Rest, recovery and the perfect chocolate shake

What’s the difference between overtraining and under-recovery? In practice, probably very little. Fatigue, poor performance, and poor sleep are signs of both. When I last left you, I thought I was an overtraining wreck. Now, two months and a 6-week break later, I think under-recovery might be a more likely culprit.

According to this post on Core 3 Training, seven signs of under-recovery are:

1. Workouts seem more like work than training.
2. You’re weaker from week to week with the same movements.
3. You’re sore all the time.
4. Your spouse or friends keep asking what’s wrong with you.
5. You toss and turn at night.
6. Your heart rate is higher or lower than normal.
7. Your heart rate variability is less variable than normal.

During my workout hiatus, I ran the gamut of tests to determine the cause of my symptoms. Blood tests for ferritin, cortisol, and thyroid-type issues came back normal. As did an adrenal stress index (for the most part) and test for DHEA levels. Not at all shockingly, given Seattle’s record-breaking rainy winter, one thing that’s low is my Vitamin D. But that’s an easy fix. I have two full bottles of Vitamin D supplements from the last time someone told me to take them.

So what’s left? A giant hole in my recovery nutrition. Which probably plays a huge role in my sleep issues. This article on Breaking Muscle sheds more light on this subject:

Eat More. Food is essential to restore muscles after an intense workout. The harder you train, the more food you need to eat. The amount of fuel you eat will either make or break you, and far too often athletes under-eat for a few reasons:

Lack of preparation or planning.
Blunted hunger due to elevated cortisol (stress) levels from intense training.
Thinking they are eating enough.

I am only guilty of all of the above. After consulting with a nutritionist, I have a plan that consists of increasing not only overall intake, but carbs in particular. She uses this formula to calculate a competitive runner’s total carbohydrate needs:

3.6 to 4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight per day

In other words, a shit ton. As much as I love bread, a person can only eat so much of it. But smoothies are a great way to add carbs, protein, and whatever else you want to add to your diet. I love this recipe that I’ve adapted from the Oh She Glows Cookbook. It totally rocks.

Perfect recovery chocolate shake

I can’t stop making this. It tastes like a chocolate milkshake and yet contains zero refined sugar. More importantly, it’s entirely whole food based, so you know exactly what you are putting into your body.

Ingredients

1 cup milk (whichever type you use)
2 medjool dates, pitted and cut in half
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1/8 avocado
1/4 banana, peeled and frozen (I keep a ziploc bag of these in my freezer)
2 tsp. almond butter
splash vanilla extract
1/4-1/2 tsp. espresso powder (if desired)
4-6 ice cubes (less for a creamier shake, more for an icier one)

Combine everything in a blender and mix into the perfect recovery shake. You’ll need a good blender for this one. Happy recovery!

A week of Instant Pot meals: Yes, it’s all that

When your favorite food writer, Rebekah Denn, writes in glowing terms about a new kitchen appliance how do you not jump on that? Especially when it’s time-saving and space-saving? And does just about everything? I mean, I think I’m a mere Google search away from programming it to run a race for me. See her persuasive argument in the Seattle Times here. She’s not wrong.

Enter the Instant Pot. It’s a pressure cooker, crock pot, rice cooker, and sauté pan all in one. For me, the main benefit was freeing up the cabinet space dedicated to storing the crock pot and rice cooker. Pressure cooking has always terrified me because of the whole blowing up the house thing. So I always worked around it. But now, with the introduction of the Instant Pot, whole new worlds are opening up to me.

Normally, I’m a total cheapskate who wouldn’t buy a new appliance on a whim. But Mike’s new gadget enthusiasm, coupled with Rebekah’s promise of faster food and less clutter in my cabinets, won me over. When the giant box arrived I was determined to put the thing to the test.

I’m not going to lie. Initially this was an intimidating endeavor.

Instant Pot instructions

Going against my usual M.O., I’d actually have to read the operating instructions.

