Kelly the Culinarian: January 2016

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Three Things Thursday

1. I'm back on the whole healthy eating bandwagon. I've lost weight before, it's just a matter of tracking and stick with it. I forgot all the nuances, like how I'm the most hungry directly after eating a meal. But my last Ironman pursuit was not the height of my fitness, so time to get back to lean muscles. To that end, I'm focusing on protein and vegetables. I was at the Corner Bakery last night and very impressed that I can enjoy a salad with bacon, chicken and avocado along with a cup of soup within my parameters. So much so that I've got a giveaway cooking up - stay tuned.

2. Since I work from home several days a week, I invested in a space heater for my home office. I figured it would be cheaper to set my Nest thermostat to "away" and heat just the space that I'm in rather than cranking the heat for the whole house all day because my toes are cold. I think Napoleon approves of this acquisition.

3. You may recall my love of Mall Madness runs deep. But check this out! By the time this version came out, I was "too old" for the game. But Goodwill's got my back. For $2, I have a fully functioning new-to-me Mall Madness with all the pieces. Plus, they had 7 Wonders for $15 - it's currently $36 on Amazon.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What I Ate at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

I was recently at The Happiest Place on Earth for two days, exploring the best Walt Disney has to offer. I stayed on site and did the whole Magic Band/FastPass+ thing, and because it was the off season, I feel like I saw a whole lot in two days.

I planned this in a hurry because I found super cheap airfare and figured why not, but I still managed to research tips, tricks and tastes. I looked into recommended food extensively, because, priorities. So here's a look at where I ate, and how many Mickeys I'd give each.

Whispering Canyon Cafe, Wilderness Resort

I stayed at the villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge and had dinner here the first night. There's an all-you-can eat barbecue option that includes amazing corn bread, salad, green beans, baked beans and all manner of smoked meats. It's probably one of the best values at the park at $30 per adult and $15 per kids. It's amusing, too - it's an interactive dinner where kids can get a little rowdy playing along with the wait staff and each other. I'd say the focus is the entertainment factor more than the food. For the money, I think I'd rather go to one of the other resorts that offer a character buffet dinner.

Rating: 3.5/5 Mickeys

Waffle sandwiches, Sleepy Hollow, Liberty Square

I'm not ashamed to say I went back to this place. The menu features soft waffles served either with powdered sugar or as the foundation for sweet or savory sandwiches. The Nutella and fresh fruit was a crowd pleaser, while the ham, prosciutto and swiss was what made me want to come back. The spicy chicken and waffle sandwich is only served after 11 a.m. and didn't quite wow me, but of course I tried it. For research purposes.

Rating: 5/5 Mickeys

Pot roast mac and cheese, The Friar's Nook, Fantasyland

The standard mac and cheese at this place is pretty banging topped with good ol' panko. But for $1 more you can add pot roast, which propels it into foodgasm territory. The pot roast was a perfect example of slow-cooked meaty goodness, whereas the macaroni and cheese was perfectly creamy and delightful.

Rating: 5/5 Mickeys

Dole whip, Aloha Isle, Adventureland

I had to, right? It's the quintessential Disney food. Now I went with the classic Dole whip, but they also offer a float, which is the same frozen treat goodness atop a cup of pineapple juice. I've also heard that you can get this with rum in the Animal Kingdom, which is fitting, because I'd liken it to a very smooth virgin Pina Colada. It was tasty, but didn't knock my socks off. Maybe it's because it was the item I was most looking forward to and it couldn't stand up to the hype. the tl;dr is I'd much rather have my froyo with a million toppings

Rating: 2/5 Mickeys

LeFou's Brew and cinnamon rolls, Gaston's Tavern, Fantasyland

This place is a lot of fun. The LeFou's Brew was delicious and hard to describe. It's an icy-cold fruit-based beverage topped with what I think is frozen apple juice and fluff. It's sugary for sure, but also frothy and light. The cinnamon roll was the size of a toddler and also had a hint of apple juice in it, too. Sip the brew, skip the roll. IKEA's are better anyhow.

Rating: 4/5 Mickeys

So what did I miss at Magic Kingdom?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Training Tuesday

What a glorious week of training! Sort of. I did not run for part of my vacation last week, but was more sore after walking around for a day solid than I was after the Ironman. Perhaps it was different muscles, or maybe I'm just out of practice. Either way, I can only muster the slightest bit of guilt over skipping those runs because I was still active throughout my vacation.

