Ironman Vineman 70.3 Race Report

Forcing myself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable; being able to push my body to stay strong, flexible and aerobically fit as I enter a new age group and phase in my life. These are the reaons I’ve returned to race Ironman Vineman 70.3, my favorite triathlon for the 5th year in a row.

Add to the list, the selfish feeling of entitlement when police officers stop all traffic at the sight of me coming at full speed on my bike.

“Coming through! Wee!” VinemanFB4

I’ve also been chasing a PR at Vineman for the past 4 years. However, shortly after I registered to race, I knew it would not be my PR year. I had sustained one ankle sprain after another. I had a personal and work life that took priority. Still, I’d give it my best effort, seek small improvements and enjoy this wonderful experience.

SWIM

I was determined to have a successful open water swim. Every year at this race, I get swum over by men in their 30’s (the wave which typically followed my start wave). I’d get my goggles and swim cap pulled away then inevitably lose my contacts. Last year, my wave start was especially crowded and I got kicked in the neck, just within a few yards of the start. For a brief second, I thought I’d DNF at the start of the race. Luckily I did not.

This year, I resolved to avoid the underwater smackdown. I traded swimming straight along the buoys for hugging the shoreline. This resulted in a 1.33 mile swim but I actually swam one of my fastest open water swim paces. I’ll work on swimming straighter for next year’s race, but for this day, I was happy to exit the river unscathed. And despite my goggles leaking, both contacts remained in my eyes. Halleluhah!

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BIKE

My goal was to bike at a pace faster than the prior year’s. I was not conditioned to reach my PR pace but I would try to get close. Since my wave started late, the air temperature was warming up. The wind also started to pick up and I rode in headwind and crosswinds for most of course.

I decided to use UCAN bars for my nutrition. In the past I preferred liquid nutrition. I found liquid UCAN too pasty so I settled on the bars, which worked well during training. I thought it would be a good idea to keep the UCAN bars and electrolytes in two separate plastic sandwich bags placed in the back pocket of my tri kit. This turned out to be problematic. I was never adept at juggling for food or drinks with one hand on the handlebar. While I’d practice eating the bars on training rides, I could not manage everything I stuffed into one back pocket. A fellow Team Betty passed me and I could barely acknowledge her with a plastic bag dangling from my teeth. I was trying to get into the second plastic bag in my pocket. Thank goodness there are no photos of this. I was peddling slow during these moments. It was frustrating. I finally stopped twice for a total of 11 minutes according to my Garmin watch. Those precious 11 minutes were used to go to the bathroom, fill my bottles with electrolytes and eat my nutrition.

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The Hunchback de Ziplock bags of nutrition is oh so very aero.

There was better traffic control this year however there seem to be a lot more cars on the roads. It is summer in Napa after all. For a few miles I got stuck with a three other athletes behind a slow moving car, unable to pass it. Another car almost took out two cyclists in front of me when they got confused and entered the wrong lane. I had to shout for the car to “stop” and we safely rode around it.

Despite all the wind, stopping and traffic, I managed to improve my pace from the prior year’s but my official bike time would record a slower pace than my actual moving time. In a similar way with my swim result, I was still pleased with my pace. I was able to negative split, felt strong throughout the ride and passed many athletes during the last 10 miles.

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As I got off the bike, I had a feeling I might be dehydrated. While I was on the bike, someone driving by shouted to me what sounded like “you need to take salt.” I dismissed it. It’s hard to be certain what exactly the words were. Also how could the driver have possibly known that? Still it stuck in my head as I headed out of T2. I investigated my arms and noticed that I didn’t appear to be sweating much and I had a lot of salt on my skin. It was a windy day, so that could have dried up my sweat and my back did feel quite sweaty.

After the race, I realized I did not drink enough on the bike. I had lots of electrolytes still in the Ziplock bag I was carrying on the bike. Rookie mistake.

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Ironically, my father had reminded me before the race to “drink, drink, drink” which he told me is the relic of a song sung by Mario Lanza (his favorite singer) from the movie “Student Prince”. “It might prevent cramps” dad said. I think he might have been right.

RUN

If I didn’t appear sweaty enough on the bike, I certainly made up for it on the run. The weather forecast was a high of 83F, which is relatively cool for this race. It felt much warmer to me. (Our car showed a temperature of 90F that afternoon.) I felt good for the first two miles and tried to stay hydrated, but both legs started to cramp up. I ran whenever my legs would allow me to and walked as fast as I could the other times. I traded encouragement and small talk with a few other athletes suffering on the run course with me. I carefully took in electrolytes, salt and nutrition and focused on trying to recover. I accepted that I could not run much but pleaded with my legs to at least allow me to run the last mile in.

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The high-fives from friends, cheers from strangers and the energy from my dear friend Rhonda running with me for a few yards, transferred some mojo into my legs and I was able to run the last mile to the finish line.

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I didn’t care so much about my time as I cared about finishing strong in front of the kids. I wanted to set a good example. What a tough day for them to get up at 5 am and be out there in the heat all day. I could hear the 11 year old cheering me from start to finish. I appreciated her energy and enthusiasm. I’m honored that the 13 year old sports enthusiast gave up on his search for Brett Favre (you know, THAT famous quarterback), to search for me. Favre’s wife was racing too. After I finished, the 15 year old told me he wanted to race a triathlon next year. My heart melted. He even offered to pace me at this race but I had to tell him it was not allowed, but he did find a lot of Pokeman all over Guerneville and Windsor.

