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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Football (and Mystery Food Week 9)

6 Aug

Ah, August.

You know what that means: NFL training camp is in full swing! The Steelers have their first preseason game next week against Arizona. News from the front lines says that Limas Sweed is looking good as he battles for the number three receiver position behind Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. Tomlin has been presenting some good challenges to the team, switching players in and out of on-field leadership roles to encourage well-rounded communication. So far, it doesn’t look like the team has taken too many injury hits, but who knows what the next few weeks will bring?

Wishing I could be in Latrobe tomorrow night. The Steelers are holding an evening practice with autograph session and all six of those shiny Lombardi trophies will be on display too!

Since I had football on the brain, I got our fantasy football league set up and ready to go. The draft is going to be interesting this year. I’m sure I’ll have a better sense of who is really raring to go after seeing some preseason games, but right now I feel pretty clueless. I didn’t pay close enough attention to last year’s college season and need to read up more on some of the rookies.

The elephant in the room here seems to be at quarterback. There is no one that comes to mind that I think “Yes, I must have him.” Odd as it sounds, I’m not entirely sure that any of those guys normally considered a safe bet, is in fact a safe bet this year. Sure, either Manning brother is probably reliable, and Roethlisberger would be okay if not for his off-field issues and an o-line that still has a few holes. Tom Brady is an option too, as much as I’m not a fan. He’s had a good, solid year to rehabilitate his injury, but it really depends on how tentative he is with planting that leg. If I had to pick right now….probably Drew Brees. He put up some great numbers last season while his receivers kept switching due to injury, so he’s very flexible. Definitely want to keep an eye open there.

Roethlisberger being embroiled in this civil suit doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s going to have a bad season, but it is certainly going to be on his mind. It’s hard to form an opinion on his situation when inaccurate news is reported as “facts of the case.” The only people that know what really happened are Ben Roethlisberger and Andrea McNulty. I’ve admittedly found it very difficult to remain objective. My gut reaction tells me that I should never doubt a victim coming forward with a claim of sexual assault, especially because victims are so frequently discouraged from doing that or filing any kind of charges (let alone criminal ones). Ms. McNulty’s character as its being reported is more than dubious, but again, I have seen all too clearly how a person’s character can be shredded when the person they are accusing of assault is well-liked. All this said, I hope that things find a way to work out in the healthiest, fairest way for everyone involved.

Onto other things! Picked up my weekly share from Leigh yesterday and it was a big one:We’ve got corn, a big orange tomato, ground cherries (like tiny tomatillos), zucchini, okra, garlic, potatoes, tomatillos, and peaches. The tomato lasted all of a half hour. I sauteed it with some garlic, onion, some cherry tomatoes from the farmer’s market, salt/pepper, and a few sweet peppers. Let everything caramelize a bit and then ran the whole mixture through a food mill. It turned into a glorious burnt-orange colored tomato sauce. We had it on whole wheat penne with some fresh mozzarella. I rarely eat pasta, but it was fantastic.

I’m not sure yet what everything else is destined for, but the peaches are a little bit bruised so I think peach sauce/butter/preserves might be in order. Today was my first day back to running (and in an invigorating morning rain!) since Mt. Gallbladder’s eruption last week , so I diced up some of them for my post-workout yogurt. We’ll see about the rest…mmm peaches.

More later–stay local, folks!
-Neen

A Sixburgh Celebration

6 Feb

So, I’m sure you can all guess that I’m still coming down off of the high from the Steelers winning the Super Bowl. I want to extend my congratulations to the Rooney family, the coaching staff, administrative staff, and (of course) the players for giving the fans such an amazing season. Pittsburgh just got its own personal stimulus package!

It was a really exciting game. Afterward there were the usual complaints about refereeing, but in all honesty, I thought this one was pretty square. Both sides got called for the ever-so-blatant holding on most occasions, and the two “questionable” plays were reviewed and confirmed. Yes, you heard me right. To the thousands of people on the ESPN boards claiming that the final play was not reviewed, it was, and Al Michaels said that they determined it was a fumble. I certainly understand the tuck-rule argument, but if you watch the tape you can see that Lamar Woodley clearly strips the ball before Warner’s arm begins to go forward. Once he was making the passing motion, he no longer had complete control of the ball.

