and baked goods or reconstitute it with water. I found it at a health-food store near me, but you can order it online, too.

Peanut Butter PB2 Protein Shake
2 ice cubes of sugar-free pudding
1/2 cup skim milk
1 scoop chocolate protein powder
2 Tablespoons PB2 (chocolate or regular)

Place all items in a blender and blend until smooth. Consume immediately.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cooking with Kelly: Devilish Oreo Brownie Recipe

Nutella is good for you, right?
Things were getting a little too healthy around here, don't you think? Mandy's birthday is coming up and we celebrated yesterday. I wanted to make something special for her special birthday and this certainly qualifies. These look innocent enough until you cut into them and BAM, they're downright sinful.

These delectable bites are dark chocolate brownies stuffed with oreos, sandwiched in between layers of peanut butter, nutella, or both. My favorite were the peanut butter brownie bites. I love peanut butter so much.

Devilish Oreo Brownie Recipe
1 box of brownies, prepared as directed
1 package of oreos
Peanut butter, nutella or other nut butter

And peanut butter is a good fat.
This recipe is more about the assembly than the ingredients. Line two muffin tins with cupcake liners. Next, take  out the oreos. Each brownie bite will require two oreos. Using about a teaspoon of your favorite filling, sandwich two oreos together, then top with another teaspoon of the filling. Place in the cupcake liner with the uncovered oreo down. When you bake these, you'll see the oreo on the bottom, which is kind of cute.
Repeat until you're out of oreos. It will make about 22 brownie bites.

Once you've filled all the cups with oreos, cover the top with 2 Tablespoons of the brownie mix. It will cover the peanut butter you have exposed, but you may want to tap the muffin tin once you've filled all the cupcakes to gently force the brownie batter down the sides.

Bake at 350 for 18-22 minutes, or until the brownie batter is set. Allow to cool and frost with ganache or chocolate icing, if desired.

Eat two, gain three pounds in one day, get sad, work out, repeat, resolve to feed these to your coworkers so as to not eat them all.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why I Chose My 2012 Goals

A resolution is defined as: the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones. I said in my New Year's Resolution post that I picked my goals very deliberately in order to fit into some long-term goals I have in mind.

Let's review. My goals are:

1. Run my first marathon.
2. Complete my first triathlon.
3. Set a personal record for the 5K.
4. Volunteer at a race.
5. Take a swim class.
6. Try vegetarianism for one month.
7. Read more books.
8. Achieve my goal weight of 124 pounds by March
9. Try one new recipe per month.
10. Send out holiday cards.
11. Grow the Fort2Base Race Ambassador program.
12. Save money.

They seem kind of discombobulated, huh? Not so interconnected.
However, most of my goals are about striving towards one long-term goal that I haven't really discussed on the blog: Ironman.

Yeah, it's crazy. It's totally crazy. But I've had it on my mind since this summer. I'm not really sure when or why I decided I wanted to be an Ironman, or why I even thought this would be a good idea to finish a marathon after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles, two sports that I've never competed in.

I think somewhere along the line losing weight stopped being enough. I didn't just want to be skinny. I wanted to be fit. More than that, I wanted to be hardcore. And I wanted to do something epic. After watching some videos on YouTube, I was really motivated to push myself and see how far I could go. After listening to the audiobook version of "You Are an Ironman," I knew I could do this.

It's going to take me years. At least four to get into shape and compete in the intermediary races that will build a solid foundation for the Ironman. My 2012 goals 1-5, and to a certain extent, goal 8, are all about making steps towards that goal. Goal 6 is kind of an experiment to see how vegetarianism affects my athletic performance, and goals 11 and 12 are all about saving the money needed to compete in Ironman. It's not cheap to compete in three sports, especially when the registration fee alone is $600.

While it will be hard, and it will be a long road, I know it will be rewarding. One day, a former fat kid who couldn't run a mile will swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles.

I will cross the finish line and hear Mike Reilly say: "Kelly Janowski, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cooking with Kelly: Homemade Protein Bar Recipe

Protein bars are expensive and many aren't that tasty. Alternatively, the might be tasty, and have as many calories as two snicker bars. This recipe makes about 14 protein bars, which weigh in at a little less than 150 calories each and little more than 12 grams of protein. Plus, they don't taste like a chocolate-flavored pink eraser, which I've encountered with other brands. Best of all, these homemade protein bars are no bake.

I packaged these up for my lunches and snacks next week, because I'm trying to get into this whole being an organized adult thing. It's hard.

Homemade Protein Bar Recipe
1/2 cup instant oats
5 scoops protein powder (I used chocolate whey protein, but use what you have on hand)
1 cup nonfat powdered milk
2 Tablespoons flaxseed meal
1/4 cup smooth nut butter (I used peanut; almond, soy or sunflower works, too)
1/2 cup water
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

First, lay out a sheet of wax paper or parchment paper. This is where you'll roll out the bars.

