Orange Cranberry Almond Meal Muffins

orangecranberrymuffins-46

Have you heard? After Thanksgiving, cranberry is the new pumpkin.

Oh and peppermint is the new sweet potato. Trust me, that’s coming too. I’m pretty obsessed with the chocolate peppermint combination, so it’s only a matter of time. But for now, I’m in cranberry land.

Let me just say, I’m usually pretty skeptical about any type of “muffin” that doesn’t include flour. I’m a girl who likes her bread. Thick, doughy, gluteny bread is a staple in my diet, and I’m not ashamed.

I had my reservations about just using almond meal. I thought they would come out dense and brick-like. I didn’t think there was any way I could have a perfect fluffy muffin with no flour.

Turns out, almond meal muffins are basically perfection. Soft, fluffy, hearty and filling! I hate when you try to eat a “muffin” for breakfast-and by muffin I mean a glorified cupcake that’s missing the frosting-and 5 minutes later you’re hungry again because you just ate the equivalent of a bowl of ice cream for breakfast. These muffins could actually serve as an on-the-go breakfast. That is, if you’re not me and don’t feel the overpowering urge to eat half your calories before noon.

I don’t know what it is, but I always wake up feeling like a ravenous beast. You know those people who skip breakfast? I DON’T GET IT!! So, you know, I’d probably pair one of these up with, like, half a dozen eggs, but if you’re a normal human, you could just grab one on your way out the door, and be good to go.

The sweet and tart orange and cranberry flavors meld perfectly with the hearty nutty flavor to make the perfect breakfast treat that you can share with just about anybody!

Orange Cranberry Almond Meal Muffins

yield 10-12 muffins

adapted from Bran Appetit

  • 2 cups almond meal
  • 3 tbs corn starch
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • dash salt
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/4 cup honey or agave
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together almond meal, corn starch, baking powder and salt. Stir in almond milk, honey/agave, orange juice and extracts until combined. Fold in dried cranberries.
  3. Fill muffin tins about 2/3 full. Bake for 20–25 minutes until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

 

 

Gingerbread Hot White Chocolate

gingerbreadwhitechocolate-24

So you know that moment when you have your first hot chocolate of the year? Like the real first one that doesn’t come from a powder? The kind that’s thick, creamy, rich, and decadent and makes you feel like a big jerk for not following the “don’t drink your calories rule”?

Oh yes, it happened.

LOOK AT THE STEAM!!!

I’m still real proud of my steam shots ;) Anyway, one of my favorite things to do this time of year is get in the car with a scalding hot cup of hot chocolate (I can’t stand when it gets cold!) and go look at Christmas lights. Steve and I go at least once a year. It’s tradition. Something about the combination of the lights, the mood in the air, and the delicious treat just makes me all kinds of happy.

Buuuuuut, I have a confession. I’ve never made hot chocolate that doesn’t come from a powder. I don’t know why. That crappy diet hot chocolate has 25 calories so I can shovel pounds of whipped cream on it, or something? I don’t know. It’s silly, because this hot chocolate is sososoSO good! It’s so thick and creamy that you would think it’s made with whole milk or cream!

It was the perfect night time treat, and it’s like one of those secretly healthier recipes. You know, the kind you can make for all the people in your life that talk crap about all your Greek yogurt and vegetables. You can give this to them, then get that secret satisfaction as they slurp it all up. Then, if you’re me, you’ll yell out all kinds of unnecessary comments like “HAH!! That was healthy! I fooled you! Take that suckerrrr!” I swear, I’m very mature.

Moral of the story? Make the hot chocolate. Act super immature when you fool all your friends and family into chugging down your lightened up dessert. ;)

 

Gingerbread Hot White Chocolate

yield 2 servings

  • 2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 1/2 oz white chocolate
  • dash pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • dash cloves
  • dash nutmeg

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small-medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk constantly until mixture is desired temperature and all ingredients are thoroughly combined.

**Note: You could also make this in the crockpot on low for 2 hours whisking occasionally.

PF Chang’s Marathon Training Week 2

IMG_20121124_094103

And just like that, I’m back into peak marathon training. Somehow I only have 2 long distance runs left before it’s time to taper. This second section of training that I expected to take forrrrrrever seems to be flying by, and I can see definite improvements from the last time around! It’s nice because I’m no longer scared of these distances, so I can push myself more, and I’m seeing a pretty big difference in speed especially in my long runs. Sweet. Here’s how last week’s training went down:

Monday: Rest. This was the unintentionally real life becoming more important than exercise type of rest day. I planned to do something, but I had no idea what, and then life got busy and I didn’t stress myself out to try to fit it in. Most people have a hard time fitting their work outs into their lives; I sometimes have a hard time fitting my life around my workouts, and honestly, that just seems silly, so I took a real life day and got stuff done.

Tuesday: 6 mile run. My best friend Bethany is working really hard on her running and I am sosoSO proud of her! She wanted to tackle her first ever 6 mile run, so I ran with her and she ROCKED it! It’s so great to be able to run with her and watch her make so much progress!