As for Mr. Santonio Holmes…listen, if you can’t accept that his game-winning catch was stunning and an incredible athletic effort then you’re kidding yourself. Yes, his right foot was behind his left, but there is in fact a point (and I think it’s the AP photo that shows it—I may be wrong) where both toes hit and drag.

What I didn’t agree with? Well there were a couple of things. Personally, during the review of Big Ben’s touchdown (which was overturned), I could see a shadow under his knee. It may have been my imagination, but I think that one should have been six points. I was also disappointed in James Harrison’s behavior. Defensive Player of the Year or not, he should know better than to let his temper get the best of him during the biggest game of the year. I’m actually a bit surprised that Goodell hasn’t fined him for his actions.

At the end of the day, the Steelers made plays when they needed to and went home with the Lombardi. They certainly earned it, but I have to give credit to Kurt Warner. He now holds the number 1, 2, and 3 spots for most Super Bowl passing yards. Larry Fitzgerald was incredible as well. He made me hold my breath every time I saw him going deep. Anguan Boldin may be out of the picture in Arizona next year, so Fitzgerald should have a real opportunity to take a leadership role on the team. I read today that their offensive coordinater Todd Haley agreed to coach the Kansas City Chiefs next season, so it’ll be interesting to see how things change. If Kurt Warner retires (I doubt it), then Fitzgerald will really need to solidify himself as a leader on the offensive unit.

What more can I say? It’s been a great season that ended with the one thing any fan of any team really wants. I’m proud to be a fan, and I can’t wait until next season.

Continuing to Live Vicariously Through Hines Ward…

22 Jan

I hope President Obama doesn’t mind if we borrow his slogan…

In celebration of his Inauguration, the Rooneys presented the new President of the United States with the game ball from Sunday night’s AFC Championship game. To quote Dan Rooney,
“He’s a Bears fan first, he admits that…But he’s a Steelers’ fan. He’s said it, and all his staff, they’re rooting for us [in the Super Bowl].”

Before my sports blog made its move over from ESPN’s website, I posted my thoughts on the Penguins making it to the Stanley Cup Finals. With the Steelers now headed to Tampa for the Super Bowl, I was reminded of something I wrote then…

Yesterday the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 6-0 (ouch) to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals. I’m reading the local free paper on the Washington D.C. Metro this morning and see a picture of an elated Pascal Dupuis celebrating after his second goal of the evening. I can barely sit still. It’s the same maddening feeling I had two years ago when I realized that the Steelers were going to Super Bowl XL. I was living in Boston and had to have had the most ridiculous, goofy smile on my face for the whole week before (and then after!) the Super Bowl.

What’s so maddening about this feeling? Well, there’s no one to share it with when you live in a different city. In Pittsburgh, I know they must be bubbling over with nervous excitement. That is when I suddenly feel nostalgic and long for home.

I’m wishing I could be in Pittsburgh, watching the Strip District buzzing with excitement, sharing enormous sandwiches at Primanti’s over game highlights, listening to “Here We Go” on repeat, and immersing myself in that sea of black and gold.

Two stops later, a gentleman gets on the train wearing a Penguins ball cap. Shortly before I get off at my stop, I tell him that I like his hat and ask if he is excited for the upcoming finals. He answers with an elated “yes!” Not surprisingly, we are both transplants to the area from fairly close parts of Pittsburgh.

As I exit the train and begin walking toward the escalator, I catch a glance of him through the train window.

His smile is beaming, and I wonder if he’s back home for a moment too.

