Is Christmas Really Over?

Hey friends! I hope you all had a WONDERFUL Christmas week! Although Christmas has again come and gone, I am really enjoying celebrating the season in any way that I can. In addition to celebrating with my family all week, my celebrations  included a Christmas get-together with several high school friends of mine. I may or may not have mentioned this before, but I attended an all-girl high school, and it was one of the best experiences of all my life. I’m still very close with almost all of my high school friends (several are in my wedding party!)  and a  couple of weeks ago, we all realized we would all be in town and available on the same night (a rare occasion). Obviously, we decided to have a little Christmas party and gift exchange! We all brought appetizers and drinks, gifts for a gift exchange, and hungry stomachs! photo 2 (16)

For the party, I prepared a couple of appetizers: one was a no-cook appetizer, featuring gorgonzola cheese and a fig jam Derek picked up for me at a farmer’s stand in Alabama a couple of weeks back. The easy no-cook appetizer came together like this:

Ingredients

24 pieces of crostini (I bought mine from Publix Bakery)

1/2 cup of fig jam

6 oz.  gorgonzola cheese

Directions

Spread fig jam on each crostino. Next, spread gorgonzola (or just top with gorgonzola if using crumbled cheese) on top of fig jam. Serve at room temperature.

Easy enough, right?

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Because the get-together was being held at Derek’s house, I wanted to make use of the oven and prepare something a little heartier than crackers and cheese for all of my friends. I found the following recipe on Food Network and prepared my flatbread with  the homemade dough we use for pizza, instead of store purchased.

Directions
On a floured surface, roll out 1 pound refrigerated pizza dough into a 10-by-15-inch rectangle; press into an oiled rimmed baking sheet. Mix 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary and/or oregano, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes and a big pinch of sea salt. Brush half of the herb oil over the dough, then set aside until puffy, about 1 hour. Make dimples in the dough with your fingers and top with thin onion slices and shaved parmesan. Bake at 400 until golden, about 20 minutes. Brush with the remaining herb oil.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/onion-herb-focaccia-recipe/index.html?oc=linkback

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I couldn’t get enough of any of the dishes that the girls brought, including my fair share of cheese and jam, artichoke dip, stuffed mushrooms, and a delicious rosemary + fruit Sangria!
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After we ate at the house and exchanged gifts, the only appropriate thing to do next was go get the best dessert in town. We ended our night with chocolate and drinks at Harry Waugh Dessert Room at Bern’s Steakhouse. If you are ever in Tampa, you have to check this place out. The Dessert Room is on the 2nd floor of the steakhouse, and guests are seated at tables in massive redwood wine barrels. It sounds weird, but it’s perfect. photo 3 (16)

This holiday break has also given me plenty of time to attend some group fitness classes (ahem, Bodypump) go on long runs with Derek, and just veg around the house. Some of my favorite things to do!

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And I really hope to be able to spend some more time in the kitchen while life is a little more slow-paced than usual!

Photo Share 12/9

Hi party people! Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a lovely weekend. I’m so excited to share that I finished my first half marathon this weekend! Derek and I ran in the OUC Orlando Half Marathon, and decided it definitely won’t be our last. I’ll go into a more detailed re-cap of the race in another post, but for now,as tradition calls for, I’ll share the last few days in photos with you all!

I spent Thursday evening with my parents and nephew Parker, drinking almond milk hot chocolate and watching Christmas specials on TV.  This is one of my favorite things to do during the holiday season, and I’m loving the many SNL Christmas Special re-runs that have been airing!

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We started the carb-loading off early in the week ( Monday is appropriate for a Saturday race, right?), so my dad was sweet enough to prepare us some tasty pasta with homemade tomato sauce and fresh basil on Thursday night.

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After work on Friday, Derek and I drove out to Orlando to check into the hotel we stayed at the night before our half-marathon. We made reservations at 310 Lakeside after verifying that they had some serious opportunities for carb consumption! We shared a zucchini flatbread and both had the Chicken Piccata Pasta and it was all delicious!