I got in a great outdoor swim in Florida, too, in the nicest pool I've ever had the pleasure of swimming in. It was pretty chilly in Florida when I was there, but the pool was heated and totally empty. That's my definition of bliss.

That's inspired me to get to the pool more often. Last night, I decided to swim for 40 minutes to see how far I could get. I ended up going 2250 yards, and I'm happy with that. I was tired from a 4-mile speed run that morning and giving blood earlier in the day, so I'll take it.

I continue to love doing turbo trainer cycling workouts in my basement with the aid of YouTube. I'm sure it will get monotonous, but the Internet surely has more to offer than the type of rides I'm doing.
Along the lines of training, I may have busted out a ton of push ups at a party this weekend, because I guess that's what two Ironman finishers do when they party together. It reminded me how much I need to be doing body weight strength training at home. Simple stuff makes all the difference - push ups, sit ups, planks and dips.

Onto the next workout!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Motivation Monday & a Discount Race

One concept I think about often is "you pick your hard." Life isn't easy. You decide which path is less painful. Running is hard. Training is hard. But knowing you could do better is hard.

Being on a budget is hard. Being in debt is hard. You choose your hard.

Working your ass off is hard. Knowing you're underutilized and could be more is hard.

Any path worth walking requires work. Choose the work worth doing for the results that will make you happy.

In other news, I found out via Facebook about the Naperville Women's Half, a new race coming to the area April 24. Registration opens tomorrow at 10 a.m. and starts at $1. Along my motto of "free is for me," dollar races are definitely my jam. If I can get in for $1, or even $15, why the hell not.

Here are their tips for getting in:

  • recommends logging in or creating your account, before registration starts. This will save you time during the registration flow.
  • Once you select “Register Yourself” and the form questions load, your slot is officially reserved. You then have 15 minutes to complete the registration process or the discounted slot will be opened for another athlete and you will have to start the process over by reselecting a category.
  • Go right for a $15 or $20 dollar slot as most of the athletes will be vying for the $1, $5 or $10 slot.
  • If you receive a “You’re in the queue” pop-up after selecting a category, refresh your browser instead of waiting in the queue.
  • Use a desktop or laptop computer instead of a smart phone for best results.
  • The highest online registration rate for the Half Marathon event is $100, and for the 5K is $35.
  • Race weekend registration will cost $125 for the Half Marathon and $45 for the 5K.
Someone please tell me if they get the $1 registration.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Health Food for the Rest of Us: A Trip to Fruitful Yield

Last year, I had a blast visiting NOW Foods, a health food manufacturer that is so close, it's on my running route. I tasted, learned and cooked my way through the product line specifically crafted with value in mind. I learned then that NOW Foods started as a result of wanting to provide great products to stock the shelves of Fruitful Yield at better prices. The first Fruitful Yield opened in my back yard, Elmhurst, in 1962, and now there's 13 stores across the Chicagoland area.

In spite of all of this, I had never made it out to a Fruitful Yield. With the Elmwood Park location celebrating its first anniversary with a Wellness Weekend today and tomorrow, it was time to make the trek. I was under the impression that because NOW Foods was a product of Fruitful Yield, it carried only NOW Foods items. I was very wrong.

The store has an impressive array of healthy product at a surprisingly low price. The tags denote items that are 20-35 percent below retail, which is most of what's on the shelves. 

There's a produce section, frozen foods, meats, baked goods, supplements for kids and adults alike, teas and cleanses, drinks, cosmetics and beauty items. I quickly had a cart full of some of my favorites.

All this went home with me for about $50! As a frugal person, it's very satisfying to pick up some of my favorite specialty items that I normally can't get within my budget. There were a few items I LOVED when I visited NOW Foods (try the avocado oil, you'll never go back. And butter-infused coconut oil? It's everything you imagined and more), along with items I might be able to get at a large grocery chain except much, much cheaper. The liquid aminos were only $5!

If you head there this weekend, you'll get an even better deal. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow, all of the locations are hosting a healthy expo with demos, drawings, gift bags and experts on hand to help with your health journey. Dietitians will be there to talk food, and trainers will be on hand to take body measurements and analysis.

Look at all those prizes! May the odds be ever in your favor this weekend.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Join me for the Chicago Auto Show's First Look for Charity

You may recall that last year, I donned my black-tie best and enjoyed some of the best bites and classiest cars I've ever savored at the annual First Look For Charity gala the night before the Chicago Auto Show opens. I'm fortunate enough to have secured an invite again this year (time to get a new dress!), and again joined my fellow bloggers and influencers for a preview at McGrath Acura in Chicago.

