Summer Snacks & Simplicity

Where does the time go?  As if it weren't scary enough to be careening at breakneck pace toward my 40s, next week is JULY, people.  That means I'm just a week from being able to say that my ultra is a mere two months of insufficient training away.  It is with this terrifying knowledge (and stunning lack of time) that I'm desperately trying to simplify where I can, while also attempting to knock off a few pounds before my training mileage really starts increasing.  With that, I give you two embarrassingly easy snacks-slash-meals that will likely be in heavy rotation over the coming weeks.

Cait's Basic Fruit Salad

1 pint strawberries

2 large bananas

1 - 2 juicy peaches (as juicy as you can find)

1/2 cup+ fresh blueberries (for me, this is as many blueberries as I have the patience to pick from our backyard bushes)

Sprinkling of chopped nuts (I like walnuts for this)

1. Cut everything except the bananas into smaller-than-bite-sized pieces.

2. Combine everything but the bananas in a bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  Refrigerate your (whole) bananas during this time, too.

3. Just before eating, slice your bananas and mix them into the bowl.  Sprinkle with nuts and serve!


Smoky Brussels Sprouts

Best consumed outside in the sunshine

Best consumed outside in the sunshine

1 bag small-ish frozen* Brussels sprouts

1 tsp olive oil (optional), plus a dash of salt & pepper

1/4 cup prepared tahini sauce - or tahini mixed with lemon, garlic, and salt to taste

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 tsp chipotle powder, or to taste

1. Preheat oven to 475.  While the oven is heating, toss frozen sprouts in a bowl with the oil and salt & pepper.

2. Line a baking sheet with parchment (optional but recommended), spread the sprouts evenly on the sheet, and pop into the preheated oven.

3. Start checking on your sprouts after 15 minutes, and check tenderness with a fork every 5 minutes or so.  You want them just tender with a bit of charring on the outer leaves.

4. While your sprouts are cooking, mix tahini sauce, vinegar, and chipotle into a deliciously smoky sauce.  I like mine thin enough to drizzle, but it's also good as a thicker dip, so thin with water or vinegar to your liking.

5. Put all your cooked sprouts into one big bowl, drizzle with sauce, and eat the entire thing.  (There's no shame in it, because VEGETABLES.)

*I use frozen because my obsession with Brussels sprouts means that I've tried them just about every way you could think to make them.  My hands-down favorite is roasted-from-frozen---I have no idea why, but they cook so evenly and turn out almost creamy.  

The little things, and some corn tortillas

Evenings in my house are beyond exhausting.  With both of us working full-time and both kids in daycare/pre-school, the whole family stumbles into the house already weary from the long day, the hairy commute, some serious playing, and two demanding jobs. Sometimes it's all we can do to get the kids fed and in bed before we collapse into bed ourselves - and yes, there have been quite a few nights when I've fallen asleep in my 3-year-old's room while trying to read him a book at 7:30pm. 

Dinnertime often means a debate between takeout and cooking, simplicity and completeness, sitting down to eat whatever or cooking on our aching feet. Given all this, it's no wonder that any real creativity in the kitchen has been limited to weekends only - and even weekends often end up being too packed for cooking adventures.  

So: I'm learning to choose the little things, to embrace convenience where it won't ruin a meal, and to make the effort where it will really make a difference.

All that to say: I made my own corn tortillas from scratch, y'all!

Wife and I have been trying to make time to check out the Portland Mercado for months, and we finally made it there last weekend.  I spotted a big bag of corn masa - which just looks like a big bag of flour, but smells SO MUCH like corn - and snagged it.  Upon returning home, I promptly headed right back out to buy my first tortilla press.

After a bit of trial and error (noted: toddlers are not great at making really thin tortillas, parchment paper is less sticky than plastic wrap), I made one awesome batch.  Wife and I ate most of them in minutes with just some avocado and salt* - they were so much more delicious than the usual package of tortillas from TJ's.  The next time I made a batch, it was to make the BBQ tempeh tacos** pictured here.  The taco innards were easy as (store-bought) pie to put together, so the extra 20 minutes of tortilla-making was absolutely worth it.

*Note: during these days of parenting young children, hardly remembering what a full night's sleep felt like, and barely holding it together through the epic tantrums of The Threenager (oh, how I hate that annoying-yet-totally-accurate made-up word), a meal of tortillas and avocado - eaten standing up over the still-hot stovetop - qualifies as straight-up culinary elegance.

**Stay tuned for future posts on No Meat Athlete's new meal planning program - Meg and I are both trying it and plan on sharing results soon!

