A 33.2 Mile Trail Run Plan and Cream Cheese Chicken Pasta

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I knew it would happen.  I just knew it.  I would be running another trail marathon.  I think, compared to street marathons, you either love the trails or NOT.  I DO.  I love that they attract a smaller group.  I love that, unless you have a committed partner to pace with you, you end up on the trail alone; it becomes your own race, like life itself, your self-challenge.  I am not the fastest.  I am not the slowest. 

Alone, just you, the trail, the trees, the streams, their depths according to the rain season, the birds, the rocks, the hills, the crawling up the hills, the flowers, the super fantastic mid-point rest-stop where you are treated as royalty.  I love the tent into where I have five minutes, at the most, to snag some hot soup, depending on the season, pretzels, granola, M&M’s, pasta, chicken, re-fill on water, Gatorade, PowerAde, your own concoction pre-delivered, whatever is there that you are trained to physically handle knowing you’ve got another 13.1 miles to go.

But, this time it will not be a marathon.  It will be 33.2 miles.  A little bigger than the average bear, a bit shorter than the 50 mile monster, the 100 mile killer (think Death Valley Ultrathon…starting race temp around 112 degrees).  I am excited.  It will be my ninth marathon, my third trail marathon.  Did I mention they get easier when you quit smoking? Especially the hills.  I’ll never forget the tears that pricked my eyes during a marathon in Lincoln, NE, when a woman, seeing me slow down due to a cramp in my abdomen, reached for my hand, slowed with me, and together we ran, hobbling for me, for a couple of miles, her telling me I could push through it, that she was doing a marathon in each state, never forget how empty my hand felt when she released mine, knowing I was better, and it was time for her to recoup her pace. 

I’ll never forget the sheer joy of beating out a father and his adult son at a finish line in Kansas City when they saw me coming up behind them and tried to bolt and lose me.  I had more power and strength left, little did they know, to take them on, push past and beat them, the result of a great training regimen, my own son watching from the sidelines, running through the crowd to meet me at the finish line.

You some how, at some times, end up pacing with someone when you’ve hit that wall, and you have a lovely conversation, until one of you is ready to increase pace again, and you must separate, grateful for the soulful encounter with someone you may never see again, with one who knows the joy, the pain, the loneliness, the utter satisfaction and so much more that comes with long distance running.

Thus, as I prepare to deep sea dive for, yet again, another pearl into myself by entering into an Organic Farming Program, having taken several Horticulture classes in the past, and a different step from my former life as an English Professor, I also prepare for another trail marathon, two completely different events, but both new, exciting, challenging, and wonderful.  Someone, in a moment of mean-spiritedness once called me aimless.  It hurt, as I always viewed myself as focused, yet kind, compassionate, empathic, not driven to run over others in my own life’s quests. 

I could never understand that hurtful comment until recently, nearly ten years later; I realize the individual could not see the artistic connection between writing, running, teaching, cooking, gardening, and how they are all art forms, always in flux, always evolving, always moving, always requiring a strong mental reserve, requiring new visions, never static.

Age is not a number; it is an attitude, an attempt, as Thoreau referenced, “to suck the marrow from life”.  I am 50.  I remember at age 50, my father introspecting aloud, “Is this it?  Is this all there is?”  I never will ask that question. I always want my children to see me trying new things, want them to see me reach out for a challenge, even if I may not succeed at times. 

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It was last evening I strongly pondered, for the thousandth time, my existential experiences, past, present, and future.  A storm had earlier passed, the sky cleared, Meatloaf sat on the porch with me while I did a bit of reading, as well.  And as the blue sky darkened into evening, I knew I had some leftover Rigatoni in the fridge, a baked chicken heating in the oven.  Thus began the genesis of my Cream Cheese Pasta dish, which was exquisite, especially as I began to watch the French film “Haute Cuisine” about Mitterand’s private kitchen Chef.  Not a dramatic, high action film, but if you like to devour images of old world French cooking, this film is streaming right now on Netflix.

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Ingredients:

Olive oil

1/8 diced onion

1/4 cup diced leeks

Heaping Tbsp minced garlic

1/2 cup diced, fresh Snow Peas

2 1/2 cups julienned broccoli (broccoli slaw found in produce section)

3 robust cups of spinach

3/4 cup baked chicken

1 1/2 cups cooked Rigatoni

Sautee, in large pan, all of the above in that order, keep covered( I just use a square of aluminum foil that ends up covering something eventually going into the fridge)  as you add each ingredient to retain moisture.  Broccoli should be aldente, not too soft.  Once spinach has cooked down and blended well into mixture, in a bowl, add to the Rigatoni then add chicken.  Drizzle the sauce in and around to your liking. You don’t have to use all of it.   I paired my dish with a tall glass of iced, vanilla rice milk.