Using a food processor or blender, pulverize the oats until smooth. Combine with the protein powder, milk and flaxseed. Chop the chocolate chips, then add to the dry ingredients.

In another bowl, whisk together the water, peanut butter and vanilla. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix to combine. You may need to add an extra Tablespoon or two of water to combine.

The dough will be very sticky. Scoop out onto the parchment paper, then top with plastic cling wrap. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough, then place into a 9" by 13" pan and smooth into the size of the pan. I pre-portioned the bars by pressing a bamboo skewer into the dough before freezing it for four hours. Then, when I removed it from the freezer, I just had to break it along the lines I made.

Keep in the freezer or refrigerator until you're ready to enjoy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I'm An Award-Winning Blogger!

I recently found out that I was a finalist for the How to Cook Fantastic Food Web site of the Year. I didn't win, but I'm still excited I was nominated. I got a certificate any everything!
And thank you to everyone who sent me well wishes for Napoleon. He's pretty much back to normal, but has to eat soggy food for a few days. I'm sure he misses his favorite toys and treats, but he'll be back to normal food and toys in five days.

I also got all my initial order of triathlon gear for the swim portion, including a swim cap, goggles and swim suits. One fit, and one didn't, so that sucks. Of course, it's the cheap suit that doesn't fit. I'm also still on the hunt for a bike and I hope to start swimming at a gym next month. Here's to another adventure.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Training Tuesday: Doggy Dental Day

Before surgery and not happy to be at the vet
Alternatively titled: I'm a crazy dog lady and I'm OK with that. Training later, dog news first, because those are my priorities. Today was Napoleon's first dental cleaning. He's 3 1/2, so it was time, but that doesn't make it any less scary for me. Little dogs need regular teeth cleanings, especially since they have longer life expectancies and need their chompers for things like chewing my shoes and baseboards. But they put him under for it, which terrifies me. I dropped him off before work and pre-authorized the vet to perform what was necessary up to a certain amount so they didn't have to prolong the surgery or put him under twice.

Post procedure and very suspicious 
Unfortunately, he needed a tooth pulled. Fortunately, it was a smaller tooth in the back of his mouth. The aftermath is killing me though: he's starving, because we couldn't give him food the night before the surgery and he can't have any until tomorrow. We were told to only offer the amount of food that we're willing to clean up later, because it's obvious he's nauseous. He's also licking the area where the IV was, which is normal. He's squinting, too, because of the nausea. He's lacking his normal pep in his step, and the bitchy bossiness I love, but I would be too if I didn't eat for 24 hours.

Poor puppy.

On to the business. Because it's been so beauty in Chicago, I've put Insanity on hold. It should be a sin to waste this weather by working out inside. I've gone out for runs four times in the past five days, all on the short side, distance wise. The weather may be beautiful, but it's still dark by 5 p.m., so that's a little bit of a challenge.

I had a great run Sunday with negative splits for 4.4 miles, and today, I did a quick 5k in 27 minutes. I warmed up for the first mile, then ran as fast as I could maintain for one mile, which turned out to be 8:07. On Sunday, I attempted the same thing, but could only finish .85 miles at a 7:45 pace. Either way, my 8:07 mile is my fastest ever. I think I ran an 8:15 mile in high school ... 10ish years ago. I rounded out today with a bit of strength and stretching.

It's supposed to get crappy again later this week, so I'll just pick up where I left off on Insanity. This isn't exactly what they have in mind schedule-wise, but I figure it all evens out since I'm burning calories and getting my heart rate up.

The dog just found some food he foraged away in his cage, so I'm off to deal with the inevitable puking episode that will follow.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Food Find: Naf Naf Grill

My love of Middle Eastern food runs deep. Back in college, my campus was directly adjacent to an eclectic, funky little cafe and coffee shop that served amazing hummus -- creamy, heavenly chickpea hummus topped with paprika and olive oil while still warm, which I enjoyed with a frozen coffee and toasted pita.

Then, I spent a month studying abroad in Egypt, experiencing exotic foods and sights I'd only checked out on the Internet. There was fuul, a breakfast dish similar to refried beans, kifta kababs made of spicy and tough meat and all of my beloved hummus that I could enjoy. We ate like kings for about $4 per day.
Now that I'm back stateside, I still search for the perfect hummus. I have my favorites - Sabra makes a great product, and the private-label brands at Aldi and Costco are both excellent.

Now, however, I have a new hook up. I asked my friend, Heather, to meet me for lunch at Naf Naf Grill. Unfortunately, I didn't realize there are three locations and we both ended up at different places. Eventually, we both ended up at the Naperville location on Freedom Drive.