Wednesday: 3.5 mile run. Easy run before physical therapy with Ashley. 10 min pace, then a whole like 5 minutes of abs that made me want to die. must.start.strength.training.

Thursday: Mesa Turkey Trot 10k. Check out the recap!

Friday: 8.5 mile bike. Easy ride to coffee with Steve.

Saturday: 17.17 mile run. This run started out tough. Nicole and I were both feeling slow and lethargic, and I watched our first few miles clock in ridiculously slow. I knew I wanted to beat my time for my last 17 miler, and I felt like finishing in less than 2:55 would be a nice bonus. I was a little worried about our first slow miles, but I know myself, and I know that’s just how my body works on long runs, and I really believe it’s for the best. I always start ridiculously slow and negative split the crap out of it, but I still always worry that I won’t have enough left in the tank to make up for it at the end. However, looking back at the splits from just 2 months ago, I can see a huge difference even in my slowest miles, and as always, we sped up. A lot. The plan called for the first minute of the final 10 miles to be at goal pace. This was a nice way to break up all of those miles at the end. We had something to focus on for a minute out of every mile that wasn’t “GOOD LORD HOW MUCH LONGER????” At first we were slightly speeding up to make these first minutes happen, but soon we were running faster than goal pace, and then we were confused–Do we speed up? Slow down? Run the same? Sing Call Me Maybe? 

We kind just kept doing our thing, and I finished 17.17 miles in 2:54:25 for an average pace of 10:09. That is pretty darn good for these slow legs! The end started feeling hard, and I was tired, but I felt so much better than after the first time. I was peppy and energized rather than lethargic and in pain. I also did a much better job of taking care of myself afterwards. Nicole and I got in her pool for an ice bath with our Dutch Bro’s, then stretched for quite a while. It made a world of difference!

Sunday: Rest. Necessary and fabulous.

Totals for the week:

Running: 32.95
Cycling: 8.5

Onward.

Tell me about your training!

 

Mesa Turkey Trot Race Recap

2k12-turkeytrot-18

Last year, I started my Thanksgiving with my first ever double digit run. This year, if I wanted to start it with a PDR, I would have needed to run 21+ miles, and ummm, that wasn’t happening. So I decided to run the Mesa Turkey Trot with Nicole. Thanksgiving morning, we headed over at around 7:45. The race didn’t start until 9 which seemed really late to me. We got there, quickly registered (it was only $25!! I was a big fan of that!), and got in the seemingly endless porta potty line.

After a good 20 minutes of waiting in line, we headed over to the start. I was really excited because I’ve only run one other 10k before and it was almost a year ago, so a PR seemed like it was in the bag. Unfortunately, as we were waiting to start I was like “Hey, I’m not cold. Not even a little bit. That’s probably a bad sign…” You see, I’m more temperature sensitive than an Eskimo at the equator. If I don’t start a race with constant complaints about how cold I am, I know I’m not going to feel particularly great once I start running.

The plan was to run the first mile around half marathon pace, and then slowly negative split from there. We ran the first mile in 9:05 which was right on pace, but it felt way harder than it should have. I was sweating and feeling tired way earlier than I wanted to be, and after the first mile my stomach decided it was PISSED. I started having sharp stabbing in my stomach similar to what I felt during Pat’s Run. It was frustrating. Actually, it still is frustrating. To be honest, all of the pain and, um, issues I was having before my surgery really haven’t gotten any better, and maybe gotten worse? But that’s a story for an other day. I was feeling pretty miserable, and Nicole kept asking if I wanted to walk, but I was trying to be stubborn, and we ended up running the second mile around 8:50.

Unfortunately, I just kept feeling worse and around mile 3 I asked Nicole if we could stop to walk for a bit to give my stomach a chance to settle itself. It helped a little, but I ended up having to stop about every mile for the same reason. Needless to say, I was not having a great time. Not to mention, it started to feel like it was about a million degrees out. It wasn’t that hot of a day, but the sun just felt so intense, and it definitely wasn’t doing me any favors. Luckily, the last mile I miraculously started to feel a little better? Maybe it’s just that I knew I was almost done, but I got a serious second wind and remembered that I liked running. It also helped that Nicole stuck with me the whole way even though I was kind of a mess.

It’s funny, in the middle of the race I had been pretty certain that I had sucked it up so badly that I wasn’t even going to PR, but then somehow I crossed the finish line in 56:40? My PR was 59:58. Hmmmm…

Nicole looks super cute in her turkey hat. My face looks pretty awful, but I like that both of my feet are off the ground ;)

Oh hey, that’s better ;)

Wheeeee!