Sauce:

In sauce pan, heat until just about boiling:

1/2 cup low-fat cream cheese

1/2 cup no-fat plain yogurt

2 Tbsp butter

salt (to taste)

garlic powder ( to taste)

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Tomato & Broccoli Appetizer

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Michael was working late, I was watching a Netflix film, Meatloaf and Orange Kitty were batting around the heroin bag…not really…the weed stuffed mouse….okay, not really, again, but that’s what we call the catnip stuffed mouse, the one we are always fetching out from under furniture upstairs, downstairs….boy does that mouse see its fair share of travel. 

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Anyway, I was getting hungry.  A baked chicken was in the oven, so it wasn’t time to eat, yet.  I had a cereal bowl size of steamed broccoli in the fridge, left over from the night before.  Having just gone to the market, I had a stash of fresh Provolone, and a cache of tomatoes are always atop the counter.  And I had made a fresh batch of buttermilk dressing the day before.  Easy peasy and quick. Taking three slices of Provolone, I added diced tomatoes, several dollops of the chilled, chopped broccoli, drizzled with homemade buttermilk dressing and added a garnish of uncooked, unsalted Cashews.  Naturally, Michael came up and snarfed up two….

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Ingredients:

Fresh Provolone cheese slices

Steamed broccoli, chilled

Diced tomato

Pepper

unsalted, uncooked Cashews

Buttermilk Dressing :

1 cup Real Mayo (any brand)

1 cup low-fat buttermilk

1/2 cup low-fat sour cream

1 1/2 tbsp garlic powder

1 1/2 tbsp onion powder

Whisk until smooth.  Best to refrigerate for about an hour to thicken, but not absolutely necessary.

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Pain au Chocolat

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This is a quick and incredibly delicious recipe for breakfast, brunch, whatever.  It is quick to make and makes a beautiful presentation.

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Ingredients:

1 can jumbo flaky-layer biscuits (the layers make them easy to separate within which to place the chocolate squares)

2 bars semi-sweet baking chocolate

Canola oil spray

Sugar (your choice)

Baking pan, one large or two small or more if making quite a few pastries

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray baking pan with Canola oil.

Remove biscuits from canister, split open (can do one at a time or all then put in the chocolate).

Place two chocolate squares in between biscuit layers, pinch sides closed so chocolate does not leak out during baking.

Sprinkle sugar over pastries (can go heavy or light).

Bake until pastries are golden brown; oven times vary from 10 – 15 minutes, so watch closely.

Remove and serve warm.  Chocolate should pour out beautifully from center of golden pastry.

Makes 6-8, or more depending on how many biscuits you choose to use and the number of people you serve.

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Avocoado, Tomato, & Provolone Before Dinner Satisfier ~

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Appetizers can be beautifully constructed…or not and still taste just as good.  This evening’s appetizer is NOT beautifully constructed, and, at this point after losing our precious lab, we don’t care.  It tastes damn good.  On the wake of losing a best friend…protocol, fancy schmancy be damned.  You’re either hungry before dinner….or not.  We were.  So, in the European fashion, and being from Europe, we know what we are talking about.  We knew those who know as well would appreciate our informal presentation.  It means we are hungry, want something that tastes good and is healthy, and to hell with fancy presentation.  Thus…the imperfect cook...

Thus we tore apart, yes, tore it,  fresh Provolone, diced up fresh farmers’ market tomatoes, and fortuitously fresh avocadoes.  Did we arrange them to look like something on the Bravo or HGTV channel?  Pff.  Whatever.  Meatloaf is a testament to that nonsense, hence the tongue ~ we were hungry ~

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Welcome to normal people, where good nutrition + nay what they care, meet ~

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Hollandaise Sauce

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I’ve always gone the easy route and made Hollandaise Sauce from a packet.  This time I was going the authentic route.  After

losing the Moo, there is a lovely solace to be in the kitchen, creating something lovely, while sipping a glass…or two…or three of wine.

I found an easy enough recipe, tended to the whisking with wistful wanting, only to have the egg separate from the butter.

