Easy, Cheesy Quinoa Fritters

29 Jul

First, let us mark this moment in history: I made two healthy, well-rounded recipes for the girls for dinner this week, and they ate both–including spaghetti pie, which they ate for three consecutive nights!

And second, let us dive into the recipe that got several requests for publication–the first recipe on this little ol’ blog since April!

Quinoa is such a healthy and versatile grain. It packs a nutritional punch, for a grain, as it’s high in protein, fiber, and calcium!

Anna and Elise are still (after many, many long months) fairly picky and predictable in terms of food. The things they once ate with zeal they now do not even touch. So we try to “sneak” fruit, vegetables, protein, and fiber into their meals and snacks in subtle ways.

These fritters are a great vehicle for this powerhouse ancient grain because they are laced with familiar cheesy flavors and look like an everyday pancake. And while Anna and Elise aren’t your typical toddlers, in that they don’t go ga-ga for dips and spreads, they loved dipping their fritters in Ranch dressing.

It’s a family-friendly recipe that can be dressed up for adults:

  • For a vegetarian meal, top the fritters with burst cherry tomatoes and feta and a drizzle of garlicky yogurt sauce
  • For meat eaters, top the fritters with olive oil-and-lemon-dressed arugula and serve them alongside grilled chicken or kielbasa

But it’s also a recipe that can be simplified for kids.

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Easy, Cheese Quinoa Fritters

Makes 8 fritters

Ingredients

1/2 cup quinoa

1 cup chicken broth

4 Tbsp flour

1 Tbsp ground flaxseed

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 Tbsp finely chopped spinach, parsley or basil (or 1 tsp dried parsley, basil or Italian seasoning)

Sprinkle each salt, pepper and garlic powder

1/4 cup cottage cheese

2 Tbsp milk

2 eggs, beaten

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Directions

In a fine mesh sieve, rinse the raw quinoa under cold tap water, then in a medium saucepan, combine it with the chicken broth. Bring it to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer; cook for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is tender. Fluff with a fork, then set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ground flaxseed, Parmesan cheese, and chopped spinach or herbs (or dried herbs). In a small food processor, process the cottage cheese and milk until smooth, then set aside.

Add the cooled quinoa to the flour mixture, then add the cottage cheese mixture and the beaten eggs. Mix well to combine.

Place the mixture in the refrigerator for just a few minutes to firm up. In the meantime, heat a bit of butter in nonstick skillet or griddle over medium to medium-high heat.

Using a 1/4 cup measure, drop the fritter mixture onto the skillet or griddle and using the back of a rubber spatula, flatten the lump into a pancake. Cook for a few minutes, then flip and cook a few more minutes. The fritters should be browned and firm.

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These fritters are delicately cheesy and so versatile and come together so easily. Add them to your summer menu post-haste!

Race recap: Dam to Dam Half Marathon

29 Jun

It’s only fitting, really.

We haven’t run an official half marathon in four years, so I haven’t written up my recap until now—three weeks later.

Tardiness aside…

The Dam to Dam Half Marathon in Des Moines was a hot, humid, and challenging race, but it ended with big PRs for both Christopher and me—even if they were a wee bit shy of our pie-in-the sky goals.

As race day approached, I could not help but feel underprepared for the hot, humid weather in the forecast and undertrained for (hilly-ish) miles on the map. After training (to the letter) for and setting personal records at not one, but two marathons last year, and not really focusing on speed or shorter distances, I could not help but feel like I hadn’t given this half marathon its due.

Truly, I had, though. I had put in the miles, albeit mostly on the treadmill. I had put in the speedwork. And I had even put in some mild hill workouts, as our usual route includes some decently steep hills.

So, on race day, I just went for it. I knew I would set a personal record. And I knew I would be close to my big, scary goal of 2 hours. I didn’t know how close, though, given the circumstances. So, I just went for it.

Christopher and I were up at about 5 a.m., at which point we changed into our running gear, grabbed our breakfast, and headed out to the car, where we listened to the radio and ate bagels with peanut butter and bananas.

