Where have I been? A story in 10 pictures

Here are top 5 reasons (excuses) I have not blogged since July:

5. I returned from a month-long cross country road trip and wanted to savor the feeling of being unplugged.

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4. It was summer, I can walk to the beach from my house, and I don’t like getting sand in my laptop.

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3. I started my third semester of full-time graduate school.

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2. I stopped prioritizing eating right and training hard, stopped cooking, and entered into a downward shame spiral in which a clean eating blog had no place.

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1. I realized this blog didn’t feel like me anymore.

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5 recent and related events that helped me commit to starting again:

5. I ended 2013 by baking my first real loaf of bread, using my Uncle Jimmy’s recipe. It turned out delicious and I savored every bite. I remembered simplicity, good smells and how happy I am in my kitchen.

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 4. Then, with the holidays behind me, I decided it was time to go back to the gym, start eating mindfully again and get my muscles back.
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3. Upon reconnecting with my awesome network of strong fitness pals, I heard about the wonders of almond flour and started breading EVERYTHING.
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2. With a focus on getting strong again and leaning out, I added a lot more fat back into my diet, and started cooking almost everything in coconut oil…

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**Note: As far as I can tell, coconut oil has life changing properties

or butter or lard.

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1. Finally, with a little help from a friend, I decided that this blog can be about anything I want. Instead of waiting to find the perfect recipe and then trying to write the perfect post, I think I will just share cool information as I find it. Sometimes you have to approach life one hurdle at a time in order to move forward.

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6 car camping “pantry” must-haves

You don’t need much to cook tasty meals on the road. However, car camping provides a little more space than other types of camping, so you can get away with stashing some treats. Here are a few things I keep the back seat or a cooler to give those fireside meals an extra boost.

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  1. Jarred jalepeño slices and/or hot sauce. These are first on the list because you can use them in almost every camp meal, morning, noon or night. If you like a bit of a kick, add hot sauce or pepper slices to eggs, wraps, grains, veggies, sandwiches, etc. They will keep in the cooler for probably way longer than you need them too, and you can always bring leftovers home or gift them to fellow campers.
  2. Salt, pepper and olive oil. Spices are non-perishable, easy to store, and go a long way in flavoring dishes. If you are working with the same basic ingredients for a few days in a row, you will be surprised how exotic even just salt and pepper will taste. You can pick up a cheap non-breakable salt and pepper set at the grocery store, or pack spices from home in plastic straws that are bent and taped shut at the end. It is best to store everything so that you can pour directly on food and don’t have to use your fingers, since they will likely be dirty. Olive oil is an easy cooking medium/fat because it adds flavor, does not need to stay in the cooler, and can be used to cook almost everything. Try to find a plastic bottle since glass can break and is not allowed at some campsites.
  3. Tortillas. You can instantly turn a pile of left over ingredients into a dish-free breakfast, lunch or dinner with any kind of wrap. Plus, most of them do not require refrigeration. You can even toast them in an hot, non-greased skillet on the camp stove or over a fire for 1-2 minutes.
  4. A block of cheese. Need I explain?
  5. Chocolate. Chocolate is a lifesaver for a few reasons. Most importantly, depending on how long you are camping, you will likely become sick of all of your food and will just want a treat. Chocolate, in any form, will back you up in those moments. If it’s hot out or your food is being stored in the car all day, keep it in the cooler. Chocolate is also a great trail snack that provides some sugar to keep you going. Snickers are my favorite because they provide salt and fat in addition to calories, which is helpful if you are doing something particularly strenuous and sweating a lot.
  6. PB & J. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a staple on all my hikes or long driving days. They are filling, substantive, easy to make and carry, and delicious. They can also sub in as breakfast or dinner in a pinch.

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    personalized pb&j’s

Poaching eggs in the Black Hills

May I first say, sorry for the delay in posting! I intended to post from the road, but some places had no service or electricity and all places took my head so far from the computer that I kept not writing. However, I took pictures of everything we ate along the way so I could catch up once back on the grid. Here we go.

Our first night of camping was in Badlands National Park in South Dakota. The prairie landscape here is described as beautiful and unforgiving, which I can now say is about accurate. We set up our tents and prepared for a silent and powerful sunset.

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In the morning, we set our for an 8 mile hike across a harsh rock crust trail dotted with sunflowers and grasses.

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However, we did not depart without a tasty power breakfast! Since we were still getting a feel for how to keep the camp stove lit in the prairie winds, first morning simplicity was important. Poached eggs are great to make on a camp stove because all you have to do is boil water, and there is minimal cleanup afterwards. Plus, they are soooo good.

Ingredients:
*makes one serving

2 raw eggs
1/2 ripe avocado
1/2 fresh orange
salt and pepper to taste
a dab or two of hot sauce if you wish

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Bring a few inches of water to a boil and add a pinch of salt. Crack both eggs into a cup. Once the water is boiled, spin the water to create a whirlpool in the middle of the pot. Then, carefully pour the eggs into the center. Cook for three minutes at a slow boil, and then remove the eggs from the water with a spoon.

Serve with avocado slices and fresh fruit!

Deep dish pizza is my new favorite food

Let’s cut to the chase: Chicago deep dish pizza is one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted. I mean, just look at it…

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Since Chicago was our first real stop on the trip, providing a few days of leisure before camping, we decided to indulge in this decadent local treat. Our host
took us Giordano’s for a taste.

I am not sure what I was imagining deep dish pizza to be, but I could not have been more wrong. I think I was picturing a Sicilian sort of thing, with a thick crust. Instead, what arrived on our table was a stuffed pizza. The delicious crust was filled, like a pie, with a melty core of cheese and toppings, about an inch high. All the elements were perfect. The crust was light, sweet and flaky, just thinly lining the bottom of each slice. The sauce was delicious, closer to a thin tomato sauce than a thick marinara (win!).