Argh.  We still ate it with these beautiful endive leaves, as their slight pungency lends to dipping within this luxurious soft buttery sauce.

Fortunately, thereafter, I read that if the egg begins to separate from the butter, remove from heat, add a teaspoon of cold water, whisk,

and return to heat.  I shall do this the next time.

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The sauce should be luxuriously creamy, not a bit gritty looking like above.  That is why you are at the imperfect cook, but despite this attempt’s need for improvement, it not only served our taste buds, it helped briefly ease the sorrow from losing our beautiful Moo.

 

Ingredients:

3 egg yolks

1/2 stick of butter

1 tsp cold water

1 tsp salt

1/2 lemon, juiced (if desired)

1 tsp pepper (if desired)

While butter is melting in a small sauce pot, mix together egg yolks, water, salt, lemon juice, and pepper.

Whisk over low heat for approximately 8 minutes.  Whisk constantly.  If egg begins to separate from butter, remove

from heat, add an additional 1 tsp of cold water, whisk, and return to heat, whisking more.  This is what I did not do, as the

recipe I followed did not make this suggestion; however, another recipe did.  So while, my first try is not the smoothest of the

smooth, it still tasted delicious.  Yet, next time….even better ~

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Veggie Chicken Egg Cups ~

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We have experienced an unexpected loss of a dear friend, our beloved Yellow Labrador Retriever we adopted when she was 4 from a foster family.  Moo gave us 8 years of love, support, and had an uncanny sensibility that let us know how aware she was of her world and of us.  She drew close during sad times, brought us joy, was a continual light, provided nothing but unconditional love, wanting only love in return.  If only every soul could be as kind….

And as we grieve, it is the wonder of cooking that helps to begin a fragile healing process. At first, we felt like doing nothing, but as days begin to pass, we know that Moo would want us to take hold of the joy in which she lived within and resume it for ourselves; though, it is so, so hard at this point.  And as spring steps through this year’s threshold, Moo stepped through our threshold years ago, and she will always be with us, kind, gentle, spirit of light and joy…much like the light and joy of this simple, yet delicious dish.

 This is a wonderfully easy and healthy recipe, whether you are looking for a quick meal, or filling protein fuel after a tough workout, it can be made in smaller muffin cups for an absolutely appealing appetizer. The beauty of this recipe is you can modify it so easily to fit what you love to incorporate, or leave out.

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Ingredients:

1 Large Muffin Pan

Sauce Pan

Olive Oil

Olive Oil Pan Spray

1 TBSP minced garlic

Onion Powder to taste

Salt and Pepper to taste

6 eggs (organic and humanely produced as possible…a bit of research is a good thing)

1/2 bag diced kale, broccoli, carrot, and radish mixture (but you can add a diced mixture to your own preference)

3 small, boiled, peeled, and cubed red potatoes

diced, baked chicken

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

While veggies and garlic are sautéing in Olive Oil on low to medium heat in a sauce pan, season with Onion Powder, Salt, and Pepper to taste until mixture becomes tender.

Add diced, baked chicken to mixture and heat.

While veggie mixture is cooking, crack open 6 eggs and scramble in large bowl.

When veggie mixture with chicken is tender and heated, add to scrambled egg mixture.

Pour completed mixture into 4 extra large muffin cups in an extra large muffin pan.  Fill almost to top for each cup.

Place in oven and cook for approximately 20-30 minutes.  Baking times vary, so watch carefully.  Egg cups should be done when edges begin to turn golden brown.

Turn off oven.

Remove Veggie Egg Cups, place on cooling rack, and use a butter knife to skim around each egg cup to loosen for easy removal.

Enjoy ~

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Maggie Moo’s Protein Plate ~

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Discipline…needed in a variety of contexts.  Am I disciplined?  Yes.  No. 

Yes…for the most part. 

This morning, I walk the Moo.  Early, we are the only ones out and about.  I know I have an exercise challenge later in the day, part of a regimen to which I have been loyal for years and years. So, including a lot of protein in my day is always a good thing.   

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Moo’s Power Protein Plate

Large pan

Olive Oil (2-3 tablespoons)

minced garlic

turmeric (to taste)

curry (to taste)

salt and pepper (to taste)

diced leeks

julienned broccoli ( two small handfuls)

freshly rinsed spinach (two large handfuls)

one avocado

baked chicken slices

2 eggs, sunny-side up

Heat Olive oil in pan on low-medium heat (adjust as needed), add garlic and leeks, sautee until softened.

