Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine's Day Sourdough Pancakes

My husband isn't really affected by food. I mean, when people ask me what I craved when I was pregnant, I'm stumped because I crave food irrationally all of the time.

But to Evan, food is fuel. He can tell the difference between a mediocre steak and a fantastic steak, but eating a fast food burger doesn't bring him down. It can be kind of hard to please a guy who is so easily pleased, if you know what I mean. For the first bit in our marriage, I was really stumped how to get him emotional about food. Since the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, I kind of felt like I wasn't really getting to him.

And then I realized that his one true (food) love is breakfast. From stuffed French toast to waffles, he loves it all. This all works out perfectly because he's made it a tradition that he'll make me dinner all by himself every Valentine's Day. He thinks that Valentines Day is solely a male responsibility, but since I love the holiday and don't want to be excluded, I've taken over breakfast.

This year, I wanted to try something that scares me. Although Evan's favorite pancakes are the sourdough variety, I've shied away from the task because it seems so daunting. But, I decided I would do it this year so I did my sourdough starter last week and it wasn't as hard as I thought!

Here's the recipe:

1 cup flour
1 cup water

Keep mixture in a container with a loose lid in a room temperature location. Dump half of the mixture out every 24 hours and replace with another cup of flour and another cup of water. Mix. After 4 to 5 days, place mixture in the refrigerator and feed it on a weekly basis.

It's that simple! Who would've thought? I did do my research though, and here are the things I found out: 

There are lots of starter recipes out there. 
I searched around the interweb for quite some time and realized that there is an abundance of different recipes for starters. Some recipes call for sugar and yeast, this gives your starter a little boost and feeds it right off the bat. What I read about these recipes is that the end product will not be as potent. I never got a full reason why, but I decided to trust the other blog writer. Apparently, people have been doing the flour and water equal ratios for centuries (for reals). There are some restaurants in places like France that have sourdough starters that have been in the family for generations. 

This recipe seemed the easiest and the most authentic, so that's the way I went. 

It's hard to kill your starter.
This is really fortunate, because I'm not the best person to keep things like plants alive. This is why I have an aloe plant, which is pretty much just a fancy cactus. This is a feeding bacteria colony and it thrives when it has food and water, so you just need to remember to feed it on a daily, and then weekly basis. You will have sourdough for the rest of your life if you want it! Just remember to dump some out or use it so that it won't turn into a monster that takes over your fridge. 

You will see results quickly. 
The first day, the starter will just be a runny dough. The second, it will have bubbles and a darker color. The third, it will start to have a sour smell similar to beer. It will also have a thin layer of liquid on top. The fourth day, it will appear frothy and the smell will be a lot stronger. When it starts getting really bubbly like the picture above, it is okay to use. You can really use it before then because you can smell the sour smell faintly on even the second day, but if you want a strong flavor, wait until the fourth day. 

If you need any more reasons to make a sourdough starter, read the blog post from Nourished Kitchen here, although I didn't use that exact starter recipe or pancake recipe. There's just so many to choose from. 

The recipe I used came from here

Rich Sourdough Pancakes
3 large eggs
1 cup milk
2 cups Sourdough Starter
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter melted

Beat eggs in a medium bowl. Add milk and sourdough starter.
Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar;
add to the egg mixture, mixing well. Stir in melted butter.
Lightly grease a hot griddle. Drop the batter by 1/4 cup onto
the griddle and cook until light brown, turning once.
Makes 6 servings.

I was a little scared at first to try them, just because I wasn't sure how well my starter turned out, but they were amazing! They tasted like a thicker, richer crepe. Add some strawberries and bacon and I know our Valentine's Day breakfast will be a big hit. 

If you're reading this and thinking, "well, shoot. It's too late to start." I'd still give it a try! My starter began smelling fermented the very next day, so you could definitely try it. The flavor just might be a little more mild, but a lot of people like mild sourdough. You can also put a little bit of yeast and sugar in to boost the process. 

Even if you don't have time for Valentine's Day pancakes, making a starter is a great idea! I'm really excited to keep feeding and using mine for breads, waffles, biscuits, and more. You can even make cookies and cakes, which would be pretty exciting. 


