Cheers & Cheese

I’d like to talk about a little something called a cheese plate. Or in this case cheese plates.

This is in my opinion, the best way to spend a small chunk of money on a date night. So of course, this was how I chose to celebrate my marathon with my husband.

The bare essentials of a good wine and cheese course: wine, cheese and bread. But I suggest adding a few other additions to taste different flavors in your wine. Here’s my suggestion for the course. 

Start with wine. Pick one that you know you’ll enjoy, with a lot of flavor. I prefer dry wines, and would suggest staying away from sweet unless you’re planning on a dessert course.

Next, find a place that sells good quality cheese. There’s a place near Amish country that I like to go for cheese. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are great options, too. 

Pick a variety of cheeses that will pair well with your wine. This time around I bought a sage flavored cheese, smoked gouda and Irish cheddar. Yum!

Next, pick a few of the following:
-          Dark chocolate
-          Dried cherries or raisins
-          Flavored honey
-          Jam
-          Apple slices
-          Grapes
-          Fresh salad greens
-          Baguette slices
-          Crackers
-          Olives
-          Cured meats
-          Smoked salmon
-          The sky’s the limit, really

Next, arrange everything real pretty. Presentation is key. 

Get out some wine glasses. And some small plates. And have yourself a good time. 



Reaching a Goal is Bittersweet

On October 16, at the Columbus Marathon, I achieved a personal goal I’ve been working toward for the past year. I got a personal best for my marathon time, 3:33:49, and qualified for the Boston Marathon. I can’t quite put into words how amazing it feels to work so hard over months of training to achieve a goal. And then to actually do it. 

Running the marathon started out the way they always do. A slight feeling of waking up from a dream and being thrown into a crowd of people. Waiting in line for almost an hour to use the bathroom. Suddenly, everyone is running. Legs and arms are moving fast, but your mind is still numb from the cold and waking up at 5:30 a.m. You know you’re trained, tapered, “ready.” But there’s a little voice inside of you saying “can I really do this?” And then another voice says, “too late to turn back!” 

I ran the first half pretty quick, with minutes to spare ahead of my goal time. I was feeling great right around mile thirteen. And then all of the half-marathoners veered off to their finish line, and I had to run another thirteen miles! From a combination of this mental frustration, and losing electrolytes and dehydration, I got a horrible cramp from about mile 15 to 17. Somehow, I pushed through this excruciating pain, and by mile 20 I knew deep down that I could finish strong. 

The last six miles required my complete focus—mentally, physically and spiritually. If you were cheering for me during the last few miles I’m sure you saw this look on my face. Focus. 

Crossing the finish line, seeing Joel’s face in the crowd, I said emphatically “I did it!” After shoving a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie and some Snowville Creamery chocolate milk down, I spent the next few days relishing in the achievement with the people I love most. It was one of my best moments from the past several years. 

So now what? Right after the race, I stared researching marathons in the other six continents (oh yeah, Antarctica too). Realistically, I’m not sure if I’ll ever make it to the Great Wall of China or the polar circle, but this obsessing over races made me realize that I need another goal or I might go crazy.   

It’s a strange feeling to have accomplished a huge goal and be proud of it, but simultaneously realize that I need something else to work towards now. I’m still working on that, but I hope to run a half marathon in the spring and compete in a triathlon next summer, too.  

On a final note, I finished the marathon with an overwhelming sense of gratitude to God for keeping me healthy and blessing me with amazing, supportive husband, parents, siblings and friends. I am grateful beyond words for the love and support that receive from each one of you.


It's Marathon Week

I’d like to start off by saying that it’s been a busy few months. Marathon training has taken up a significant part of my free time, and it’s honestly been hard to keep up with writing on this blog! Having said that, it’s now marathon week and I’m internally a combination of anxious, energetic, exhausted and ruminating. I have moments where I just want to stay inside and focus until the day of the race. But then there are plenty of other things to fill my time. 

A week ago Joel and I went on a camping and backpacking trip to the Smokey Mountains. A-maz-ing! It is absolutely beautiful there. During the week I was only able to go on one run, but a full day’s worth of hiking up a mountain is pretty good training, too. Here we are at the top of Mount Le Conte, inside the National Park.

