Saturday, February 26, 2011

Blinded by the (Florida) Light

Hello hello! Wow, it's amazing what a mini vacation will do to your mood (and your belly)! While I've been running each day while in sunny Fort Myers, Florida, I can't help but over indulge as I freeload off my parents for the extended weekend. I flew in around midnight Wednesday and hit the pool immediately the next morning. The weather down here is perfect. 82 degrees and sunny all week/weekend long.

The shopping is also quite amazing. Miromar Outlets in Estero (between Naples and Fort Myers) has over 140 designer outlet stores, which my Mom and I managed to run through in a mere 2.5 hours. We spent the majority of this time in Off the 5th, where I probably tried on 28 things and only left with 2: a Tory Birch tunic and a pair of True Religion jeans. So pleased.

The next day consisted of another pool and shopping spree. I laid out for 4 hours straight, and then headed to the infamous juice factory for a frozen treat with the 'rents. When I say "juice factory," I really mean Sun Citrus Harvest. It's a huge fruit distributor with a museum like store filled with Florida themed knick-knacks and the best orange/vanilla swirl frozen yogurt. We've been going there ever since I was a kid and for some reason it generated the nickname "Juice Factory" that stuck... After a bit more shopping (Ralph Lauren polo bikini and cable knit sweater), it was time to head home and hit up happy hour at the Club! Cocktails and an amazing dinner of filet mignon, sweet potato puree and french onion soup to start. So good... Afterwards, we headed to Barnes and Noble for coffee, reading and catching up on work - another family tradition down here in Florida. It sounds lame, but to us, it's quite nice to enjoy coffee and a magazine after dinner.

Today managed to top yesterday. After a morning run, we headed gulf coast ride. We stopped by Salty Sam's Marina on Fort Myer's Beach for a bite to eat - blackened mahi mahi and sweet potato fries plus a few havana mango mojitos. Why not? I'm on vacation after all! During the ride home we spotted a few dolphins... they literally swam along the boat, it was awesome...

Fast forward to tonight. We headed to La Casita, yet another regular dining spot of the
Nuara family. I split a pitcher of Sangria with my parents and we dined on soft tacos, chicken and steak fajitas, and of course salsa and guacamole. I almost walked home in an attempt to burn off just 1 glass of Sangria... Oh well, it was worth it!

So tomorrow is my last day in the sun. I'm sad to leave but excited to get home to my regular routine. I'm digging my tan, even if it meant a few burnt areas! My mini vaca was definitely needed, only now I have the spring bug and I'm ready for the summer. Bring it on!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Blondie Soup and Pizza Tonight

I know the name is pretty lame, but it's all I can think of since the soup is yellow. It's my own creation, but inspired from a recipe a friend gave me called lasagna soup. The lasagna soup is a tomato-based version filled with ground Italian sausage and veggies. I decided to make a hearty wintry version instead. Here's the low-down:
  • 32 oz. chicken broth
  • 32 oz. butternut squash soup
  • Trader Joe's soup mix (2 cups worth of chopped carrots, celery and onion)
  • 4 chopped garlic cloves
  • 2-4 sliced zucchinis (small slices or chopped)
  • 2-4 sliced yellow squash (small slices or chopped)
  • 1 cup fresh mushrooms
  • 1 cup of rotini noodles
  • 1 package of Trader Joe's garlic chicken sausage (or 1lb ground turkey sausage), sliced
  • 1 cup of baby spinach leaves
  • fresh mozzarella slices
  • tbsp cumin
  • tbsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
It seems like a lot of ingredients, but honestly, you can buy almost all of these items already chopped (have I mentioned Trader Joe's is my obsession, or does everyone get the point?). Plus, once you chop everything up, all you do is toss them in a huge pot and let everything boil. As far as the seasoning goes, just make it spicy as you like it. You don't necessarily need the cumin or cayenne, but I like the kick (I'm a spice fanatic).