Both the sauce and crust take a back seat to the cheese and filling, which ooze out everywhere bringing joy with every bite. Here, take a closer look:

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Now, I am a clean my plate kind of a girl, but a slice and a half put me over the edge. Good thing the leftovers made a great room temperature lunch in the road the next day :)

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Junk in the trunk

When I was little, the word “adventure” was used to sugar coat traumatic family vacation experiences. If we got pickpocketed on the metro in Rome, missed our flight to the Cayman Islands because we did not have our birth certificates on hand, or if I passed out on a mountain top gondola ride in Jackson Hole and peed my pants, for example, we were simply “on an adventure.” Between the ages of five and fifteen, adventures for my brother and me involved a lot of crying and temper tantrums. (These vacations were also amazing and life-changing, but when something fabulous happened we were just “on vacation.”

What once was a dirty word, however, has been restored, especially as I reflect on my childhood experiences and realize how wonderful my parents made even ridiculous circumstances. I like to think that their generally nonchalant attitude about proper documentation and the like made me who I am today.

Today I excitedly embark on a new adventure, my first one in a while. Starting right about now, my best friend and I are driving clear across the country. Not only that, but we are training along the way for a 10k in California at the end of the trip. I am telling you this because this will be my first vacation since I joined the blogging world. Therefor, I am taking the opportunity to challenge us to a three week, cross country, car camping, 10k training, mostly clean eating but also mind-expanding culinary extravaganza. I’m sure we’ll come up with something worth sharing in that time.

Stay tuned!

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Strong is Beautiful

I recently did something I am really proud of, but am not sure how to share. I took part in a photo shoot at my gym. My coaches put together these “Strong is Beautiful” photo shoots a few times a year, and give members the chance to get some fitness shots taken. In retrospect, I think part of the reason they started doing this is to allow us to see ourselves through someone else’s lens, since our own lens is often distorted and so harsh. I work out 4 times a week, eat pretty healthy most of the time, and sometimes still can’t see my own muscles. Yet I’ve never once looked in the mirror and failed to notice my love handles or “fleshy knees.” I was nervous, but I thought it would be a good challenge for me, and also probably empowering and fun even if I never saw the pictures.

That being said, of course I was dying to see the pictures! When I first got them back, I almost couldn’t look at them. I peaked, with only one eye open. There I was, just sort of out there, in the open, showing (flaunting!) what I got. The lighting was great, the photographer was amazing, I got a spray tan, had my makeup done and was slicked up with baby oil, but I still picked myself to pieces in every shot.

After sleeping on it, I looked at the pictures again and shared them with a few friends. They, of course, sent back kind, amazing comments oozing with love, support and validation. So I looked at them again, and kept looking until I could see my muscles. I looked at them until I was smiling ear to ear with pride and joy. I might have actually even said, “daaayym girl!” in my head. I thought, if I can pick out my imperfections in these pictures, then the pictures are real. They are showing me who I am, which means the strength and beauty I see is also real.

I scored a few points with me this week by allowing myself to be vulnerable to someone else’s lens, and trusting and accepting what they saw instead of rationalizing it away into nothing. That was a little bit huge.

This month, I’m a little over two years, 4 races, and 1 photo shoot into my health and fitness journey. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like a clean diet and some heavy weights to help you face the world.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures:

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**Thanks to Eric Brushett PhotographyTuff Girl Fitness and Bodyology Fitness Studio

Spring Cleaning Veggie Soup

I want to make everything from scratch, all the time. After all, I’m trying to learn how to really cook. Sauces, broths and doughs are fun to try, but they take time and love, and a lot of exploration. Sometimes they fail at 8pm at night when you’ve worked all day, gone to the gym, still have a term paper to write, and are on the verge of transforming into the hunger-induced raging lunatic doppelgänger of your normally normal self. (Who you then have to apologize for in the morning even though you have no memory of her visit…)

Anyway, it’s finals week for me and I have a big project going on at work, so when I went grocery shopping on Sunday I made a point to put together some quick and easy meals. I already had a bunch of veggies in my kitchen from all the big elaborate meals I thought up and “didn’t get to” this week, so with an additional carton of veggie broth and 1 can of beans I was able to make up this soup. Besides clearing out my fridge, it came out pretty tasty. Sometimes it pays to throw in everything but the kitchen sink and see what happens.

Ingredients:
4 celery stalks, diced
1 medium onice, diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
4 parsips, peels and sliced
2 garlic cloves, whole
4 cups vegetable broth or stock
2 cups fresh peas (or frozen, or canned if you have them)
1 can great northern beans
1 small tomato, diced
1-2 fresh basis leaves
a pinch of fresh parmesan
a pinch of herbs de provence
a pinch of crushed red pepper
sea salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil

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Preheat the oven to 375 F. Cut the sweet potato and parsnips into 1/2 inch cubes, and lay on a greased baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 30 minutes. Turn the pieces over half way. Since the veggies will cook a bit more in the soup, they don’t have to be completely cooked through. Watch them and make sure to remove them from the oven before they start crisping.

In a large sauce pan, heat a bit of olive oil and saute the onions and celery on med-low flame until translucent, about 5 minutes. Try to keep them from browning. Add in the rest of your ingredients, except the beans, and bring to a slow boil. Once boiling, add beans and reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for another 20 minutes.

Top with fresh parmesan to serve. I happened to have some amazing kielbasa in the fridge homemade by a friend of mine in the fridge (thanks Kathrin and Sam!), so we sliced that up and threw it in the leftovers for something different. It was refreshing and satisfying both ways.

Enjoy!