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We had an early wake-up call Saturday morning, and made sure to snap a pic at the hotel before our race began!

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We ran the race in 1:59:22, and headed back home to Tampa to watch our two teams play in their championship games!

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I’m literally in shock  (but still proud) that Auburn ended up being the team who will face FSU in the National Championship game in January. I’ll be sad to cheer against Auburn, but am glad both of my teams are the top 2 in the country!

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pics from my firm’s holiday party which took place Saturday evening, but it was held at the beautiful Tampa Bay History Center, and catered by one of my favorite Tampa restaurants, the Columbia.

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And we passed Sunday morning in typical Sunday fashion, with church, a trip to the gym for a CX Worx class, and some relaxation, before having dinner with my family to celebrate my Nano’s birthday!

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I plan to get some easy runs in this week, and I’ve set a goal for myself to continue to drink as much water as I did last week as I was gearing up for my half-marathon.

Do you all have any health or fitness goals for this week or month?!

Happy Monday, keep smiling!

How to Fuel for a Half Marathon

As you guys may know from my recent posts, I’m completing my first half marathon this weekend. I tend to over-anticipate and work myself up over all races, even 5Ks, so you can imagine that I’m feeling anxious/excited for this big race. In addition to putting in the proper training, it’s just as crucial to fuel your body properly for longer races, and that’s what I’m focusing on doing this week. I found the following article really helpful, and thought you guys may too!

“How to Fuel for a Half-Marathon

Three great tips on carb-loading and fueling so you don’t hit the wall during your next 13.1.

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Dear Fuel School, I’m getting ready to run a half-marathon this weekend. If I need to carb-load, what should I consume before the start of the race, and how do I fuel to avoid hitting the wall mid-race?

Great questions! I too am gearing up for a half-marathon this weekend and the Runner’s World Half-Marathon Festival next month, so I’ve been busy planning my carb-load and pre-race breakfast. (When you’re a nutrition nerd, you tend to sleep, eat, and breathe race fueling.)
So first things first—the carb-load. You might be wondering if it’s as necessary for 13.1 as it is for 26.2. Honestly, I think it can’t hurt. A carb-load prior to a half-marathon needn’t last as long or be as intense, but it is still important and will have a positive impact on your race performance. Technically speaking, carb-loading really comes into play any time you are out on the road for more than 90 minutes. Carb-loading tends to lead to a bit of stiffness (because your muscles are fully stocked with glycogen) and weight gain (water retention), so for shorter events it’s really not recommended.
Since most of us take longer than 90 minutes to complete a half-marathon, my recommendation is that you carb-load in the days prior to the race. You can carb-load in as little as one day, but to prevent carb fatigue and the worry of “Am I taking in enough?” aim to start two to three days before the half-marathon. You don’t necessarily need to increase your calories—just make sure the majority of those calories come from carbs, especially at lunch and dinner the day before race day. Given time, your body can digest, absorb, and store the nutrients, and you’ll be able to rely on those fuel stores on the next day’s run. The day before race day, have your main meal at midday and a smaller meal for dinner so you have plenty of time to digest.
The pre-race meal is also very important, as you want to toe the starting line with a tank that’s primed but neither empty nor overflowing. For more ideas on what to consume pre-race, check out this past lesson on how to fuel for an early morning run (since most races are held in the early a.m. hours).
Now that we’ve covered carb-loading and what to eat before the race, it’s time to tackle your final question: “How do I avoid running on empty in those last few miles of the race?” As you may have noticed during your training, when you’re on the road for fewer than 75 minutes, you can usually rely on water, sports drinks, and your body’s own glycogen stores to carry you along. Any longer, and you begin to deplete those stores. Your muscles run out of fuel, and your body — not to mention your attitude — starts to drag. Consuming carbs mid-run can keep your blood sugar steady, so you don’t crash and burn.
Instead of recommending something new on race day, here are some common techniques for fueling which should help you blow by that late-race wall. Since every runner is different, you may want to try one or more of the following tips during training. Maybe all of them will work, and you’ll have plenty of options to thwart the feelings of weakness in those last few miles!
Tip #1: Make sure to take in adequate fuel the day before your long run. While you are at rest, your body will have adequate time and energy to absorb and store those nutrients you ate, and then you’ll be able to rely on this fuel for the following day. And don’t forget to eat a carb-rich, low-fiber, easy-to-digest, familiar breakfast the morning of the race!
Tip #2: Fuel at regular intervals and before you need to. Wait until you’re out of gas, and you won’t be able to recover from feeling hungry or weak. Your muscles will be forced to play catch-up, and you won’t be able to bounce back and finish the run feeling strong. If you’ve ever had a long run that started strong and then got slower and slower, it may be time to consider what you did during the first few miles of the long runs that you didn’t do during the last few miles. Many runners head out the door with a full tank but, feeling great, they neglect to re-fuel over the next few miles. If you don’t start fueling within that first hour, it’s likely that your empty-tank will catch up with you, and you’ll bonk. Not only will you hit the wall, but once your muscle glycogen stores are depleted, it can be very difficult to adequately recover during your run (and you may have to walk or crawl the last few miles). My advice to avoid this whole mess? Aim for 30-60 grams of carb per hour (and start using your chews, gels, or sports drinks early and often).
#3: Don’t be afraid of fuel. Maybe you’ve tried a product in the past and didn’t care for it or it didn’t sit well with you. If that’s the case, know that there are always new products coming out. Try a variety of products and brands. For ideas on the many different fuel options available, check out this post on energy gels and this post on alternatives to energy gels. Don’t be afraid to experiment with a few different products and see what works for you. Whatever concentrated form of fuel you are taking in, remember to dilute it with adequate water (or else it won’t be absorbed, and you will get nauseous). Lastly, find out what gel/product your race will be handing out. If you can tolerate or like the brand that the race is handing out, you’ll know that you won’t need to pack your own on race day. But if their chosen brand doesn’t work for you, you’ll need to plan ahead. In addition, you might try to find out at what miles the race will be handing out product and mimic that in your training to practice for race day.
Best of luck this weekend! I’ll be thinking of you and other readers as I tackle my own 13.1-mile challenge!”