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Things I wish I knew prior to the big 26.2

Have you ever thought about running a marathon? And then thought, "Oh, hale no"? Don't worry! I have been there. But I've also experienced the exhilaration of running across the finish line after a grueling 26.2 miles and felt absolutely on top of the world. It feels so good once you finish, it's kind of addicting.
It's like childbearing, which is something many people can relate to. It takes a loooooong time to prepare for, and then there is about 3-6 hours of real work, then at the end you cross the finish line and a huge feeling of relief washes over you and you are given a beautiful...medal. Eventually you forget all the horrible parts, and you just remember how rad you felt, and you want to do it again. And again!
I've run two full marathons in my short running "career" (I do not run professionally at any level, no), and several half marathons. I've done it the right way, and I've done it the absolute worst way possible. I have a few tips for those of you who want to take the plunge and run. Honestly, these are good tips for any race prep, not just the full 26.2, but the longer the distance the more important each become.

1. Do your homework. This is an important step that I completely skipped the first time a ran a marathon. I had been running inconsistently and no more than 15-20 miles a week when I decided to run my first marathon. My first marathon, incidentally, was my first race. Ever. Anyway, talk to people you know who have run endurance races or go online and look at running sites. Runners World, Another Mother Runner, Hal Higdon. Theses are my go to websites. They have all kinds of tips from people far more experienced than me.

2. Take what people say with a grain of salt. While you are conducting said research,  remember no one but you knows what you are capable of, and even YOU might not know. Don't let what other people say discourage you. If you have a desire to do it, that is literally all you need. If your desire is real, you will figure out a way to do it. My first marathon, I went into it blindly and completely unprepared. I was scared, no doubt, and I went about it all wrong, and injured myself, but I DID it. Hopefully with the research and prep you do you will avoid injury, but I'm also hoping it doesn't make you decide to just forget it. It is doable for anyone.

3. Find the right marathon for you and sign up! Ok, the right race depends on a lot of factors. Time of year, for example. If you run one in the spring, that means you will have needed to train for 18 weeks in the winter. If your winters are dangerously cold and you have no access to a treadmill, maybe go for a race where you can train all summer. Also look at the price, elevation gain/loss, whether or not it's a trail run, and how many people are running. Some people love a crowd whereas others love small quiet runs. I've done both, and loved different things about each. I did a Rock'n'Roll marathon which had great support, fantastic aid stations, bands every mile, and a TON of runners. I've also done a tiny local marathon that had maybe 50 runners for the full, it was flat, on beautiful country roads, it was quiet, and my husband could ride his bike alongside me. There are pros and cons to each, so read the reviews of the marathons you are considering.

4. Find an appropriate training schedule for your skill level/goals. If this is your first marathon, then get a simple training schedule that has a slow build-up of mileage and will get you to the finish line. If you are more experienced at running and want to add in speedwork or hills, there are training schedules for that as well. My recommendation for your first race is to simply cross the finish line. I would not make a time goal because you really don't know what you are getting into. I don't want you do go into it with unrealistic goals and then have the race be a complete disappointment simply because you didn't finish it in under four hours. Hal Higdon has several free and simple training plans, and you can start there. I like Another Mother Runner training plans too, and they have mileage along with intervals, hills, strength training, etc.

5. Do the training. This is the hard part. Not the race itself. If you do the training and are consistent the race should actually be kind of enjoyable unless you hit a wall at mile 18 or something. The training takes time, commitment, sacrifice. It means you will likely need to get up early or stay up late to get your runs done. Trust me, though, the training is very important. It can mean the difference between being injured and needing to recover for 9 months (ahem, 1st time) or crossing the finish line and thinking it was actually kind of fun (2nd time!). Don't skip any of the long runs, unless you are injured, and try not to skip many of the other runs in your training. That being said, the programs are a guideline more than anything, so if you miss a run, don't beat yourself up or stress. Also don't try to make up runs by adding a 7 mile run right before your long run on Saturday. Just slip back into the schedule where you would be.  You can also switch around the days you run a little bit, but try to give yourself an easy run or rest day after your long runs.

6. During your training find music you enjoy listening to, or a good book or podcast, or try to find someone crazy enough to run with you. Personally, I love running with a buddy. I feel safer and it's SO much more fun to chat. I have also run with audiobooks going, podcasts, and a playlist. I've also even run absolutely naked (free of any electronics or people) and really enjoyed that as well. Find what you like, and do it. Be aware though, that some races do not allow headphones due to safety reasons.

