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Bringing Down the Zebra

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Bringing Down the Zebra

Sometimes life is really hectic. My most hectic time is during the first few months back to school. From mid-August through mid-November I coach cross-country, teach, and have a very active child. It turns out that children and grown-ups still like to eat, regardless of how busy you are! To make things a little easier, my friend (who is also a teacher and has TWO kids) and I decided to “bring down the zebra.” What do I mean by “bringing down the zebra”? When lionesses in Africa hunt, they band together and bring down the kill (such as a zebra). They can’t eat it all at once, so the rest of the pride, including the cubs, can feed off of it for a series of days. For humans, that would be disgusting. However, you can metaphorically bring down the zebra by making a bunch of meals before the really crazy time.

In the summer before Ben I had made and froze all kinds of meals. It was a really genius plan, but for some reason (probably named Ben), I never did it again. This summer was different. This summer, we went hunting and brought down the zebra making five meals in three hours. It was an accomplishment. Many sites on Pinterest give you recipes of what to make and I’ve listed mine below. But, here are a couple of key tips that we discovered from yesterday:

  1. Find a fellow lioness (or lionesses) to help you bring down the zebra. Cooking/chopping for several hours is much more fun with company.
  2. Preparation, preparation, preparation. I cannot stress this enough. Pin things on Pinterest, discuss it with your fellow lioness, and make a plan. Figure out what you are cooking and in which order.
  3. Look through your recipes over and over again until you have figured out your exact grocery list. On your grocery list, make sure you list the sizes of the items (e.g. 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes) and the quantity. Always check your pantry, too. We were going to make a chickpea dish and I accidentally ate the chickpeas the night before. Whoops!
  4. Multiple cutting boards are a god sent. Many lionesses chopping make light work.
  5. Buy tons of freezer bags and make sure that you label them with permanent marker BEFORE you put anything into the containers. Label the containers with what the dish is, when you made it, and cooking instructions. I like to also label the dishes with how many servings it is so we can judge on how hungry we are!
  6. Let all cooked items (such as soups) cool completely before putting them into the bags or storage containers.
  7. Air is the enemy. Try to get as much air out of the bags/containers as possible. The water in the air will crystallize and cause horrible freezer burn.
  8. Allow enough room for the liquids to expand. You don’t want any explosions in your freezer.
  9. If in doubt, double bag it. Again, freezer explosions are bad.
  10. Constantly discuss how awesome you are and how amazing having all the meals will be in two months. Remembering what the pay-out will be makes it all worth it!
  11. Helen’s thoughts: For people with chest freezers, I will be implementing this helpful idea: as you stash meals away, write down what’s going in, as well as the date, on a little dry erase board on the freezer itself. As stuff comes out, erase it. That way you always know what’s in there and if you should get on eating something if it’s been in there for months already!

Here are the recipes that we made yesterday:

*For this recipe, my friend substituted almond butter for the peanut butter. We both wanted to make this dish immediately.
Also currently living in my freezer are a vat of Eggplant Soup, Dhal Makhni, and marinara sauce. This weekend and/or next weekend, I may add to the little freezer army. Regardless, there will be a couple of days this fall when I won’t have to worry about dinner!
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What do I do with myself?

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It’s been awhile! As a competitive runner, one of the oddest, yet most freeing feelings is not being in the middle of training for something. I have pretty much been training for some race or another since January and with the completion of Cross-Country season I’m not quite sure what to do with myself. In the height of the training season, I was coaching about 6 hours during the week, had 5-6 hours for meets on Saturday, and 2-3 hours worth of running on Sundays. Now I have about 12-15 hours extra per week. It is so odd to not *have* to run.

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I do what I want.

For example, this morning I woke up early to go for a run before Husband had to go in for overtime work. It was SUPER foggy outside and I really liked my book so I said, “I don’t want to go run and I don’t have to.” It was liberating. However, because I can run or not run, one of the things I have been doing is making huge vats of soup to eat for lunch during the week. This week’s soup is a Red Lentil and Turnip soup that is incredibly delicious and healthy. Here’s the recipe.