It’s wonderful the perspective that going on vacation brings. Especially one where your time is spent enjoying life without the conveniences of microwaves, refrigerators and (embarrassingly enough) even showers. Being outdoors really brings life to your body and soul. Joel and I went on a trail run on a path in the mountains that ran right alongside a small river. Who needs an iPod when you have the background soundtrack of real, roaring running water?! We did have to use caution though; if you stare at the view too much you could fall on the rocks. 

This past week I started something I’m calling a “Cookbook Club” with several of my friends. We’re reviewing and using a cookbook or cooking blog, similar to what you’d do with a traditional book club. Then we meet and all bring some tasty food we’ve made based on the recipes in the book or blog. 

For the first meeting we read Yotam Ottolenghi’scookbook, Ottolenghi. I made a version of this Wild Rice Salad. It is a delicious combination of textures, flavors and types of ingredients. It has a nice presentation – it looks appetizing, nutritious and complex. I present to you this lovely rice salad. 

Wild Rice Salad with Pine Nuts and Sour Cherries

Adapted from the Guardian

¾ cup wild rice 
1 cup basmati rice 
½ cup quinoa 
¼ cup skin-on almonds, roughly chopped 
¼ cup pine nuts 
½ cup olive oil
2 onions, peeled and finely sliced 
3 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley 
1 ½ tablespoons roughly chopped basil 
several handfuls of arugula 
½ cup dried sour cherries 
juice of one lemon, plus grated zest of 1 lemon 
2 garlic cloves, crushed 
Salt and black pepper

Cook each of the grains (wild rice, basmati rice and quinoa) in separate containers a few minutes short of the recommended time on the package directions (al dente). Add about a tablespoon of olive oil and salt to each along with water prior to cooking.

Allow the grains to cool to room temperature. 

Put the almonds and pine nuts in a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil and some sea salt. Cook on medium-low heat for three to four minutes, stirring. Take off the heat when the pine nuts begin to brown. Don’t burn them! They burn easily and quickly. 

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan and add the chopped onion and chopped garlic. Cook on medium high heat for five minutes, stirring often, until they begin to brown. Drain on paper towel. 

Put all the grains in a mixing bowl, along with the herbs, arugula, onion, garlic, nuts and sour cherries. Mix the lemon juice, zest, remaining olive oil, half a teaspoon of salt and several grinds of fresh pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad and stir. Allow flavors to set at least 15 minutes before serving at room temperature. 

Serves about 6 – 8 as a side.


Savoring the End of Summer

August in our neck of the woods has been very, very pleasant. The mornings and evenings have been perfect for opening the windows, eating breakfast outside and savoring as much of summer as possible before fall arrives. Not that I don’t love fall, but there is just something so special about the time right before the seasons change. I wonder if there is a word for those times? I guess it would be the solstice and the equinox. Someone correct me if I’m wrong here.

Anyways, I’m writing up recipes for three summer salads I’ve made in the last few weeks. I can’t get enough of these fresh ingredients right now. Enjoy!

Avocado Corn Tomato Salad with Cilantro Pesto
Adapted from here

2 avocados, chopped into 1-inch pieces
3 ears of sweet corn, kernels removed
1 pound fresh mozzarella, chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 ½ pounds cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Extra cilantro leaves for garnish

Cilantro-lime pesto
1 ½ cups cilantro leaves
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice from one lime
Sea salt & pepper to taste

After chopping all of the salad ingredients, combine in medium-sized bowl. Next, put all of the pesto ingredients in a food processor, and blend thoroughly until it’s the consistency of a pesto. Combine salad ingredients and pesto in a bowl, garnish with cilantro leaves and serve.

We served ours with zucchini quesadillas and it was amazing. I think throwing a jalapeno pepper in with the dressing would yield a nice result, as well.

Serves 4 to 6 as a side.

Heirloom Caprese Salad
Adapted from a variety of sources & personal taste tests

One to two heirloom tomatoes (the more colorful the better)
8 ounces of fresh mozzarella
Fresh basil leaves, about ¼ cup
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt & pepper to taste

Slice the tomatoes about 1/4 –inch thick, and the mozzarella about the same. Slice the basil leaves about ¼-inch thick as well. The chopping can be done ahead, but arranging needs to happen right before serving.

Arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella slices alternating on a long platter. Sprinkle with basil, drizzle with olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Serves 2 to 4 as a side.

White Fish Heirloom Tomato Salad

1 4-6 ounce portion of white fish, such as Mahi Mahi, cooked (I used restaurant leftovers)
Half of an heirloom tomato
Half of a pepper (I used green)
Balsamic vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt & pepper to taste
Oregano & basil to taste

Chop the first three ingredients in about one-inch pieces. Assemble on a plate. Drizzle with vinegar, oil and seasonings to taste. Serve with a piece of crusty bread.

Serves one.


Chocolate Chip Anything

Ok, so could we just all agree that just about anything with an addition of chocolate reaches a new level of tasty? Recently, the Ohio State Fair was even serving chocolate covered bacon topped with a cherry for crying out loud!

I’ve decided while marathon training dark chocolate is, well, absolutely necessary. Ok, this rule probably still applies year round. It tastes great, and has antioxidants—emphasis on the tastes great part. Right now I’m eating chili-infused chocolate from Lindt. I’m thinking a hot chocolate version of this would be good in a few months, like a warm version of Jeni’s Ice Cream's Queen City Cayenne.

In keeping with my dark chocolate theme, this week I made one of my favorite quick breads: chocolate chip banana bread. I used Ghiardelli dark chocolate chips, to counter the sweetness of the bananas. I’ve tried several different types of banana bread recipes over the past few years, some yielding lighter bread, while others are a more dense, hearty cake. This recipe is somewhere in the middle, but much more dense and moist than others. I used some whole wheat pastry flour, which also made the bread more hearty.

Also, for this recipe and any one that calls for bananas, I cannot emphasize enough how great it is to use “rotten” or frozen bananas. They look disgusting when you take them out of the freezer, but they work amazingly. If using frozen, just let them thaw at room temperature for about 30 minutes before using. Then peel of the nasty, brown skin and vwalaaa! You’ve got yourself some perfect bananas for baking. Frozen bananas can be plopped into the blender for a smoothie, too. 

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
Adapted from Allrecipes 

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or shortening
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 very ripe or frozen bananas, mashed
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup dark chocolate chip

2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a stand mixer, cream sugar and shortening. Beat in eggs, vanilla and bananas until thoroughly blended. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; add to creamed mixture and stir just until combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Spoon into a 9.x 5-in. loaf pan. Combine cinnamon and sugar for topping, sprinkle over entire top of batter. Bake at 350F for about 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. During the last 5 minutes of baking, turn on broiler to caramelize sugar topping. Let it cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Eat at least one piece while it’s still hot! 

Makes one loaf. 


Time Flies when It's Summer

Summer weeks come and go so quickly! Here I am, almost three weeks without a blog post. Oops.

Am I the only one who feels like summer is almost as busy as the holiday season in November and December? The only difference is that dressing for the weather involves a tank top and shorts instead of three layers and a coat.

Amidst all the barbeques, retreats and parties, trying to find time to squeeze in marathon training is no small feat. Long runs the morning of a workday are especially challenging. Arriving at work after running 17 or so miles, my joints aching and endorphins rushing, I undergo another type of endurance test: making it through 8 hours of work when by body is utterly exhausted. On the flip side, I feel slightly like Clark Kent meets Eric Liddell.

Needless to say, this week marathon training has kept me busy. I ran more than 30 miles total. But over the past week I have made time to bake and cook some tasty dishes. I’m writing about one healthy dish and one not-so-healthy but oh-so-delicious dessert.

Quinoa Tabbouleh
Adapted from a variety of sources

2 cups water
1 cup quinoa
¼ cup onions
2 bright red tomatoes
½ cup chopped parsley (or cilantro or mint)
2 cups chopped cucumber
2 to 4 tablespoons lemon or lime juice (or vinegar)
2 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
lots of fresh ground sea salt and pepper

Rinse quinoa thoroughly. Bring 2 cups of salted water to boil, add quinoa. Cover, reduce heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Drain away any excess water. Let quinoa cool to room temperature. Chop tomatoes, cucumber and onion into ½ inch pieces. Chop parsley, removing stems. Mix all vegetable ingredients into quinoa mixture. In a separate bowl, mix the lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil with salt and pepper. Pour over quinoa mixture and stir a few times to mix dressing into the dish. Let marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving. May be served cold or at room temperature.