Writing that (8 months ago!) made me start noticing fan gear anywhere and everywhere. While the occasional Sidney Crosby jersey or Pirates hat would float by, it was mostly Steeler paraphernalia that caught my eye. From the quiet island of Chincoteague where a man in a Hines Ward jersey told me to “keep an eye on those Redskins fans,” to a bar in Northwest DC where a fellow fan and I debated the effectiveness of Casey Hampton, there were dozens of folks who noticed my hat (or super-awesome-$1-in-the-Strip-charm-bracelet) and stopped to chat. In any case, I’m on the lookout for the next week and a half for anyone in the area wearing Steeler gear. So if you happen to be doing just that in the NoVa/DC area, and a short 23 year old girl comes running up to high-five you, please don’t be alarmed. I can’t help it.

Right now I can barely let myself think about the possibility that in less than two weeks, the Pittsburgh Steelers could become the first NFL team to have six Lombardi trophies. But I definitely don’t want to get ahead of myself either (pompous fans anywhere are obnoxious). The Cardinals are a formidable opponent and it’s going to be a really exciting game. I plan to have more in-depth analysis and some thoughts on the game as it gets closer. For now, I’m just enjoying the excitement.

Some Useless Trivia!

*Coach Mike Tomlin and linebacker James Farrior played against one another in college. Farrior was a linebacker for The University of Virginia while Tomlin was a wide receiver at William and Mary. In the game on October 4, 1994 Farrior finished with 2 tackles and an interception, and Tomlin finished with 4 catches for 58 yards.

*Larry Fitzgerald, Sr. has been covering the Super Bowl for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder for 28 years. This year, he will be covering his own son, Larry Fitzgerald, Jr., the standout wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals.

*At age 36, Mike Tomlin is the youngest coach to take his team to a Super Bowl.

*Kurt Warner didn’t start a game in the NFL until age 27. He is 37 this year and on to his 3rd Super Bowl appearance.

*The Steelers and the Cardinals are the only teams this year to have swept their respective divisions (the AFC North and NFC West).

Oh, and as for the title of this blog post? On my old ESPN blog, it asked me to describe myself “in my own words.” Here’s what I said:

I bleed black and gold.

I follow most professional sports, but my favorite is football. I play fantasy football on a couple different websites and dream about being a wide receiver in the NFL. (Alas, I am 5 ft 3.)

Debating players and sports is one of my favorite activities, but it’s all in good fun. While passionate about the teams and players I love, I am in no way like my angry neighbor who broke his TV when the Pats lost the Super Bowl this year.

Here we go, Steelers.

New Lessons for a New Year (and Football Predictions!)

8 Jan

As a rule, I don’t really have New Year’s resolutions. I love goal-setting, but having something set in stone doesn’t work well for someone who tends to chastise herself when things don’t go according to plan. Instead, I thought I’d share with you some of the lessons 2008 taught me (and that I will hopefully apply in ’09!)

1. Guilt has no place in every day life.

We all have certain things we do out of a sense of obligation. What I discovered is that there are many things I’ve convinced myself that I have to do without any outside pressure. So, I started asking why. Why do I feel bad when I don’t do the dishes in the sink immediately when I come home from work? Why do I feel obliged to go to a crowded party? (I’m not saying you should let your dwelling become a pig sty or that you should become a social recluse.) What I’ve learned is that I can take control of my decisions and own them. It’s okay to let those dishes sit until a little later if I’d rather just have some quiet time after work.

2. Being healthy means taking a very honest look at yourself.

Taking my vitamins every day is not optional. 2007 taught me what I stood to lose by being ill-informed about my own health. This past year taught me an even greater lesson, and it was about being honest. I stopped drinking alcohol. I spent four years trying to keep up with other people my age at college parties before (finally) acknowledging that my post-op digestive system is simply no longer equipped to digest alcohol at a normal rate. I was not being honest with myself about my physical limitations. I accepted that there were certain foods I can’t eat anymore, I accepted that I can only eat limited portions, but I couldn’t accept the idea of going out for happy hour and not being able to have a drink with everyone. I don’t know why–I felt like I wouldn’t fit in at parties anymore. Once I stopped, I felt so much better. I didn’t have to worry if the evening would be one where I was okay, or if it would be one of those nights where my stomach just couldn’t tolerate it. Going out knowing that I won’t have to worry about feeling sick is an amazing feeling. It’s also great to know that I always have a designated driver!

