Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Reflections & Gingerbread Cookies

On new year's eve, I like to take some time to reflect on everything that's happened that year. This year I'm starting early because of all of the big changes that have gone on in my life in 2015. Personally, it's felt like my life has been slammed into fast forward ever since I was offered my job at Carnegie Mellon early in 2014. You'll note that this was around the same time that the blog posts started to be less regular... So here are the highlights of 2015.

1. Marriage. On 05/31/2015, I got married! The wedding was fun: we got married in the MIT chapel, and then headed up to spend the weekend celebrating by Squam Lake in New Hampshire. I had obsessed over every detail to make sure that everyone had fun and I think it paid off. In hindsight, despite a rainy wedding day, my wedding photos are my only complaint-- the ones from the chapel and by the Charles river are still MIA and the ones taken at the rain location for our big ceremony are lack luster. (Oh, and if you were there... thank you notes are on my "To Do" list for tomorrow. I was hoping to have all the photos before I sent thank yous, but since half of them still haven't showed up...)

2. Move. Three days later, on 06/02/2015, two moving trucks showed up early in the morning in Providence RI and Somerville MA to pick up our and belongings to take to our new home in Pittsburgh PA. Because of the conflicting geographies of Brown & MIT, my husband and I had never lived together before our wedding, so we did the moving in together thing old school: after marriage! There has been a lot to get used to: living in a house instead of an apartment (3 floors to lose things on!), living with each other (whose sofa should we use? whose pots and pans? when do we go to bed?), and simply Pittsburgh. My husband has never lived outside of New England and we had both been in the Boston area since we graduated from college so it was a big change for us.

3. Thirty. On 07/29/2015 I turned 30! Given all these big life changes going on, it felt "right" that I should be starting a new chapter of my life chronologically. On my 30th birthday, I watched the sun rise over the ocean at Revere Beach with my best friend and the loaded up the last of my office/ books/ lab supplies that I left at MIT in my car to drive west. All in all, I spent 8 years in Cambridge at MIT and I will say that it was a fantastic place to spend my 20s. I was given so many opportunities and was challenged constantly over that time. Without these years, I would not have become the person/ scientist/ athlete I am today. For the first week I was 30, I was excited about it. Stable adult life, with a house, husband, and paycheck, yay! But after a week, I grew to resent what stability responsibility cost.

4. Professor. My official start date at CMU was 08/01/2015. I had been going back and forth for a nearly a year, but this was when the reality hit. I hired two postdocs and taught sophomore organic chemistry this fall. I have to sign emails Professor Sydlik. The grant writing is ok, but I have to show up to lecture 4 times a week at a specific time and prepare problem sets and exams!  Fortunately, I have excellent colleagues and mentors who were able to remind me that being a professor is about as good as it gets: you have the perks of stability and such but still about 90% of the freedom you had as a student (and perhaps even more freedom in some aspects).

5. More bikes. To complete the most eventful 10 weeks of my life, I got my Cat 1 road cycling upgrade on 08/08/2015! I had been doing well early in the season, but after moving to Pittsburgh, I suddenly got a lot faster. Over the course of a few weeks, I won the PA Elite TT title, two more local RRs, and then shocked myself at the Tour of the Catskills. After a disappointing TT, I launched a vicious attack on stage 2 but then got a flat that relegated me to 4th. On stage 3, it all came together and I beat some pros who came down to race to win the Devil's Kitchen RR. That stage race is my favorite and I am sad to see it go. I also traveled to Ireland to compete in a stage race, found that I absolutely loved it, and made some history winning Pittsburgh's Dirty Dozen bike race. After 3 years of local racing and moving up the categories, I am excited to train hard (with the help of Finish Fast Cycling) and try my legs at some big races in 2016.

Well, that's the highlights of 2015. New Year's Resolutions to come tomorrow (and you already have my recipe for vegetarian pork and sauerkraut). For now though, I'll leave you with an awesome gingerbread cookie recipe that I developed to take to New Year's parties with me. These are gingersnaps that don't really snap... instead, they have a crispy exterior and chewy interior that is downright amazing. And it's all accomplished in a recipe that doesn't even have any oil!

