New Fall Challenge

Did you have a good Halloween?




Although most of our kiddos ditched us to go Trick-or-Treating (as they should), the staff had a BLAST modeling our costumes, especially this awesome 80’s getup : )




So I don’t typically join on to exercise challenges (mostly because my follow through is poor), but I did participate in a successful push up challenge last fall.  So, I was highly motivated when I heard that Tina was arranging a PLANK challenge.  For all of the details, check out her post on Carrots N CakeThe main goal is to double your current plank time in 4 weeks.  The set up is simple…


Monday-Plank to Fatigue

Wednesday-Follow Tina’s Ab Workout (My Mom and I did the first one last week)

Friday-Plank to Fatigue (try to beat Monday’s time)




Last week, my Mom and I each did a 2 minute plank (mine on my elbows), making our goal to complete a 4 minute plank by Thanksgiving!  About half way through Tina’s first workout, my mom asked me why we were doing this?  The answer…sexy, strong abs!  Is there any other reason???

Anyone else want to join in??? Looks like a simple way to improve the core muscles that you use every day!  I’ll keep you posted!

Now, onto the month wrap up…




October has been a foodie month! 


I ate TONS of quinoa

I made 2 unbelievable chilies, Red Chicken Chili and Poblano-Turkey Sausage Chili….and

I was a Bread Baking Fool, including this Pumpkin Banana Bread and Cinnamon Delight Bread


This is what else was keeping me busy.  Plus, I went to my first BEARS game of the season!

Man, it was a busy one!



October’s Goal

Keep up the Healthy Habits with focus on drinking water, chewing, following hunger cues, and limiting processed foods

     Let’s call this a draw!  I have been drinking lots of water and working on slowing down during meals.  I have been eating more real foods, but I think WAY too much food.  Moving forward, I will be focusing on portions!


Create half marathon training plan for November race

     My plan is set, but after being sick last weekend, my runs have not been up to par.

Find the Zen!

     Yikes!  It has been a super stressful month, but I did have some quality down time with my Mom up in Door County. 


November Goals

-Healthy Habits Continued…this month’s focus is on real foods and portion control

-Half Marathon PR…seems like a reach, especially with my recent illness, but I’m going for it

-A 4 minute plank

-Feeling thankful for a happy, healthy, and family-filled Thanksgiving



How are you doing?  What are your new goals?

Happy Halloween!

I hope that everyone on the East Coast is back in power, healthy and safe with your family and friends!    We are thinking about you!



So I saved the easiest and tastiest pumpkin recipe to share with you on this fabulous fall day!

These 4 ingredients will change the way you look at pumpkin, I promise!




Step 1

Combine pumpkin with instant vanilla pudding (the smaller size).  FYI-this is already a super tasty combination!


Step 2

Fold in thawed Cool Whip.


Step 3

Stir in pumpkin pie spice and sprinkle more across the top.




Step 4

Eat with graham crackers, apples, a spoon, cinnamon pita chips, or just lick your fingers!


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The BOY and I found our favorite way to enjoy this incredible dip…




On a graham cracker and covered with whipped cream!




No matter how you eat it, your face will be smiling!  Just eat it quickly because it won’t last long in your fridge!





Did you dress up today?


My costume will look something like this!

The only thing missing….some bangs!






Spiced Pumpkin Dip



1 15 oz can of pumpkin

1 8 oz container of Cool Whip, thawed (can use light or free)

1 small package of vanilla pudding, unmade (can use sugar free)

2 tbsp pumpkin pie spice

Graham crackers, apples, cookies, or cinnamon sugar pita chips for dipping



Stir together pumpkin and vanilla pudding powder.

Fold in Cool Whip.  Then stir in pumpkin pie spice.  Add more to taste.

Refrigerate a few hours or overnight to let flavors set.

Can make a few days in advance and store in the refrigerator.



Click HERE for more PUMPKIN love!

Winner Winner Trader Joe’s Dinner

I really never win anything, so imagine my surprise (and delight) when I found out that I won a copy of this I HEART Trader Joe’s Vegetarian Cookbook from Averie Cooks.




Thank you Averie!!!


It was so exciting to receive this book in the mail today, and I immediately began flipping through.  What impressed me about the cookbook is the unique and realistic recipes.  Some use premade ingredients, but many of them do not.  There is even one that is just like my homemade PURE bar recipe.  Ironically, I was already planning on making a Trader Joe’s dinner.




If you haven’t tried these fully cooked turkey meatballs, then I highly recommend them.  They can be found in the freezer section.  I chose to heat them up on the stove.  Then served them over spaghetti squash with olive oil and veggies.