3. I work to live. I do not live to work.

Our society places a lot of value on people who work tirelessly at their jobs. These people are to be commended for their sacrifice and dedication. Some people truly feel their best when they are working. But daily, I see nervous businessmen/women typing frantically on their Blackberrys while attempting to swallow a cup of soup for lunch. I hear people on the Metro say on their mobile phone, “Hey, I won’t be home until after 8 or 9 tonight.”

I like my job very much. I work with good people, I enjoy the work I do, and it’s something I can do well. Part of the reason I am no longer at my previous job is because of the rigorous expectations of the corporate world. I had no wish to rush all day and work long hours for what was barely a living wage in Boston. I really believe that it doesn’t have to be like that. I can hear the chorus of people calling me naive from here, but I honestly believe that things would still get done if people truly worked 9-5 every day and spent the rest of their time living.

We all have responsibilities at work. But tell me why those responsibilities should trump our responsibilities to ourselves, our families, our pets, and even our hobbies? It doesn’t make sense to have priorities skewed so much toward what is only ONE part of life. This leads into my next point…

4. Slow down.

I don’t want this year to fly by. Our family has so much to savor. My brother is getting married to someone wonderful (and I get to be in a wedding!), my cousin is having a baby, my dad opened a brand new office, and Joe and I are exploring what is still a relatively new home for us.

But sometimes with workworkworkworkschoolschoolschoolschool, I forget to just slow down and take some time to enjoy the things around me. It amazes me how far Dioji has come from the scared, shy, and wary dog he was the day we brought him home. Now he sleeps on my feet when I sit on the couch so that he’ll know if I move. He’s learned to play with toys (he was so confused for those first few months), he is too smart for his own good, and he makes me smile every day. Right now, I’m in my basement writing this blog and enjoying the smell coming from the pot of coffee I just brewed. It’s a really simple moment, but what I’m doing right now is exactly what I want to be doing. That’s a nice feeling.

6. It’s ok that things don’t go according to plan.

This has been a difficult one for me to learn. It’s not that I haven’t been aware of the fact that things don’t always go according to plan. The problem I’ve had in the past is being at peace with that. I’d get very flustered and frustrated. After going with the flow a little more during the latter part of 2008, I started recognizing that sometimes change is better than the original plan. Things do, in fact happen for a reason. Allowing a little flexibility in life makes it more exciting. I ought to just enjoy the ride more often.

So, Happy New Year, folks. In the new year, I encourage you to follow your heart, trust your instincts, and remember this:

“Smart people do what they like to do, not what the world thinks.” -Elia Aboumrad

Cheers, friends!

And now for something completely off-topic…

Seeing as my Pick’em league ended (Joe won! Congratulations!) before the playoffs, I thought I’d put my football picks for the playoffs up on here. This Sunday is the Divisional Round and the team I list in bold is the one I pick to win.

Baltimore @ Tennessee, 4:30pm Saturday: This is one of those games I see going into overtime and ending with a lot of very battered players on both sides. Two of the best teams in football right now are playing in what I expect to be the epitome of a smash mouth game. On the Tennessee side, this game is going to come down to Collins’ timing with his receivers. If Ed Reed manages to get his hands on a pick, look out. To win, Tennessee must not commit turnovers and they have to find a way to run the ball against Baltimore’s very stingy run defense. Baltimore also has areas where they need to step up. Rookie QB Joe Flacco has progressed well throughout the season under the leadership of new coach John Harbaugh. What I want to see is how some of the veteran leadership on the team (Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Derrick Mason) can help their young QB and first-time head coach avoid mistakes caused by inexperience. To win, the Ravens must continue to hold teams on 3rd down and force turnovers. That said, it’s hard to decide who really has an edge in this game. Even with the game being in Nashville, I’ve got to think that Baltimore wants it more. Ravens win it on a Stover field goal.