7. During your training, eat and wear what you plan to eat and wear on race day. Your long runs are kind of "practice races." It's your opportunity to try out different outfits and foods before the big day. For my first marathon I wore brand new shorts from the expo they hold just prior to race day. I also wore the shirt they give you in your goody bag. The shirt, it turns out was a men's small, not a women's medium, so the neck felt like it was choking me, but it was super baggy and loose everywhere else. There was a lot of chafing I had never experienced before. I also had never tried fueling before so the drinks and gus they had at the aid stations were also new and quite disgusting. They didn't really settle well with my stomach. Any long run over an hour you have prior to the actual race, you should practice hydrating and refueling. I personally like the shot blocks and Gu lemon lime electrolyte powder.
Also, as a side note, if you find something that works for you to eat before your runs, stick with it, and DON'T CHANGE IT ON RACE DAY. Seriously, the only thing different about race day should be that you are wearing a bib and you have aid stations to stop at. Most marathons have on their websites what they plan on serving runners at the aid stations, and if you can practice with that product, do it. If not, plan on carrying your own shtuff.

8. If you plan on running with a friend, discuss beforehand if you are going to run together the whole time no matter what, or if you are fine with splitting up. Have a frank honest discussion, and if you are someone who feels like they aren't sure if they could do it alone, you need to let your partner know, and let them know your expectations. If you have specific time goals, then you should let your partner know you are happy to run together, but you will break away if you need to to reach your goal. Nothing is worse than going into a race and having to have that discussion while one of you is feeling defeated and wanting the partner to stick around to help out, and the other one is disappointed they won't finish  at their goal without feeling guilty for ditching.

9. Figure out transportation. Is someone going to drop you off and pick you up? Are you carpooling with other runners? Are you going to use the shuttle? Do they have parking available at the starting line? Will the race end where it started or will there be a 3 mile walk to the parking area? With both of my marathons I carpooled, but my first race I got there way too early and froze. My second race we didn't account for getting lost and traffic, and arrived late. If you do happen to run late, it's ok, because your results are usually based on a time chip and you avoid getting stuck behind the crowd. However, if you are too late, you could take too long to finish and the race could shut down. Plus it's more exhilarating to start when the cannon goes off.  Bottom line, figure out all that stuff before 6 AM on race day.

10. On race day it's a very amateur thing to start way too fast. You are loaded up with adrenaline and excitement and the only reason you should start fast is to pass the inevitable crowd that could potentially block your pathway. Then you should slow right down to the pace you've been training at. After the halfway point, if you are feeling like you are holding back way too much, go ahead and pick up the pace a little bit and finish strong.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Paleo Diet Food Storage Ideas

I'm not a religious paleo-dieter. My family tried it out in January with some pretty awesome results. First of all, my husband has a chronic condition, and steering away from grains made him feel pretty awesome. He was the driving force behind giving the whole paleo thing a try.

Second, my oldest, a four-year-old, has had some picky eating issues since he turned one. Since we've been on the paleo diet, he has been far more adventurous at dinner time, and for this reason alone, the paleo diet has made my heart sing.

Third, my youngest, a two-year-old, has some asthma and allergy stuff, and I'm not positive, but I think his symptoms were alleviated while we were paleo.

Well, we kind of still try to be, but we definitely wouldn't fit in with other paleos at the next Paleo Con. Overall, I would say that it has instilled some very good changes and habits in our every day diet, but we do eat dairy and we'll shamelessly have some whole grains sporadically throughout the week. It's usually in the form of granola, because it happens to be a delicacy in my house, along with eating one's weight in yogurt.