Gingerbread Cookies

2.5c (whole wheat) flour
2.5c dark brown sugar
5t baking powder
1T ginger
1T cinnamon
1t cloves
1t nutmeg
1c molasses
1/2c almond milk

1. Mix dry ingredients, the add the wet.
2. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. Refrigerate dough for 15 minutes. (This just makes it easier to shape into balls for a nice even circle.)
4. Shape chilled dough into balls.
5. Bake 13 minutes, then remove from oven. Let cool at least 5 minutes before removing from the cookie sheet.


Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas & Almond Espresso Chip Cookies (GF!)

Merry Christmas! In this year of exciting firsts, this was yet another. 2015 was the first Christmas that I was not at home to spend it with my family in Allentown. In fact, Christmas went so not according to plan this year, I'm not even sure what to make of it. Through the type of disluck that comes from two people in the first year of very demanding jobs, my husband had the week before Christmas off of work, and I had to give one of the last finals at CMU. Thus, I was working through Christmas eve, while my husband has to return to work at 5am on 12/27. It was not the end of the world though-- we decided that I would fly to Connecticut-- meeting up with my brother & sister in law on a connecting flight-- on Christmas morning to have Christmas dinner with his family and then help Aidan with the drive back to Pittsburgh the following day so that he would be rested for work the next day.

Lobby of my building decorated for Christmas!

This plan began smoothly. Grades were good for my organic chemistry class and I managed to finagle some really steep discounts from vendors on the last few big pieces of equipment my lab still needed. Aidan got to Connecticut safely and Christmas eve was lovely-- it started with a really great warm & sunny ride. I'm discovering the riding is absolutely incredible around Pittsburgh-- so much climbing! I think my only complaint is that most of the climbs are only 5 minutes, so the terrain will help train my 5 minute power, which is already comparatively my best. After running a few errands (last minute gifts for my nieces!) and attending an early Christmas eve mass, I went over to a friends house for Christmas eve dinner. This was awesome because he has kids who were excited for the big day and watching a Santa tracker, among other reasons. I also barely had time to think about missing my family's traditional Christmas eve feast of the seven fishes!

Christmas morning was when things started to unravel. The day opened with coffee and a bunny sleeping outside my bedroom door, so that was a plus. However, I quickly brought it down with a lack-luster trainer session. Between the abbreviated warm-up and my head already worrying about making my flights on time, I lacked focus and was all over the place like I have't been in some time. Each training session is an opportunity, and that was definitely an opportunity missed. Sigh. I guess I'm allowed to mess up sometimes and it's been a good 6 months since the last time I disappointed myself so I guess I'm doing ok. As long as I do better next time...

The trainer wasn't so abysmal so was still in a great mood as I arrived at the airport. However, when I went to check in, I discovered that my flight was cancelled, and I wasn't scheduled to get into Hartford until 5pm. I actually could have rolled with this pretty well, but I was appalled that I hadn't gotten any notice from Delta before arriving at the airport! I was apparently supposed to spend the whole day sitting in the airport, and potentially take the risk of getting stuck in whatever city my flight was connecting through. I panicked that I was going to ruin my in-law's Christmas! After spending a good couple hours negotiating with the airline representatives about earlier flights and hemming and hawing with my husband and family about what the right thing to do was, I decided to ask for a refund and went home. I was very disappointed and lonely, but fortunately my husband was able to keep my spirits just high enough to avoid a meltdown in the cab.

After a lengthy nap, I spent the day watching Christmas movies, snuggling my bunny, and Facetiming/ Skyping with my family and Aidan alternately. In the end, I know that I am lucky to have a nice house and lovely bunny to come home to, and so many loved ones concerned enough about my unlucky travel day to spend the time talking with me. Plus, I have this job that I like and a fast bike and good roads to ride so what more could I ask for? :)

Biscuit demonstrates proper lounging technique. He got a bed for Christmas this year, and I've shamelessly taken dozens of pictures of him snoozing in it!