Arizona @ Carolina, 8:15pm Saturday: If you’d told me this time last year that Jake Delhomme would come back after Tommy John surgery and help lead the Carolina Panthers into the playoffs, I might have scoffed a little. I didn’t count on Deangelo Williams pulling out a 1500 yard rushing season or Steve Smith having a 1400 yard receiving season. Bottom line? Carolina has a well-balanced offense that’s poised to adapt to its opponents. In contrast, Arizona has an excellent passing game with Kurt Warner having thrown for over 4500 yards this season, but a meager running game. If Carolina’s secondary shuts down the pass, the Cardinals are in some serious trouble. Statistically, Arizona also fumbles more than Carolina does. In the end, I think that Carolina’s balanced play will overwhelm the pass heavy Cardinals. Panthers by a touchdown.

Philadelphia @ New York (G), 1:00pm Sunday: This is an exceptionally hard game to call. Division games always are. Teams in the same division play so often that they really get to know the nuances of their opponents. Statistically, there’s no category where one team has a distinct advantage over the other. The X factors in this game are the running backs. New York has to contain Brian Westbrook and force Donovan McNabb to make snap decisions. If McNabb has time in the pocket, the Eagles will win. Conversely, Philadelphia has to contain the trifecta of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw. With such depth in the running game, I predict a more confident Eli Manning in the pocket and a Giants win by 10.

San Diego @ Pittsburgh, 4:45pm Sunday: After last week’s game against Indianapolis, let me say that I don’t believe any of the injury reports coming out of San Diego. Tomlinson says now that he has a tear in the tendon near his groin. Nate Kaeding is also questionable with a groin injury. Losing either of these players could be a kick in the gut for San Diego. However, I think losing Kaeding might actually be worse. Let’s not forget how excellent Darren Sproles has looked on the ground lately. Kaeding has a reputation as one of the most reliable kickers in the game, and if this one comes down to 3 points they’re going to want the best guy they have trying to put it through the uprights at Heinz Field (a stadium infamously difficult to kick in). The other factor on the Chargers side is of course, Philip Rivers. In order to win this game, Rivers has got to keep his cool. The Steelers #1 ranked defense is going to throw everything it has at him, and in the past, Rivers has shown that he becomes flustered and makes bad decisions under pressure. As for the Steelers, I find myself less concerned about Roethlisberger’s return from his (3rd?) concussion because I have confidence in the Parker-Moore-Russell tandem. Admittedly, it hasn’t been Willie Parker’s best season. It’s possible that breaking his leg last season has left him a little bit gun shy. However, the multi-angled approach to the run has worked well for Pittsburgh this season. The receiving core hasn’t looked too bad either. While the numbers don’t look especially spectacular, Nate Washington, Santonio Holmes, and Hines Ward have all made plays when they needed to happen. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it’s 1 point or 20 points–a win is a win. The Steelers have been somewhat reliant on their defense to propel them forward. In order to win, the offensive line must keep San Diego from pressuring Roethlisberger in the pocket. During running plays, blocking needs to be a team effort in order to give the Steelers’ running backs space to make big plays. I say Pittsburgh takes it by a Jeff Reed field goal.

On Food and Fantasy Football

25 Aug

Good morning, folks! There wasn’t much time to write this weekend. I was busy getting ready for the start of classes, fantasy football drafts, and doing some good cooking so that I have meals handy for the week.

As promised, however, I have a fantasy football roster, and a dinner report from Dino to share with all of you fine people.