I smiled to myself all day, grateful that my family was there cheering me on. I worried they’d be bored, hot and exhausted waiting for me to finish. I wanted to finish the race so I wouldn’t keep them waiting for me too long.

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And I’m so grateful for this guy, for making sure I’d get my workouts in and being my biggest cheerleader. Thanks for all the support darling!

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Shout out to my Team Betty. There were a dozen of us racing and I am also so grateful to be a part of an amazing group of women from all over the world. I would meet one of the Bettys on the run course. Later I would learn that it was Arianna and she had traveled from Ecuador to race. She graciously thanked me later for the “power hug” saying that it helped her. I told her a few miles back, another friend and SVTC teammate named Christina hugged me when I needed it. I told them both, that this sport is part training and part heart and soul.

There were a total of four Betty podiums. It was great to see the camaraderie and friendship between Audra and Jen (below). They stood on the podium together, in the same age group. Polly and Jordan also made the podium. A shout out to Jordan for placing 1st in her age group!

IMG_5122And happy birthday to Hannah, who was celebrating the anniversary of her 29th birthday in a badass way.

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I finished with my 4th best effort out of 5, almost an hour over my PR. The small improvements (swim, transition, learning about nutrition) will all contribute to the bigger picture next year, as I seek to, once again, chase down my PR. For now, I’ll celebrate being able to say that I am among the many happy souls who are privileged to partake in this sort of thing.

TAKEAWAYS

  • Need to re-install a bento box if I’m going to continue to use bars for nutrition otherwise I need to go back to liquid calories.
  • Heed my father’s advice to “drink, drink, drink” (water that is, not booze).
  • Try out the latest anti-camping remedy. Yes cramping is part conditioning and part hydrations but for me, it’s also a part of my genetics. Even when I’m fully hydrated, I can get bad cramps. It impairs me physically AND mentally. I’m afraid to push too hard when I race because I’m scared of cramping. This article talks about what I’ve learned about cramping from a nutrition class I took at Stanford http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-new-way-to-prevent-muscle-cramps-1468256588
  • Heed Coach Soren’s advice that if I really work on my swimming, I can get faster.
  • It’s a long-term goal. Coach Garry from SVTC reminded me that to really prepare properly, it’s a long-term goal.
  • I’m in a new age group and while it does get harder, it’s still possible to PR. I just need to work a lot harder at it.

It’s about the journey and for this race, I was smiling to myself on the course feeling loved and fortunate to have my family’s support. I am so grateful to be able to do this sort of thing.

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Interested in the cool gear all the Bettys are wearing? You can get most of it here:

https://bettydesigns.refersion.com/c/be13

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A Healthy Three Course New Year’s Breakfast

Cheers to a Happy and Healthy New Year, Hungry Athlete Style!

Wishing everyone good fortune in health, family and love. While some of us celebrated the end of 2015 with joy and cheer, some of us experienced tragic personal loss. While some of us look forward to new challenges in 2016, others must bravely face daunting uncertainties. My wish to everyone is to have the strength, wisdom and support to deal with whatever 2016 brings.

“The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably deal with.” ~ Tony Robbins

And may we have gratitude, every day in 2016, for the things and people we are fortunate to have in our lives.

I will begin with gratitude for you, whomever you are, for taking the time to read this! I hope my blog and recipes bring a little joy to your world. I am, of course, very grateful for my family and friends.

I am also grateful and honored to be a part of Team Betty 2016! This is my second year as an ambassador for Betty Designs, a pretty rad line of stylish, functional and high quality cycling, swimming, running and athletic wear for women designed by a pretty cool athlete, mom, graphic artist and entrepreneur named Kristin Mayer who’s mottos are “Badass is Beautiful” and “Do Epic Shit”.   I was fortunate to be invited by Kristen to join a team of 200+ inspiring female athletes, mostly triathletes and ultra runners, from all over the world.

Last year I had the pleasure of meeting teammate Katherine in Arizona. Katherine happens to be the inspiration for my first post in 2016! Katherine asked me for advice on a healthy three-course breakfast she wanted to prepare for her husband on New Year’s Day. I suggested starting the first course with a Greek yogurt parfait, followed by an egg & vegetable casserole and a chocolate avocado mousse for the final course.

Here’s what Katherine made:

“We began with an acai bowl-style gluten-free Greek yogurt fruit dish, followed with an egg bake of vegetables, Gruyere and mozzarella, and sausage. Finally, a dessert of Ghirardelli avocado mousse.”

Looks and sounds amazing Katherine! Katherine is well versed in healthy eating and shared her story about how good nutrition helped her increase speed and move up in her age group, podium and qualify for USAT Nationals. Katherine’s inspiring story can be found here.

As for the Hungry Athlete, for my very first meal on New Year’s day, I prepared my Simple Granola to accompany Greek yogurt, then poached eggs served over smoked salmon and asparagus sautéed in olive oil. A clementine and mimosa were the sweet notes in this orchestra of flavors.