So it wasn’t actually a total bust. I’m happy to have a new PR, even if it wasn’t quite the goal I had in mind, and the whole thing kind of gave me a swift kick in the ass to get some things figured out. I don’t think that feeling sick so much of the time is normal, gallbladder or no gallbladder. I try to just keep a positive attitude about things, and figure that everyone deals with some sort of issues when it comes to running, I think I’ve been in denial a bit, and it’s not doing me any favors. Even in Shun the Sun where I ran really well, I didn’t feel great for the entire last half of the race. So I’m gonna work on some things diet wise (l’m trying to eat less fiber–I think my intake might be bordering on excessive, and playing around with when/how much coffee I drink), and make an appointment with my doctor.

On a more positive note, here’s a picture of Coach Susan basically winning the whole thing ;)

Skinnified Sunday: Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bars

Skinnified Cranberry Bliss Bars via Ari's Menu

It’s the mooooost wonderful time of the year!

Okay, so the truth is I’ve been listening to 99.9 since the day after Thanksgiving when they first started playing Christmas music, and I made these babies long before Thanksgiving.

I just can’t even contain my excitement! When Target put up the first few holiday items back in October, everyone else scoffed while I got secretly giddy.

I am a sucker for the holiday season and I have no shame. The lights, the shopping for presents, the music, and of course, the amazing holiday flavors.

I swear, every time I step into Starbucks it’s like an exercise in self control. Between the salted caramel hot chocolate (my favorite), those freaking snow man cookies (I just love those guys!) and of course the cranberry bliss bars–a white chocolate chip blondie topped with cream cheese frosting and sweet dried cranberries? I diiiiiie.

White chocolate and cranberry go together like peanut butter and jelly. No, like peanut butter and chocolate! For a long time I thought I hated cranberries. BIG MISTAKE!

I made these delicious bars last year and they were a huge hit, but the pictures were, um….

Yeah….suffice it to say, they didn’t do the food justice ;) These are absolute perfection–the perfectly soft gooey blondie filled with while chocolate chips and the smooth and creamy white chocolate cream cheese frosting topped with the sweet and tart dried cranberries. Heaven.

I adapted this recipe from Recipe Girl’s Cranberry Bliss Bars.

My swaps:

  • Half recipe
  • Pumpkin puree or apple butter for butter (-fat, -saturate fat, -calories)
  • Egg substitute for eggs (-fat, -calories, -cholesterol)
  • Less brown sugar (-sugar, -calories)
  • White whole wheat flour for regular (+fiber, +protein)
  • Reduced fat cream cheese for regular (-fat, -calories)
  • Less white chocolate (-fat, -calories, -sugar)

 Skinnified Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bars

yield 16 small bars or 8 large

Skinnified Cranberry Bliss Bars

For the blondie:

  • 6 tbs pumpkin puree or apple butter (I’ve tried both and they both work really well)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup + 2 tbs white whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • dash salt
  • pinch ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips

For the frosting:

  • 4 oz reduced fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 ounces white chocolate, melted
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries

Directions:

  1.  Preheat oven to 350. Spray an 8×8 baking dish with nonstick spray. Set aside.
  2.  In a large bowl, combine pumpkin/apple butter, and brown sugar using a hand mixer.  Add egg substitute and vanilla.
  3.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder.
  4.  Add dry ingredients into wet mixture and mix until incorporated. Fold in cranberries and white chocolate.
  5.  Bake for 18-25 minutes until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, cool completely.
  6.  Using a hand mixer, combine cream cheese, vanilla and powdered sugar. Add in melted white chocolate. Spread cream cheese frosting across cooled bars and top with cranberries.

 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

chocolatechunkcookies-1

There is no better combination than peanut butter and chocolate. It’s a proven fact.

I would also like to say that chocolate chunks > chocolate chips. Fact. Just call me the Chocolate Encyclopedia. Or the Chocolate Whisperer. I like the sound of that. You can picture me sitting in my kitchen whispering sweet nothings to my chocolate.

In college, my friends referred to me as the Musical Theatre Lexicon. I guess you could say when something’s important to me, I spend a lot of time with it. Like chocolate. And peanut butter.

I made these for my wonderful friend Emily’s birthday. Then I spent too much time taking pictures of them and was late to her party. Story of my life. The cookies were so good though. Like, really reallllllly good, so I like to think they made up for it ;)

You know what’s REALLY hard??? Not eating all the birthday cookies you baked for your friend. Especially when they are so gooey it’s practically like biting through a slightly crunchy shell into hot cookie dough with rich, bold dark chocolate pouring out from the inside. Not eating all the cookies = true friendship.

I’d had my eye on doing some chocolate chunk cookies for a while now. I recently read a post on making the perfect chocolate chip cookies, and the two things that stood out were that you should use more than one type of chocolate to keep the taste buds interested, and always very lightly salt the dough before it goes into the oven–not for the “salted cookie” effect, but just a tiny bit to contrast the sweetness and bring the most flavor out of the cookie, so that’s what I did. The result? Cookie heaven.