Which weren’t, in fact, all that bad. It’s pretty easy to use. “Idiotproof” is the word Rebekah used. Perfect.

Once I started using it, I realized that it really does just involve pushing buttons. For the initial test drive I chose my standard turkey chili recipe. Though this recipe uses canned beans, I usually make mine with dried beans, which adds significantly to the cooking and prep time. Following instructions for Instant Pot soaked beans (I deliberately didn’t soak them overnight), I used manual mode for 4 minutes and the natural release method of depressurizing. All-in, I made completely cooked dried beans in about 45 minutes. This was starting to seem a little magical.

Next up, I tried Nom Nom Paleo’s Vietnamese Beef Stew recipe.

Another perk of the Instant Pot is the ability to sauté in the same pot that will do the rest of the cooking. Fewer dishes and easier clean-up? This thing is racking up the wins. The stew came together in a snap, and I realized that the time saving is not only found in the shorter cooking time, but also in the ability to completely walk away from it. I can cook and navigate the after-school sports taxi all at the same time.

Basic brown rice was my one miss so far. I’m not sure if I added too much water, or chose an overly long cooking time. Regardless, the resulting rice was a little goopy for my liking. But nevertheless paired well with this awesome Simply Recipes recipe for scallion pancakes.

Instant pot rice

The final, and best, test of the week was this Serious Eats recipe for Chicken and Black Bean Stew.

Instant Pot chicken black bean stew

I added some chopped tomatoes and substituted boneless chicken thighs for the bone-in legs and cannot emphasize enough how good and easy this recipe is. Even the kids, who don’t always love stew-like meals, couldn’t get enough of it.

My takeaway after a week of Instant Pot meals is that this thing is definitely worth the $129.95 investment (we went for the 8 quart size). Amazon will even deliver it straight to your doorstep, no driving to a store required.

Pumpkin puree from fresh pumpkin: you can do it!

wholepumpkin

Don’t just carve it, cook it. Yes, you can buy the Libby’s canned stuff, but fresh pumpkin puree is so much better. And really easy to make. Here’s how.

First, choose your pumpkin. There are so many varieties, and so many are interchangeable that you really can’t go wrong. For baking purposes my favorite varieties are cinderella (pictured above, straight out of our garden), blue hubbard and sugar pie.

Next, quarter it and throw it on a sheet pan.

pumpkinquartered

Additionally, you now have pumpkin seeds you get to roast. Bonus! The interwebs would have you believe that pumpkin seeds are practically a superfood.

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Then roast it, skin side up, at 400°F until soft. Once it’s cool enough to handle, scrape out the flesh and puree it in a blender. And just like that, you have yourself fresh pumpkin puree.

Pumpkin puree

If this makes more than you need, portion the leftovers into usable servings and freeze. I measure one cup increments and freeze it in Ziploc bags.

Got veggies? Make a veggie bowl.

This is one of my favorite times of the year. The temperature is cooling down, fall is in the air, and I have vegetables coming out of my ears. Almost literally.

veggies

We’ve been canning, freezing, pureeing, and baking. We’ve stocked the pantry with pickles, salsas and jams, and packed the freezer so full that there’s constant danger of a frozen food avalanche. But my favorite thing to do with all of this garden fresh produce? Make a veggie bowl.

Masters Mama veggie bowl

This is one of my go-to meals year-round. It’s easy, flexible, and you can tailor it to the different seasons. Start with your favorite grain, add your favorite veggies, maybe some lentils or beans and you’re good to go. Finally, I toss everything together with a vinaigrette, add a protein on the side and serve it up as an easy dinner.

This particular bowl put to use the cucumbers, tomatoes and kale that threaten to overrun our kitchen these days. It went a little something like this.

Grains and beans

1 cup quinoa
1 cup dried lentils

Cook and cool the quinoa and lentils separately, according to their own cooking instructions.

