Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Race-Day Prep Tips!!

Over the last few months, I have spent countless hours on the treadmill at the gym and outside pounding the pavement in preparation for my participation in the 2012 Temecula Half Marathon!  Well... the time is finally here.  On Sunday morning I will be lacing up my running shoes once again for a beautiful and scenic 13.1 mile run through the wine country of Temecula, Ca.

I know I'm physically ready to take on the challenge... I have been following a 12-week half marathon training program by Hal Higdon (www.halhigdon.com).  The program is free and online, and there are different programs from beginner to intermediate, from half marathon to marathon.  Regardless of your fitness level when you start, a training program is a great informational and instructional tool to have... and it'll keep you in check!  In my initial search for a program, I found there to be many other training programs online... some are free, but some you have to pay for.  If you are looking for more personalized support and coaching, another way to train for a half marathon or other run is to join a local running club or find a marathon training group in your neighborhood!**

** You can find information on local running clubs and other programs at Active.com (www.active.com). On top of being a good source for all your active, health and fitness information and advice, Active.com is the best source to find local events, races, and things to do in your city!  I use this site to search and sign up for all my runs and events.

Thanks to all my training, I am confident that I physically ready to run a half marathon!  But to make sure I am mentally prepared for the 13.1 mile challenge, I decided to get some last minute preparation advice from the experts.

10 Race-Day Preparation Tips
By Thad McLaurin • For Active.com
Read entire article here

1. Enjoy the Taper
The last few days before a race, running should decrease (taper) to allow the body to recuperate, rebuild, and be fresh on race day.  Don't replace the run downtime with more cross-training as you might cause your fitness level to dip, and in turn lessen your race-day potential.  Rest your body... and enjoy it!

2. Fuel Up
During the last three days before a race, carbohydrate intake should increase!  Start with complex carbs (whole grains) for the first day then simple carbs (regular pasta, pretzels, white bread) for the last two days.  Eat your last last big meal of simple carbs (pasta, easily digestible food) 12 to 15 hours before the race.  YUM... CARB-LOADING.

3. Hydrate
Don't over-hydrate the day before the race, drink water when you are thirsty.  Make sure to drink 16 oz. of water two hours before race time.

4. Enjoy the Expo... but resist the urge
Don't buy things (shoes, socks, etc.) at the expo and use them the day of the race.  DUH.  Also, avoid trying samples of sports drinks, energy foods and supplements you've never tried before.

5. Sleep
Try to get a good night's sleep so you are well-rested for the race.  Go to bed early if you need to!  Sleep is good.

6. Dress for Success
Don't overdress.  If you need to keep warm before the race, you can wear an old sweatshirt or sweatpants that you can toss at the start line (you could get some beforehand at the Goodwill too).  Many races donate discarded clothing.

7. Warm Up
Keep it minimal.  Stretch, brisk walk, and/or easy jog for a few minutes... don't tire yourself out before the race!

8. Cool Your Jets
Ignore the speedsters running around and past you!  Focus on starting at your own pace. Sometimes slow and steady wins the race!

9. Have a Mantra
Having a motivational mantra can help you fight off fatigue, get over a tough hill, or pull you through a hard stretch.  My mantra is... 'new running shoes when I'm done!'

10. Trust and Believe
Trust in your training and believe in yourself as an athlete.  You are stronger than you think!  #mindovermatter

With that being said... I'm officially pumped up, ready to go, and am determined to cross that finish line strong!  Being mentally and physically prepared for race day is important... especially if you want to finish injury-free, with a SMILE on your face :)

Oh and did I mention the half marathon is in wine country!?!  Celebratory wine tasting afterwards?  I think, yes.

Let's do this.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Banana Muffins- Quick, Easy, and Healthy!

Bananas get ripe. It happens. But when bananas turn brown, it's time to make muffins or bread! If you don't have enough time, freeze the ripe bananas until you can use them. This recipe is easy, light, and quick. So now there is no reason to throw those brown bananas away.

What I love about this recipe is that there are no eggs, oil, or butter in it. Yet, the muffins turned out so moist and tasty. I hope you enjoy as much as I did.

Lighter Banana Muffins

Adapted from allrecipes.com



2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 ripe bananas (original recipe only called for 3)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Lightly grease or line 12 muffin cups
3. In a medium bowl, combine eggs and bananas.

4. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, salt, sugar, and baking soda.

5. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture.
6. Pour batter into muffin cups.
7. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

 8. Enjoy!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Perfect Pesto!

I am a huge fan of Italian food... and pesto!  Pesto (a sauce originating in Italy that usually consists of basil, crushed garlic, and pine nuts blended with olive oil and Parmesan cheese) is great on pizzas, on sandwiches, on pasta....