 

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A couple days later, after my first group trail run of the year, I invited the gang over for a brunch and served my Egg, Vegetable and Croissant Breakfast Casserole, my  Simple Granola and Alton Brown’s overnight cinnamon rolls. No, the cinnamon rolls are not healthy nor do I want to try to attempt a healthy version. I believe in indulging when the time is right and after a wet, cold and hard trail run, my friends earned cinnamon buns for running that extra mile.

Want to host a healthy 3-course breakfast, most of which you can prepare, stress-free by prepping the day in advance? Here’s The Hungry Athlete’s Three-Course Healthy Breakfast:

First Course: Greek Yogurt Fruit Parfait with Homemade Simple Granola, Raspberries, Blueberries and Pomegranate Seeds

Second Course: Egg, Vegetable and Croissant Breakfast Casserole

Third Course:  Chocolate Cinnamon Avocado Mousse

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First Course: Greek Yogurt Parfait with Homemade Granola, Raspberries, Blueberries and Pomegranate Seeds
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Egg, Vegetable and Croissant Breakfast Casserole (here with vegetarian sausage, caramelized onion, mushroom, broccoli and Manchego cheese)
Chocolate Cinnamon Avocado Mousse
Chocolate Cinnamon Avocado Mousse

Inspirations for 2016: What It Means to Be “Badass is Beautiful”

Happy 2016!

It’s hard to believe this will be my 5th year indulging in the sport of triathlons and my 3rd year learning ultra running. When I decided to race my first triathlon in 2011, my primary motivation was to force myself to get comfortable swimming in open waters. And so it began … I signed up for my first triathlon, but not the sprint distance nor the Olympic distance. I signed up for a half distance. Go big or go home as they say! If I was going to do an open water swim, I was going to swim more than a mile. By later 2011, I accomplished that goal. One year later, in 2012, I completed my first ultra distance triathlon, Ironman Canada, swimming 2.4 miles. Only a couple years earlier, I never would have imagined I would do such a thing!

I also could never have imagined all of the amazing experiences and people I would meet as a result of being involved in ultra endurance sports. One of these amazing experiences is being a member Team Betty 2016! This is my second year as an ambassador for Betty Designs, a pretty rad line of stylish, functional and high quality cycling, swimming, running and athletic wear for women designed by a pretty cool athlete, mom, graphic artist and entrepreneur named Kristin Mayer. I love our mottos: “Badass is Beautiful” and “Do Epic Shit”.   I was fortunate to be invited by Kristen to join this team of 200+ inspiring and badass female athletes (mostly triathletes and ultra runners) from all over the world and who do epic shit.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of these inspiring teammates, Katherine Biziarek English, last year when I traveled to Arizona. I first met Katherine at True Food Kitchen, a restaurant she recommended. The menu is based on Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet. Over one of the most delicious and healthiest brunches I’ve ever had, we enjoyed sharing stories of how we discovered and fell in love with triathlons. Since then, I’ve enjoyed following Katherine’s journey and think you’ll enjoy hearing about how a school teacher went from being bored with running to qualifying for USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals to be held in Omaha, Nebraska this year!

Katherine started training for her first triathlon in early 2008.   She had just completed a local half marathon and was bored with “just” running so she took swim lessons to figure out how to properly swim freestyle. I use to believe that most triathletes are long-time swimmers, who grew up swimming competitively. Like myself and many other triathletes, Katherine had to learn how “not to drown” and was intimidated with swimming in open waters. After beginning with a few duathlons she successfully completed her first open water triathlon in Flagstaff that summer! Although she felt she was slow, she was happy to have finished.

When I met Katherine for brunch, we chatted about our passion for food and commitment to healthy eating.

“Of course for years I thought I was in shape. I mean, I was a triathlete, right? I was by no means disciplined to a training schedule like I am now, never did two-a-day training, and my nutrition hadn’t changed one bit. I wasn’t fit, but in my mind, I was! I was probably 15-17 pounds heavier than I am now.”

In 2012, Katherine’s coach Frank Sole sat her down and talked to her about cleaning up her nutrition. They had already added strength training and Katherine was making gains. She focused on her diet, cut back on gluten, and started meal planning weekly. Within a year, Katherine was leaner and her overall energy had improved. Even her skin was clearer than ever. Katherine then connected with a local endurance dietitian, Brooke Schohl of Fuel to Finish. With the help of Brooke, they started looking at metabolic efficiency to tweak both training and racing nutrition, particularly since she began tackling 70.3’s (half distance triathlons). Katherine continued to lean out. With disciplined swim-bike-run and strength training and under the guidance of a new coach, Michellie Jones, who continues to support Katherine’s focus on good nutrition, Katherine started to increase speed and move up in her age group. And then it happened …

“I never EVER thought I would be on the podium and going to USAT Nationals. For years, I was satisfied with just finishing. I am a firm believer that nutrition is absolutely critical to athletic success. Of course, I still have my pizza or cupcake here and there, but overall, I am conscientious of what I eat daily, so I make smart choices. I know how certain foods impact my performance as well.”