Add julienned broccoli until softened.

Add turmeric, curry, salt, and pepper.

Add spinach, cover; it cooks down quickly.  Once softened stir.

Fry two eggs in Canola oil, spoon oil over tops of eggs while cooking, so they are completely cooked, yet yoke should remain soft, unless you like a harder yolk then flip the egg with a spatula.

Place mixture onto plate.  Add chicken slices, avocado slices, and egg.

The Olive oil, Turmeric and Curry powder make a nice sauce during cooking.

(Makes enough for two people.)

 

Sweet Potato, Ground Turkey, and Veggie Boats ~

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This dish is so delicious, and there was enough filling left over to place on a slice of open wheat bread for a light lunch with iced, enriched rice milk and also on a toasted bagel, a tomato slice with a dollop of hummus as a side, drizzled with homemade buttermilk dressing.  If it is left over, we will find a creative way to use it that tastes good.  This dish is packed with Vitamin A, protein, and fiber for  super energy, satisfying taste, and good health.

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In addition to diced leeks, these are the seasonings I used when cooking the ground turkey and the rice and bean mixture, respectively. I love the big containers I get for a great low cost at a local market.  Love it, love it, love it.

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More diced cabbaged left over from coring failed cabbage project a few days back.

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To this rice, leek, cabbage, garlic and bean mixture, the cooked sweet potato and cooked ground turkey are added.

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Cooked sweet potatoes scooped out of “shells”, added to filling above and returned back to shells for a few more minutes of baking.

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The moist filling forms nicely when placing back into sweet potato shells for re-heating.

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Moo sleeps with her lambykins under a canopy of abundant aromas.

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Dinner is served.

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It looks amazingly rich, but it truly fills without feeling heavy on the tummy.

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Iced vanilla rice milk enriched with calcium.

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This was the next day with the leftover filling on a toasted bagel.

 

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Despite familial imperfections, Moo not feeling too good, but we and the vet are working on that, and missing kids away at college, cooking adds such a lovely sense of peace, a sense of calm, the essence of home.  And home can change as quickly as a cat’s sneeze.  Home is relative.  What you may have thought of home at some point, can suddenly not be home anymore. And the result can be painful, baffling, perplexing, make no sense.  But you know what?  You re-create a new sense of home.  It may be tough, but it can be done. 

Sweet Potato, Ground Turkey, Veggie Boats

1lb fresh ground turkey (got it from local farmer’s market)

olive oil (enough for sautéing)

minced garlic

diced leeks

chopped cabbage

2-3 cups cooked whole grain brown rice

1 can black beans, drained

2 large sweet potatoes, rinsed clean

apple cider vinegar as moistening agent, and it adds great flavor

curry, garlic, and onion powder, salt, pepper, turmeric ~ all to taste, add a bit, taste, add a bit, taste until it tastes good to you ~

Place two whole sweet potatoes in lightly oiled baking pan, cover with foil, and cook for about 40 minutes at 400 degrees until soft.

Brown and season ground turkey until completely done.  No pink should be seen.  Don’t taste turkey until fully cooked.  You don’t want to get sick!

Sautee minced garlic, diced leeks, and cabbage in olive oil until softened, all the while seasoning to taste.

Add beans, rice, and fully cooked ground turkey.  When sweet potatoes are finished, cut in half length-wise, scoop out softened sweet potato and add to this mixture.  Add apple cider vinegar so that filling mixture becomes moist, pliable, but not too wet.

Place  the four sweet potato shells in lightly oiled baking dish.

Using large oval spoon, scoop mixture and replace into shells, filling them nicely so filling is not spilling out all over.

Cover with foil, return to oven, and bake about ten minutes until nice and hot.

Blue Cheese Buttermilk Dressing (Or leave out the cheese…it’s up to you.)

1 cup real mayonnaise

1 cup low-fat buttermilk

1/2 cup no-fat sour cream

1 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

1 1/2 tablespoon onion powder

6 ounces blue cheese (I’ve also used feta and even mozzarella from the canister when I had no cheese.)

Whisk/blend until smooth, refrigerate for at least an hour, but if you don’t, no big deal.  It just gets a bit thicker in the frigy-rater.