Place slices of fresh mozzarella on bottom of soup bowl. Pour boiling soup on top, and let it cool just a bit (trust me, you do not want to burn your tongue on this). ENJOY!

Okay, one more food mention and I'm done for the night... PIZZA TONIGHT.

I recently discovered a new make-at-home pizza and I think I'm in love. I don't usually eat pizza. Pizza was always a trigger for me as an overweight kid. I can never stop eating it, and I like the most unhealthy toppings too. I've even ordered a chicken parm slice and a baked ziti slice of pizza before. Who needs a meal on top of a meal, honestly??? So back to the amazing pizza. It's a dpizza kit you can buy at the Farmer's Market (SOTJ), Belmont Butchery, and Elwood Thompson grocery store. The kit comes with 2 balls of homemade dough, a cup of their amazing marinara and secret seasonings. You provide the toppings and cheese. We made our pizza with sliced sun-dried tomato chicken sausage, fresh garlic cloves, mushrooms, mozzarella and feta cheese. It was heavenly.

So, I will post soon on fitness since I've been talking about food quite a bit lately. I've gotten into a cooking kick ever since I started shopping more at Trader Joe's, and my workouts haven't changed much - spin, run, stair climb. I'm going to transition into run, bike, swim and lifting next month to prep for the 10K and of course the up-coming triathlon season. I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Polenta Love

Tonight, I've discovered a wonderful new food to cook with and eat... Polenta. It's a corn bread-like grain that tastes very similar to grits. I recently picked up a tube of polenta at Trader Joe's (another obsession of mine), and created a recipe with it all on my own. I called it polenta pesto bites with eggplant. Here's what I did:

Step 1: slice eggplant into quarter inch circles and coat with either egg white or Pam olive oil spray. Drop into bag of Italian bread crumbs and shake up bag to coat eggplant. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
Step 2: slice polenta into half inch circles and lay on top of eggplant. Bake for 20 more minutes.
Step 3: top with Pesto sauce (or marina) and Italian cheese or fresh mozzarella. Place back in oven for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.

And there you have it. It's a great appetizer option or even a meal since it's pretty heavy with the pesto coated in top. I googled eggplant and polenta and came across recipes that were exactly like mine, which burst my bubble on how amazingly creative I was, but oh well. The photo on the left is a more creative version of what I did, but you get the idea.

I can't wait to cook with polenta again! You can even microwave it, so I may bring it to work with some pizza sauce and cheese and make polenta pizza bites. Yum. The other fabulous thing about polenta is that it's healthy! A fifth of the tube (pictured) is 70 calories and ZERO grams of fat. Plus, it has a little bit of fiber and protein, too. I sliced about 8 circles of polenta and only used half the tube. I am truly psyched about cooking with polenta more often. And yes, I know I'm a complete nerd too.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bikes, Burgers and Valentine's Day

I just got home from the most amazing Valentine's Day meal of my life. John took me to Pescados, one of my absolutely favorite restaurants in Richmond. The menu is filled with Latin and Caribbean Seafood. We did the Valentine's Day prefix, which included the following:

Appetizers: Scallops with caviar and cauliflower curry puree
Duck confit over arugula and dried fruit coated with a sweet raspberry sauce
Dinner: Peppercorn and blue cheese crusted filet mignon, cooked medium rare over top of broccolini and mashed potatoes
Fresh lobster tail over corn risotto
Dessert: Passion fruit parfait and chocolate ravioli

Everything was paired with a wine to match. It was spectacular, savory, romantic and absolutely wonderful. When we got home, I had a half bottle of Rosa Regale, a sparking red Italian dessert wine that you sip while eating dark chocolate. It tastes just like a chocolate covered strawberry. Yum. Plus, John had beautiful flowers delivered to my office. It was a wonderful Valentine's Day. Thank you babe!

