June 24, 2013

Sweet & Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes

I am eating more and more sweet potatoes lately, and I am liking them!  It was never that I disliked sweet potatoes, we just never ate a lot of them growing up (and maybe I didn't like them back then), but today I am finding them a much better alternative to pasta and white potatoes.  So anyway, the other night I wanted a sweet potato but I didn't want to simply bake it and then eat it with a little butter and salt - I wanted something different!  I looked up a couple recipes online and ended up combining a few of them - the end result was awesome!  The potatoes were sweet and then brought the heat!  I served the sweet potatoes with a piece of fish and some fresh broccoli. 
Sweet & Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes
1 large or 2 smaller sweet potato
2 - 3 tbs extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 1/2 tsp light brown sugar
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 garlic powder
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
(more or less depending on your desired level of heat)
1/4 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp salt
Wash and then cut the sweet potato (skin included) into approximately 2 inch cubes and place in a shallow baking dish ~ in a small bowl combine the light brown sugar, onion and garlic powder, cayenne pepper, chili powder, paprika and salt ~ pour the EVOO over the sweet potatoes and mix until potatoes are coated ~ pour the spice mix over the coated sweet potatoes, distributing easily ~ using a spatula mix the sweet potatoes until they are coated with the spice mix ~ bake at 400 degrees for approximately 25 minutes or under sweet potatoes are tender.
 Sweet potatoes pre-cooking!
Post-cooking!  Yummm!

June 21, 2013

Food Desert

Food Desert = a district with little or no access to large grocery stores that offer fresh and affordable foods needed to maintain a healthy diet.  Instead of such stores, these districts often contain many fast food restaurants and convenience stores.
Last week I traveled to New York City to attend and present at a SOAR training in East Harlem.  The training was held at the CUNY Hunter Silberman School of Social Work which is a very nice building in a very poor area.  East Harlem is also known as Spanish Harlem and while the area surrounding the Social Work School was decent (118th & 119th and 3rd) the area leading up to the school was very poor, majority ethnic and very underdeveloped.  From my research I learned that many low income areas throughout the city were being gentrified - Brooklyn, Harlem, etc ... but that East Harlem has been mainly been left out of this movement.  It is funny because East Harlem sits adjacent to the Upper Easter Side, one of the most affluent areas in NYC.  My hotel was on the Upper East Side at 92nd and 1st and not 1.5 miles uptown I was in the thick of East Harlem.