Red Lentil and Turnip Soup

(serves 12; about 15 minutes of prep and 30 minutes of cook time)

3 cups dry red lentils, rinsed

5 small-ish turnips peeled and cubed

2 cups of carrots, roughly chopped

2 cups of celery, roughly chopped

1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes NOT DRAINED

2 onions, diced

6 cloves of garlic, minced

2 Tb butter (add olive oil to make vegan)

2 Tb olive oil

4 cups vegetable stock

4 cups of water

1/4 cup chopped parsely

3 Tb red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a large soup pot, melt butter and olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Sauté the onions, garlic, celery and carrots until tender (approximately 7 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes and sauté for about a minute and then stir in the lentils.
  4. Once the lentils are coated in the butter/veggie mixture, add in the turnips, stock and water. Stir and let simmer for 20-25 or until the lentils are tender.
  5. After the lentils are tender, remove from the heat and add the parsley, salt, pepper, and vinegar. I like mine tart, so I added quite a bit of vinegar, but adjust to your enjoyment.
Lentil and Turnip Soup. I had never had a turnip before this day. It worked out well!

Lentil and Turnip Soup. It may not be pretty, but it’s tasty!

Return to Cross-Country: The Good, the Great, and the Ugly

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As the school year comes perilously closer, the cross-country season is upon us. The return to cross-country season has brought me out of the running funk I’ve been in for the past two weeks. It has been a struggle to tie my shoes and go out and run. Part of that could be the “horrible” work-outs I’ve had recently, but part of it has been the monotony and loneliness of the solo-run. There is nothing like a group of teenagers and your BRFs (Best Running Friends) to get you out of a rut!

The Good

At the end of the last school year I half-joked that I was going to run to the first day of practice. I knew I would be in the midst of marathon training and that a good, long (12 miles) midweek run would allow me to not have to run long on the weekend. As the summer progressed, I got more serious about it. There would be some logistical issues, namely, how I would get home, but I thought that I would figure them out. When my fellow coach said that he would drive me home after practice, I was sold. When I told my mother of this plan (I talk to my mom abnormally frequently), she was appalled and was certain that I would end up dead in a ditch somewhere. Other people thought I was pretty crazy, but it was a goal. I am SO glad that I did it. It was the exact run that really helped shake me from my bad attitude. The weather was beautiful, I had great splits (thanks to the mostly downhill course), and just had a pleasant time running TO something as opposed to running in a loop or an out-and-back. I followed that up with my favorite trail run with the kids and my BRF and it was a great first day of practice.

The Great

Many times when dealing with high school runners, I find myself frustrated. I either feel that I don’t know enough to help or that they don’t ask questions or behave in ways that indicate that they want to get faster and win. Today was a good day. Kids asked questions and many of them showed a lot of heart. They may not have been the fastest, but they tried and pushed themselves to a point where they were uncomfortable. Kids really, really, really don’t like to be uncomfortable. But, they kept going and that made me incredibly proud.

The Ugly

Not everything about running during the daylight is gold. Namely, poor Ben. We had an amazing summer, Ben and I. Except for when Husband and I went to Italy, Ben spent all but one day with me. This was a mistake. He has been having a tough time adjusting to being back at daycare. I expected some issues, but he has adjusted quickly in the past. Tonight, as I was putting him to bed, which normally goes quite smoothly, he couldn’t settle down. I ended up sitting next to his crib holding his hand through the slats and resting my head against his until he fell asleep. Under other circumstances, it would have been sweet, but I found it incredibly heartbreaking. Not only has he missed me, but I’ve missed him. He’s pretty adorable and getting to be a good conversationalist, especially if you like to talk about stuffed monkeys and Clifford the Big Red Dog. Hopefully, this period of shorter days will help prepare him for when things get real… But, what’s going to prepare me? Hmmm…

Kale and White Bean Stew

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It was a rainy, gloomy day here in Maryland. It was a soup kind of day, but summer doesn’t feel like soup weather. Also, I had a bunch of kale in my fridge, so what’s a girl to do? Make a summer soup with kale and some protein-filled white beans. It’s delicious and light enough for summer.

Kale and White Bean Stew

2 onions, roughly chopped

5 cloves of garlic

2 cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper

1 tsp rosemary

1 bay leaf

5 cups vegetable stock

about 2 cups water

1 bunch kale, deribbed, deveined and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup grated Romano cheese

juice of two lemons

salt and pepper

  1. In a large pot (I used my dutch oven), heat the oil over medium heat. Add in the onions and cook until tender (about 4 minutes).
  2. Add in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Then add the beans, crushed red pepper, rosemary, and bay leaf. Stir in the vegetable stock and season with salt and pepper. Let simmer 50 minutes uncovered. The broth will reduce a little, which is ok.
  3. Remove the bay leaves and add in the kale. Add in about a cup of water to the pot to allow the kale to wilt. If the broth is too thick, add some more water up to 2 cups.
  4. Allow the kale to wilt entirely. This will take up to 10 minutes. When the kale has wilted, add in some more salt and pepper (to taste) and the juice of two lemons. Stir well to combine, then remove from the heat.
  5. After you remove the stew from the heat, add in the Romano cheese and stir well to combine.
  6. Enjoy with some crusty bread! For a non-vegetarian version, you can brown up some Italian sausage and add it in at the end with the cheese. Delicious!
Kale and white bean stew