Team WiiFat (It’s a league with a bunch of video-gamers, so…yeah…)

Starters
QB: David Garrard, Jacksonville
WR: Terrell Owens, Dallas
WR: Joey Galloway, Tampa Bay
WR: Patrick Crayton, Dallas
RB: Willie Parker, Pittsburgh
RB: Fred Taylor, Jacksonville
TE: Alge Crumpler, Tennessee
K: Mason Crosby, Green Bay
D: Seattle
DL: Jason Babin, Seattle
DL: William Joseph, Oakland
DB: Dominique Barber, Houston

On the Bench
RB: Kenny Watson, Cincinnati
WR: Shaun McDonald, Detroit
QB: Vince Young, Tennessee
WR: Dennis Northcutt, Jacksonville

All in all, it was a pretty strong draft. My only complaint is that several of my players have the same bye week, so there’ll be a week where I lack some depth. Other than that, I’m fairly pleased with how it went, and it gave me an idea of some strategies to use for my draft tonight.

Yes, tonight. It was supposed to be on Saturday, but our final team didn’t join until less than a half hour before the draft and Yahoo took our draft time away. I was so angry. Luckily, it wasn’t postponed too much and it looks like everyone will still be able to play. Oh well, at least it gave me more time to evaluate talent. Plus, this pre-season weekend was kind of brutal on some teams and left a couple of normally decent players a bit broken. Luckily, no one I’ve drafted so far has a serious injury.

Onto other news… Friday night’s dinner was absolutely wonderful. Joe met up with me after work and we meandered over to Cleveland Park where we had a drink at Alero before our dinner reservation. When we got to Dino, it was fairly empty, but by the time our entrees came around the place was just packed. The restaurant is in a small space, so it was a little loud with so many other people in the room, but it wasn’t impossible to hold a conversation.

The food was excellent. I started with an Antipasto di Verdure (vegetarian antipasti) that included small tastes of roasted tomatoes, pickled eggplant wrapped in grilled eggplant, minted baby squash, a cold bean salad, and some fresh mozzarella and sharp pecorino. Most of it is in my refrigerator at home, because I really wanted to save room to try each course I ordered. Joe started with some fried calamari that was served with a roasted red pepper sauce. The sauce had a bit of a kick to it, which I liked, but the squid alone was just delectable. The batter was light, rich, and somewhat flaky (almost like pastry crust) and the squid pieces were perfectly textured. Calamari is one of those dishes that can come out very rubbery if prepared improperly, but I’m guessing that those pieces got an overnight soak in buttermilk to soften them.

Our mains came out shortly thereafter. Joe got a flat iron steak that was marinated in some well-aged balsamic vinegar. I was enjoying my own entrée so much that I didn’t have room to taste his, but he said it was excellent. The steak came with some roasted potatoes which were fairly non-descript, but still tasty. For myself, I got the Zuppa di Pesce, which was a tomato-seafood broth full of mussels, bay scallops, sea scallops, wild pink shrimp, calamari, fish, and clams. It was absolutely mouth-watering. All of the shellfish, with the exception of the shrimp were served in their shells, which gave the plate a wealth of color. Each type was flavorful and delicious, but my favorites were the enormous sea scallops. They had an extremely buttery texture which was well complemented by the tomato flavor from the broth. My soup was served with two large pieces of grilled bread that had been slathered in olive oil and garlic. Joe and I each had a bite and it was very good, but neither of us was in the mood to fill up on bread.

The dessert selection was full of great choices, but Dino also offered the option of selecting two cheeses from their menu as a final course. I went that route to avoid getting something too sweet (which would have left me soured on the experience). I chose Longo Robiola Pagliarino, a soft-ripened cheese aged in a pile of straw and flown in every two weeks from Torino, and a Guffanti Ragusano, a hard to find, well-aged raw-milk cheese from Ragusa, Sicily that had a sharp bite to it. My selections were very pleasing and complimented each other well. I wasn’t too crazy about the Robiola at first, but it was one of those flavors that grew on me with each taste. It was very nutty and almost brie-like in texture. The Ragusano reminded me of a rich, long-aged pecorino with a bit of a grassy flavor to it. The cheeses were served alongside three small toasts, candied pecans, and a balsamic condiment. For his dessert, Joe selected the house made vanilla gelato which was served “drowned” in espresso. His delighted expression said it all regarding the taste there.