Enjoy ~

Give a smile, say “hello”; it is free and can make all the difference in the world in someone’s life ~

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Hummus Snacking ~

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What to do with leftover rice noodles when you’re hungry, but you do not want to ruin your appetite AND keep it healthy?  Hummus.  A little dab will do you, and you can do so much with it.  If you keep your fridge stocked with healthy selections, there are oodles of combinations to be made for healthy snacks.  A good place to start is the farmers’ market ~

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A near blink of the eye can create textural delights for the palate ~

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Not for you Favre…sorry….but you sure are cute ~

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This snack has no formal name, no perfect name.

But for Favre’s sake, since he was watching, I’ll call this the Farvey Hummus Snack ~

Fresh tomato slices

Fresh spinach leaves

Leftover rice noodles in this one

Delicious dollops of classic hummus

Season to taste with whatever you love

Enjoy and be kind to the ones you love and even the ones you don’t love ~

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Flounder with Garlic Medallions, Rice Noodles, Atop a Bed of Spinach, Cabbage, and Julienned Broccoli ~

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Michael and I team cooked this entrée, and I could eat it every single day.  Not only does it taste spectacular, but it is also so incredibly healthy.  This was our eve of Easter meal, and despite a head cold developing, it did not prevent me from enjoying every aspect of cooking to eating this wonderful meal.  Like eager fans chatting with folks around us, waiting for our favorite band to appear on stage, this is the excitement level as we danced about one another, reaching for olive oil here, mincing garlic there, stealing kisses, sipping wine, and making serious progress.

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As Cherry Blossoms bloomed outside, bursting like champagne bottles against a newly launching ship, the aroma of fresh leeks and minced garlic burst forth as they lightly splashed within the heated olive oil.

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The Moo, resting comfortably, did not mind the flurry of activity taking place just beyond her as Michael pitched what he needed for the flounder and I for the bountiful vegetable bed. 

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A friend told me how a neighbor of his takes a whole cabbage, cores it just enough to place a stick of butter in the center, adds seasoning, wraps it all in foil, and pops it onto the grill…later it is soft and delicious.  I tried this in the oven.  Did not work.  But I had cabbage left over from the coring process; I added it to the sautéing garlic, leeks, spinach, and julienned broccoli.

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With a Lilly looking on, can’t forget the rice noodles, which do not take long at all ~

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Even Favre observed the event, along with his friend, fake dog.  It doesn’t lunge at him like the Moo does.  Short for Brett Favre, he was originally confirmed by the vet as being female, but a few weeks later a male.  So, to make up for calling him a girl for several weeks, we gave him a solid male name.  Usually, it is Farvey for short.

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Can’t forget the wine….

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Michael getting ready to cook the flounder, preparing the garlic medallions.

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And it begins to take shape.

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It was so magical, Moo turned into a sheep.

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I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do.  Michael added Italian dressing atop the rice noodles.  There are many variations you can do to suit your taste.  I did over cook the noodles; it was the first time I had made rice noodles.  I learned how quickly they cook.

Rice Noodles

Add to water, bring to boil, cook a few moments until tender

Flounder

Olive oil

Freshly sliced garlic medallions

Fresh Flounder

Cook medallions in heated oil, just until caramelizing around edges.  Place fish on top.  Cook approximately 6-8 minutes.  Turn using two spatulas to maintain structural integrity of the fish, and it will allow medallions to cling to fish.  Cook approximately 6 more minutes.  Collect floating garlic medallions and scoop on top of fish.  Cook approximately 2 more minutes.  Place on vegetable bed.  Add noodles on top, season or add sauce/dressing to taste.

Vegetable Bed

Olive oil

Minced garlic

Diced leeks

robust handful of diced cabbage

robust handful of julienned broccoli ~ can find packaged in produce section

two big handfuls of freshly rinsed spinach leaves ~ it looks like a lot, but spinach cooks down, waaaay down ~

Sautee garlic and leeks until pearl-like/transparent in color.  Add cabbage.  Cabbage takes longer than the broccoli and spinach to cook down.  So it goes into the pan first.  Cook until tender.  Add broccoli.  It cooks down fairly quickly, about 8-10 minutes.  Once tender, add spinach, cover.  Spinach will cook down fairly quickly, just a few minutes.  It is a nicely timed “stacking” cooking process that works really well.  Keep checking, stirring, mixing it all together once the spinach cooks down, and sipping wine. 

When all is tender, place vegetable mixture on plate, gently lay fish on top, add noodles on top of fish, add a sauce/dressing if you want, and enjoy this oh so satisfying meal.

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