Kale and white bean stew

Italy 1: Italy, You’re Doing It Right

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Recently, Husband and I were lucky enough to take a trip to Italy. Fortunately, Grandma agreed to take stellar care of Ben so that we could have a nice trip in honor of our anniversary and birthdays. I have been to Italy a couple of times before (yes, I do find myself lucky!), but it was Husband’s first trip and there are few things I love to do more than travel. As a grown-up,  I noticed that Italy does certain things better than other places. Even though the economy is in the pooper, here are some things that Italy is doing right:

  1. Food. Italian food is always and will forever be amazing. They do things with the humble zucchini that I can’t imagine. Tomatoes? Amazing. Don’t get me started on gelato. Holy cow.
  2. Really old stuff. Husband and I invent imaginary pass-times for the various cities that we visit based upon what we see. Paris’s motto is, “Hey, I’m bored. Wanna go build a cathedral?” D.C.’s is, “Hey, I’m bored. Wanna go build a monument?” All of Italy’s solution to boredom is, “Wanna go find some really old stuff?” I love walking down the street in Rome, turning my head and, “Oh hey! This is the spot where Caesar was killed.” You can’t see that on the streets of D.C.
  3. Water fountains. When I went to London and Paris with school over spring break, I was perpetually dehydrated. There were no water fountains anywhere. However, Italy had an abundance of water fountains everywhere. At first, Husband and I were a little nervous getting water from the fountains in Pompei. They did say that the fountains used to be supplied by lead pipes. We didn’t quite relish the idea of getting lead poisoning, but we chanced it and filled up our water bottles everywhere. Fantastico! We didn’t have to buy bottled water for one bazillion Euro.
  4. Parenting. I love the French, but French children are practically feral. French parents are cool and let their kids “explore” and learn for themselves. This leads to children that remind me of mildly tame squirrels. Italians, however, are very hands-on, which I totally appreciated. Even the dads are all about their kids. One Sunday morning, Husband and I sat on a park bench in Trastevere in Rome and we watched kids and their dads play in the park. The moms must have all been home making Sunday lunch, but it was adorable to see the dads swinging their kids up into the air and giving them big kisses. Very endearing. Italy, you’re dong it right.
  5. Weather. While it was hot and humid, I prefer heat and humidity to cold and darkness. ‘Nough said.

Italy does other great things, but these are some instances that stick out. Later, I will report on the running in Sorrento, Rome, and Florence and present some tips to future Italian adventurers. Hooray for la dolce vita!

Academia and Babies

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A couple of my former graduate school classmates posted this article on Facebook about the heavy penalty that female academics play when you have kids. It’s disheartening when you’re a smart girl who has been brought up to dream big and that you can be anything you want to be. Not so in academia. In ways that are antiquated in the business world, women with children are often black-listed from positions due to the fact that they are parents. In the institutions where I have worked, you basically have to sell your soul in order to get daycare on campus. Academics’ bizarre hours don’t often fit in traditional daycare schedules. Forget working from home. As I write this post, a very wiggly 22 month old is demanding much attention for “toast” or “water” or some other weird request involving something that sounds like “shoe” but isn’t his shoe.

From my own experiences in academia, I would say that academics at Research I universities is more challenging for women with children than any other field. As a woman who has been raised to succeed and to jump in with both feet, it is difficult to have a human baby and a “research baby”. You’re congratulated on your publications in the seminal journals in your field, but tell someone you’re pregnant, and they shoot you sideways glances and practically say, “Dead man walking.” The lack of family-friendly attitude is one of the reasons that I’m a PhD drop-out. There are days when I miss the academic rigor an intellectual conversations. There are only so many times you can talk to teenagers about what “butterballin'” means (look it up in Urban Dictionary) and why it’s inappropriate to talk about in class.  There have been many times when I have run out of animal sounds that I know for “Old MacDonald”, but I don’t have to worry about missing future tee-ball games or not being able to progress in my career due to having a family. Academia will always be there; but spending time with my little boy who gets excited about watching sea lions at the zoo won’t always be there.

Race for Rafiki

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My friend Catherine is working as a Financial Adviser for an organization in rural Kenya. She and one of her colleagues organized a race to raise awareness about environmental issues and to raise money for her cause. Check out how awesome she is: http://catherinebackinafrica.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/race-for-rafiki/

I think my favorite part is that people signed up just for the t-shirt…not that anyone I know would do such a thing…