Street shot of East Harlem
Here is an interesting video comparing East Harlem to the Upper East Side in terms of accessibility of fresh food.  During my time there I also began to observe the participants that we were training.  I learned that many of them lived and/or worked in or around communities similar to East Harlem, so I started to watch what they ate.  Every morning the vast majority of the participants would bring their breakfast to the training and of all the breakfasts I saw over the two days not one of them could have been considered 'healthy'.  McDonalds was a common theme, as was bacon, egg and cheese on a hard roll, bread with butter, bags of chips and soda.  Now don't get me wrong, this could be by choice but it could also be accessibility.  By the time lunch rolled around I wondered what everyone would eat, no one had packed all or a portion of their lunch (except for me) and everyone went out to find something to eat.  The vast majority of people brought back fast food (McDonalds or Wendy's) and those who didn't brought back deli sandwiches, chips and a soda.
Now when I travel I tend to pack a lot of food, especially if I know I will have access to a fridge and microwave (which I did on this trip).  If I eat out too much when I travel my stomach begins to become upset and I just feel off.  So for this trip I packed oatmeal and granola for the morning, a bag of baby carrots, hard boiled eggs, bananas, peanut butter, a couple slices of wheat bread and Goldfish.  The first day I packed my entire lunch but the second day I needed a sandwich to go along with the rest of my snacks, so I went out in search of just that.  Being in Spanish Harlem there were a lot of Spanish and ethnic restaurants which I'm sure were amazing but many were pricey (at least in terms of what I wanted to spend for lunch) and I wanted something I could easily bring back to the training room (I like to chat with trainees during lunch).  After walking a couple of blocks I quickly realized that my only option was a bodega.  A bodega is defined as  "a small store that stocks a range of everyday items such as groceries, toiletries, alcoholic and soft drinks, tobacco products, and newspapers."   Bodegas may also be referred to as a 'Spanish or Latin grocery store' but the term has become commonly used for any neighbor (often low income and ethnic neighborhood) convenient store that sells a variety of items.
So anyway, my one choice for a sandwich was a bodega that sold everything from deli sandwiches to cat treats to alcohol and hookah!  You can tell by the picture below that the right window of the store is advertising sandwiches, chips and drinks and in the left window there are a number of hookah pipes - talk about one stop shopping!  Anyway, the sandwich I got from the store was very good, but I was rushed and the store was hot, cramped and crowded - not a place that I think anyone would like to spend a great amount of time. 
Bodega window - sandwiches on one side, hookah on the other!
Since this experience and my observations I began to think - I live in an area where I have the option and ability to drive to MANY grocery stores (seriously, we have Price Chopper, Hannaford, Shop Rite, Trader Joes, the Co-Op, a Whole Foods on its way and farmer's markets galore!) and I never have to think twice about where my food (fresh or otherwise) will be coming from.  But then I started to think, what if I were poor, living in a low income area like East Harlem, with very little money to spare and no real time or ability to walk or make my way to another neighbor that may or may not have fresh and readily available food.  It would be really hard!  If this were the case I would probably eat out for most if not all of my meals, the meals would be cheap, probably fast food or come from a store not unlike the one pictured above.  Then I had another thought - learning how to eat well hard!  Calories, portion control, carb/fat/sugar intake and how it all effects the body is difficult to figure out (I haven't even done it!) and even if a person know how to eat well and take care of themselves it doesn't mean that they do it.  And I can only imagine that everything would be 100x more difficult if it had to be done in a food desert.  I have never been in that predicament and hopefully I never will be but just being in the area for a few days gave me a sense of the difficulty that surrounds life in an urban, low income area; and I'm just talking about food here - I haven't even begun to think about all the other things that would make life even more difficult!
Here are two interesting maps I found - the first one shows the 'Supermarket Need Index' you will notice that the Bronx, Washington Heights, Harlem and East Harlem are definitely in need of supermarkets, as are areas of Brooklyn.  The second map shows the prevalence of diabetes and obesity which  is much higher in the aforementioned areas.  I recently read a statistic that said 31% of East Harlem residences are obese(not overweight, obese).


So here's a simple answer to a huge problem ... more supermarkets, more fresh food and more community education!  Easier said than done.

June 19, 2013

The Best Sign In NYC

Who else is looking forward to Despicable Me 2?  I am!
I am in NYC for work this week and during a cab ride I spotted this sign ...
They are all over the city!  More on my NYC trip later but until then I hope you enjoy the minions!

June 18, 2013

Creamy Crock Pot Chicken, Broccoli & Peas over Biscuits

Woah what a title but man was it delicious!  I am a fan of anything you can throw in a crock pot and then 6 - 8 hours later, viola dinner is ready!  Last Saturday we were going to see Superman and I wanted to make sure we had a good dinner before heading out to a nearly three hour long movie, but I also didn't want to spend a ton of time in the kitchen - so I set out to find a good crock pot meal.  Now my crock pot doesn't normally make many appearances during the summer months but sometimes it is a great alternative to cooking in a small kitchen sans A/C - the crock pot doesn't release nearly as much heat as the oven or stove.  ISo  found this recipe from Kaitlin in the Kitchen and modified it slightly - I added peas and served it over biscuits instead of rice.  Overall the dish was awesome - easy to make and full of veggies!  This recipe is also very similar to another recipe I recently tried - Slow Cooker Chicken Pot Pie!

Creamy Crock Pot Chicken, Broccoli & Peas
3 chicken breasts
1 can chicken broth
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of cheddar soup
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 cup lite sour cream
1 bag (steamable) peas
1 bag (steamable) broccoli
In the crock pot whisk together the cream of chicken soup, cream of cheddar soup, chicken broth, salt and pepper ~ once mixed add the chicken and press down so it is covered ~ cook on low for 6-7 hour or high for 3-4 hours ~ once the chicken is cooked/time is up, remove the chicken and shred it ~ add the sour cream to the cooked soup/broth mixture and whisk together ~ steam the peas and broccoli then add to the mixture ~ once the sour cream and veggies are incorporated return the shredded chicken and allow to heat for a couple of minutes ~ serve over rice, egg noddles or biscuits!
 It was so good that I forgot to take a picture until I was almost finished!
I promise there is a biscuit under there somewhere!