We drove over to the nearby mall, where dozens of yellow school buses were lined up to take runners up to Saylorville Dam, about a 20-minute drive. We arrived at the dam—on a winding, narrow two-lane road—and got an incredible view.

We used the porta-potties, finished a bottle of Gatorade, and headed to the starting line. Christopher and his buddy, Andy, who joined us for the race, headed to the front of the pack, while I stayed toward the middle. The runners were lined up by pace, but it was so crowded that it was hard to maneuver through the sea of people to the appropriate pace group.

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As such, the first few miles seemed to pass slowly, as I bobbed and weaved through the pack until the course and the crowd opened up.

Around Mile 3, I finally felt like I could start running and thinking about my goal pace, which was about 9:09. At that point, and for a few miles after that, I hovered around my goal pace, if not a few seconds slower.

The course has an overall downhill grade, especially in the first half, which is mostly through the quiet countryside. The big hill—Morningstar Hill or sometimes called Memorial Hill (so named because it is lined with American flags in honor of servicemen and women who have died since the first race in 1980) shows up around Mile 7. It’s about a mile long, starts out gradual, then becomes steep toward the crest. I slogged up the hill. But my pace remained sub-10:00.

The course has a few more rolling hills in the second half, which opens up onto city streets. The shade cover was absent in the first half, so the tree-lined residential streets offered some relief from the heat in the second half.

I saw my dad and the girls somewhere between Mile 7 and 8. It was so nice to see familiar faces!

Between Mile 9 and 10, the course ventures onto a bike trail, and about Mile 10, it takes runners over a wooden bridge over a ravine in total shade cover. It was fabulous, albeit brief.

About Mile 11, the course leaves the bike trail and enters the Principal River Walk, past the Botanical Gardens and over the really cool looking Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge.

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Then, just before Mile 13, there’s a steep, curving hill. It seemed cruel to send runners up another hill, under the beating sun, with less than a quarter mile to go. But it was exhilarating, because of the energy of the crowd, which lined both sides of the street, and the signage marking 400 meters to go, then 200 meters, and finally 100 meters.

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I blitzed across the finish line, and barely took note of my time, I was so drained. I had run the entire 13.1 miles, and I had stayed decently hydrated, but I was a sweaty, tired mess.

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After some water-drinking, bathroom-breaking, and wandering, we gathered near this water feature in the park. The girls happily played in the water, while Andy, Christopher, and I sipped Coors Light and rehashed the race.

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Christopher had a lofty goal of 1:40 and what he thought was a slam-dunk goal of 1:45. He came in at 1:47:11. He had been under the weather all week leading up to the race and just had lead legs—on top of the hot and humid conditions.

He still ran a great race and set about a 10-minute PR.

I came in at 2:05:07. It might be 5 minutes shy of 2 hours, but it also is a 21-minute PR and is only 5 minutes shy of 2 hours. I am proud of this race and know that, perhaps this fall, a 2-hour half is within my reach.

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Distance: 13.1 miles (RunKeeper clocked it at 13.23)
Duration: 2:05:07
Average pace: 9:33 per mile

Review: Illumin8 by Sunwarrior

7 Jun

Disclosure: I was sent a container of Illumin8 by Sunwarrior to review. I am not otherwise being compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

I’m a pretty au natural girl. I use very few beauty products. I don’t take much medication, even pain reliever. And I certainly don’t use supplements or meal replacement products.

For the most part, supplements and meal replacement products leave me wanting more–more in terms of results, more in terms of satisfaction, just more of something.

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But the new Illumin8 organic plant-based meal replacement by Sunwarrior is different.

Illumin8 covers your most important nutrition bases with superfoods, such as baobab, chia, flax, whole grain brown rice, kelp, holy basil, guava and coconut, among others. It combines clean protein, gluten-free carbohydrates, healthy fats, minerals, fiber, natural vitamins, enzymes and probiotics to make for a nutritionally sound snack or, with a few additions, a satisfying replacement for a traditional plated meal.