All in all, we decided it was our best restaurant week experience to date. It was a great way to explore a part of D.C. that I hadn’t seen before and enjoy a meal that left us both satisfied, but not overstuffed. Although we participated in the restaurant week promotion (3 courses plus a complimentary glass of grapp/limoncello/moscato for $35.08), I still thought that the menu was reasonably priced for the quality of the food presented.

Aside from our fantasy football draft and delicious trip to Dino, the weekend was mostly spent relaxing. I spent a little bit of time looking over my course syllabi for the semester and preparing my computer for the onslaught of downloads involved in online study. I also came up with a new creation this weekend after having a craving for something that my dad always makes.

Often, when I’m home in Pittsburgh my dad makes an enormous pan of greens and beans, which is exactly as it sounds: A huge pan full of garlic, white beans, and leafy greens sautéed together until delicious. I decided that it would make a really good soup with a few additions, and I came up with this:

Greens, Beans, and Chicken Soup

1 16oz. can cannellini beans
1 16oz. can northern beans
3 cups of baby spinach, rinsed
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms
2-3 pieces pre-cooked bacon, diced
1 32 oz. box natural chicken broth, or 32 oz. homemade
2 cloves garlic
2 medium carrots
1 lb. chicken breasts, diced into one inch pieces and dredged lightly in flour
1/4 cup grated parmesan, asiago, and/or romano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Trader Joe’s 21 seasoning salute (or a mixture of onion powder, a bay leaf, basil, parsley, and thyme)

In a dutch oven over medium-high heat, sauté the garlic, bacon, mushrooms, and carrots until the vegetables are slightly softened and then set them aside on a small plate.

Add a small amount of olive oil to the dutch oven and add the chicken. Once the chicken is golden on all sides, add the broth, sautéed vegetables, and both cans of beans to the pot. Simmer for 15 minutes and then add the spinach one cup at a time, allowing each addition to wilt slightly before adding the next. Simmer for 5-10 more minutes and then stir in the grated cheese.

The pot makes 9 1-cup servings at 142 calories, 3 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbohydrates, and 18 grams of protein. It’s really warm and comforting—and I love any dish that requires only one pot to make. I froze mine in single serving containers and spent most of the weekend devouring it. Luckily, I saved some to take to work this week.

Well, after that bizarre whirlwind tour of my weekend, I’m off to face a new week. Fantasy draft #2 is tonight, and I’ll be sure to update my musings throughout the week. Have a great Monday, and keep smiling. Ciao!

Classes, Banapples, and Football (oh my!)

21 Aug

Yesterday was a very productive day. I finished the assignments for my first graduate course. Granted, it was a one-credit class to prepare for online learning, but it still brings me one credit closer to being a librarian. I also had an online orientation via the Elluminate platform last night. It just amazes me how far technology has come. Elluminate is as close to being in a real-live classroom as it gets. We had discussions via chat and microphone, and learned how to use all of the application’s functions. Any action you might have in a live classroom (raising your hand, writing on the board, taking a poll, splitting into groups…etc.) is available via on-screen buttons. Applications and presentations can be shared, and moderators can provide “web tours” if they want to explore a website with the class. Some professors also use it to host virtual office hours. Finally, there’s a “drop-in center” where students can chat with one another and practice using the various techniques. I imagine it will really come in handy for meetings when working on group projects. I’m very excited for the coming semester.