For a Sunday afternoon, the place was fairly bustling with an interesting mix of people: families, couples and students. The interior includes both chic stainless steel counters along with natural wooden tables and dark-wood molded chairs. The entire place is accented with orange artwork, which makes the whole place seem like a cozy but sophisticated restaurant, even though this is the kind of place where you order at the counter and pick up your food.
I opted for the Veggie Feast, which was $9.99. It included falafal, hummus, tabule, purple cabbage salad and pitas. The pitas are what this place is known for: They're pillowy little bits of heaven that are airy and chewy. I also loved the hummus: it creamy and had a smoky aftertaste, which perfectly paired with pita. The falafel was a bit greasy for my taste, but was interesting nonetheless because they were far more moist than I usually encounter. The exterior had a nice crunch, and the inside was spongy while still having a substantial texture.

My only regret was that I didn't leave room for dessert. They had all kinds of baklava that I wish I could have tried, but couldn't possibly have forced down. As it is, I took home a generous amount. For $10, I got lunch and Tim got dinner. I'll definitely be going back, and you should make your way over there, too.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

It's a Beautiful Day!

Yep, I'll quote U2, I'm cool with that. It was seriously amazing in Chicagoland today, especially considering it's Jan. 8. This time last year, we made bargains with each other about who would take the dog out next, because it was so gross outside. This year, we gleefully hit the trails of Busse Woods for as much running as we can handle. But first, I had a playdate with Kate's daughter. Naperville Photographer Kate, who took my headshots a couple of months ago, had a baby last month. He is super adorable and a great sleeper.

I got up early today, made myself my favorite breakfast of a toasted whole-wheat English muffin, peanut butter, flax and banana. I picked up Kate's older baby and we hit McDonald's. Kate's kid went up and down the stairs for a solid three hours and was not happy to go back home, but I think her parents are kind of attached to her, so I returned her before a lunch date.

Because it was so nice, I got a car wash so I could finally put the sticker Tim gave me for Christmas on my car. It looks HOT. I look forward to getting a 26.2 sticker for Christmas next year. I wish it stuck to the plastic parts of my car, but it looks good where it is.
We didn't make it out to the park until about 3:30, and because I'm a little out of practice distance-wise, I could only knock out 4.4 miles at an average pace of 8:47. After I cooled down for a bit, I tried to finish a mile as fast as I could. I made it .85 miles at a 7:44 pace (awesome!) but couldn't finish the mile. My heart rate was at 99 percent of my max, so I probably couldn't have finished it. Better luck next time.

We ended up walking to the car in the dark and saw at least a dozen deer hanging out. They're loving this too.

When we got home, I made his and hers green smoothies with spinach, strawberries, banana and a shot of OJ. I'm not sure if Tim liked his, but mine was awesome.

Check back tomorrow for all the details of the awesome lunch date I had. Hint: It includes the best Middle Eastern food I've had domestically.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Every Day I'm Shuffling

We've had beautiful weather in the Chicagoland area lately. Last night, Tim and I went for a run at a local mall. The economy in our areas is pretty depressed, which means empty, well-lit parking lots. Alas, my Garmin battery died halfway through, so I had no data for this run. Turns out you need to charge the thing more than once every two and a half weeks ...

To my surprise, the thermometer kept climbing today. It was solidly in the 50s, and some murmurs at work said it was closer to 60! In January! It wasn't so long ago that experts were saying we'd have the worst winter on record. There's still time, for sure, but running outside in January is pretty rocking. This time, I went off to a different parking lot, which was equally well-lit and empty. I knocked out just a little more than a 5K distance with an overall pace of 8:49. I feel accomplished.

Today has been a very fitness-focused day for me. I've been thinking about competing in a triathlon for a while and started taking steps towards this goal today. I ordered my first swim cap, goggles and athletic suits today. I'm very nervous about this because I have no clue if any of this stuff will fit. I've never bought a swimsuit that comes in sizes with numbers and I've certainly never worn a swim cap. However, I found a $12 swimsuit and a $25 swimsuit, so I'll make it work for those prices.

I'm also on a quest for a triathlon-worthy bike. I'm not trying to compete with the elites, but I'm guessing my $60 K-Mart Huffy isn't going to cut it. I found a great Trek bike on craigslist that's my size (50 cm) and already has aerobars, climbing gears and triathlon tires. On the plus side, I think this bike would be the only thing I for several seasons of triathlon training and already has all the bells and whistles (mostly) that I'd like. On the downside, it's more than I wanted to pay, coming in at almost $800 for a 2002 bike. Choices, choices ....

Either way, I'm going to need to test it out another day. Why? Because I got myself onto the bike and promptly fell right over. I. Was. Mortified.