Katherine’s husband Jon also benefitted from learning more about nutrition. Jon lost over 25 pounds mostly through nutritional changes. One of Katherine’s secrets to good nutrition is planning her meals weekly. As with any goal, whether it’s a race or overall health and fitness, you are more likely to achieve your goal with a good plan.

I was honored when Katherine reached out to me for suggestions on one of her weekly meal plans. This particular meal plan was special. Katherine was planning a healthy three course New Year’s Day brunch for her husband. To find out what I suggested, what Katherine made and recipes to a couple of the dishes, check out  “A Healthy Three Course New Year’s Breakfast” post.

Congratulations Katherine and Jon on your amazing journey and sharing your story!  Katherine, you are badass beautiful and I look forward to cheering you on at Nationals!   Maybe someday we can play Thelma & Louise and run a trail race together?

Katherine in 2015
Katherine in 2015
Katherine in 2011

 

Katherine and Jon 2015
Katherine and Jon 2015

Egg, Vegetable and Croissant Breakfast Casserole

My Egg, Vegetable and Croissant Breakfast Casserole is an easy to prepare breakfast for a crowd.  This recipe was inspired by my high school classmate Kai who gave me the idea to use croissants and Manchego cheese. These ingredients contributed a luxurious texture and flavor to the casserole. Kai’s version, which includes heavy cream, results in a rich and delicious egg custard. I’ve lightened Kai’s recipe up a bit by omitting the cream however the recipe still requires all 9 eggs. I attempted using fewer eggs but the croissants soaked up the egg mixture and begged for more.

While this casserole does require up to an hour to bake and about 10 minutes to set after, you can prepare much of this dish in advance and serve it to the family on a weekday morning. The onions, mushrooms and protein can be cooked, cooled and then stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the casserole. The eggs can be whisked with all of the wet and dry ingredient however I prefer to leave out the milk. Storing the egg mixture, without the milk, is easier than finding a container large enough for the eggs and 3 cups of milk. I cover the toasted croissants in the baking dish with aluminum foil and leave it on the counter overnight until I’m ready to assemble the casserole in the morning.  If you don’t have an hour to spare in the morning, you can also bake it the night before and reheat it.  This casserole makes a great leftover and heats up well either in the microwave or oven.

Serving size: 10-12

Ingredients:

  • 4 large or 6 small croissants, toasted
  • 4-6 tablespoons of olive oil
  • ½ medium yellow onion, sliced very thin
  • 10 -12 white mushrooms, sliced
  • 9 eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard (I prefer Colman’s Dry Mustard Powder)
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 8 ounces of vegetarian sausage links, browned (Of course you can substitute cooked chopped chicken apple sausage, chopped ham or cooked chopped bacon however I prefer the vegetarian sausages.)
  • 2 cups of chopped broccoli
  • ½ cup grated English cheddar & ½ cup grated Gruyere OR 1 cup grated Manchego cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F

In a sauté pan over medium heat, sauté the thinly sliced onion with about 1 – 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Check on the onion frequently and toss them occasionally until they are golden, fragrant and caramelized. This can take from 15 minutes to 25 minutes depending on how thinly the onions are sliced.  Once caramelized, remove the onion from the pan and allow to cool.

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While the onion is cooking, cut the croissants in half lengthwise and toast under a 400F broiler, cut side up. I recommend using a kitchen timer set for 5 minutes to start and check frequently.

Butter a 9 x 13 inch glass baking dish.

Tear up the croissants into large pieces and line the bottom of the baking dish. You will have a few pieces of croissant left over. Set the extra croissant pieces aside.

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Add another 1 – 2 tablespoons of olive oil to sauté pan used to caramelize the onions. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté for about 5 minutes. Season the mushrooms with a little salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.

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Steam the broccoli in a glass bowl filled with a 2-3 tablespoons of water in the microwave for about 1 minute. The broccoli should be slightly tender but still firm. Remove from excess water, rough chop and set aside to cool.  If you are using frozen broccoli, remove any extra moisture after microwaving.

Brown the vegetarian sausage. Chop and allow to cool.

Spread the browned vegetarian sausage slices over the layer of croissants. Next spread the cooled caramelized onion, broccoli, mushrooms and cheese. Top with any remaining croissant pieces.

In a medium size bowl, whisk 9 eggs together. Add nutmeg, dried mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, milk, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. Pour the egg mixture over the croissant and vegetables.   Gently press down on all the ingredients with a spatula to ensure everything is moistened and mostly covered by the egg mixture.

Bake in a preheated 350F oven on the middle rack for about 50-60 minutes. The casserole is done when a knife inserted comes out clean and there is no liquid running. If the top starts to get too brown, cover with aluminum foil.

Remove from the oven, loosely cover with aluminum foil and allow it to sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

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Many of the ingredients can be prepared the day before and assembled quickly in the morning before baking.
Many of the ingredients can be prepared the day before and assembled quickly in the morning before baking.

Briley’s Fettuccine Alfredo with Broccoli, Peas, Mushrooms, and Sun-dried Tomatoes

What do you do when a 15 year old requests Fettuccine Alfredo for his birthday dinner?  First you cringe a little because this pasta with cream and butter has virtually no nutritional value and is truly bland in flavor.  Then you remember that even the Hungry Athlete loved Alfredo sauce when she was a kid.  With Halloween around the corner, looks like the Hungry Athlete had to use a little witch craft to create a healthier version of a teen’s favorite meal.  To ensure Briley’s birthday dinner would be a big treat, I had a couple tricks up my sleeve.