Anyways. Recipe time! I developed these gluten free cookies for my best friend because well, everyone has to give cookies to friends at Christmas! Inspired by espresso chips that I found recently, I decided to keep these cookies on the healthy side with oats and almond butter, since I knew that her sisters would be sure to have her covered with unhealthy Christmas treats! I taste-testing, I learned that saw the these espresso chips have plenty of caffeine, (I didn't sleep one night...) so there should be enough to classify these as a performance enhancer. It only takes 5mg/kg according to a recent study! These cookies are perfect out of the oven or the next day... they are crispy on the outside, but stay soft and chewy inside. Just how I like them!

Almond Espresso Chip Cookies

1c quick cook rolled oats, ground to oat flour
1T baking powder
1c brown sugar
dash cinnamon 
1/2c unsweetened almond milk
1/2c almond butter
1c espresso chips

1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Food process oats to make oat flour.
3. Add dry ingredients to mixing bowl and stir to combine.
4. Cut in almond butter.
5. Stir in almond milk, then add espresso chips.
6. Bake 13 minutes, or until the edges just start to brown.

That's all for now. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Healthy Oatmeal Cookies

I've been making "bike cookies" for a while (a recipe that shamefully, I've still not shared in over 2 years of blogging), but this fall I decided that I wanted to take it up another notch. I challenged myself to come up with a substitute for my afternoon Cliff bar snack that didn't include a big dose of sugar. Remember last winter when I was inspired by Engine 2 and posted about my adventures in sugar-free baking? Yeah... minus the scones, it didn't go so well... So, I wasn't holding my breath for these. But I thought they might be ok since my grandma does use applesauce in her oatmeal cookies. Of course, she adds it along with butter and sugar, rather than instead... but hey! I thought these were worth a shot. The result is the best homemade bars ever! Three cookies approximates the nutrition of a Cliff bar on awesome: 200 calories, 3g fat, 39g carbs, and 9g protein. (Or for those of you who aren't starving at all times and would only want to eat one... that's 65 calories, 1g fat, 13g carbs, and 3g protein.) Yum!

Healthy Oatmeal Cookies

2c rolled oats
1 scoop protein powder (Whole Foods now has a fantastic vegan protein called "fit protein" I used the Vanilla-Cinnamon flavor for these)
1T baking powder
1 ton cinnamon (ok, maybe an exaggeration, but maybe not. You've seen me cook...)
1c raisins
1.5c unsweeted applesauce

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix oats, protein powder, baking powder and cinnamon. Add raisins, then applesauce. Shape into balls and press flat onto a baking sheet. It should make ~15 2 inch cookies. Bake for 15 minutes or until the edges just start to turn brown. Take on your next ride, or enjoy as an afternoon snack!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving! (2015 Edition)

Since I last wrote, big changes have happened in my life. I got married, moved from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania, started my dream job as a tenure track chemistry professor at Carnegie Mellon, upgraded to a Cat 1 road cyclist... I feel like the list goes on and on.  I have so much to be thankful for. My loving family and friends, a caring, sweet husband, my dream job, many fast bikes, a nice (rental) house in a good neighborhood, a wickedly smart and athletic rabbit, who might just be a psycho-killer if he was a human... However, with so many changes I feel like I'm still finding my footing in this new life. I don't know how and what to prioritize and if I didn't love everything so much, I would feel very overwhelmed. I don't yet know how to be the best wife I can be (although recently I learned that it does not involve keeping a spotless house. We are much happier when I accept that the house will be messy.) This Thanksgiving, my husband is working night shift. Thus, I decided not to travel so that I could be with him as he spent his first holiday outside of New England without his family. I feel like a huge disappointment to my own family, but since I'm married now, I have to put Aidan first and think about how I can best support him. And I think being here for him and getting caught up on sleep, chores, and work is the best way to do just that.

We aren't totally missing out though. Last weekend, our best friend came into town, since her parents live down the street from us, so we celebrated Thanksgiving with a delicious dinner with her family then. I am so thankful to have my best friend and really, her whole family in our lives. They are the type of people who know what you need and give it to you before you even ask or realize yourself that you need it. Thanks :) She truly gives meaning to the quote "friends are the family you get to pick out." To the dinner, I brought a Veggie Turkey and apple sweet potato burgers, as the vegetarian entree (recipe below). I was really proud of my veggie turkey, especially because I found it on Pinterest last year and actually remembered for a whole year that I wanted to make it and did! I must say, it is a fantastic contribution for a vegetarian to bring to a Thanksgiving dinner.