June 13, 2013

Currently (Part II)

Back in January I wrote a post entitled 'Currently' where I discussed what was going on in my life - what I was listening to, reading, watching on TV and looking forward to.   I got some feedback from people saying that the really enjoyed the post so I figured I would try to do it on a more regular basis!  So here is an updated 'Currently' post with a few more categories! 

Loving: To be honest - F.I.T. Bootcamp, which is a serious problem and may present a big financial dilemma at the end of this week (more on that later).  I'm also loving that it is summer, depsite the insane amount of rain we have been getting.  I'm excited for work travel to start up again next week (NYC) and for our vacation to New Hampshire in two weeks.

Listening:  NPR (hoo-ray for the fund drive being over) and whatever happens to be on the radio at the moment.  During the summer I also tend to start listening to a lot more country music.
Reading:  After plowing through a couple of books my reading has slowed a bit, however with work travel beginning to pick back up I'm sure I'll be reading more as well.  Right now I am about 100 pages into Gillian Flynn's Dark Places which is off to a good start.
Watching:  True Blood starts back up this weekend, woo-hoo!  And even though the show is completely silly and not nearly as good as it was when it started I'll still watch it.  In mid-July The Newsroom returns and I am pretty pumped about that.  And as always I continue to watch every season of Real Housewives that is currently airing - right now it is Orange County and New Jersey (my favorite). 
Thinking About:  As always - fitness and work but this time I will include meal planning, summer activities and plans for the fall!
Stressing About:  How I am going to make it work if I want to continue with F.I.T. Bootcamp and certain aspects of upcoming work travel but overall that is about it!
Looking forward to:  Vacation!  We are going to Hampton, New Hampshire for two nights and staying at an aborable bed and breakfast that is located only 1/2 mile from the ocean.  Hampton is also located near the White Mountains and we are planning on hiking one day.  After our two nights in Hampton we'll head up to Portland, Maine for a night and explore the town (L.L. Bean flagship store anyone?).  After our mini-vacation I'm looking forward to a long 4th of July weekend, my work trip/second mini-vacation to Washington, D.C./Baltimore toward the end of July and then upcoming work travel to Springfield, IL - El Paso, TX - Fayetteville, AR - Jackson, MS and a bunch of places throughout NYS.
Favorite/New Dinners or Recipes:  Despite not writing many recipe posts lately, I have been cooking quite a bit!  Twice now Adam has made fish sandwiches with spicy pineapple slaw and they are to die for - I can't wait until he makes them again!  I also made some pretty awesome chili mac last night and have what I hope will be a stellar chicken, pesto, goat cheese sandwich on the menu for tomorrow!

June 11, 2013

Haystack Mountain - Vermont

Last Sunday we headed up to Vermont to hike Haystack Mountain.  Haystack is located in the town Wilmington, VT which is about 20 miles outside of Bennington, VT and about an hour and a half from Albany.  Haystack didn't appear to be that tough of a mountain but afterwards I definitely felt like I had gotten a good workout!  The hike was approximately three hours round trip and ended with an awesome view of Southern Vermont!  What made the hike challenging was all the rain we had had that past week - the trail was soggy!  There were portions of the trail that were straight mud and looked like a swamp and to make matters worse there were TONS of bugs!  Once we made it through a couple of muddy spots though it wasn't nearly as bad; although on the way down my boot did get completely dunked in a mud pit - so much so that the mud went over the top of my boot and into my sock - gross!  Luckily it was on the way down but by the end of the hike my lower legs pretty much looked like I had been attacked by a mud monster. 

Vermont is pretty much one of my favorite places ever and I love hiking there!  I dream about one day owning a cabin in the woods in Vermont.  So, here are some pictures from the top of the Haystack Mountain! 

Top of Haystack Mountain looking toward Southern Vermont/Massachusettes

 Adam taking pictures of the view.