However, being my husband's condition as it is, I've thought about what I could do to possibly build up a food storage around that diet. Here's what I've come up with:

And maybe some onions to go with it. Unfortunately, my condo isn't zoned for fowl of any kind. I can't even have a goldfish as far as my landlord is concerned, so we'll just make do with our paleo-friendly options at the grocery store. I will actually include other non-paleo items in my food storage, of course, because my hunter-gatherer instincts are restricted to our local Costco. If I'm short on items that fit my normal diet (if it comes to living off of my food storage), I'm pretty sure I'll be okay with eating just about anything. That being said, I'm not sure many canned or bottled things are technically paleo, but, again, we're talking about possible starvation, so we're bending the rules. Here's my real list, and I'd love to hear any other clever ideas!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

14 Days of Husband Valentines on a Budget

Normally at the end of the month, I think about how quickly time has flown and how much stuff I didn't get done the previous month.

But it's February, and I've been waiting for February to get here forever, because I'm in charge of our Valentine's Day this year, and I'm going to make it awesome. You see, usually, my husband is the Master of Romance, and no matter what holiday it is, he always seems to outdo me. I'll get him something pathetic, like a movie he only semi-wants to watch, and he'll buy me a spa package, rent sound equipment and get his buddies to surprise serenade me, or find a good deal on a weekend getaway.

That jerk.

Obviously, all those things cost a pretty chunk of cash. We've got two kids now, plus one on the way, so the name of the game is Awesomeness-Through-Frugality. Well, he's in for a surprise, because this year I'm doing 14 days of little surprises, from now until Valentine's Day. They aren't crazy expensive (some of them are free), but they are thoughtful and take a teensy bit of planning.

Here they are! My 14 Days of Valentines aren't in any particular order. Maybe you can get some ideas for your special someone, too!

1. Note of appreciation: In this note, I will focus mainly on telling him how grateful I am for him as a husband, father, provider, etc. This will be one of my first Valentines, to start off slow. I don't want him to know this is going to be a daily thing yet.

2. Favorite "special" beverage at home: Every guy has their favorite beverage that they only get on special occasions. My husband's favorite is fancy root beer. If it's in a can, it's no good. We're lucky to have a BevMo close by with a ton of specialty root beer options.

5. Favorite "special" snack: My Valentine has certain dietary restrictions that make every day snacks a little out of our price range. I usually stick to a few budget-friendly items, but for this day I'm going to leave a little "snack attack" in his work bag to surprise him.

4. Note of love: Different from the appreciation note, this one will focus on what I love about the guy. Maybe I'll bring up the first time I knew that I loved him, or something along those lines. You can see I have this well-thought out.

5. Another surprise in his bag: Sorry this isn't original, but he could really use two days of this.

6. Inexpensive new card game: If you're married with kids, you know how easily you can get stuck in the rut of dinner, dishes, bed time routine, then hit the TV, night after night after night. So, for this day, I'm going to get an interesting-looking game at Walmart or Target and host a couple's game night, in lieu of our normal routine.

7. Framed family picture: He's not one to collect clutter on his desk at work (or at home), but he would like a framed picture of his family. I'm just typically too lazy of a wife to order one picture at Costco and go pick it up. I live in a world where romance is all relative.

8. Notes from our boys: Of course, they've got to do their part.

9. Chocolate dipped strawberries: This is my husband's favorite Valentine's-specific dessert. It's so simple, but, boy, does he love those things. I'll probably make them while he's at work and have them waiting for him.

10. Song from iTunes: This is one of my favorite ideas. My guy loves music and knows a lot about it. I enjoy music, but I don't know nearly as much as he does. So, with a little research, I'm going to purchase a lovey-dovey song that he doesn't already have and send it to him.

11. Do a "man" job for him: For us, this means washing the car. This guy is an anti-clutter, neat and tidy, put-everything-we-haven't-used-in-a-day-on-Craigslist nut. So having the car clean on the inside and out makes his heart sing.

12. Chocolate delivery: There's a fancy chocolate place that delivers close by to where he works. They deliver for free within a certain distance. Awesome! I'd do flowers, but I wouldn't want to embarrass him in front of his work buddies.

13. Date night: Obviously, one of the more expensive days, but it's a given.

14. Family Valentine's dinner, complete with heart-shaped sugar cookies: My kids love Valentine's Day, too, and I keep telling them we'll use those heart-shaped cookie cutters on Valentine's Day. It's gotta happen.

It's obvious that my man's heart lies within his stomach, with all the consumables he'll be getting as Valentine's. And even though my Valentine isn't into golf, guns, or gluten, it is still possible to tell him I'm thinking about him this Valentine's Day.