Serves 6-8 as a side.

Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake with a Cornmeal Crust

Cornmeal Crust
8 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
¼ cup brown sugar
½ whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup yellow cornmeal
pinch of salt

Lemon Filling
2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature
1 cup mascarpone cheese at room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon

Blueberry Topping
2 cups blueberries
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons corn starch
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
splash of port wine

To make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350F. Wrap the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan in two layers of aluminum foil to prevent burning.

Mix butter and sugar in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour, cornmeal and salt. Press mixture evenly onto the bottom of the pan. Bake until lightly brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool while preparing the cheese filling. Reduce the oven temperature to 325F.

The lemon filling: It is crucial that all of the cheeses be at room temperature. This took much longer than I thought it would, so allow for extra time. Everything I’ve read says that having them at room temp allows for creating a very smooth mixture.

Combine the cream cheese, mascarpone cheese and sugar in a stand mixer on medium speed with the paddle attachment until smooth and a little fluffy. Add eggs, lemon zest and lemon juice, mix until incorporated. Check the sides of the bowl and the paddle attachment for lemon zest that isn’t mixed well. I ended up mixing it briefly by hand with a spoon after using the stand mixer to make sure nothing stuck to the sides. Next, spread the filling over the prepared crust.

Bake until the cake is giggly, but set, about 1 hour. If the inside looks a little “mushy” but the outside is pretty set, then it’s fine to take the cake out. Remove from oven. Lightly loosen the edges of the cheesecake from the sides of the pan to prevent cracking as the cake cools. Let it cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes, then cover and refrigerate about 6 hours before serving.

Blueberry topping: In a small saucepan, combine the berries, sugar, water, cornstarch and lemon juice. Heat on medium-high until bubbling, then reduce heat, and simmer while stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Add a splash of port wine, continuing to stir occasionally, and let simmer for about 2 to 5 minutes. The sauce is done when it is thick and fragrant. Remove from heat, let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve: Gently run a knife around the edges, and then remove the side pan. Place the cheesecake on a serving platter, cover with the blueberry sauce. To cut the cheesecake I recommend using either dental floss or a hot, dry knife.

Serves 8 to 12, depending on how you slice it.


Morning Routine

There was a time in my life when I thought waking up early in the morning was the worst thing that could happen to me. The alarm would go off, and I think I would hit snooze about an average of 4 or 5 times. It was almost like a sport of some kind, me versus the alarm. Who would win that day? I swear my college roommates would avoid me like the plague until I’d had at least two cups of coffee. And I’ll be honest, I totally wouldn’t blame them.

The last few months, something has been changing in me. I look forward to early mornings. I’d love to know why, but maybe it will only make sense with time. For now, I’m left with loving the sunrise, cool morning air, taking time eating breakfast with my husband, and my feet hitting the pavement before anyone else in my neighborhood during my run.

One of the best parts of mornings is the “carpe diem” thing. I wish that phrase was not cliché, because it truly is meaningful and something that is needed today. It’s somewhat of a mystery to me why and how seizing the day is different at 6 a.m. than 9 or 10 a.m., but for me there is a huge difference. Just like money, time seems to be something that is fluid and difficult to manage. It gets away from you so quickly!

Recently I’ve been thinking about the importance of having daily rhythms in my life. There’s even a book on my summer reading list that discusses how daily, weekly, monthly and annual rhythms to our lives are not just needed, but sacred. I’m hoping that this new morning routine will be a part of the rhythms of my life, including how I spend my time on those mornings.

In addition to running, prayer and spending time with my husband, I have an informal routine with what I eat. Just about every day I eat oatmeal for breakfast. Now before you jump the gun and think this sounds boring, let me just say that there are so many different options with oatmeal. There are steel-cut oats for a heartier, more “whole food” option. Then there are thick rolled oats, and instant oats for those days when I’m running late. I add everything from fresh berries, to honey or brown sugar, to walnuts or flax seeds, with cream or milk, and even sometimes I add peanut butter or chocolate chips. I realized all of my oatmeal options one time while visiting Sustainable Faith in Cincinnati, where they serve oatmeal in the mornings for retreaters with tons of amazing mix-ins.