Here is my favorite pesto recipe!  It's basic, simple, never-fail, and delicious.

via allrecipes.com
(makes 2 cups)
  • 3 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Combine basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese in the bowl of a food processor or blender.  Blend to a smooth paste.  Store in refrigerator.

Last night I was so tired, I didn't feel like cooking but I was hungry and wanted something warm and comforting!  I remembered I had some of my delicious pesto left in the fridge... so I grabbed a whole wheat tortilla and smeared some pesto on it.  Then I topped the tortilla with a handful of shredded mozzarella cheese, diced tomatoes, and some turkey pepperoni.  Next, I laid the loaded tortilla in a pre-heated pan (face up) on the stove, folded the tortilla in half, and cooked over medium heat on each side for a few minutes.  VOILA!  A quick and easy Pesto Quesadilla!  Yum.

You can use this basic pesto in all sorts of other recipes... it's a good sauce to have on-hand!


Low-Cal Pumpkin Oatmeal Muffins

Another recipe using canned pumpkin?!  Yes, sorry.  I know not everyone is as enthusiastic as I am about it... but I just love canned pumpkin, it's one of my favorite things about fall!  I always have some canned pumpkin the cupboard (I stock up on it while it's on sale), so it naturally finds it's way into a lot of my recipes at this time of year.  Plus, pumpkin is low in calories, high in vitamin A and dietary fiber, can be used as a substitute for eggs or oil, and it tastes great!

So when I woke up to grey skies and drizzle this morning, craving a warm muffin, it's not surprising I reached for the closest can of pumpkin!  I wanted to find a muffin recipe that would be low in calories, fat, and sugar... but also had some extra healthy ingredients in it!  Once again, I took to Pinterest.com to get some ideas and came across a recipe for Pumpkin Oatmeal muffins.  Two of my favorite ingredients in one warm muffin?!?! This was a MUST-TRY!

I made some changes to the original recipe, and what I ended up with was a low-calorie and heart healthy muffin... packed with vitamin A, dietary fiber and protein!  Unlike the original, my recipe doesn't use any oil (I substituted unsweetened applesauce instead) but the muffins still came out moist and chewy on the inside.  And at 112 calories a muffin, you don't have to feel guilty about indulging in one (or two) or them...

Janel's Low-Cal
Pumpkin Oatmeal Muffins
Based on a recipe by CarrotsnCake.com
(makes 12 muffins)

  • 1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 8 packets or 2 tbsp. Stevia or other zero-calorie sweetener
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 (15 oz.) can, canned pumpkin
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla
  • Preheat oven to 375*F
  • Coat muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray or line muffins cups.
  • Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl; blend well.
  • Pour batter evenly into muffin tins.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes.
  • Allow to cool, and enjoy!

Buttered to perfection!

Nutritional Info. (per muffin)
calories - 112, fat - 1.2g, carb - 21g, dietary fiber - 3g, protein - 3.6g

These little guys would be great topped with some light cream cheese!  Yum :)

Note:  You can refrigerate or freeze these muffins and re-heat in the morning for a quick, but delicious breakfast.

Ahhhhh canned pumpkin.... you make me so happy.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

1 box Brownie Mix + 1 can Pumpkin = :)

While browsing around on Pinterest.com, I came across a recipe for LOW FAT brownies... and all you need to make them is a can of pumpkin and a box of brownie mix!  I knew greek yogurt could be substituted for oil and applesauce or bananas for eggs, but I never thought about using canned pumpkin to substitute for both.  Using the canned pumpkin instead of oil and eggs makes these brownies waist-line friendly... and not to mention packed full of vitamin A and fiber (from the pumpkin)!

Well of course I had to try out this miracle low fat brownie recipe.  Since I've been attempting to cut back on my sugar intake (for the most part a futile effort) I used a box of Sugar Free Chocolate Fudge brownie mix and one 15 oz. can of pure pumpkin. 

All you have do is stir the brownie mix and canned pumpkin together until blended, then pour the mix into a 13x9 or 9x9 inch greased baking pan.  Bake as directed on the brownie mix box.  Ummm.... SO EASY!

As you can see (from the missing portion of brownies from the pan - warm brownies are just too good), I was quite impressed with the results.  These low fat brownies have a gooey-fudgy consistency, you can barely detect the pumpkin, and the best part.... one brownie is only 100 CALORIES!