First, #FLFC16 is incredibly impressive in terms of what it does for the community. Year after year, it raises more than $2.5 million for 18 local charities that are doing amazing work in our community. That's $42 million that's stayed in Chicago helping kids get adopted, clean up communities and provide education and employment for disabled adults, among other noble pursuits.

Second, the drinks are amazing. In addition to local craft beer, wine and sparkling offerings, every year there's all sorts of signature drinks. This trio of offerings is Valentine's Day-themed, since the Feb. 12 event is so close to the holiday.

I started with savory appetizers and move on to entrees. This beer cheese with toasted pretzel crisps was amazing.

As were the goat-cheese covered grape skewers.

When it came to entrees, this pulled-pork topped mac and cheese.

But I'm never above a grilled cheese/tomato bisque combo. This presentation was so cute!

By this time, I was slowing down. I wanted to try bites of everything, and I always leave room for dessert. These two-bite key lime pies were the perfect end to a meal that spanned cuisine styles.

The fine folks behind the Chicago Auto Show sent me home with a bag of goodies:

That included this super cute business card from The Butter Bella:

Almost too cute to eat. Almost.

So will I see you all dolled up on Feb. 12, too?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Three Things Thursday

1. I just spent a week at The Happiest Place on Earth. More to come on my vacation madness, but needless to say, it was magical.

2. I was welcomed home by a wonderful package from Cabot Creamery! It's a nice way to ease into subzero temperatures after swimming outside and getting sunburned.

3. I also got exciting new en route - I am officially signed on as an Esprit de She ambassador for the fourth year running (pun intended). I'm already signed up to race the Naperville women's sprint triathlon on June 12 and hope you'll join me. It's one of my favorite races for so many reasons - it's affordable, it's a beginner-friendly course and it's a great value because of the Moxie racing jersey participants get in addition to the post-race festivities. If you'd like to join me, use code GEDS16AMB068 to save $5 on registration.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Fogo de Chao Opens in Naperville!

Another night, another awesome meal! I got invited to the opening of Fogo de Chao in Naperville recently and was super excited to take the "how much grilled meat can I eat?" challenge. The place was bustling before opening night with reporters and influencers, which means I got to take a seat at the bar while I awaited my table.

The drink of the night featured cocktails infused with lemons and pineapples. Champagne was also flowing, but I stuck with the fruity cocktails for the evening.

Isn't the bar gorgeous? It's always refreshing to see a staff crafting your cocktail fresh rather than pouring it out of a pitcher. The bar was one of the first things I noticed in the decor, which I thought was a departure from other Brazilian steakhouses. Instead of a hushed and dark dining room, this was bright and lively, with high ceilings and bright white table linens. The salad bar is the anchor of the room and very much on display. Not surprisingly, my favorite part of the salad bar was ... the bacon. Just ignore that plate of bacon on my table in future photos. It was exceptionally crispy, coated in brown sugar and dusted with just a touch of spice. Sorry, lettuce, you've been replaced.

After a brief distraction with things that were not red meat, we were off to the races of stuffing our faces. As expected, the main course came in spades. I tried everything, from lamb to chicken to ribs and sirloin. Ever feel sorry for the chicken breast guy at these places? Because who says yes to chicken when filet mignon is available?

When you go, don't miss the pork ribs. They have an almost crunchy exterior that is reminiscent of bacon. The garlic beef was my favorite, because it had crispy little bits and just the right amount of garlic. The Parmesan pork was also excellent, and I got seconds of the top sirloin.

I didn't need dessert, but I also took one look at the molten lava cake and knew I had to have it. It was melty and delicious and paired so nicely with a nightcap of coffee that I have zero regrets. The crust on the Key Lime pie was also delightful. It was perfectly crumbly and tender, which went well with the creaminess of the filling.

Big thanks to Fogo de Chao and Blast! Marketing for the dinner invite!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Three Things Thursday

1. Poley is looking mighty dapper after his recent 'do. Before, he was looking more like a mop.

2. Congrats to my $25 Amazon gift card giveaway winner, Too Tall Fritz!

3. Finally, Cabot Fit applications are open! I'm a huge supporter of Cabot's mission and commitment to health, and have been a member of the team for two years running (see what I did there?). They're looking for six bloggers to run the Middlebury Maple Run on May 1, which is a half marathon with a relay option. I can't recommend applying enough - being a part of the #CabotFit community has been a highlight of my blogging career.