It was a filling dinner and the BOY didn’t even question if the meatballs were red meat or turkey.  Success!  For dessert, I snacked on one of these German-Chocolate Fudge Bites with a cup of TJ’s tea.




I can’t wait to dive into my new cookbook (and go shopping at Trader Joe’s)!




Any new Trader Joe’s finds?

I can’t wait for the mint tea to hit shelves this winter!

Here are a few more of my TJ faves!

Homemade PURE Bars

What is your favorite store bought bar???




I used to eat a lot more power bars, but a few years ago, I cut WAY back.  I now stick with bars that have only a few ingredients that I can actually pronounce.  Two of my favorites are KIND bars and PURE bars.  Although I love the convenience of these ‘on the go’ energizing snacks (especially around 5:00pm at work when I know I have 3 more hours until dinner), I’m not a huge fan of the cost.  So I was inspired by this readable ingredients list on the Cherry Cashew Bar (and my new Door County dried cherries) to try making my own PURE bars.




And they turned out fantastic!  I made the base using dried dates, cashews, a drizzle of oil, and dried cherries.


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I pressed the mixture into my pan and then topped it with extra dried cherries and walnuts before putting it into the fridge.




I did take a quick taste test before cooling off the bars.  I just had to see how they turned out!




You can make these into balls, bars, or use cookie cutters for fun shapes.  Either way, they are a winner!


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One thing is for sure…if I’m going to continue to work the long days that I am, I will need a healthy pre-dinner snack.  And one as tasty and filling as these will be prefect!


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I was so excited about my bars (and leftover dates) that I dove right into another RAW recipe.  This one from Katie.  I had to modify the recipe some based on what was available in my pantry.




And all I can say is WOW…these guys are good!




The mixture of chocolate and coconut make these guys actually taste like a German Chocolate Cake…maybe even better!




These are rich and tasty and would squash any chocolate craving!  I even fed one to the BOY for dessert without explaining what it was (I just called them German Chocolate Balls).  He LOVED it!


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The moral of today’s post…go buy yourself a LARGE container of dates (I think Costco has them) and get experimenting with these simple recipes!  You don’t have to tell anyone that they are healthy and trust me, they won’t even know!


Looking for more recipes?  Try these favorites…


Coconut Energy Date Bars

Almond Butter Cacao Balls

Coconut and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites

Vegan Cookie Dough Balls

Date and Almond Truffles



Date, Cherry, Walnut PURE Bars

Recipe inspired by my favorite Fig, Date, Nut Energy Bars



1 1/2 cup dried dates, chopped

1 cup cashews

1 tsp safflower oil

1/2 cup dried cherries

1 tsp agave

Dried cherries and walnuts

Coconut, optional



Combine dates and cashews in food processor.  Stream in oil until well blended.

Add dried cherries.  Process again while streaming in agave until a large ball forms.

Press mixture into 8×8 pan sprayed with oil or covered with wax paper.

Press remaining, cherries, walnuts, and coconut (if desired) into bars using hands.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Cut and serve.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge.




German-Chocolate Fudge Bites

Adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie (based on what I had in the house)

***Katie says these should make 10 balls, so hers must have been MUCH smaller than mine



3/4 cup pitted dates

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/16 tsp salt

2 tbsp cacao powder

2 tbsp shredded coconut

1/2 cup raw cashews

1-2 tsp of agave



Blend all ingredients together in a food processor until dough forms into a ball. 

Using your hands, form into balls. Refrigerate until set.


Note: The recipe calls for pecans, but I didn’t have any, so I subbed in the cashews.  I added the agave to help everything stick together.  Katie even recommends using this as a pie crust.  YUMMY!

4 Weeks to PR

I expected to wake up this morning, pop out of bed, and feel just like myself again because I am an optimist and because I spent all weekend feeling sick and I am now done with being sick.  Unfortunately, there was no popping this morning.  I still sound pretty bad and I have a wicked sinus headache.  Ugghh!   I was hoping, wanting, and planning to get in a strong run this morning.  My backup plan was to just get outside, walk or run and just do whatever I can.  But, I feel worse today than yesterday!  Enter frustration…


About 10 months ago, I set a goal of running a half marathon PR this year.  I was motivated by my impressive marathon splits last October and convinced that I could run 13.1 in under 1:50.  My first attempt at this was in May.  Although my training had ups and downs, I was confident on race day.  Unfortunately, I hit the wall HARD at mile 8.  Although I didn’t get the time that I was hoping for, I powered through for a strong finish and was definitely pleased with my run.  I was hoping to run another half marathon in early October, but a broken toe set me back on mileage and split times.  Now, here we are about 4 weeks before my Thanksgiving half marathon and my quality of training is POOR.  I haven’t run more than 10 miles in a long time and my energy levels are on the floor. 