The first trick was to sneak in vegetables (muhahahaha).  I loaded the pasta with four vegetables which have some of the best sources of vegetable protein: peas, broccoli, sundried tomatoes and mushrooms.  In the version I made on Briley’s birthday, I confess to using a sleight of hand to hide the vegetables.  I simply diced the vegetables into the size of peas.  Now that my secret is out, the final recipe calls for larger bits of broccoli, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes.  This makes the pasta more pleasing, both visually and texturally.

The final trick is to turn the heavy cream into a disappearing act.  Typical American Fettuccine Alfredo is made with 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream, 2 tablespoons of butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano, along with a pinch of nutmeg.  I understand that the original and authentic Italian Alfredo sauce is made of only three ingredients: fettuccine, 2 sticks of butter (wow) and Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Either way, that’s a lot of cream or butter.  So instead of all the heavy cream, I threw into the cauldron some magic: Neufchatel.  No I didn’t sneeze and my cauldron was actually a large All-Clad saute pan.

Named after a town in Normandy, Neufchatel is one of the oldest of French cheeses and typically produced in the shape of a heart.  According to cheese folklore, American cream cheese was created when an American dairyman added cream to the recipe for Neufchatel.  Real French Neufchatel is made with raw cow’s milk. American Neufchatel is made with pasteurized cow’s milk and cream.  American Neufchatel has about 33% less fat than cream cheese and is sometimes called farmer’s cheese. Creamy and slightly tangy, it tastes a lot like cream cheese and a lot better than heavy cream.  It is found next to the cream cheese in the grocery store.

Neufchatel and Parmigiano-Reggiano combine with milk into a creamy Alfredo sauce.
Neufchatel and Parmigiano-Reggiano combine with milk into a creamy Alfredo sauce.

Here’s how Neufchatel compares:

  • 2 tablespoons Neufchatel is about 70 calories and 6 g of fat
  • 2 tablespoons butter is about 240 calories and 24 g of fat
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream is about 200 calories and 10 g of fat of which 7 g is unsaturated fat

I was afraid of disappointing a teenager on his birthday and tested a version with a couple tablespoons of cream, a version with whole milk and a third version with low-fat milk. I found the milk versions to be creamy, rich and delicious. Happy birthday Briley! This sauce was created just for you, to keep you healthy and to fuel your workouts.  May you continue to run those trails fast and strong for years to come.

If you prefer a non-vegetarian version, chicken, poached in a pan, adds more protein and accompanies the pasta nicely.  Check out this website for a foolproof, easy and fast way to prepare chicken for pasta and salads:

http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-moist-tender-chicken-breasts-every-time-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-36891

Serving size: 4

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces of your favorite pasta* (I prefer fettuccine or penne)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup chopped white mushrooms
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced (or grated)
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons Neufchatel* cheese
  • ½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ cup whole or low-fat milk (I prefer organic whole milk**)
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  • pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup chopped defrosted frozen broccoli
  • ¾ cup frozen peas
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • ½ cup of chopped sun-dried tomatoes***
  • salt (You probably won’t need this. Any additional salt due to the saltiness of pasta water, the sundried tomatoes and Parmesan cheese.)

*Note: 8 ounces of uncooked long pasta shapes = 1 1/2-inch diameter bunch = 4 cups cooked pasta

**Note: Non-fat or reduced fat milk requires additional processing to remove the fat and then to put the 1% or 2% fat back.  I prefer less processed foods.  Your taste buds can easily be adjusted from non or low fat to whole milk.

***Note:  Sun-dried tomatoes in oil can be used however I prefer to use sun-dried tomatoes not in oil.  These has a longer shelf life however need to be soaked in water for about 30 minutes before chopping and cooking.

Directions:

Timing is everything in this dish.  As soon as the pasta is cooked it should be transferred directly to the pan with the Alfredo sauce.  The ensure good timing, prepare all of the ingredients in advance then start cooking the pasta.

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If you are using dry pasta, allow 5 minutes to prepare the Alfredo sauce.  If you are using fresh pasta, have a pot of water boiling and ready for the pasta and toss in the pasta just before you finish making the Alfredo sauce.

To make the sauce, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Sauté the mushrooms for a couple minutes, then remove from pan and set aside.

Melt the remaining butter in the same pan over medium heat.  Add the garlic, red pepper flakes and lemon zest.  Stir for 1 minute.

Lower the heat and whisk in the Neufchatel, Parmigiano-Regiano and lemon juice until cheese is melted and smooth.  Whisk in milk for 1 minute.  Whisk in fresh nutmeg for another minute.

As soon as the pasta is cooked al dente, place it into the pan and coat the pasta with the Alfredo sauce over medium heat.

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Fettuccine is the traditional pasta used with Alfredo sauce. Here I used penne pasta.

Toss in mushrooms, broccoli, peas, sun dried tomatoes and half the parsley.

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Serve immediately with remaining parsley garnished on top.