Turkey Trottin’ and Roasted Sweet Potato Salsa

Hi friends! How are you all doing?! I spent my whole vacation on cloud 9 –  I spent 2 straight days with my family, enjoyed the latter half  of my break in Atlanta with Derek’s family.

We had such a wonderful Thanksgiving that began with the Turkey Trot 5K that I mentioned earlier in the week. After waking up in the 6 o’clock hour and enjoying a pre-race cup of coffee, my dad, Derek and I ventured out into the 37 degree Florida weather for our Turkey Trot in Fishhawk, a neighborhood near our home.

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We went back and forth on whether or not we should keep our jackets on while we ran. That’s how I know it’s really cold – when Derek and my dad run in long sleeves. In the end, we all decided to be wimps and run with the layers. The run never seemed to warm me up so I’m sure glad I kept my jacket on.

We ran with my dad for about 1.5 miles , and then all met up at the finish line. I didn’t pay much attention to my Garmin, and instead just enjoyed running with Derek and my dad beside me. We are all usually focused on trying to do well in our age group, so this was a nice change to run together.

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We ran mile 1 in 8:48, mile 2 in 8:07 and the last 1.1 mile in 7:54.

It was such a fun race and the turnout was great –  I’d guess about 2,000+ came out! I love seeing races grow from year to year!

After our run, we made our traditional Starbucks stop, and I realized it was my first Starbucks red cup of the holiday season. I’m pretty sure this is pitiful, since this means I haven’t had Starbucks in about a month. What was I thinking???!!!

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We rounded out the morning by decorating the Christmas tree, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, preparing my contribution for Thanksgiving dinner, and attempting to take a successful Christmas card photo.