 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

yield 1 dozen (these are BIG cookies)

  • 1 1/4 cups gluten-free baking blend (or white whole wheat flour)
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbs corn starch
  • 1/2 cup apple butter
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup water (+ corn starch = egg replacement)
  • 4 oz good quality dark chocolate, chopped into large chunks (I used a chili dark chocolate and an espresso dark chocolate, but any chocolate would be delicious)
  • sea salt for topping

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and corn starch. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the apple butter, peanut butter, sugars, and vanilla until smooth. Add water, followed by flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Fold in chocolate chunks. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3. Use a large cookie scoop (or your hands) to drop dough onto prepared cookie sheet. Lightly sprinkle the top of dough with sea salt.
  4. Bake for 14-18 minutes until just golden. Do not overbake. Let cookies stand on sheet for 2-3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

PF Chang’s Marathon Training Week 1

Or actual marathon training week 22? No, definitely starting fresh, otherwise that will make a girl go crazy. It truly does feel like a whole new training cycle. The runs are longer and more challenging (YAY!!!), I’m training more with Nicole since the plan was always for us to train for this race together after NYC, and I have a new much more relaxed attitude about training. This week, I did something crazy and took 3 rest days, and didn’t feel the tiniest bit bad about it. After Shun the Sun, I was super sore and my body needed some extra rest, so I listened. Don’t worry, I’ll probably be back to my crazy self too, but right now I’m enjoying the break from needing to “perfect” in my training. I’ve already completed a full training cycle, and I did that pretty darn well, so I have much more confidence going into this round.

Part of the reason I felt (and honestly, I still have my moments) so devastated in New York is because I made training my entire life. While it’s great to be passionate and devoted to something you commit to, it’s not great to suck at the rest of your life, and feel empty when that thing doesn’t work out. I can’t blow everything off (including my sanity) for an other 2.5 months, so I’ve gotta change my mental game, and ya know what? The world didn’t and, and I still got all of my important runs in. Funny how that works. So here’s a look at how it all went down.

Monday: Rest. I was originally supposed to do Tuesday’s run today, but I woke up on Sunday ridiculously sore, and realized I had put a lot into my half the day before, and my body just needed a little extra rest.

Tuesday: 8 mile run. This run was AWESOME! I was so glad I took the extra day because even though I still felt a little sore and tight on Tuesday, I met up with Nicole and had the most rejuvenating run! I’d been having a hard time getting my head back in the whole marathon training game, but this totally got my there! The plan called for 3 miles easy, then 1 mile at marathon pace, 1/2 marathon pace, and 1ok pace, then 1 mile cool down. Our paces were spot on with mile 6 @ 8:58 and mile 7 @ 8:19! We finished with an average pace of 9:48. Not too shabby.

Wednesday: 4.4 mile run. We had hill repeats on the schedule, and there was no way that was happening for me, but I met up with Ashley, and did the speed workout Coach Susan usually has us do the week following a race: 10 x 1min alternating hard and easy, which for me that day translated to run fast for a minute, then walk slower than ever before for the next, but that’s okay because my fast intervals were faster than ever! Even with 10 min of walking, we covered 2.04 miles in the 20 minutes. At the beginning a had a few intervals in the low 7’s, but after that all my paces read 6:xx with the last one at 6:18! I know it’s only a minute, but a minute is longer than you would think, and that is significantly faster than the last time I did this! I was really happy!

Thursday: Rest. AKA cookie baking. That’s what rest days are for, right?

Friday: 16.1 mile run. I’m not gonna lie, this run was tough. On daily mile I said I felt “great”, but maybe I just felt happy that it was over? No, it actually was really good, but also really hard. I ran with Nicole and we were definitely pushing the pace at the end, but we talked the entire time, and I never once even thought about turning on my music! We sang to each other and had the first official meeting of GSA (Garmin Stalkers Anonymous). I even developed our serenity prayer. You do weird things when you run for 2 hours and 44 minutes. Although Nicole ran slightly less than that because we met up a little over a mile in, and that crazy girl ran her first mile in 8 minutes. I ended up with an average pace of 10:11 which is my fastest pace for a long training run over 10 miles ever. No wonder I was so sore the next day… ;)

Saturday: Rest. Necessary.

Sunday: 9 mile run. Since we long ran on Friday, we did our medium run Sunday to avoid a 4:30am Monday wake up call. It was great–no rush and a really relaxed run, which I definitely needed. We had 3 miles easy, 2 @ marathon pace, 1 easy, 2 @ marathon pace, 1 cool down. My legs were tired (when are they NOT tired during marathon training though?), but 9 miles felt strangely easy! At first it was hard to zone in on marathon pace–we were too fast, then too slow, then too fast, blah blah blah, but actually once we relaxed, stopped stalking our garmins (more GSA meetings…) and just started chatting, we gravitated towards goal pace really naturally, and it felt pretty good. I think that’s a good sign, yes?

Totals for the week:

Running: 37.55 miles
Cross training: Fail
Puppy walks: 2.
 Do those count? Let’s pretend since I have nothing else that is not running to show for my week ;) 

So I’m back in love with marathon training, failing at cross training, and currently accepting new members into Garmin Stalkers Anonymous. How’s your training going?