So my head knows that this PR is a long shot, but I also know that I LOVE running, races, and the half marathon is fun distance no matter what your race time.  Yes, non-runners, I did just say that 13.1 miles can be fun : )  Moving forward, I plan to do the best I can with my training.  What is hard for me is knowing how strong my running was a year ago, but I have to keep in mind that this  has been a different year for me.  This year has been busier and more stressful, and I haven’t been able to prioritize workouts and training.  And the extra LBs hanging around aren’t helping either.  The optimist in me knows that f I don’t hit that 1:50 this fall, there is always next year.  I know that I have that PR in me!  But a lot goes into making my body race ready, and I welcome the changes it takes to get there.


For breakfast, I dove into a bowl of Pumpkin Chia Oatmeal from Veggie V (I added some banana to sweeten it up instead of syrup). 




And then topped it with my homemade apple butter.


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Yum!  What a happy breakfast!!!




Sadly, after breakfast I crashed on the couch and haven’t been able to get myself moving since.  I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck!  Meanwhile, I rediscovered an old guilty please, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders TV show.  Please don’t judge me!  You know you have a guilty pleasures too!  I used to watch this show ALL the time when I lived in Memphis.  Who knew that it was still on?  Yesterday, I DVRed, like, 6 hours of the show which have been keeping me entertained from the couch.  Because I was sick all weekend, I had big plans for today, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.  Return…frustration…I hate being sick and I’m sure ya’ll are sick of hearing about it : )  I am off for a nap!



How do you prepare for race goals?

Do you get frustrated when you’re sick?

Am I making any sense?  ha ha!

Another 11 Hours

Somehow I actually slept another 11 hours last night.  I couldn’t tell you the last time that I slept 22 hours in 2 nights (not including the almost 2 hour nap I took yesterday)!  I guess my body knows what it needs and the answer is SLEEP!  I wish it were an 11 mile pace run, but sadly, NO : (




Since I woke up at 9:30, there was no way I was making it to 10am yoga and the thought of downdog had my sinuses aching.  I had leftovers for breakfast and a few hours before the start of BEARS game.  Although spending one’s weekend in a medicated haze (I love you Musinex cough syrup), isn’t ideal, I decided to use it my advantage, getting things done in the house that I have been wanting to and needing to do, ie laundry, blogging, and paying bills, all from the comfort of my couch (dressed in my BEARS shirt, of course).




I also had this huge bag of apples that I have been meaning to introduce to my crockpot and haven’t had the time.




I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make applesauce or apple butter, but decided on this recipe for Naked Apple Butter from Oh She Glows!



I was thrilled to find out that I could leave the skin on the apples (who wants to peal that many apples?) and even happier to hear that it added nutrients.  So, I washed my hands REALLY good and got to work on chopping apples.




Thank goodness for this apple slicer and the awesome new cutting board from my Mom.


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I didn’t weigh the apples, but there were enough to almost fill the crockpot.  You can add some apple juice or cider to prevent sticking, but I just sprayed the pot with cooking spray really well.




I set the crockpot on high for 4 hours and stirred every hour.  I needed the break from the BEARS game after watching Cutler hit the ground for the 400th time, so the stirring was a welcome interruption.




The most wonderful thing about this recipe is the baked apple smell circulating throughout our house!  It’s even better than a fall candle!




Around half time, lunch (Chinese food) was delivered.  I ordered soup, which definitely hit the spot!




Another disappointing BEARS quarter later and my apples were soft and fragrant.  Perfect to mash up into applesauce with a wooden spoon.


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I have never had homemade applesauce before, so I couldn’t proceed without sampling a small bowl.  OMG!!!  It was incredible!  I’m not sure how I have never made crockpot applesauce before! 




I loved the plain apples with just a sprinkle of cinnamon, but I see endless possibilities for a fruit cobbler or Thanksgiving Day side! 




While the apple mixture cooled, the BEARS came back creating an exciting and nail biting 4th quarter…ending in A WIN!!!  I can’t believe they pulled that off…WOW! 


I debated using my hand mixture to smooth out the applesauce, but in the end went with my food processor. 




I processed the apples for a few minutes…




And had a magnificent applesauce.