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My family always celebrates Thanksgiving at my Aunt Suzanne and Tio Frankie’s home, and since they have the Thanksgiving meal perfected, I was asked to bring just an appetizer. I knew I wanted it to be something in the spirit of Thanksgiving, but couldn’t think of a dish for the life of me. That’s where Martha Stewart and Real Simple came into play. I found this recipe on their list of easy Thanksgiving appetizers, and it was definitely a hit at the get together (as much of a hit as an appetizer can be – we all know what we were really there for!)

Roasted Sweet Potato Salsa

1.5 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and diced small

1 large red onion, diced

1 ½ tbsp. olive oil

2 tomatoes, diced

2 avocados, diced

3 tbsp chopped cilantro

Lime juice from 1 lime

Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 450 . Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray, and roast diced sweet and onions tossed in olive oil for 20-25 minutes, or until sweet potato is lightly browned. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool completely.

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Once roasted veggies have cooled, add in tomatoes, avocado, onion, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Serve with pita chips or toasted baguette.

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I hope you all had as lovely as a Thanksgiving break as I did, and I hope your week is just as great!

Happy Hump Day! And… Skinny Pumpkin Granola!

Hi friends! Happy Hump Day!! How are all your weeks going? Mine is shaping up nicely after getting off to a rough start. Remember how I told y’all a while back  how I got no sleep at all one night? Well a repeat of that incident happened Sunday evening, and I got a whopping 2 hours of sleep from 5am-7am. Luckily, the only thing the lack of sleep affected was my plans for power yoga Monday night, which turned out for the best, as I spent a great night with my parents and Louie relaxing at home.

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I don’t know what is going on with my sleep patterns, but I plan to get this mess figured out ASAP! Anywho, I caught up with sleep completely on Monday night, and felt like a new person come Tuesday morning! I made sure things got back to normal on Tuesday and drove straight to the gym after work. While my original plan was to join in on a Mat Pilates class, I opted for a four mile run and a 20 minute stretching session. As our half marathon gets closer and closer (our last long run is this weekend!), I’m getting nervous that I haven’t been putting in enough miles into my preparation . I felt a little better about the situation after a fast 4 miles Tuesday evening, and an easy 3 miles this morning before work!

Another fun part about my week has been the constant availability of pumpkin granola after making a batch this week. As you can tell in my many pumpkin recipes (pumpkin roll, pumpkin muffins), I’m really enjoying the flavor of the season and trying to cook with it as much as I can through the end of November. Here is my recipe for skinny pumpkin granola, which I’ve been enjoying atop yogurt, oatmeal, and by the handful 🙂

Skinny Pumpkin Granola Recipe

4 cups rolled oats

½ cup sugar free maple syrup

½ cup vegetable oil

½ cup pumpkin puree

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ cup chopped nuts (I used ½ pecans and ½ almonds)

3 tbsp chia seeds

1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine oats, nuts, chia seeds and cinnamon in a large bowl and mix together completely. Pour vegetable oil, syrup, and vanilla extract into a measuring cup, and slowly pour over dry oat mixture, stirring to combine. Finally, stir in pumpkin puree and make sure all ingredients are mixed together.

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Prepare 2 baking sheets with cooking spray, and divide and spread mixture between the two baking sheets. Bake for an hour and 20 minutes, removing pans from oven and spreading granola around every 20 minutes, to ensure all pieces are evenly baked.

gr1Hope y’all enjoy this recipe if you give it a try! Have a happy and healthy Wednesday! Keep Smiling!

Sweet Home Alabama + Photo Share 11/18

Hey guys, happy Monday! It feels nice to wake up in Tampa this morning for the first time in a while! We spent our weekend in Dothan, Alabama, where Derek was a groomsman in one of his best friends’ weddings! Spencer and Derek met on their football recruiting visit to Auburn when they were seniors in highschool, and lived together through Derek’s whole Auburn career.  It was such an honor to be with Spencer and Amanda as they officially started their life together, and we can’t wait to see this beautiful couple again soon!

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As you can tell, the evening was picture perfect and the ideal southern affair. I was taken aback with the décor and all the beautiful little southern touches. But the decorations weren’t nearly as beautiful as the couple of the night!