ShowerPill

ALLLLLLL MINE!!

You.Guys. I am so excited. I don’t know if I’ve ever shared with you my shower dilema. It’s pretty tragic. A Morning in the Life of Ari:

  • Wake up.
  • Curse the alarm.
  • Run.
  • Eat the same weird pumpkin/Greek yogurt/chopped apple/chia seed/handful o’ granola breakfast that Steve judges me for.
  • Attempt to clear out my google reader that somehow blew up in the middle of the night. Side note, could we all just start staggering our posts please? Waking up to 500 unread posts is so overwhelming! First world problems…
  • Snuggle with Winston and Clementine who couldn’t care less about how bad I smell.
  • Contemplate taking a shower.
  • Do some work instead.
  • Check facebook.
  • Realize I’m running late.
  • Finally get in the shower I’ve been procrastinating, realize I FREAKING LOVE SHOWERING!!! It’s so warm and comforting and I never want to get out. I want to move in. Like Kramer. But at this point, I’ve procrastinated for so long that I don’t have time to stay in and enjoy it, so I skip out on the whole shaving my legs thing for the 97th day in a row, and rush out to barely brush my hair and throw on the first clean clothes I can find. Don’t even mention doing my hair or applying make up. That’s just silly.

Clearly, my life is hard I have issues. I also have this really bad habit of making plans immediately following a run, like today when Nicole and I ran to breakfast with Emily with no thoughts given to how badly we would smell. Sorry Nicole, I outed you. On the internet. Anyway, most people at least pretend they don’t mind, but when you get to the point where you can smell yourself, it starts to legitimately become a problem. I’ve been reallllllly wanting to try out ShowerPill for quite a while. If there’s anyone who needs a shower solution, or at least a shower alternative, it’s me, so obviously I jumped right on the opportunity! What is ShowerPill? ShowerPill is “the hygiene supplement designed to keep you fresh and clean while on-the-go.” It is not a baby wipe, and no, it’s not a pill. It’s a thick 9×8″ square that you can use post work out when you’re unable/unwilling to shower. And let me tell you, it is AWESOME. I don’t know if I’ve ever found a product so exciting. I first tried mine after a run Wednesday morning. I often meet up with my friend Ashley who is a tech at my physical therapy office. We’ll run right before my scheduled appointment, so then the doctors are always working on me while I’m sweaty, gross, and admittedly smell pretty bad. It’s slightly embarrassing, and pretty unpleasant for all involved (yes, I am a gross human with limited time, so I schedule my life this way). This time, I was super excited to bring my new ShowerPill with me. After the run, I gave it a shot. It was amazing!! It smells like baby powder, and it didn’t leave me feeling soapy, but it did leave me smelling fresh, and feeling far less embarrassed for the duration of my visit. It comes with simple, easy to follow instructions, and I honestly have nothing negative to say about it. In fact, Steve asked to use one and I absolutely refused to share. I’m rude, but at least now I can be rude and clean smelling.

ALLLLLLL MINE!!

I would highly recommend ShowerPill, and I can’t wait to get my hands on some more! Did you hear that Santa? Some ShowerPill in my stocking next to the watermelon Gu chomps please! Luckily, I won’t even have to wait that long because  ShowerPill is offering the chance to Buy two (2) and get one (1) FREE as a special Black Friday sale on amazon.com. You will need to put three boxes in your cart and enter the code: SPFRIDAY to activate the coupon. This coupon is valid from 11/23/12-11/25/12. Discloser: I was sent samples of this product for review purposed. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

Pumpkin Beer Cakes

pumpkinbeercakes-12

This recipe brought to you thanks to my amazing friend Polly.

One day she wrote on my facebook requesting “pumpkin beer pumpkin cupcakes”. You, my friend, are brilliant.

Is there anything that screams fall more than pumpkin cupcakes made with pumpkin freaking beer? And oooooomg. These are not only the softest cupcakes I have ever tasted (yes, EVER), but the pumpkin flavor is so bold, and tasted like absolute perfection. The top even got this incredible texture that I don’t even know how to describe–almost like a cookie with the slightest crunch on the edges and a perfectly gooey center? That’s kind of what happened here.

Obviously I had to make a pumpkin beer glaze to go on top. Duh.

Don’t get me wrong, the glaze is awesome, but I found the cupcakes to actually be perfect on their own. It depends on how sweet you like them. The glaze is reaaalllll sweet. I mean, glaze is essentially powdered sugar so, ya know… Steve loved the glaze (he likes his desserts with a side of insulin), but I preferred mine plain.