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Sunwarrior suggests combining a scoop of Illumin8 with 12 ounces of water, milk (dairy or non-dairy) or other beverage, then experimenting with the addition of fruit, greens, or other real foods.

For my first taste test, I combined a scoop of Illumin8 (in Aztec chocolate flavor) and 12 ounces of 1% milk. It was disappointingly chalky, artificially sweet, even crunchy (because of the milled chia and flax seeds). I honestly was not impressed.

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For my next test, I combined a scoop of Illumin8, 12 ounces of 1% milk and some frozen strawberries. It was much better in terms of texture, but still tasted a bit artificially sweet, and it lost that “Aztec” spiciness from cinnamon and cayenne.

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Finally, for my last test, I combined a scoop of Illumin8, 12 ounces of 1% milk, one to one and a half frozen bananas and 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder. The texture was smooth, thick and creamy. The taste was balanced–not too much banana, not too artificially sweet, plenty chocolatey, but not without that little bit of spiciness.

That combination clocks in at about 450 calories, which makes it a very respectable, healthy meal thanks to the Core Eight nutrients.

I have occasionally had Illumin8 for breakfast, as a healthy start to my day, but I most often have had Illumin8 after a long run. The combination of protein, carbs and essential vitamins and minerals makes a shake akin to a glass of chocolate milk, which lots of sources argue is the best refueling option after a long run or race.

I don’t think I’d drink it as a snack–at least not doctored up with banana and cocoa powder, the way it seems to taste best, as it’s a little too calorie dense for my liking–plus I prefer to actually munch on my snacks, rather than drink them.

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Meet your new plate, friends! Give Illumin8 a try for a tasty, well-balanced, truly healthy meal.

Mother’s Day gifts from UncommonGoods

3 May

Disclosure: I was asked to collaborate on a sponsored post and/or review some home decor products from UncommonGoods. I selected a couple of products for my home, and I am not otherwise being compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

Mother’s Day has become a really special day for me, a day to celebrate the amazing and incredible job of being Mama to my sweet Anna and Elise.

The last two years, we have gone out for brunch as a family, and Christopher and the girls have spoiled me with cards and gifts. And this year, we will do much of the same.

But why not surprise the special mother or mother figure in your life with a unique gift from UncommonGoods?

UncommonGoods features unique jewelry, designer decor and tabletop items and handcrafted gifts. The company’s mission is to support and provide a platform for artists and designers; in fact, half of what the company sells is made by hand. Most of the jewelry, home decor and tabletop items are made in the United States, and about a third of its collection incorporates recycled and/or upcycled materials.

So awesome!

One of our big projects of late has been to finally get art on the walls of our living room. We recently got a new sectional and ottoman, and we recently bought an oversized framed print to hang on the largest expanse of wall–and both of those moves sparked my creative side. We settled on a color palate and a theme.

I selected two items from UncommonGoods to help achieve a unique modern, but cozy (not farmhouse or rustic, but not sleek or refined) look:

  • This really cool suspension bridge shelf here
  • This adorable heart marks the spot pillow here which comes with two buttons to sew onto the map

The bridge shelf has been hung as part of our travel-themed gallery wall, and currently, it holds some framed city coasters. The shelf is made of sturdy iron and is solid enough to hold several frames, candles, or even small houseplants. It will brilliantly complement our travel photos, many of which feature unique architectural wonders, such as the Eiffel Tower, Gateway Arch and Stonehenge (whenever we get them printed).

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The heart pillow sits atop the love seat–with the heart button sewn over Wisconsin–and will look great near the travel photos and with other uniquely patterned pillows (whenever we get around to that project). The pillow cover is made of a durable canvas-like material, and the map looks almost like counted cross-stitch, which lends a very homey feel to the item.

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UncommonGoods has great gifts for mothers. I found dozens of things that would have warmed my heart to receive, from hand-stitched tea towels to handmade jewelry to kitschy knick-knacks.