So it was another few minutes in the processor until I had a thicker butter like sauce.




Which went right back into the crockpot for another hour.




During this time, I got myself outside for a stroll.  The fresh air felt great!  It was a gorgeous fall day and would have been perfect for an end season bike ride!  I walked in the door just in time to add some apple pie spice to my apple butter.


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I used a little more than 1 tsp in my entire batch.  These apples (I think they were Gala) were sweet enough that I didn’t need any extra sweeteners.


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I love cherry, pumpkin, apple, fig and sweet potato butters, and my first batch of homemade apple butter was a HUGE success!




It’s a good thing I hang on to all my old jelly/jam jars!  I plan on giving a few of these out as fun fall gifts.


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I think that I am better today than yesterday and because I don’t like to be sick, I am planning on being EVEN better tomorrow. Thanks everyone for your kind get well wishes! Feeling crumby is a bummer! The only good thing about being sick was spending 48 straight hours with the BOY and catching up on DVRed shows and magazines! 




And of course making this amazing sugar-free apple butter!  I can’t wait to smother it all over my oatmeal!



Slow Cooker Naked Apple Butter

From Oh She Glows!


Apples, an equal mixture of sweet and tart apples (I used Gala, I think)

Ground cinnamon or other spices like nutmeg, ground cloves, etc, to taste

tiny bit of fresh lemon juice, to taste (helps to preserve), optional (I didn’t use)



1. Slice apples. There is no need to peel the apples. In fact, your apple butter is much healthier with the peel left on. Tip: If you have an apple slicer, now is the time to use it. I love my OXO apple slicer. Add apple slices to slow cooker.

2. Set slow cooker on HIGH for 4 hours, covered with lid. During those 4 hours, give it a few stirs as the apples tend to stick to the bottom a bit. You can add some apple juice or cider to prevent sticking. If you’d rather cook it longer on a lower heat, you can do that too.

3. Mash apples and turn off heat. After 4 hours, most of the apples are soft enough to mash up with a wooden spoon or potato masher. After mashing, we now have applesauce (with the peel of course)!

4. Cool slightly and scoop into high-speed blender. With a big ladle, scoop the apple mixture into a blender. If you have a small blender you may have to do this in a few batches. Make sure lid is secured tightly.

5. Blend the mixture. Start on a low setting and go faster until you reach max speed. You may need to let some steam escape through the top hole if there is one. Puree mixture until super smooth and buttery. If it’s still chunky, keep blending.

6. Pour the apple butter back into the slow cooker. Turn heat on HIGH and cook down, uncovered, for another 45-90 minutes until it’s as thick as you desire. After 45 mins, I was left with 5 cups and the consistency was very similar to my pumpkin butter. Keep in mind it will thicken slightly once chilled overnight. (I kept mine in for about an hour).

7. When ready, add cinnamon to taste (or other spices if desired) and a very small amount of lemon juice if desired.

8. Cool completely and store in an air-tight jar for up to 1 month in the fridge. Or you can try canning as well.

11 Hours

I am sick!




Not the ‘I’m so sick that I can’t get out of bed’ sick, but the, ‘I have the worst sore throat, raspy voice, and more mucus than can be humanly possible’ type of sick.  Yuck!  Go figure…I spend 2 weeks on the go working like a crazy person and this is my first quiet day off and I wake up and I am sick.  The worst part…I am supposed to run 11 miles today in prep for my Thanksgiving half marathon.  Instead, I slept for a full 11 hours!  As I’ve mentioned before, this is the consequence of working with kids.  After 6 years in pediatrics, I have built up an immune system, but after an exhausting few weeks, fatigue and stress usually take its toll.


When I woke up this morning, I was in pretty bad shape (even after 11 hours of sleep).  Not totally surprising as I started getting a sore throat and cough on Thursday night.  I knew a run was not in the cards, which makes me sooo sad since it is a sunny 50 degree day.  Perfect for a long run!  The BOY suggested breakfast, and I was in for pumpkin pancakes.  I started with some tea and the BOY ordered pumpkin hot chocolate.




I know that yesterday was National Pumpkin Day, but we are a bit late in our celebrations.  I brought along October’s Cooking Light where I found this good looking chili recipe.  My thought was to pick up the ingredients on our way home.




For breakfast, I ordered an omelet with figs, apples,and turkey sausage.  It also came with goat cheese, but I got that on the side, and a side of pancakes (not surprisingly, the BOY and I both chose pumpkin).