I’m telling you, before the season is over and you are totally sick of pumpkin (does that really happen to people!?), do yourself a favor and make these cupcakes. Then drink the rest of the beer because, well, it’s the holidays… ;)

 

Pumpkin Beer Cakes

yield 1 dozen

  • 6 tbs pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbs turbinado sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tbs corn starch
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • dash salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin beer + more for brushing the tops
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbs unsweetened vanilla almond milk

For the Pumpkin Beer Glaze

  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • dash salt
  • 1-2 tbs pumpkin beer

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375. Line 12 muffin tins with paper liners and spray lightly with nonstick spray.
  2. In a medium bowl combine flour, corn starch, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat together pumpkin and sugar. Combine almond milk, vanilla  and pumpkin beer in a measuring cup or small bowl.  Alternately add flour mixture with beer mixture to the pumpkin and sugar starting and ending with dry ingredients until combined, scraping down sides of the bowl when necessary.
  3. Evenly divide the mixture between the 12 muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean.
  4. Let stand for 1-2 minutes, then use a toothpick or thin fork to poke several holes in each cupcakes. Brush each cupcake 2-3 times with extra pumpkin beer and let stand for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. If you would like to add the glaze, combine powdered sugar, pumpkin pie spice and salt in a medium bowl. Very slowly, add in pumpkin beer whisking constantly until it reaches your desired thickness. Careful, a small amount of liquid goes a long way with powdered sugar. Glaze cupcakes and serve.

 

 

The Parking Spot

IMG_0671

I don’t know if it’s just my family, but parking at the airport always seems to be a big to do. We’re always trading drop offs because the parking garage at the airport is so expensive. Not to mention, I have an irrational fear of parking garages. True story. I think it has to do with feeling claustrophobic? Anyway, I was thrilled when I received the opportunity to try out The Parking Spot. Traveling is so stressful already, that having stress-free travel to and from the airport was awesome! We simply arrived at the location (at the awful hour of 5:05 am) where we were immediately given a cold bottle of water and a USA Today, then directed to an area with open parking.

As soon as we pulled in to our covered spot, one of their shuttles pulled right up and loaded up all of our bags. We were given a ticket with out parking spot number on it, and then we rode the very short trip over to the terminal. The shuttle gave us a chance to finish our coffee and relax a bit for a few minutes. When we arrived at the airport, I asked our very friendly driver to pose for a photo with me.

I think their shuttles are super cute. I like the spots ;)

We arrived in plenty of time, and everything went really smoothly.

Our return was equally easy! We didn’t arrive until after 11pm, and after a long weekend, Steve and I were totally exhausted. Luckily, we just walked right out to the curb, and a The Parking Spot shuttle was there in less than 5 minutes! We didn’t have to call or anything–so easy! This time we got into a red shuttle.

Within minutes, we were dropped right in front of our spot by an other friendly shuttle driver. She even unloaded all of our luggage for us–so nice! On our way out, we went right through the check out with no wait at all. It was great!

What I loved about The Parking Spot:

  • Even though we were flying at odd times (very early morning and late at night), there were no time restrictions, and we never had to wait around for more than 3-4 minutes! Perfect for those of us who tend to run late on our own.
  • The staff was so friendly! Have you ever noticed that once you arrive at the airport it seems like everyone is in a terrible mood? Well, I was pleasantly surprised to at least travel to and from the airport with the incredibly friendly staff provided by The Parking Spot!
  • They give you free stuff! Okay, so you guys know I love free stuff. Like, an embarrassing amount. Anyway, the bottle of water and the newspaper were a nice touch. ;)
  • Everything is well lit and parking is covered. Even though it was dark, I never felt unsafe in their location, and the covered parking thing is important in Arizona where your car will literally peel if you leave it out in the sun.
  • It’s so much more affordable than the airport parking garage! You pay a lot less for an all around better experience. Win, win.

Would I use The Parking Spot again?
You bet! I do tend to rely on friends/family to get to the airport to save money, but it’s not always an option, and this was more affordable than taking a cab would be, and much more convenient in my opinion. It’s great to know there is such a great alternative to the airport parking garage!

Disclosure: FitFluential LLC compensated me for this Campaign. All opinions are my own.

Spicy “Spaghetti” & Meat Sauce

spicyspaghetti-2

Have you ever met those people that say they don’t like spicy food? I don’t understand them. Maybe it’s because I live in Arizona, and Mexican restaurants are more prominent than Starbucks.

Or maybe it’s because I’m one of those people who needs food with a LOT of flavor. I have friends that like their food plain as can be. No sauces, no condiments. I just don’t get it! I’m that person in the kitchen grabbing every spice off the rack, and then still adding more once I plate my food. I love bold flavors, and I’m easily bored by foods other people seem to love.

Like mozzarella sticks. I just don’t get it. They just taste like frying oil and cheese, and while I love cheese, I think mozzarella (unless you buy the really good stuff) is pretty boring. Now a fried goat cheese stick would be an other story. Or bleu cheese. mmmmmm. I know most people hate bleu cheese, but it is the most flavorful cheese! Strong, bold and delicious–just the way I like it!