Aside from getting a head start on classes and orientation, it was also a successful day of trying new foods and baking. I tried roasted-salted edamame for the first time today. They’re just roasted soybeans, but have a nutty, almost peanut-like flavor. A ¼ cup is 130 calories and 14 grams of protein. They taste like they’d be a fantastic salad topper or trail mix ingredient. I may add some to the leftover steamed shrimp and broccoli I had for dinner and eat it cold for lunch tomorrow

While at the market, I also picked up some apple chips to make a fruity protein bar which I’ve dubbed “the banapple-nut bar.” They came out great and had a texture similar to my apple-cake bars. Here’s the recipe and method for those interested:

Banapple Nut Protein Bars

¼ cup soy flour
¼ cup almond flour (just grind blanched almonds to a cornmeal consistency)
1 packet kashi honey-cinnamon 7 grain hot cereal
2 scoops of vanilla protein powder (or about 60g)
½ tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
2 ½ tbsp. SF cinnamon syrup (hazelnut or caramel would be fine too)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg white
2 tbsp. cashew-macadamia butter
2 tbsp. chopped pecans
¼ cup banana chips, chopped
¼ cup apple chips, chopped
1 tbsp. apple butter (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, soy flour, ½ of the packed of kashi, ½ of the protein powder, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add the cinnamon syrup and mix well until everything is slightly wet. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg white and nut butter until smooth. Add that mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Finally, add the other ½ of the kashi packet, protein powder, pecans, banana chips, and apple chips. Mix well until a sticky batter forms.

Line a 9×5 loaf pan with parchment paper or greased aluminum foil. Grease or lightly wet your hands and pat the batter into the pan evenly. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. As soon as the pan comes out of the oven, drizzle on the apple butter and spread it evenly. It will melt slightly and create a thin glaze. When cool, remove the bars from the pan and cut into 6 equal pieces.

Nutrition facts: 172 calories, 11 grams of fat, 14 grams of carbohydrates, and 10 grams of protein.

If you’re concerned about fat, you can replace the nut butter with some applesauce or mashed banana and/or nix the chopped pecans. If you still want a nutty flavor without adding too much fat, try using PB2 in place of the nut butter. Keep in mind, however, that the fats in nuts are monounsaturated and have been shown to lower levels of bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten in moderate amounts (reference: Mayo Clinic website). Walnuts and flaxseeds in particular contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids which are even better for heart health.

If Little Red Riding Hood’s granny had me for a grandchild, I can assure you that she would have chased that wolf out of her house lickety-split. That’s because I would have brought this:

This is my goody basket. It’s where I keep my protein and vitamin rich snacks so that I can grab one or two and get out the door quickly in the morning. As much as I love making my own protein bars, there are some flavors that I simply haven’t mastered yet. I usually have Kashi Chocolate-Peanut and Cinnamon Coffee Cake Protein-Fiber bars on hand, as well as some of the South Beach Peanut Butter or Cinnamon Raisin Protein Cereal bars. South Beach does make “meal bars,” but they’re high in sugar alcohols which I tend not to tolerate. Also packed in my basket are a batch of my chocolate vita-cupcakes and a batch of my new banapple nut bars. Granny would have been power-packed and ready to lay the beat-down on any nasty wolf that came her way.

Keeping healthy foods in high supply is crucial to balanced eating. Without that basket, I’d be scrambling around the kitchen in the morning trying to find things to throw together that are high protein, high iron, and just all around good for me. Take the time to prepare things for yourself in advance and it’ll make eating well significantly easier. Most soups freeze very well, so I try to make a large pot, let it cool slightly, and then put it in single-serving containers in the freezer. I take one out in the morning, toss it in my bag, and by lunch it’s thawed enough to get nice and toasty after about a minute and a half in the microwave. I’m currently eating my way through a batch of cauliflower-cheese-chicken chowder.

The reason I’m focusing on this so much now is that I know once classes get into full swing, I’ll have a lot of other things on my mind. With a good meal plan in place, there’s one less thing to worry about.

In other news, I have my first fantasy football draft of the season today. Joe and I joined a league with a bunch of people from a forum that we frequent. I’ve got some lists made, but I want to narrow a few more things down and check injury reports one more time. I’ll post my roster here tonight or tomorrow for anyone who’s interested.

That’s all for now. It’s almost the weekend, so “Just keep swimming,” as Dory said so many times in Finding Nemo. Think positive and have a wonderful Thursday everyone. Ciao!