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Colcannon with Poached Egg and Smoked Salmon

What’s as good as Colcannon (Irish mashed potatoes) for dinner?  Colcannon for breakfast of course!  I prepared this breakfast on a weekday morning in 5 minutes using colcannon left over from last night’s dinner.

The hardest part of this recipe is poaching the egg.  A fried egg works well too.  I have tried several methods of poaching eggs over the years.  The way my mother taught me to poach eggs works the best.  Mom and I tried using vinegar.  While vinegar helps to keep the egg whites pretty, I’m not a fan of vinegar flavored eggs so I don’t use it.  I also have an egg poaching pan and silicon egg poaching cups.  These gadgets work well when poaching several eggs at the same time but if you are just making a couple eggs, don’t bother using them.  The article below does an excellent job demonstrating how it’s done.  I often use a slotted spoon to lift the egg up and keep it from sinking.

How to Poach Eggs

This breakfast contains nutrient rich vegetables (potatoes, kale, cabbage and leeks) and protein (egg and smoked salmon).  I can’t wait to have it again tomorrow morning after my workout. The recipe for colcannon is found here: Crispy Salmon and Colcannon

Serving size: 1 Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup of colcannon
  • 1 egg
  • wild smoked salmon
  • salt and pepper
  • chives for garnish

Directions:

Poach the egg as instructed above for 2 minutes for a runny yolk and up to 4 minutes for a firmer yolk.  Timing will also depend upon the size of your egg and how cold it is.  I have an ultra runner pal who likes to poach his eggs for 6 minutes.  To figure out how long you like to poach your eggs, gently lift the egg out with a slotted spoon.  If after inspecting the egg it needs more time, you can always drop it back in the water for another minute or two.

While the egg is poaching, warm the colcannon in the microwave.  Place the smoked salmon on the colcannon, then place the poached egg on top.  Make sure the egg is not wet.  Garnish with finely chopped chives and season with salt and pepper. DSC_7029

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Crispy Salmon and Colcannon (Irish Potatoes with Cabbage, Kale and Leeks)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Hungry Athlete style! Irish comfort food, colcannon, is mashed potatoes made with kale or cabbage. On Halloween, charms are hidden inside the colcannon. If you find a ring, it means you will someday marry; if you find a thimble, you are doomed to be a spinster.  Who knew mashed potatoes could be so exciting? There’s even a song about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCQbksGz67U Colcannon is traditionally served with Irish bacon or boiled ham, however, since my coach is evaluating my diet this week, I decided to pair it with salmon.  I omitted the butter (and the ring and thimble) from the colcannon and saved it to prepare a sauce for the salmon.  And instead of using just kale or cabbage, I combined both and added leeks to pack a variety of nutrient rich vegetables into the colcannon.  The vegetables are typically chopped finely, blanched to soften, then combined with the potatoes.  To create a smoother colcannon, I lightly pulsed the vegetables in a food processor after blanching.  (A blender can be used as well.)  This saved me some chopping time and I liked the texture.  If you prefer a more rustic colcannon, just chop the vegetables up more finely at the beginning and skip the food processor. Colcannon is great for breakfast too!  Try using leftover colcannon for Colcannon with Poached Eggs and Smoked Salmon. Serving size: 4 Crispy Skin Salmon Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces of wild salmon, skin on (3 ounces per person)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
  • 4 tablespoons butter

Colcannon Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of potatoes, peeled and cut in large even chunks
  • 1 leek, rinsed well and chopped
  • 3 scallions stalks or 2 spring onion stalks, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cabbage, rough chopped (about 4 cups)
  • 4 curly kale leaves, stem removed and rough chopped (about 4 cups)
  • 1/4 cup of milk or 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • Kosher salt and pepper

Directions: Colcannon Place the potatoes in a large pot of water with a little salt. Bring the water to a boil for 5 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender. Drain the water from the pot.

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If you prefer a more rustic colcannon, chop the vegetables up more finely than this and skip using the food processor or blender.

Bring another large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the vegetables. First, add the leeks and cabbage to the boiling water. After 5 minutes, add the kale and continue blanching for another 4 minutes until all the vegetables are bright in color and tender. Then add 2/3 of the scallions or spring onions for 1 more minute. DSC_7001 Reserve about 1/4 cup of the hot greenish water from the pot. The water contains nutrients and can be used to add moisture to the potatoes. Then strain or remove the vegetables from the water and place in a food processor or blender. Season with salt and pepper and pulse until all of the vegetables are combined.

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Pulse it gently for a more rustic texture but definitely do not puree it. Some texture is good.

Add sour cream and milk or Greek yogurt to the potatoes. Mash the potatoes. If it appears dry, add a splash of the reserved vegetable water. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the vegetable mixture until just combined. It’s a rustic dish so I prefer chunks of white mashed potato with the green vegetables speckled throughout. Place a lid on the pot to keep the colcannon warm.

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Traditionally, a well is created in the middle and a Irish butter is added. By adding sour cream or Greek yogurt, I didn’t miss the butter. In addition, that allowed me to allocate the butter to creating a lemon butter sauce for the salmon.