The pumpkin pancakes, topped with bananas and pecans were incredible!  It was hard not to inhale them in a minute. 




But, I am working on slowing down while eating, so I took my time to enjoy every bite!  And then had leftovers to take home with me.




After lunch, we made a quick stop at the farmer’s market.  This is the last weekend that it is open until spring, which is a bummer!  Does your farmer’s market stay open year round?  If so, I am jealous!





Then it was on to Mariano’s for a few more chili ingredients.




When we got home, it was partner chili cooking in the kitchen.  The BOY got to work on some chopping and I browned the meat.


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Instead of following the preparation described in the recipe, we decided use our trusty crockpot, which always produces amazing chili!


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For now, I have settled with getting some fresh air by opening the back door.  Perhaps, I will be able to get out for a walk later if my head stops spinning (not sure if this is the cold or the medicine), but for now, my medicine has kicked in and I think I am in need of a nap, perhaps another round with my netti-pot, and some serious hydration.





Poblano-Turkey Sausage Chili

From Cooking Light October 2012

Makes 6 1-cup servings



1 cup prechopped onion

1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic

8 ounces sweet turkey Italian sausage

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 poblano chiles, seeded and finely chopped

1 bay leaf

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons no-salt-added chicken stock (such as Swanson), divided

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added black beans, rinsed and drained

1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added pinto beans, rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream

Sliced radishes (optional)



1. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 4 minutes or until browned. Remove casings from sausage; add sausage to pan. Stir in chili powder, oregano, cumin, poblanos, and bay leaf; cook 4 minutes or until sausage is browned, stirring to crumble sausage.

2. Add 1 cup stock, tomatoes, and beans. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes or until slightly thickened. Combine flour and the remaining 2 tablespoons stock in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk to form a slurry. Add slurry to chili, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute or until thickened. Remove from heat; stir in cilantro and black pepper. Discard bay leaf. Serve with sour cream and sliced radishes, if desired.


In the mood for chili on this crisp, fall weekend, here are some other great chili recipes!



What is your favorite food to eat when you are sick?

Mine is my Dad’s homemade chicken soup. I usually have some stashed in the freezer, but sadly I am out.  I’m not sure how that even happened…Hint, Hint, Dad!

Monday Night Football

Insert theme song here…

(if I were more tech savvy then I would have actually inserted the Monday Night Football theme song HERE)


Sadly, it took me this long to have some time to share my Monday Night Football pictures, but I’m happy that ya’ll enjoyed seeing the pictures of the Highwood Pumpkin Fest.




Driving into the city during rush hour, which I swear begins earlier and earlier each year, typically isn’t fun.  But when you are rocking out to the new PINK CD, which BTW is awesome even though I’m not a huge PINK fan…check out her folky duet (number 4) and surrounded BEARS fans (yes this was a bus of them although you can’t see their jerseys in the picture) it is much more tolerable.  I made it to my brother’s house where we had a fantastic homemade dinner before hopping on the red line.  We walked about a mile to the stadium surrounded by fellow fans cloaked in blue and orange, most of which were also admiring this stunning BEARS inspired skyline.




The weather was unseasonably warm (like 70 degrees!) and luckily we missed the majority of the rain.  The stadium’s energy was radiating, and I was SO EXCITED to be there!






We made our way to our seats, which are covered (great for a rainy night) and have an amazing view of the field!




I convinced some Lions fans to snap a photo of my brother and I before the game while they were still friendly : )




The stadium was packed and the crowd was on its feet to cheer the BEARS onto the field!


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The BEARS put on an impressive showing, which is always exciting for us fans here in Chicago.








You know I love watching the BEARS game from my house, but it was even better getting to cheer on these guys in person.

Thanks Dad!!!




It was a late night, but totally worth it.  Especially because I got to wear my new BEARS hat.  So much different than my last experience at Soldier Field…ha ha!



Are you a college or NFL football fan?

Do you like to go to the games?


I made it to 2 games last year and fingers crossed, I’ll get to go again this season!

Breakfast, Lunch, and Bears


I revisited an old favorite…




Hot Banana Breakfast Quinoa



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Then headed out for a strength session with the TRAINER.  It has been awhile since I’ve hit the weights so I was due for a good workout!



Since we don’t have a lot of options in the house (I didn’t do a lot of shopping because I will be gone again), I went with a mix of frozen rice, frozen veggies, and fresh shrimp.




It was tasty and filling!  I love when a good lunch comes together so easily.


‘Da Bears

Hitting the road and heading downtown for the game.  Don’t worry…I’ve got my tickets!