Luckily, the guy was very understanding and didn't laugh at me (at least while I was around) nor tell me I ruined his bike, which I didn't, but I was scared. He said he'll change the seat up before we meet again next week and then I can try again. He's a bit taller than me, so the seat was too high up. At least, that's the story I'm sticking with to explain my cycling fail.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cooking with Kelly: Dark Chocolate Amaranth Cookie Recipe

Luckily, they taste better than they look
Amaranth isn't in every pantry in America. In fact, the only reason I sought this out was because of a Bon Appetite article stating that amaranth is the hot ingredient for 2012, much like quinoa was in 2011. The last time we were at Whole Food, scoping out the free samples, I took a whirl through the bulk bins to see if they had amaranth. My rule of thumb is that if it's new to me, I'll buy a half cup to use in a recipe and see if I like it, much like I did with quinoa.

I asked a sales associate, who probably had an eye on me because of my love of samples, if they had it in the bins somewhere, explaining that I didn't want to buy a huge bag in case it tastes like feet or something. She couldn't find it, but handed me a bag with a "Try it Free!" sticker on it. Therefore, I had to actually buy something at Whole Foods that day.

I've been scheming how to use this giant bag of amaranth since Saturday. I decided to try a cookie, since amaranth is popular in Mexican baking. If you're looking for a delightfully different take on a chocolate chip cookie, you've come to the right place. This recipe leaves you with about 25 small, nutty-tasting cookies with a great texture complemented by the creaminess of the chocolate. And dark chocolate makes everything better.

Dark Chocolate Amaranth Cookie Recipe
2 egg whites
1/4 cup honey
2 Tablespoons peanut butter (can omit for fewer calories or increase for a deep peanut flavor)
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup amaranth
3 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

Place the oats, amaranth and chocolate into a bowl and mix to combine. Mix the peanut butter and honey separately, then stir to combine with dry mixture. Whisk together the two eggs until a light froth forms. Pour over oats and stir to combine.

Using a small scoop, portion out the cookies onto a cookie sheet. Pat down with a wooden spoon or spatula. Cook at 350 degrees for no more than 15 minutes. Do not overcook, or you'll end up with amaranth granola.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Training Tuesday: Insanity Day 37

New year, new goals, new box of green tea. It's all good.

After my month of illnesses, I've been slightly derailed in my Insanity training plan. It's going to take me more than the prescribed 60 days, but I'm sticking with it. I started month two yesterday, with the intention of finishing the program in early February. I did my Fit Test yesterday and took my measurements again. If I measured correctly (which I might not have), I've lost two inches on my waist. However, I've failed to lose much weight. I'm back at 128 (damn you awesome food at Zombie Prom!) and have high hopes of reaching my goal weight by March 31.

After I wrap up Insanity, I'm going to make my first foray into working out at a gym since college. Back in the day, my college's gym was ridiculously terrible. They had less than 20 cardio machines for 5,000 undergrads. However, I got a free membership at an off-campus gym for some volunteer work I did. It was a beautiful facility with classes, brand-new equipment, an indoor track and pools. I could kick myself for not taking advantage of this opportunity more.

Since then, I tried a women-only gym for a few months, which didn't do wonders for me. After three months, I think I lost one pound. It just wasn't enough for me to see much progress, even when working out as they prescribed.

I've managed to lose about 15 pounds on my own, without a gym. Now, I'd like to join a gym not necessarily to lose weight, but instead, to use all the tools available to get more fit. Specifically, I want to join a gym that has a pool so I can work on my swimming. I have a big dream that I'm chasing of becoming a triathlete, but I'm not going to be able to do it on my own. If you're a triathlete and wouldn't mind me picking your brain, I'll bring the treats!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Photos from the Day: Jan. 2

Today was a lovely and busy day. I got up early and had a breakfast of Aldi's version of Kashi GoLean Crunch, rice squares and banana. Then I hit the road to visit my friend, Jackie. She has the most adorable apartment I've ever seen. It's vintage with original hardwood floors, this awesome built-in curio cabinet, high ceilings and crown molding. I really wish it wasn't creepy to take photos of other people's houses, because her decor is so cute. I stopped to shop on my way into the city and saw this beauty. At least Paula Deen owns her demons.

Then I headed off to the Whole Foods in Lincoln Park for a meeting with the folks at the Fort2Base Race. We're working on the ambassador program and I'm so excited to get it off the ground and running. I had an awesome lunch from my beloved hot bar, which was impressive. This place makes the Whole Foods I normally visit look like a mini mart. It has a wine bar! And a stage, coffee bar and every type of cuisine you can imagine made to order. I might be in love.

Post meeting, I headed back home to workout, shower again and chill. I did my first day of the second month of Insanity and it was rough. It didn't help that I had to do a half and hour fit test before the hour of interval training. There's absolutely nothing on TV tonight, so I'll be relaxing, reading and getting ready for my first day of the year in the office tomorrow.