The food went perfectly with the scene – some good ole’ comfort food that included fried chicken, mac and cheese, collard greens, fried okra and corn bread. It hit the spot and made me wish  all weddings included this kind of eatin’.

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And the cakes were a delicious yellow cake with buttercream icing, staged perfectly on a rustic blue dresser

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Rewinding a little earlier in the day – Derek and I found a running trail surrounding a park in Dothan, and got a good 7.5 miles in before 9 a.m. Although our training plan called for a 10 mile run, we made sure to get that distance in last week since we weren’t sure we’d find a 10 mile route in Dothan. Next week we have a 12 miler in store, and it’s our last long run before our half marathon on December 7th! I can’t pinpoint whether I’m more nervous or more excited – anyone else feel this way for their first half marathon??

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This was my first long run sans iPod and Garmin watch (I noticed both were dead as soon as I got dressed for the run). It was much easier than I thought it would be, and enjoyed running with no gadgets and a clear head!

Still rewinding backwards – on our way up to Dothan Friday night, I was so excited when the dinner hour rolled around about the same time that we were passing through Tallahassee. We hopped off the interstate and grabbed dinner at one of my favorite spots – Po’ Boys – all of our mouths were on fire with the Cajun seasonings that Po’ Boys uses, but we left feeling happy and full!

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Before we hit the road on Friday, I made a little time for a fast paced and quick 25 minute HIIT running session, which included the following treadmill intervals:

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I really loved this interval run because it kept me busy and made the time fly by so quickly. Before I knew it, it was time to hop off and call it a day.

And MOST IMPORTANTLY, I also had a little time to whip up a batch of some pumpkin granola, which I promise to share a recipe shortly!

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I hope you guys have a lovely week ahead! I plan to begin my week with some night time Power Yoga. This will be my first time at the class, and I can’t wait to give it a go!

WHAT A WEEK

You guys. To say this week has been wild would be the understatement of the year for me. As soon as I arrived home from travelling to Atlanta last week, I was informed that Iowa was calling my name and I needed to head out west for business for the week. For those of you who have never been to Iowa, please let me inform you that the weather is very different than we’re used to in good ole Tampa, FL. Upon touchdown in the state, temps were in the teens and snow flurries could be seen. I spent the week bundled up in thermals and coats, and needless to say, kept my few workouts in doors.

It took me a couple of days to warm up, and I didn’t make it to the gym until Wednesday morning around 6 a.m. Once I finally arrived at the quaint little hotel gym, I completed the following run on the treadmill. scrnshot

I was feeling pretty tired at that early hour, so it took me a good 7 minutes to really get moving. The slow warm-up helped jolt me awake! I also did a few arm and ab excercised to round out my gym sesh, and repeated the same routine at the same time Thursday morning.

Obviously, I wasn’t cooking out in Iowa. As the town I was working in was 10 minutes from Omaha, Nebraska, we visited restaurants in both states throughout the week. My favorite location – which really knocked my socks off.. who would have thought downtown Omaha was so unique and aesthetically pleasing?! – was a restaurant called M’s Pub that came recommended by a client.

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Not only was the architecture and design of the interior amazing, the food was out of this world! We began our meal with a vegetarian Armenian Lavosh, and I rounded my dinner out with a grilled shrimp + avocado salad, served with the tastiest black bean cake I’ve ever had!

After such a good experience with the client’s recommendation on Tuesday night, we took her recommendation again on Wednesday night, but dined a bit more casually at Boxer BBQ Company in Council Bluffs, Iowa. I went all out and ordered 1/4 chicken, brisket, baked beans, cole slaw, fried pickles and some corn. Hey, when in Iowa… right?

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My weekend is sure to be just as busy as the past few weeks have been, as I’m off in a few hours to Alabama for a friend’s wedding! I hope to fit in a long run on Saturday morning, since Derek and I have only 2 long training runs left before our half marathon!

Happy Friday, everyone! Be safe and smile 🙂