Elise with the mouatin/river in the background!
Me on the top of Haystack Mountain!

Another mountain conquered!
Check out that view!  I love this picture!

June 10, 2013

Weekly Meal Plan + More

It is going to be a BUSY week!  Next week I start traveling again for work and will be in NYC for half the week, so I am working to prep and wrap up things at the office before heading out on Sunday.  This week I am also taking advantage of a free week at F.I.T. Boot Camp in Albany.  My neighbor Jamie is a member there and has been encouraging me to give it a try, so when the opportunity for a free week was presented to me I said - yes!  I am pretty nervous about it because I have heard that boot camp completely kicks your ass, but I am willing to give it a try!
Now on to this week's meals - I'm not sure how long I will continue to actually post our meal plans for the week but at this point I still get really excited and begin searching my recipe list and thumbing through the grocery store circulars early Sunday morning.  Last week's meal plan was pretty much a success (I forgot a few things for some of the meals which meant I had to make a few little trips to the grocery store) so my goal is for this week to be even more organized!

Weekly Meal Plan
Fish Sandwich w/Spicy Cole Slaw
Buffalo Chicken Wrap w/Sweet Potato Fries & Veggis
On Own/Sushi Night w/the Girls
Chili Mac w/Green Beans
On Own/Dinner with my friend Jamie
Goat Cheese Chicken Pesto Sandwich w/Steak Fries & Veggie
Crock Post Chicken & Broccoli over Rice
Here is a preview of the hike we did this past weekend - Haystack Mountain in Vermont! 
More on the hike later!
Gorgeous view!

June 7, 2013

Learning to SOAR

You may remember that I occasionally blog for my company, Policy Research Associates and so far I have written two posts in my series 'Confession of a PRA Newbie'.  My first post was about the PRA hiring process and the second post was about the experience of Co-Piloting Boston to Albany.  It has been a while since I blogged for PRA this week I remedied that situation.  My post will probably not be on the PRA blog for a couple of months so I wanted to share it over here.
First some background - for the past couple of months I had been working with a homeless gentleman to apply for SSI & SSDI.  (PRA does a lot of work with the Interfaith Partnership to End Homelessness - we cook monthly breakfasts and bi-monthly dinners, donate and work to promote their events as much as we can.)  Since I had never done a SOAR application before my supervisor thought it would be a good idea for me to take on a SOAR case and actually do the process that I am teaching.  If you are interested can read more about the SOAR process here, but overall it is a comprehensive way of applying for SSI & SSDI that all but ensures a higher success rate.  Just this week I wrapped up everything for my client's application and faxed off all the appropriate documents; now all we can do it cross our fingers and wait for the decisions.  Below I write about the experience of working with my client (names have been changed) and completing the SOAR process.

'Learning to SOAR'
I estimate that in the three months I consistently met with Anthony I spent well over $100 at McDonalds.  Yes, McDonalds and occasionally Wendy’s.  Anthony was a 23 years old homeless gentleman that I met through a local shelter that serves the homeless.  Anthony was in need of help completing his SSI/SSDI application and after our first meeting, the trips to McDonalds began.  You see, Anthony loved McDonald’s breakfasts and before every one of our meetings I would always stop and get him breakfast.  It became our ritual, we would sit in the conference room at Interfaith – he would eat his breakfast, I would drink my coffee and we would just talk.  We talked about everything from his childhood, how he was about to become an uncle, about whether or not he had had contact with his family Florida and what led to him becoming homeless in upstate New York.  The application seemed to become somewhat of an afterthought – sure we completed all the paperwork, visited the SSA office and set up doctor’s appointments but what really became important was our twice a weekly meetings, and those sausage egg McMuffins.
Unlike the other Senior Project Associates on the SOAR team I had never completed an actual SOAR application before coming to PRA.  I had previously worked with individuals experiencing homelessness and became well versed in work incentives and SSI/SSDI but SOAR was not a part of my professional experience until I joined the team.  There is much to be learned from the SOAR training but nothing compares to the hands on experience of working with an actual client.  Initially I was nervous about taking on such a large task while working to balance travel and the ongoing work with my states but I knew completing an application would make me a more informed member of the SOAR team.  So I dove in head first – getting to know my client, completing all the necessary forms, writing all the narratives and assessments but in the end it turned out to be so much more than that.
Anthony went through some tough times and wrestled with some challenging decisions during the time I was working with him but because I had gotten to know him through using the SOAR process I was able to serve as not only his case manager but also the one constant in his life.  In the end Anthony decided to return to his family in Florida; we had our last breakfast, I assisted him with getting his cell phone turned back on, dropped him off at the bus station and told him to be sure to call the office when he had arrived safely.  
Throughout it all it may have seemed like I was the one assisting Anthony but in reality he was the one teaching me.  He taught me not only about the SSI/SSDI process but also about the experience of being homeless – without even knowing it he taught me empathy, best practices, patience and that the easiest way isn’t always the best solution.  I had the privileged to be a part of Anthony’s story and I know that the SOAR process is only the first step along his road to recovery.