See their home decor collection here or find a one-of-a-kind personalized gift here.

UncommonGoods has such a wonderful and wide variety of fun and unique items; I know where to return for gifts–whether for myself or for the special people in my life.

Review: truBrain energy drinks

21 Apr

Disclosure: I was sent a box of truBrain energy drinks to review. I am not otherwise being compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

I’m an ambitious person. I set goals, I write out to-do lists, and I crush them.

How do I do it?

While some people might swear by a certain number of hours of sleep per night, or those two cups of coffee in the morning, or a sweaty workout over the lunch hour, others turn to energy drinks. I tend to fall into the former camp — the au natural ways of staying alert and focused. But I can’t deny the allure of the latter camp.

Ambitious people want to “be somebody”–they want to do more, do things smarter and better, and exceed goals.  We believe the only weapon for ambitious people to get more important things in their day now is being efficient.  Just putting in more hours is not a unique advantage anymore.

The neuroscientists at truBrain want to help people be present and productive, and their line of energy drinks combine active nootropics to improve focus and alertness with nutrients to help reduce stress, retrieve memories and improve certain cognitive functions.

You can drink the liquid straight, sort of like an energy shot, or you can combine it in a smoothie, juice, or other beverage.

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I tried one straight, but after that, I combined it with hot herbal tea or with hot lemon water. I didn’t care for the taste, which I found artificial, bitter, and almost chemical.

The drinks contain active nootropics Oxiracetam + Piracetam for focus and concentration; Caffeine + L-Theanine for alertness and synergy; and Uridine + Centrophenoxine for cognition and memory. The drinks also contain Magnesium + Tyrosine for stress reduction and vigilance and Carnitine + Citicoline for energy and mood. The drinks are flavored with some familiar ingredients: monk fruit, mangosteen, cactus, natural cane sugar, and blue agave.

The shots tasted awful plain, but somewhat better when combined with tea or lemon water.

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The question is did my “performance” improve? I didn’t notice much difference.

The scientists at truBrain recommend regularly use (about a week) to achieve desired results.

I used the drinks for about 10 days. I still didn’t notice an improvement in my energy or productivity.

A box of 30 drinks is $65 a month or $70 for a one-time order. Boxes of 20 or 60 also are available.

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But, if you’re curious about truBrain energy drinks or any of the other truBrain products and want to try them, use the code TB751PLU1 for 15% off your order.

Pear-Ginger Granola with Dried Cranberries

8 Apr

Granola is one of those things that often masquerades as a health food, but really is just a sugar bomb.

I love it, but I try to steer clear of those that are high in calories and, especially, sugar, and I try to aim for those that are naturally sweetened.

Homemade granola most often satisfies those requirements.

My dad and I made some hard pear cider, and we had some pear and apple juice leftover. I didn’t know how I would use pear juice, but I saved it. I had bought some snack packages of freeze-dried fruit in an attempt to get the girls to eat better, but they rejected them and so I had some freeze-dried pears leftover, too. I knew they would come in handy, so I saved them for the right occasion.

I stumbled across an apple-cinnamon granola recipe that called for apple cider and thought I easily could adapt that to a pear-ginger granola recipe using the pear juice. I tweaked a few other things and ended up with a delightfully crunchy and chewy granola that is entirely naturally sweetened and clocks in at a paltry 87 calories for a 1/4 cup serving.

It’s wonderful with vanilla yogurt, but also would be delicious with a bit of milk.

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Pear-Ginger Granola with Dried Cranberries

(adapted from Eat Good 4 Life)

Ingredients

3/4 cup pear juice

1/4 cup apple juice

3/4 cup old-fashioned oats

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1/3 cup chopped almonds

8 tsp (2 2/3 tbsp) honey

2 tsp olive oil

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 cup freeze-dried pear slices, chopped

1/3 cup dried cranberries

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Directions

In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the pear and apple juices and cook until it has reduced to 1/3 cup.