The most adorable veggie turkey.

But on the big day, what's a girl who loves to cook but doesn't have a Thanksgiving dinner planned to do? I have a ton a work and laundry, but I decided to indulge myself by making a few more elaborate recipes that I have been dying to make for some time. For the husband, I made cranberry-maple glazed salmon and apple crisp to take to his work potluck. I followed those up with a chestnut stuffing (to make use of some french and sourdough bread that had gone stale) and a sweet potato lentil shepherds pie. There's still many hours left in the day, so I might make a few more things, but I decided to take a moment to reflect and do one more thing that I gratuitously enjoy... sharing recipes with you!

Apple Sweet Potato Veggie Burgers

1c oatmeal, ground to oat flour
1T cornstarch
1 large or two small onions
2 cans chickpeas
1 large apple diced
1 large sweet potato, cubed
garlic, ginger, cinnamon, salt & pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Roast sweet potato cubes on parchment paper for 30 minutes or until just starting to soften.
3. Make oat flour by food processing oats. Add the cornstarch. Add spices.
4. Dice onions and add them to the food processor. 
5. Wash & drain chickpeas. Add 1/2 of them to the food processor. Pulse to make a course paste. Transfer to a large bowl.
6. When the sweet potatoes are done, add them to the food processor. Add remaining chickpeas and apple chunks and process coarse lay. Add to bowl.
7. Mix mixture in bowl with hands (like working clay) Taste to see if you need to add any additional spices.
8. Shape into patties (this should make 10). Bake for 30-40 minutes at 350F. Flip burgers at 25 minutes to evenly brown.
9. Serve with cranberry sauce (or honey mustard). Enjoy!

Vegetarian Chestnut Stuffing

1 lb chestnuts
~1 loaf stale bread (I use whole wheat bread ends, a stale Italian loaf, and stale sourdough rolls to use)
1 small onion, diced
1 16oz package mushrooms, chopped
2 stalks celery
2c vegetable broth
Black pepper, garlic, parsley to taste

1. Preheat over to 350F.
2. Cut an "x" into the top of each chestnut. Roast in over at 350 for 40 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, chisel (ok, or cut if your bread isn't like rocks) bread into chunks. Dice onion, celery, mushrooms. Place in 9x 13 pan.
4. Once your chestnuts are done and cooled, harvest as much chestnut meat as you can. Add to pan.
5. Add spices and pour broth over stuffing mixture. If using fresh bread, use less
5. Bake for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, or until bread is desired crispiness and mushrooms & onions are tender.

I. love. bread. Yum! Carbs are speed!

Sweet Potato Lentil Shepherd's Pie

2 large sweet potatoes
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
1c dried lentils, cooked
1 package (16 oz) mushrooms
1c unsweetened original almond milk
basil, garlic, onion, salt, pepper, parsley to taste

1. Preheat over to 350F (Hint: these are all at 350 by design, so if you wanted to make a Thanksgiving feast, you could do them all at once!)
2. Wash lentils, then cook in ample water. You can flavor the water with bullion or vegemite for more flavor.
3. Poke holes with a fork in the sweet potatoes. Microwave for 10 minutes, or until soft.
4. Saute 3/4 diced onion and mushrooms in a large pan, using water to prevent from sticking. Add spices.
5. In a small food processor, food process 1/4 onion, 3 cloves garlic and parsley.
6. Once lentils are done, drain. Add to mushrooms and onions and sauté for another 5 to 10 minutes.
7. When sweet potatoes are soft and no longer scorching hot, cut open, and scoop the flesh out into a small bowl. Add almond milk with spices from the blender and mash with a potato masher.
8. Add lentils to a cassarole dish. Spoon on a top layer of sweet potato mash. Bake for 20 minutes until the top just starts to brown.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! More vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes can be found in my 2013 Thanksgiving week post. Enjoy and be thankful!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Vegan "Easy Mac"