Now, let's back up to last week. My last post mentioned that I had signed up for Endorphin Fitness's Triathlon Essentials crash course. I had completed Monday's flexibility and core workout and was ready for Tuesday's cycling class. At least I thought I was... The class was filled from wall to wall with cyclists of every level. It was inspiring and overwhelming all at the same time. We were instructed to bring our road bikes and moun
t them on a rear axle suspension devise that ultimately made our road bikes into stationary spin equipment. It was incredible. My heart rate maxed at 180, which is quite high for me. I loved every minute of it. The massive number of cyclists was so inspiring. I wish I could afford the entire spring program at Endorphin, but alas, the great outdoors on my own time will have to suffice.

Along with my Endorphin crash course on Triathlons, I also crashed my diet as well, specifically with burgers. My coworker Stanley convinced me to attend the soft opening of Boom Boom Burger, the grass-fed organic small business burger joint down by the Farmer's Market on 17th street. The atmosphere was great but the food was okay. Definitely enjoyed the local produce, especially the oyster mushrooms, but $10 bucks for a burger with no sides or drink is pushing it here in RVA. I guess I can't get too excited about Boom Boom burgers when I had the Barnyard Burger to look forward to later that week...

Have you ever been to Lemaire inside the Jefferson Hotel? Everything on their menu is fabulous, and normally I would never consider ordering a burger at a 5-star locale,
but at Lemaire, the Barnyard burger is the best $18 you
will ever invest in when it comes to burgers. Ground tenderloin topped with thick cut bacon, a fried egg and
my favorite: the foie-gras sauce to top
it all off. It's a heart attack on a plate for sure, but worth the 10 mile run afterwards. Hands down this will be my marathon treat of choice. Oh yeah, and we tried antelope. Lemaire's special was a medium rare sliced antelope, very lean and drizzled with a red wine jus. It was awesome, but the burger was better.

So there have it. My week filled with food and cycling. Nothing unusual for me but so much fun none the less!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Crash Course on Triathlon Training

I've got to do a better job keeping up with my blog! Nothing too exciting has been going on the past few weeks to be honest. I'm consistently spinning, running more, cooking more, and of course eating more! Last week, my mom, my sister, and our 2 best friends plus their mom, had a girl's night out at Eurasia, a restaurant in the west end of RVA that serves a wonder blend of Asian and American meals, from rosemary and gorgonzola-crusted rib eye steak, shrimp and gouda grits, to ahi tuna over soba noodles with peanut sauce and pork belly pot stickers. Everything was great, and especially the company I was with!

The other place a tried last week was Off the Hookah, a new night club and restaurant in downtown RVA that serves up an array of Mediterranean food and dazzling belly dancers. My co-worker and I got VIP seating, which included a very kind and generous waitress and a view of sexy dancing on the dance floor. We ordered a tobacco/drug-free Hookah in "Wildberry" flavor. I
t was like inhaling bubble gum. I enjoyed it but that could be nostalgia from my old cig habit. I must admit, it was a lot of fun, and I definitely would go back again.

So... Now on to fitness. This week I decided to sign up for Endorphin Fitness's crash course into Triathlon training. Endorphin Fitness is a leading provider in adult and youth triathlon training and fitness. They just upgraded their fitness center with a store-front expansion, filled with professional road bikes, tools and clothing and equipment galore. I feel very entry-level when I walk in, but the staff is friendly and welcoming when I signed up for the week. Today's class consisted of flexibility and core exercises. I haven't done any type of core, strength training or stretching moves since I broke my arm, so I was definitely looking forward to this class. I had already gone to spin during my lunch break so this would be the perfect compliment to my full-body workout.

The core part of the class was hard. At least for me since I was out of commission for a few months. The stretching was hard too! It made me realize I need to get back into Bikram Yoga again. I've definitely lost my flexibility for sure! The rest of the week will continue with even more challenging classes... Cycling, transition, running, and swimming techniques along with a Friday night group party. It will surely be a good time, I'm definitely looking forward to it!