Okay, but back to this “spaghetti”. Let me tell you, I freaking LOVE spaghetti squash. It’s bordering on an obsession. Every time I think “I need to carb load, I’ll make pasta” the next thought that comes to mind is “OOOHH! I’ll use spaghetti squash!” Then I realize that kind of defeats the purpose. The thing is, pasta is really just a vehicle to get to sauce. You don’t really taste the pasta and think “MMMM this spaghetti is delicious and full of flavor! I could eat it by itself!” We just need something to get us to the sauce, like how you eat a carrot to get to the hummus! Spaghetti squash is the perfect vehicle, and cuts down the calories exponentially!

Honestly, if you’re on the fence, I dare you to try it. I promise you will never look back! Here, my favorite pasta vehicle takes you to a perfectly zesty and spicy meat sauce. I would choose this over an Italian restaurant any day of the week. I always leave pasta dinners feeling overly full or just kind of disappointed. This dinner is so filling and satisfying while still leaving you feeling awesome! And, it’s just lean protein and veggies, so it’s a great excuse to eat some garlic bread, or have dessert after ;)

 

Spicy “Spaghetti” & Meat Sauce

yield 4-6 servings

  • 1 large spaghetti squash
  • 1 1/2 tbs olive oil, divided
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 20 oz 99% lean ground turkey breast (you can also use the 93-94% or 96% lean ground beef)
  • 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp fresh or dried basil
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper (more or less depending on desired spiciness)
  • salt and pepper
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Slice spaghetti squash length wise and scrape out the seeds. Rub 1/2 tbs olive oil into squash and season with salt and pepper. Place spaghetti squash face down in a large baking dish and bake for approx 1 hour. Check at 40 minutes. When squash is done, middle will be tender and pull apart easily.
  2. In a large pan, sautee onion and garlic in 1 tbs olive oil over medium heat until fragrant. Add ground turkey. Season with salt and pepper and cook until browned. Add crushed tomato and remaining spices. When sauce starts to bubble, reduce heat to a simmer until thickened (about 3-4 minutes).
  3. When spaghetti squash is fully cooked, scrape out insides with a fork and serve topped with spicy meat sauce and parmesan cheese.

Shun The Sun Half Marathon Race Recap

Me, Susan and Maria. I'm smiling, but that's only because I'm pretending I don't want to collapse and never get up.

I RACED!!!!

The day after we all returned from NYC, Susan sent us an email and let us know about the Shun the Sun half marathon this past Saturday. I had been searching and searching for a half marathon to do ASAP. I needed to do a race and put my 20 weeks of training to the test. I’ve had my eye on a half marathon PR since, oh, February. I originally planned a goal race at RnR Seattle in June. I got a training plan from Smart Coach and worked hard at my first attempt at any speed training.  Then I had to have my gallbladder removed 3 weeks before the race, so I begrudgingly put the half marathon goal on hold and started training for NYC. In August, a few members of my team went out to San Diego and I ran the AFC 1/2, and put my huge plans to PR and break 2 hours all over the freaking internet.

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know how the rest of that story goes. It was hot, I didn’t adjust my goals and I totally blew up and finished 7 minutes slower than my PR. Womp womp. So this time, I told maybe 4 people that I was planning to race. I didn’t even tell my best friend. I didn’t tell anyone other than those 4 people what my goal was, and I just went out there to race. I did tell Steve not to let me back into the car at the end if I didn’t finish under 2 hours. Spoiler: I didn’t, but he let me in the car anyway. ;)

So I woke up at 5am Saturday morning, put on my running skirt (obviously) and made my way to the race start with my fabulous supportive husband. I was in a good place mentally, and prepared to have an awesome race. I ran into Susan and a couple of members from my team, and before I knew it, they were calling us over to the start lines. I tried to find someone who was running about my pace that I could try to run with, but we were all going out for different paces, so I went off on my own which is always scary to me. Ever since the Lost Dutchman, I just don’t trust that I can fight the mental battle without someone there to push me. I always know I’ll finish, but I give up on myself much more quickly when I’m alone which is something I’m really trying to work on.

As soon as I took off, I was beyond excited. I hadn’t raced since August and I had TONS of energy pent up from the NYC taper. I ran the first few minutes way too fast (shocking), but reeled it in pretty quickly.

I’M SO EXCITED TO BE RUNNING!!!!!

The plan was to run the first 3 miles slower than goal pace, then run goal pace until mile 10, then pick it up the last 3 miles. That didn’t quite happen. I ran the first mile at about goal pace, tried to slow it down for the second mile, then just decided to try to run a steady race.

Mile 1–9:10
Mile 2–9:16
Mile 3–9:10

I knew that with perfect tangents I needed a 9:09 pace to break two hours. My goal at this point was to keep the next 7 miles under 9:10 and then pick it up for the last 3 miles. This was working out really well. I was focusing just on the mile I was in. I was in a great mental place and doing all those silly things I’m “supposed” to do like visualizing myself meeting my goal, and crossing the finish line, and all that stuff. The pace never felt easy, but it felt comfortably challenging. I could tell I was slightly holding myself back, and I felt like I could keep this pace up for a while. There were a couple of times I got to see Bob and Bill on the other side of the canal after the turn arounds, and they would yell and cheer for me. It was super motivating, and I SO appreciate them! I can’t say enough how much I love running with a team!