Salmon Rinse the salmon and remove any bones. Pat dry with paper towels then slice the salmon into 4 pieces. Score the skin of the salmon by making a few shallow, diagonal cuts on the skin. This will help the skin crisp up but not curl up when cooked. Coat each piece with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then season well with salt and pepper. Allow the salmon to sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before cooking. In a large nonstick frying pan, heat the remaining olive oil on medium high heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, carefully drop the salmon on the pan, skin side down. Depending on the thickness of the salmon, cook for about 5 – 6 minutes watching the color change on the cut side of the flesh. When the color changes for 3/4 of the salmon, flip the salmon over and continue cooking for about 2 more minutes. This is called unilateral (uneven) cooking and ensures a crispy skin.  I usually   flake off a piece of the salmon with a fork to inspect for doneness.  A meat thermometer can also be used.  The salmon is done when the tiniest sliver of flesh is almost cooked or the temperature is 125F – 130F.  Remove the salmon from the pan and let it rest for at least 5 minutes.  The salmon will continue to cook through. After the salmon is removed, heat the pan back up on medium heat.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest, lemon juice, shallot and a pinch of salt.  Stir and simmer until the lemon reduces almost in half, then slowly add slices of cold butter, swirling the pan around to incorporate the butter. Place the salmon on a bed of colcannon. Spoon over the lemon butter sauce.  Sprinkle some reserved green or spring onion on top for garnish. DSC_7019

Mango Salsa

Mangoes are one of my favorite fruits. I’ve been patiently waiting for mangoes to be in season. There are six different types of mangoes and each are in season during different months during the year:

  • Ataulfo
  • Francis
  • Haden
  • Keitt
  • Kent
  • Tommy Atkins

Right now, the Kent mangos are in season (January through March) and the season has just started for Ataulfo mangoes (March through July).

Mangoes are rich in vitamins C and A, potassium and fiber, and also contain a small amount of vitamin B-6, magnesium, iron and calcium. Mangoes contain the nutrient, beta-carotene and the antioxidant zeaxanthin, which filters out harmful blue light rays and is thought to protect against macular degeneration of the eye.

This sweet fruit is versatile; it can be enjoyed in desserts and in savory dishes. The key to enjoying a mango is knowing when it’s ripe. Those who are patient and allow the mango to sit on the counter at room temperature for 2 – 4 days to ripen are rewarded with tender, juicy and sweet flesh. Those who prematurely bite into an unripe mango may find it unpleasantly stringy and sour.

Here are some tips on how to pick a good mango: http://www.wikihow.com/Pick-a-Good-Mango

Now that you’ve picked a good mango, here’s how to cut it: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_cut_a_mango/

Serving size: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 large ripe mango, peeled, pitted and diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup English cucumber, diced
  • 1 small Jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely copped
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped (optional)
  • Kosher salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

In a bowl, combine only half of the Jalapeno pepper with all of the ingredients. Taste and add more of the Jalapeno pepper based on taste. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Serve with chips or as a condiment over Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa or Vegetarian Tofu Tacos with Mango Salsa.

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Vegetarian Tofu Tacos with Mango Salsa

Crispy, full of flavor and a fun meal to eat, you will not miss the fish in this Vegetarian Tofu Tacos with Mango Salsa.

Coating the tofu with panko bread crumbs then pan frying them in oil yields a crunchy exterior and a tender interior. Layer the tofu with Mango Salsa and Purple Cabbage and Carrot Slaw which can be prepared in advance.

Serving size: 4 (2-3 tacos per person)

Ingredients:

Pan Fried Tofu

  • 1 package firm or extra firm tofu
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Vegetable oil
  • Flour or corn tortilla

Purple Cabbage and Carrot Slaw

  • 2 cups of finely shredded purple or red cabbage
  • 1 cup of shredded carrots
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

Directions:

Prepare the Mango Salsa.  This can be prepared the day before.

Prepare the Purple Cabbage and Carrot Slaw by whisking together the lime juice, vegetable oil, salt and sugar. Toss in the cabbage and shredded carrots. Set aside.

Place the tofu in a sieve and pour boiling hot water over it. This will help draw out moisture. Dry out tofu by placing them in between paper towels and sandwiched in between two plates.   Weigh the plate down with a 28 ounce can or something of similar weight for at least 15 minutes.

In a shallow dish, combine the panko bread crumbs with cayenne pepper. Place the corn starch and lightly beaten egg, each in its own separate shallow dish.

After the moisture is drawn out of the tofu, cut the tofu into 4 x 1 inch pieces then season with salt and pepper.

Coat the tofu with the corn starch, then dip it in the egg and then coat it with the panko bread crumbs.

Over medium high heat, heat enough vegetable oil to coat a non-stick frying pan. Test the oil temperature by dropping in a piece of the panko bread crumbs. The oil should bubble around the bread crumbs and start turning it brown. If the oil smokes, the pan is too hot.

Fry the tofu until golden brown on each side. Drain on a paper towel.

Warm the tortilla in a hot pan for a couple minutes on each side until warm. Assemble the taco by placing some slaw in the middle of the tortilla. Next add a couple pieces of the tofu and top with the Mango Salsa. Serve with a couple extra slices of lime, hot sauce and a side of my Sweet Potato, Bean and Corn Hash.