Wish that you could find  comforting dish to make on a weeknight that is as easy as Easy Mac, but without all the processed ingredients? Look no further! This vegan version of "easy mac" packs a nutritional punch with a serving of veggies and is ready in less than 10 minutes. The secret ingredient in our creamy, cheesy sauce is pre-cooked frozen squash to which we of course add nutritional yeast. This makes for an easy mac that's packed with vitamins A, C, and B, as well as fiber from the squash, and complete protein from the nutritional yeast. Yum! Serve it over some whole wheat pasta, add a salad, and you have yourself a meal in no time.

The secret ingredient!

Vegan "Easy Mac"

12oz package frozen cooked squash
1/2c nutritional yeast
garlic, salt, black pepper to taste
onion powder (optional)
1/2 box whole wheat pasta (You could also use farro, or any other type of quick cooking pasta or grain)

1. Bring water for the pasta to a boil
2. Microwave frozen squash.
3. Add pasta to boiling water and cool according to the directions.
4. Once squash is warmed through, stir in nutritional yeast and spices to taste.
5. Drain pasta and add sauce. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cranberry Scones

With all the stress and the snow, I've been back in the kitchen and while I haven't had much time to write a post or care about food photography, I've been back at it developing recipes. If you were in a Whole Foods in January, you may have noticed the Engine 2 Challenge posters that were everywhere, and these got me thinking. The Engine 2 diet promotes the usual whole food, plant based diet that I embrace, but also preaches the evils of fats/ oils and processed sugars. Naturally, I saw these posters advertising a challenge as a personal challenge to develop some new recipes! After several failed batches of "cupcakes" that attempted to use apple juice as a sweetener (pro tip: it doesn't work and messes up the consistency) I thought my oil-free, sugar-free recipes were doomed.

Then these scones surprised me! I planned for them only to be an edible, palatable accompaniment to my afternoon coffee, but when my fiancé tried one he begged for more. Success! With 5g of protein, 6g of fiber, and only 1g of fat, these scones make a great side to your afternoon cup of joe.

Cranberry Scones

2 1/2c whole wheat flour
1 1/2T baking powder
1/3c dried cranberries
1c unsweetened applesauce
1/2c unsweetened vanilla almond milk
Cinnamon to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425F.
2. Mix four & baking powder. Add cranberries and stir to coat. (If you don't coat your fruit in flour before adding in the wet ingredients the inside of the scone gets all gummy.)
3. Add in apple sauce and almond milk. The mixture will seem quite dry, but this is all part of the plan for scones. Once the dough starts to stick together kneed it a few times.
4. Form dough into an oval on a baking sheet and cut into 8 pieces, separating each a bit to make sure that each of the scones has plenty of room to bake evenly.
5. Dust the top with cinnamon and bake for 30 minutes, until edges just start to turn brown. Let cool (these actually aren't better when warm) and enjoy!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Weighing In on Making Weight

Well, here's a sticky topic. Making weight. As a lightweight rower, being able to make the scale say a specific number on a specific day is your bread and butter. If you miss that number, you have to sweat or you can't race. If you miss that number and sweat consistently, no one will want to row in a team boat with you. Since I wasn't very powerful in terms of the erg, I knew that I had to be a reliable average maker, and I was. Truthfully, I almost enjoyed this calculated game of roulette and when I started cycling, it felt odd to me to race without weighing in first. That said, I know lightweight rowers aren't the only ones who have a racing weight. Racing weight is a hot topic for cyclists too, and is especially important in the hill climbs that I love so much. Even recreational athletes want to get lean, so I decided that I should share some tips from my time as an elite lightweight rower.

Start Early. If you know you need to be at weight on a particular day, plan to be at weight 1 month ahead of time. Also, everyone's body has "sticky points." For example, every year it would take me a month to go from 130.8 lb to 129.8 lb. I knew this because I did it over and over again, and every year this would predictably happen as I approached 130lb, the lightweight women's maximum for most collegiate and national level races. Everyone's body is different, so make sure that you know how your body responds and leave time for surprises. Nothing saps your strength like trying to lose weight too quickly.