Now that I'm totally an expert and all...

Cait's Tortilla-Making Hints:

Follow the directions on your bag of masa, which you can get at most grocery stores.  Here are a few extra things I've learned:

  1. You want your dough to feel like Play-Doh.  The instructions on my bag of masa said to use 1.75 cups of water for every 2 cups of masa flour, and that ratio was basically perfect.
  2. Make your dough balls on the small side - they're less likely to fall apart when you pick them up to add them to the pan.
  3. If you've got a tortilla press, awesome - you'll have thinner tortillas - but if you don't, a heavy plate will do just fine.
  4. Get your pan really hot before you add the tortillas - like so hot you think it might start smoking.  It makes a huge difference to how well and quickly the tortillas cook.
  5. While still warm, top a tortilla with a few slices of ripe avocado and a sprinkle of salt.  So simple and seriously good.

How about you?  Where does a little effort make a big difference in your life / kitchen / work?  Perhaps more importantly, when and where is it totally worth it to choose convenience?

Might as Well Face It, I'm Addicted to Sugar

A few weeks ago, I embarked on a journey to quit sugar. No added sugar for a week, meaning no cookies or pastries or chocolate. Fruit and bread products, such as pasta, were OK (yes, I know refined wheat is quickly converted to sugar, but one painful week at a time, OK?). No brown sugar on my oatmeal, no fruit juice.

To be clear, I am not the type to binge on sweets. I don't gobble down an entire cake in a sitting (I don't even really like cake), and I defy that stereotype of the woman needing her chocolate fix; I could take it or leave it. So you may think giving sugar up for a week would be no big deal for me. However, I consistently give into a craving for cookies or a pastry. Every. Single. Day.

It isn't just that I think something sweet would be nice; that would be manageable. I literally salivate when I think of certain items on my go-to-sugar-fix list. When that feeling kicks in, there is no turning back, no such thing as willpower. Only the voice in my head saying, "I ran 3 miles today / ate a small lunch / deserve it because I work hard and have two young kids." The excuses vary by day.


The first day of my "experiment" went by without incident. I was fueled by my determination to reach my goal. I even resisted the donuts at work (we bring in donuts for every new hire, and we evidently hired a half dozen people that day).


Day Two was a different story. The donuts were still there, but my resolve was faltering. I found myself coming up with the same excuses and using sheer willpower to drown out those voices. I was miserable, and it was only Tuesday.


The next couple days were no easier, but I was starting to realize something: my cravings were rising during certain emotional states. Primarily, stress.


From the minute I enter the door to the moment I put my toddler and preschooler to bed, it's nonstop action, whether that means cooking, cleaning, playing, or acting as a human barrier between tiny swinging fists. Walking downstairs after getting the last one tucked in is pure relief--I got through another day. And I am so exhausted, so tense, so deserving of a cookie. My husband had so thoughtfully made sugar cookies--I couldn't hurt his feelings by not eating just one, could I?


I'd like to say that completely eliminating stress would end my cravings--that probably would help--but it will likely be a fixture in my life until my kids can fend for themselves. As I've aged, my tolerance for stress has decreased. I no longer pride myself on my ability to thrive under pressure. I just don't have it in me anymore, perhaps because I am in a constant state of physical, mental, and emotional movement. I'm basically a walking, talking, ticking time bomb some days; one additional stressor, even a small one, can set me off.


My latest approach is simply trying to reduce the impact stress has on me, rather than try to reduce the number of stressors.  My only option besides prescription drugs (not off the table, mind you) is to find natural methods to deal with stress, thereby curbing the killer cravings. I started taking a hot yoga class two weeks ago. Some may find it odd, but I find the sweltering, tropical, 100-plus-degree heat to be calming and refreshing at the same time. Granted, I slipped on my sweaty mat last week during downward dog, but that's just par for the course. If I can commit to going to class, it may be a while before I notice any effects on my stress levels.


I've also started running again. Putting one foot after the other can be very meditative. My runs along the Willamette River are slow and steady--I've been passed by men in their 60s--but they give me the time to work things out in my head. I arrive back at work refreshed and ready to face the last half of the day.


I will keep working on the magic potion that will make me impervious to the emotions that drive me to sugar. Until I find it, I am trying to not let sugar abstinence rule my life. Instead, I'm doing my best to reduce stress and find solace in a walk or a cup of herbal tea, as cliche as that sounds, but not killing myself if I slip up. I have enough stressors to answer to these days; adding another voice to answer to might end in an all-out cookie-dough gorgefest.