In the meantime, in a large bowl, combine the oats, walnuts, and almonds.

 

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. When the juice has reduced to 1/3 cup, turn off the heat and add the honey, oil, and spices; whisk to combine. Pour the honey mixture over the oat mixture and toss until the oats and nuts are evenly coated.

Spread the granola onto a large baking sheet and bake for 40-50 minutes, tossing halfway, until the granola has browned a bit.

Cool the granola to room temperature, then add the freeze-dried pears and cranberries, and toss to combine.

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Review: brüd Performance Coffee by truBrain

8 Mar

Disclosure: I was sent a box of brüd Performance Coffee to review. I am not otherwise being compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

Some people complain that coffee–even one or two cups–makes them jittery and overly wired. I am not one of those people. I can have at least two cups of coffee and not feel shaky–a little digestively challenged (ifyouknowwhatimean), yes, but jittery, no.

The neuroscientists (yep, not foodies, not coffeephiles–nerds!) at truBrain set out to create a coffee without the crash, without the bitterness, but with potency.

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Enter: brüd Performance Coffee.

brüd Performance Coffee is comprised of two elements–the beans and truBrain’s specially formulated focus sticks.

From the truBrain website:

brüd beans undergo a special cold marinade preroast process with trained plant stems, which removes all bitterness, leaving behind nothing but goodness. All brüd beans are roasted within 48 hours of being shipped to customers.

The focus sticks harness the altertness of caffeine with nutrients (L-Theanine and Alpha GPC) proven for improved steady focus.

We used our brüd coffee just as we would any other coffee–ground fresh in the morning and drip brewed in our Hamilton Beach BrewStation 12-cup coffeemaker.

Both Christopher and I agreed the coffee tasted good–not bitter, but not bland, similar to a light or maybe even medium roast national-brand coffee.

Christopher likes his coffee doctored up with flavored creamer, while I prefer mine, usually, black, but sometimes with half and half (or, if we have some leftover, and I’m feeling particularly sinful, heavy cream!). For purposes of this experiment, he used creamer and I did not, and I alternated using and not using the focus sticks.

I thought the focus sticks, on their own, tasted sweet, but not syrupy, saccharine sweet, just very delicate, but added to the coffee, sometimes tasted a bit medicinal. Was it because of the ingredients in the sticks themselves or because of some “reaction” between the coffee and the sticks or simply because I don’t care for coffee sweetened simply with a sugar or similar sweetener?

Of course, the big question is did our “performance” improve? That’s a tough one to answer. In all honesty, I didn’t noticed a marked or measurable difference from drinking our regular coffee. Coffee is so much a part of our morning routine that the true and better test might have been to compare a few days without coffee to a few days with brüd + focus sticks.

(The folks at truBrain also note that because the nootropics, the smart drugs or cognitive enhancers, are in the focus sticks, one would have to regularly use the sticks for about a week before noticing any results. I probably should have been more diligent about using them, but I just do not often add much to my coffee, so that was a change from my routine.)

So, while the jury agrees the taste is good, the jury is still out on its purported “performance-enhancing” effects.

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And in case anyone is curious, the price point alone is a tick in the negative column. A 12-ounce bag of whole beans and 20 focus sticks is $35 a month. In our house, 12 ounces of beans would never last a month; we go through about two bags of beans a month–and we only spend $3.99 (Aldi’s Barissimo morning roast) a bag, sometimes $5 or $8 (Eight o’ Clock brand or Starbucks brand, only with a coupon).

Say the coffee is comparable to Starbucks coffee. Starbucks retails for about $8 a bag. So if you take the coffee out of the price, the focus sticks alone cost $27 (or $1.35 per stick).

For questionable effects on alertness, focus, and productivity, I’d rather rely on my regular coffee and exercise for my energy boost.

But, if you’re curious about brüd Performance Coffee or any of the other truBrain products and want to try them, use the code TB751PLU1 for 15% off your order.

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