Fuel Your Training. We are athletes. The goal of training is to get stronger and faster, not to lose weight. Don't sacrifice your training. Eat to fuel your workout and focus on losing weight for the rest of the day. This is the concept behind energy neutral training. If you fuel your workouts properly, you will recovery more quickly and be less hungry for the rest of the day. Make sure that you're eating enough during your workouts. This takes personal experimentation: the moment your gatorade tastes like "liquid courage" or it becomes a drudgery to turn your pedals, you know that you are in the hole and should have had more snacks sooner in your workout. Follow up your workout with a recovery snack with a carbs to protein ratio of 4:1 within 20 minutes. A smoothie is a great way to get this nutrition as liquid is easier to digest.

Proper Nutrition: enough protein, iron, ect. I perform poorly if I don't get enough carbs, but many of my lightweight teammates could get away with fewer carbs but would perform poorly if they didn't get enough protein. Everyone's different. By carefully choosing nutrient dense foods, it's possible to meet your rebuilding requirements in macronutrients while still running a (slight) caloric deficit. This takes a lot of planning, but the Thrive diet has some good ideas to this end.
I'll confess... team USA lightweights did sometimes eat frozen yogurt for dinner. That's right, we replaced our lean protein & veggies with frozen yogurt. Sometimes this just had to happen to break up the monotony when there just aren't enough calories in the day for months on end. But don't make it a regular occurrence. And seriously, if you're going to be allowed to race even if you aren't at racing weight, eat your dinner first. Poor nutrition leads to underperformance and injury.

Sleep. Go to bed early and get enough sleep. Extra sleep will help you recover, and your recovery will need help if your body isn't getting all the nutrients it needs (see "proper nutrition"). Often times, we mistake tiredness for hungriness in the evenings and if you're sleeping, you can't be eating. Plus, no one likes it when you're hangry. Just go to bed so you still have friends when you wake up in the morning.

Water, Air, & Fiber. These should become your 3 new favorite food groups. Drink water, herbal tea, eat soups. Contrary to intuition, making sure you're hydrated will make you retain less water. It will also make you feel fuller; there's only so much room in your stomach. High fiber foods are great too, especially because high fiber foods like vegetables tend to be nutrient dense. Consider the nutritional profile of cauli-rice (recipe here. Did you notice that cauliflower is a complete protein?) versus brown rice and spaghetti squash versus whole wheat pasta. You're getting a lot more micronutrients and bang for your buck in terms of proper nutrition. Air is a fun one, and no, I'm not talking about the chocolate bars with air in them. I was thinking more of popcorn, which is my favorite snack ever. My current recommendation: buy a popcorn popper and some kernels then top it with siraccha. Trust me, this is awesome.

Salt: Be careful about limiting salt, but if you retain water at that time of the month and you need to weigh-in, making sure you're only getting 100- 150% of the "recommended daily value" can mitigate that.

MyPlate. Livestrong's MyPlate is wonderful. I've been a member on this site probably since it started and it made dropping weight so much easier. It's even great to just monitor what you're eating to make sure you're eating a balanced diet and getting enough of key nutrients. Two tips: 1) make sure that you put your activity level as "sedentary" or "lightly active" if you're going to add in your training separately to the activities section. 2) Make sure that it's telling you to eat enough. I started to notice that it was underestimating my caloric needs as I got into my later 20's. I guess it's because most regular people are softer at 29 than when they were in college, but most athletes are actually leaner, which means their basal caloric need is higher. So use your judgement, but either way 1500 calories is NOT enough to fuel serious training.

Try Vegan. A whole food plant based diet tends to be very nutrient dense. Vegan foods also tend to be heavy hitters in the big three mentioned above: air, water, and fiber. If vegan is a big change for you though, be sure that you're getting enough iron and B12: deficits of either of these nutrients, which can happen even in a well-balanced vegan diet, can severely derail your training. Another option is just to swap out one of your favorite staple foods. When I was rowing and it was time to make weight, I would always cut out peanut butter!