Vegetables

4 garden cucumbers (mine are small, this is probably equal to 1-2 store cucumbers)
1 bunch kale (once chopped I probably had about 4 cups)
3 cups garden cherry tomatoes
3 carrots
1 avocado
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Remove the ribs and chop the kale. Dice the cucumbers, carrots and avocado. Halve the tomatoes and chop the walnuts. Combine everything together in a large bowl with the quinoa and lentils.

Vinaigrette

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 garlic clove, chpped

I play it fast and loose when it comes to making vinaigrette. My rule of thumb is to take an acid (lemon juice, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar) and whisk it together with an equal amount of olive oil and whatever seasonings you want to add. Since it’s that simple I rarely buy grocery store dressings. Toss this together with everything else and you’ve got yourself a killer veggie bowl.

As the weather starts to change and cool, I use more root vegetables and squash, which I roast before adding. I might choose a heartier grain like farro, or my kids’ favorite Israeli couscous. The roasted veggie bowl pairs well with a poached egg on top, drizzled with a generous helping of Sriracha.

The beauty of this meal is its flexibility. So, get out there and try it out. It’s cooking without rules and a fantastic way to add nutrient-rich grains and vegetables to your day.

Eat fat and you won’t be fat

There is a generation of people for whom that idea is completely counterintuitive.

I can’t imagine I’m the only one.

I was a teenager in the late ’80s/early ’90s, and as any dutiful teenage girl did, I read magazines. Lots of them. And they all said essentially the same thing: eat fat and you’ll get fat.

It was the age of the low-fat diet, and it fit with the way I preferred to eat anyway: carbs, carbs, and more carbs. I could eat all the bread and pasta I wanted. It was great. Cereal and frozen yogurt for breakfast? No fat in that! Sure, I was hungry all the time, and I can’t imagine how much muscle mass I sacrificed during my college running years eating that way, but those were the times. Magazines wouldn’t print things that aren’t one hundred percent true.

Of course in the intervening years that philosophy has been completely flipped on its head. And if the Atkins craze of the 2000s and Paleo diet of today have taught me anything, it’s that diets are a big load of crap.

These days I’m all about everything in moderation. Real food with limited processed stuff. Yes, crackers are still their own food group around here, but I’ve increased my  healthy fats, dairy and am working on the protein part. Good fats fill you up. And you know what? I’m no fatter than I was in the low-fat years.

So what’s for dinner tonight? Salmon cakes and kale slaw with curried almond dressing.

Healthy fat

The recipe for the salmon cakes can be found on The Kitchn here. It’s an easy recipe and makes for a pretty quick weeknight meal. I bought a 2 lb. wild salmon fillet on sale and cooked it last night while I had the oven on for something else. That streamlined the prep even more for today. I also doubled the recipe since I had extra salmon, and froze the extra patties for an even easier meal down the road.

The recipe for the kale slaw came from Plant-Powered Kitchen and can be found here. It does happen to be wheat-free, soy-free, gluten-free, and oil-free, but I made it despite those distinctions. The nut-based dressing gives the slaw great body and flavor and if you don’t love kale, a reason to eat your hearty greens.

Toast up some crusty bread and you’ve got a meal packed with good fats and protein that’s kid-friendly too. There was nothing left at the end of the evening at my house.

Banana Vanilla Bean N’oatmeal

This ain’t no hippie bullshit. Though that’s what I thought it might be when my friend and expert nutritionist Michelle Nevelle at Eat To Live Wellness posted this recipe.

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I like healthy eating probably more than the next guy, but there comes a point when capital “H” healthy food crosses a line into something that is just plain gross. To me this has all of the markings of something that is headed in that direction. “Detox”, check. Paleo? Check. Oatmeal replacement? Since when is oatmeal bad for you???

But it’s a simple recipe that would have only set me back a can of coconut milk, a couple bananas, and a few other things. One of the benefits of being a pastry chef is that I do happen to have vanilla beans on hand at all times.

I made the recipe last night and you know what? It’s really good. Really. I’m so confident about it that I packed it in the kids’ lunches and I doubt that it will come back this afternoon. Though part of me hopes that it does. I didn’t make enough for myself.