Nutritional Info. per serving (based on 12 servings):
Calories - 100
Fat - 2.6g
Carbs - 25g
Dietary Fiber - 4.25g
Sugar - 1g
Sugar Alcohol - 9g
Protein - 1.5g

A 100-calorie, sugar-free, delicious and nutritious brownie... well that's something to smile about! :)

Here is a list of some more baking substitutions you can use to give your recipes a "healthy" makeover:

And some more.....
via theherbanalchemist.com

Good information to know!


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pumpkin Pockets and Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes!

One of my family's favorite things to do on our annual trip to the Central Coast is to stop by the Avila Valley Barn in Avila, Ca.  This little farm stand is open year round, selling locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, ice cream, baked goods and gifts to the public.  It is a favorite stop for locals and visitors alike! 

The Avila Valley Barn is especially charming in the fall... it's complete with a giant pumpkin patch, pumpkins of every shape and size, hayrides, a hay maze, farm animals, and fresh seasonal baked goods! 

Every year, my family makes a mandatory stop by the farm stand to pick up our pumpkins and goodies.  One of the Avila Valley Barn's fall baked-good specialties is the inspiration for my newest recipe... Pumpkin Pockets (I nicknamed them "pumpkin pockets", but they are basically a pumpkin turnovers)!  It's like having a piece of pumpkin pie.. but in an easy to eat, hand-held, buttery pie crust pocket.

Pumpkin Pockets
makes about 14 - 4 inch pockets

2 - 9 inch unbaked pie crusts
1 can (15 oz.) canned pumpkin
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1 tsp. soft margarine (or I Can't Believe It's Not Butter)
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, mix pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice.

Unroll pie crusts and lay flat on another piece of (lightly floured, optional) parchment paper.  Using a large cup or other object with a round 4 inch diameter, cut out 6-7 circles per pie crust.  If needed, gather scrapes of pie crust together and re-roll crust to cut more circles.

Spoon pumpkin mix into center of pastry circles.  Fold crust over, edge to edge, and pinch together.  Place onto prepared baking sheets.

In a small bowl, mix together 1 tbsp. sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon.  Gently butter the top of each pocket with a light layer of soft margarine (about 1 tsp.), then sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the top.

Bake in the preheated oven until pie crust is puffed and golden brown, about 12 minutes.  Cool on the pans for 5 minutes, then move pockets to a wire rack to cool completely.

And........... since I had about half of the pumpkin mixture leftover (I didn't have the full 2 pie crusts for the previous recipe), I decided I would make Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes too!  I couldn't just let the pumpkin mixture go to waste, seeing as how canned pumpkin is super EXPENSIVE right now!  Unlike regular fluffy cupcakes, these pumpkin pie cupcakes have a dense, custard-y consistency and are much like pumpkin pie filling.

Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes
Based off a recipe I found on Pinterest.com - Impossible Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes
yields about 6 cupcakes

To the 1/2 batch of pumpkin mixture I still had (see above Pumpkin Pocket recipe) I added,

1/3 cup white, whole wheat flour
1 egg
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup fat-free milk (I used light vanilla soy milk)

Preheat oven to 350 (mine was already at 350).  Line a muffin-tin with about 6 cupcake foils or silicone liners.

Fill each muffin cup about 1/2 full with batter.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.  Cool cupcakes in tin, top with any remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture (from the Pumpkin Pocket recipe).  Cupcakes will sink as they cool.

Chill cupcakes before serving.

These cupcakes would be great topped with some fat-free Cool Whip!!  Just like pumpkin pie!

It's really beginning to feel (and taste) like fall around here. :) Thanks to the Avila Valley Barn for the seasonal baked-good inspiration and for getting me into the fall spirit again this year! 


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Chicken Italian Sausage, Mushroom, and Spinach Lasagna

The other day I had a craving for some warm, cheesy, meaty Italian 'comfort' food.  I considered calling my mom and asking her to make some lasagna for me... seriously I did, she makes the BEST lasagna.  But this craving presented an opportunity for me... to make my very first attempt at lasagna!  So instead of calling Mom and begging for some cheesy goodness, I went to the store to gather the ingredients I needed to make it myself.  Maybe my lasagna could be as good as hers?!  Doubtful, but the idea got me excited to get into the kitchen... and hungry!  At the grocery store I picked up a box of whole grain lasagna noodles and (like magic) found a recipe on the back... since I wasn't sure exactly what I ingredients I needed, I decided to use that recipe as my guide.  So with a easy-looking, basic lasagna recipe and a grocery store full of ingredients, I was well on my way...