The course was boooooring. It was a straight shot along the Mesa canal, and canal running, while convenient, is about as boring as you can get. The next 6 miles were just spent focusing on exactly where I was in that moment. I had my garmin set to the screen that shows my lap pace, and I knew 9:10 was my ceiling, so I checked in and made sure to stay below that.

Mile 4–9:08
Mile 5–9:06
Mile 6–9:09
Mile 7–9:05
Mile 8–9:07
Mile 9–9:08

Picture perfect right? Serious even splitting. All at goal pace. Then mile 10 happened. It didn’t start to feel too bad yet, but it was getting more challenging. Throughout the course, I had been talking the smallest possible walking breaks at the water stations because I just really suck at drinking while running. I also walked a little the first time I took some chomps around mile 5.5, but I had still been able to maintain my pace. I haven’t figured out the whole eating/drinking while actually running thing, and clearly I need to because this is where things fell apart. I got water and took a gu at separate points during mile 10, and then I just couldn’t get my pace for that mile back where it needed to be, and I think I used a lot of energy trying desperately to get that mile back on track.

Mile 10–9:24

I knew between mile 2 and mile 10, I had lost some time, and I needed to play catch up these last 3 miles if I still wanted to break 2 hours. I was pretty sure I was going to PR at this point, but I wanted the 1:59 SO badly, so I ran really hard miles 11 and 12 to try to keep it up.

Mile 11–9:04
Mile 12–9:06

And then at mile 13 I gave up. I was breathing so hard, and my legs hurt so badly, and I convinced myself I couldn’t do it. As soon as my watch clicked my 13 I took a walking break. WTF?!?!?! WHO TAKES A WALKING BREAK AT MILE 13???!! It would be one thing if I had been taking them all along, but there was no good reason. It wasn’t to grab a drink of water or for some purpose where walking was actually useful. I walked because I was tired, and I had been yelling at myself to keep going the last 2 miles, and I just felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. I took like 4 walking breaks during that last mile, and it was Fing stupid.

Mile 13–9:27

At the end, I still had a tiny glimpse at the idea of getting it back together, and I was pushing hard again, but then I got closer and closer to what was supposed to be “the end” and I couldn’t even see the finish line. Also, around mile 12, we looped back around and turned back the direction we had just come from which was a total mental bust for me. At 13.1, I couldn’t even see the finish line, and I was pissed. In most races I end up weaving, and not running tangents, etc. so I end up running extra, but this course was straight as can be and I took the 3-4 turns on the very inside, so I had mentally prepared myself to be actually done very close to 13.1, plus my watch had been in perfect sync with the mile markers until this point, so at 13.1 I was pissed, and I turned off my garmin as it read 2:00:10. Mother F. Then I took an other walking break. Of course. There was no way I was going to break 2 hours, and I had a pretty much guaranteed PR at this point, so I gave up even more and walked more. Then we FINALLY turned into the stadium and I saw Coach Susan. She’d already won the race. Shocking.

Look! No one else is even anywhere around!

She jumped in and ran with me at the end, and said all the right perfect things. I don’t know how she does it, but I swear she is the most motivating human being on the planet. I finally crossed the finish line at 2:01:44.

I found Steve and Susan really quickly and Susan told me first that I had done awesome and she was proud of me, then course was long (13.25) and with the mud I should mentally think of my time as a whole minute faster. Well, OKAY! If you insist ;) Although there is definitely the twinge of disappointment for not breaking 2 hours, I am ridiculously thrilled to have PR’d, and more importantly, with the exception of 1 crappy mile, I ran a really smart, focused and positive race.

Me, Susan and Maria. I’m smiling, but that’s only because I’m pretending I don’t want to collapse and never get up.

What I learned from this race:

  • Focusing on the mile I’m in, and having a ceiling that I don’t want to go above works really well for me.
  • I’m physically stronger and mentally weaker than I think. I always give myself a lot of credit for mental toughness, but I actually think right now my physical capabilities outweigh my mental ones. I need to figure out how to not give in to “the voice”and quit when the going gets tough.
  • I need to learn how to drink/fuel without stopping. This means I need to practice on my training runs. I always stop to take my fuel, and it’s not doing my any favors. Up until this point, I never took my pace on long races this seriously. I was okay with the little break water stops and fuel provided, but if I want to get serious about improving my times, I need to train like it, and get in the habit of doing everything while maintaining my pace. I really think the moment this race changed for me is when I couldn’t get my pace back after stopping twice in mile 10, and I used too much energy trying to run the rest of the mile too quickly.

Overall, the race really was a great experience. I am SO HAPPY to have a new PR. The race was very well organized, and all of the volunteers were really great. Even with the snooze filled course, I would absolutely do it again next year, but hopefully with an other person to keep me a bit more entertained. ;)