Vermont City Marathon, 2014
Beach to Beacon 10K, 2015

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Sweet Life: A Night at The Chocolate Sanctuary

I love chocolate more than most things on this planet. If I had to give up chocolate, I don't know what could possibly fill that void.

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting The Chocolate Sanctuary in Gurnee for a fantastic meal. I turned over all my dining choices to Ahmed and was very pleased (and full beyond measure) by the final results. This location is so sleek - there's a sweeping circular bar behind a chic mosaic of their custom logo. And it's weird to include in a food post, but I've never seen a cleaner and more sophisticated bathroom. The toilets are touchless, and the faucets have a dual sprayer/dryer function. Plus, there's a double-sided fireplace in the middle of the dining room. Tres chic.

We started our evening with drinks, naturally, before the chef served wine pairings with our various courses. We also had a set of fluffy chocolate rolls with chocolate butter. You can't have just one, but I tried to restrain myself knowing a full menu of items was en route. I enjoyed one (for now) with the chocolate raspberry mojito.

Our appetizers were wonderful, from the chef's take on a ceviche (it has jumbo crab meat, shrimp and calamari) to the popcorn shrimp and prosciutto mozzarella, the bites were interesting combinations of flavors and textures that showcased the chef's talents.

Sesame aioli, toasted sesame seeds,
cilantro and fresh lemon
Prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes,
basil, balsamic glaze

One of my favorite dishes was the deconstructed Caesar salad, which featured grilled romaine and a soft-boiled egg. There is something supremely satisfying about oozing yolk over and entree. The anchovy also was a delicious touch of salt.

Our first main course (we shared! and they were tastings!) was the chicken marscapone with savory coca fettuccine. I would argue that the average person doesn't appreciate the versatility of chocolate until this hits your lips - it's smoky, nuanced and sophisticated flavor belongs square in the entree course and shouldn't just be relegated to the end of a meal.

Mascarpone cheese, cocoa orange sauce, grilled chicken, crispy leeks, Heirloom cherry tomatoes over fettuccine pasta

In fact, coca was a great complement to two other entrees that were far from sweet. The cocoa nib encrusted salmon was perfectly atop brussel sprouts and grilled polenta, while the sesame crusted ahi tuna was just the right amount of spice.

By this time, I was really full. But I can't go to a restaurant with chocolate in the name and forego dessert. It's basically a sin. So I soldiered on, trying the cuantro of chocolate assortment. It includes a white chocolate creme brulee, milk chocolate tiramisu, dark chocolate brownie with pumpkin gelato and caramel drizzle, and a chocolate covered strawberry. My favorite was the brownie - I'm a sucker for caramel and chocolate together. I love that it's an assortment of greatest hits. I tend to have order envy, so this completely eliminated it.

However, the stand out of the night was the chocolate smores dessert. It's Peruvian dark chocolate flourless cake with toasted Italian meringue, cocoa graham cracker sable, graham crumble, Sanctuary caramel, and cocoa candied bacon. Salty and sweet was exactly how this meal should end.

And I suppose if none of those tickled your fancy, or you find yourself too full for the best part of every meal, you can take dessert home with you. A beautiful dessert case holds delights from a local chocolatier alongside housemade favorites.

A special thanks to Blast Marketing for the invitation, The Chocolate Sanctuary for the hospitality and my ace photographer for the amazing photos.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Training Tuesday

Winter training is super hard, in my opinion, because you're battling yourself along with the elements. It's tough to motivate yourself into tackling hills and repeats and mile after mile when the air alone hurts your skin.

Plus, there's a ton of laundry.

I did make it back to the pool last week for drills and tempo work. Now's the time to work on the mechanics of swimming, because the very first Ironman swim workout is 3,000 yards. That's a lot of back and forth to go with poor form.

I also revisited the arboretum for a long run this week. The plan called for 10 miles at a faster pace. I did what I could given the cold and the fact that it started raining in the last 1/3 of my run. But rain at 38 degrees feels more like tiny daggers than anything else, and it was mentally tough to run past my car twice when all I wanted to do was put on comfies and binge on Netflix originals (I finished Making a Murderer and The Fall, for the record).

Old bike, same attitude
I'll be leaving my bike behind soon for a new adventure, but the goal for the next week is to get in a solid long run outdoors and a treadmill tempo run. I'll also be hitting the pool twice, and knocking out a turbo trainer bike ride.

Yesterday was exactly nine months until Ironman Wisconsin. This is my year to do amazing things.