And what I ended up with was much more than a basic lasagna....

Chicken Italian Sausage, Mushroom, and Spinach Lasagna
based on a recipe from Ronzoni
makes 1 - 13x9 pan

12 oz. chicken Italian sausage (links)
10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed
8 oz. fresh, sliced mushrooms
32 oz. jar spaghetti sauce (I used a mushroom onion pasta sauce)
1/2 cup water
1 3/4 cups (15 oz. container) part skim ricotta cheese
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 ground black pepper
1 pkg whole grain lasagna noodles, uncooked
handful fresh basil, chopped (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 13x9 pan with non-stick spray.  Slice chicken sausage links in 1/2 inch slices.  Place thawed spinach in a paper towel and gently pat to remove excess water.  In a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat, brown the chicken sausage and mushrooms. 

Towards end of cooking process, add chopped spinach.  Stir until mixed well.  Add spaghetti sauce (reserving about 1 cup) and water; turn down heat to medium-low and simmer 8-10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir together ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese (reserving about 1 cup), Parmesan cheese, eggs, salt and pepper. 

Cover bottom of the 13x9 pan with half of the reserved spaghetti sauce (about 1/2 cup).  Arrange 3-4 UNCOOKED pasta pieces lengthwise over sauce; cover with one-half of the simmered sausage mixture.  Spread one-half of the cheese filling over the sauce. 

Repeat with another layer of lasagna, sausage mixture and cheese filling.  Top with layer of lasagna and the remaining spaghetti sauce; sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese (and more Parmesan cheese and fresh chopped basil, optional). 

Cover with foil.  Bake 45 minutes.  Remove foil; bake additional 10 minutes or until hot and bubbly.  Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.

Makes 12 servings.

Well, it would take me forever to get through a huge pan of lasagna so I transferred some of the lasagna into a 9x9 pan (I had to transfer it in smaller pieces so it wouldn't fall apart). Then, I tightly wrapped that pan in foil and put it in the freezer.  Make Ahead Meal... yeay!!!!  Next time I have a craving for some warm, cheesy Italian 'comfort' food, all I will need to do is take the pan out of the freezer and pop it in the oven.

Ok, this lasagna turned out so delicious... I had to pat myself on the back.  First attempt at lasagna..... SUCCESS.  Mom would be proud. :)


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Eat fresh, buy local!

My family and I recently took our annual trip up to California's Central Coast. We stayed in the beautiful coastal town of Avila Beach, but we spent time in the cities of Solvang, San Luis Obispo (SLO), Pismo Beach, and Paso Robles over the course of the weekend.
As a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo alumni, I have a lot of favorite pastimes in the town of SLO. One of my favorite pastimes that I like to revisit whenever I visit is the Thursday night Farmer's Market. The local fresh produce is absolutely amazing! I was so inspired after this trip to the market that I wanted to write a blog about it.
Sunflowers at the SLO Farmer's Market
In my hometown of San Diego County alone, more than 6,000 farmers work to make agriculture a one and one-half billion dollar industry in San Diego County!  Many of the county's growers operate small family farms, with 65% harvesting nine acres or less.
Fresh vegetables at the SLO Farmer's Market
Buying local is simply the concept of buying food produced, grown, or raised as close to your home as possible. Here are just a few examples of the why shopping for local farm products is beneficial to you and your community. (http://sdfarmbureau.org/BuyLocal/Buy-Local.php)
  • Local Produce is Fresher: Local produce is picked and eaten at the height of ripeness and was probably picked within the past day or two. Local farmers can also offer produce varieties bred for taste and freshness rather than for shipping and long shelf life.
  • Local Food Supports Local Farmers: Family farms are part of the American tradition of self-sufficiency and serve as the basis of local communities. With each local food purchase more of your money spent on food goes directly to the farmer. Local farmers spend their money with local merchants and the money stays in your community.
  • Buying Local Protects the Environment: When you buy food locally you reduce energy consumption. Local food doesn't have to travel far. Food, on average, travels 1500-2500 miles from farm to table. Buying local helps to lower energy consumption by reducing transportation and storage, both of which are very energy-intensive and pollute our air and water.
  • Buying Local Preserves Diversity: Certified Farmers' Markets are instrumental in preserving the diversity of California agriculture by providing marketing outlets for the small acreage growers of heirloom, culinary, ethnic, and specialty crops not widely grown on a large scale or found at traditional food sources.

Fresh berries at SLO Farmer's Market
So, get out there and enjoy your local farmer's market! Besides the healthy benefits of the fruit and vegetables, you can support your local famers!