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Cod Baked with Tomatoes, Artichokes and Lemon (Psari Plaki)

Psari Plaki is a traditional Greek style of baking fish with olive oil, tomatoes and vegetables. The Hungry Athlete’s version is cooked in parchment paper and was inspired by one of my father’s best friends and tennis partner, Gene Cohen. Gene owned the Somerville Inn, a New Jersey restaurant and banquet hall, with his wife Barbara. Both had passed away over 20 years ago. Barbara Cohen was a successful children’s book writer. Her first book, The Carp in the Bathtub, is a childhood favorite of mine. I have a fond memory of Barbara reading this book to me. Barbara also introduced me to my first peach. She had a gentle way about her and taught me not to be afraid of the fuzzy fruit. I attempted  to eat three that day. If you are looking for good children’s books, I highly recommend her books. Here’s more about Barbara:

http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/cohen-barbara

One summer, my family was invited to the Jersey shore by the Cohens. Mr. Cohen prepared one of the most delicious fish I ever had as a child.  Whenever my father dined with friends at the Somerville Inn, Gene would not allow my father to order from the menu.  Gene insisted on asking my father what he felt like eating and my father always answered” You surprise me”.  My father told me that he “had wonderful meals, not from the menu.”

We must have had insatiable and disappointed eyes after we devoured the fish because Gene immediately ran out to buy more. When he returned with more fresh fish, Gene had my father’s and my undivided attention. Although we studied how Gene created this heavenly dish, all I remember now is that the fish was cooked in a tomato sauce, with possibly ketchup added, and wrapped in aluminum foil. But more than 30 years later, I remember how it tasted,

In my first few attempts to replicate Gene’s recipe, I experimented preparing the fish with canned diced tomatoes and ketchup. It didn’t achieve the flavors I remembered. Ketchup also has too much sugar in it so I substituted it with tomato paste. Next, I exchanged canned tomatoes for fresh tomatoes. The Jersey shore has lots of wonderful fresh tomatoes in the summer so I suspect Gene used fresh tomatoes. I also replaced the aluminum foil with parchment paper. The foil can react to and possibly impact the flavor of acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes, white wine and lemon juice.

Although my tongue cannot confirm for sure if I replicated the flavors from 30 years ago, I think it’s fairly close. With every bite, I am brought back to that evening, at the Jersey shore with Gene and Barbara Cohen, who introduced me to new foods when I was a child and who were great family friends.  No carp in the bathtub here, only cod in parchment.

Serving size: 2 

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound cod or halibut, cut in half
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion (about 1 cup), sliced thin
  • 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups yellow and red grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup of rough chopped parsley
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 springs of fresh oregano
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
  • 2 lemons, cut each lemon into 2 thin slices (4 slices in total) and then juice both lemons (about 1/2 cup lemon juice)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 cup canned artichoke hearts, drained and cut in halves

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F.

Inspect the fish for bones. I keep a tweezer in the kitchen specifically for removing small fish bones. After removing any bones, rinse the fish and pat it dry with paper towels. The fish should be dry to absorb all the great flavors you will be adding to it later. Set the fish aside. The fish should be covered and returned to the refrigerator if you have not prepared all the vegetables in advance.

In a fry pan over medium heat, sauté sliced red onion and sliced garlic in 1/4 cup of olive oil until tender and fragrant.

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Stir together tomato paste and white wine, then add the mixture to the onion and garlic.

Add the tomatoes and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper, then continue to sauté for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens.  Stir in the fresh parsley, then remove it from the heat and set aside.

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Tear off two generous pieces of parchment paper large enough to wrap the fish with the tomatoes, onion and artichokes. To prepare the parchment packets, place one tablespoon of olive oil in the middle of each piece of parchment paper, then place the fish on top of the olive oil. Spoon another tablespoon of olive oil on top of the fish and pour 1/4 cup lemon juice on top of each fish fillet. Season the fish well with salt and pepper.  Next, place one sprig of thyme and one sprig of oregano on top of each fish fillet.

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Place 1/2 cup of artichokes around each fish. Finally, spoon the tomato mixture on top of the fish and artichokes. Be careful not to cover the thyme and oregano. This ensures you and your dinner guest will be able to see the herbs and put them on the side of the plate. Nobody really wants to eat whole sprig of thyme or oregano.

Wrap the parchment paper around the fish and ensure the edges are enclosed tightly. Here’s a video demonstrating how to wrap the fish the proper French way: http://www.finecooking.com/videos/fish-in-parchment.aspx . This method ensures the steam is trapped inside the packet, however when I’m in a rush, I wrap the fish by turning the fish so it’s longest horizontally.  I then grab the top and bottom ends of the parchment paper and and turn over the edges over a couple of times. Just make sure to fold it tightly together. Next I fold the long ends in, forming a triangle, like wrapping a present.  Lastly, I tuck in the triangle ends under the fish.

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Bake for 15 minutes or more depending on the thickness of the fish. You can serve the fish in the parchment packet. Just cut a slit down the top of the paper to reveal the fish or you can carefully remove it from the parchment paper. Remember to tell your dinner guests to remove the sprigs of thyme and oregano.

Serve with brown rice or a Greek salad.

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