This past week, after a 6-mile tempo run, I came home totally exhausted and had baked oatmeal. I’ve seen recipes for it before, but never tried baking it myself. In addition to how easy it was to make, this stuff was delicious for breakfast. And depending on how much fruit you add, it could almost be a breakfast cobbler of sorts. And who doesn’t need an excuse to have dessert for breakfast? Next time I think I might double the portion of berries, or try with mushed bananas.

I prepared the dry and wet ingredients the night before. Then I mixed them right when I got back from my run and popped it in the oven. It was so easy and tasted amazing after a run. 

Baked Apple Blueberry Oatmeal
Adapted from Simply in Season

2 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons ground flax seed (or chopped walnuts, almonds or pecans)

1 cup milk
1/2 cup finely chopped apples
1/2 cup blueberries
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg (beaten)

Combine dry ingredients and wet ingredients in separate bowls. If preparing the night before, cover and put in refrigerator. When ready to prepare the next morning, combine two mixtures and stir until well incorporated. Lightly butter the bottom on an 8 x 8-inch baking pan. Bake in preheated oven at 350F for 25 minutes. Serve warm with milk.

Makes about 3 or 4 servings.


Non-Runners, Runners & Popcorn

Being someone that would consider myself “a runner,” I tend to view the world in categories of people. There are three different types of runners, and then there’s non-runners. The first type of runner is the “I can’t believe I only kept a 6 minute mile pace today” runners, aka the ones that win marathons. Think Kenyans and pro runners. Then there’s the “wow, I ran a half mile this week, and I'm training for a 5K" runners. These are beginners. And then there are the middle of the road, serious but still friendly runners. This is where I fall on the spectrum.

Non-runners always treat me like I’m crazy for wanting to run for a few hours on the weekend. Well, what non-runners don’t understand is that there is a secret to the life of a runner. This secret, if better understood, might make more people want to be runners.

Food. Runners can practically eat whatever we want. So if you like chocolate chip cookies, French pastries and visits to the local taco truck, rather than complaining about not being able to eat them, just run five miles! It’s pretty simple. I love running. And I love food. Just like my husband and I, they are a perfect match. My hope is that this blog will be a space for me to discuss both of these (and probably a few other) topics all in one place.

In the spirit of starting this blog, I did two things. I prepped my water bottle for my morning run. And, I made my favorite snack. Popcorn. It's oh-so-simple, and no-less-than amazing. I always make about double a serving size and tell myself that I'll save half for the next day. It's pretty predictable that the popped, seasoned kernels barely make it through the first half of whatever movie I'm watching or chapter I'm reading. I hope you enjoy this stuff as much as I do!

This is a far cry from the microwave stuff. Lots of flavor, texture and "fresh" taste. I've been experimenting with types of popcorn. Believe it or not, there are so many! There are white, red, blue, yellow, black and probably more than I've tried. For my recipe I used a mix of this black and white. It's fun to see how they pop up differently, and you get a nice variety of textures. You can also mix up the oils you use in order to get different flavors. I used a mix of extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil. Another fun variation is adding sugar to the popped kernels, and stirring slowing on low heat for kettle corn. That will probably be a future post as we get closer to "State Fair" season. Enjoy!

Kristin's Popcorn

1/2 cup popcorn (see above note for ideas about varieties)
a few tablespoons of oil (I used a mix of olive and canola)
sea salt
fresh cracked pepper

Pour a few tablespoons of oil in a 4-quart pan. Add three kernels of popcorn, cover and heat on medium-high heat. Watch and listen for three kernels to all pop. Remove lid, quickly pour the rest of popcorn into the pan and re-cover. Stay by the stove, and when the rest of the kernels start popping, periodically shake and/or "nudge" the pot to keep the kernels moving and evenly distributed around the hot oil. The popcorn should be entirely done cooking in a few minutes. Remove it from heat when the popping really starts to slow down (you don't have to wait until it's entirely stopped). Pour into your favorite popcorn bowl, and season with plenty of sea salt and cracked pepper to taste. 

Makes enough for one generous serving.