June 6, 2013

Meal Planning 101

Remember back when I was somewhat of a crazy couponer?  This is not a post about that but it is a post about meal planning, saving money and getting back to my weekly couponing.  For various reasons we are trying to be frugal - it is the year of austerity!  We sort of sat down and said where can we save money and a big area was grocery shopping.  In the past year or so I have really gotten away from my weekly grocery shopping and couponing and have gotten in the habit of going to to the grocery store multiple times during the week which may be more convenient and require less planning but is also much more expensive!

In an effort to curb my recently adopted multiple grocery store trip a week habit we decided to start meal planning and then go to the grocery store only once per week (if it can be helped - sometimes you just need to swing by and grab something).  So far I am really liking this plan - it makes me feel prepared and I know I will save money by only going to the grocery store once a week.  This is only the first week so some meals are TBD and others are non-specific (on own = we won't be cooking together that night). 

So here it is - week #1 of meal planning!

Weekly Meal Plan
On Own
Chicken Cesar Wraps w/Sweet Potato Tots
Caprese Pasta Salad
Out to Dinner with Friends

June 5, 2013

Happy National Running Day!

Today is National Running Day!  Running is a somewhat significant part of my life but I also have a serious love/hate relationship with the sport.  I have run a bunch of races and in the past month I have run three (you can read about them here, here and here) but that doesn't mean that running and I always get along.  Spring and summer is when I seem to love it the most.  Living in the Northeast means that it is hard (and miserable) to pound the pavement during the later fall and winter months, so during those months I tend to focus more on spinning, yoga and other indoor fitness activities.  Right now I am in the 'love' portion of my relationship with running.  During the summer months I tend to shift my workouts to the afternoons.  The weather is nice and the town where I work has very 'runable' sidewalks and neighborhoods so it is easy to head out for a run after work.  But the truth of the matter is I don't run fast, or for very long (3 miles is sort of my standard) and I would like that to change. 
After my last 5K I really started to think about my past races and how it seems like I have become a lot slower than I was last year; I realized that I am not dedicating nearly enough of my workouts to running and that I should be taking advantage of the summer and my opportunity to pound the pavement.  That being said I have only ever run 5Ks, 3.5 and 4 Milers and I would really like to attempt something longer.  I want to run a 10K!  This goal is not necessarily new, one of my goals for 2013 was to run a 10K, 15K or half marathon and while I would love to one day run a half marathon I think a 10K is much more realistic at this point.  I have been looking at a couple of races and there are a few 10Ks in mid to late September that I am considering.  I also need to implement a training plan.  I can run 3 miles relatively easily but anything beyond that at this point is tough and overall I would like to increase my speed.
So there you have it - my new running goal announced on National Running Day!  The next step will be to register for a 10K and start training! 
If (when) I complete this it'll be such a major accomplishment for me!

June 4, 2013


And now for a post about ... eggs!  Monday was 'National Egg Day' and that got me thinking about the incredible edible egg.
You know those foods that you WISHED you liked more - because they are good for you and 'everyone else seems to like them so you should too' and they are just so darn convenient that if you did like them it may make your life just a tad bit easier.  You catch my drift - well for me that food is - eggs.  I have never been a big fan.  Growing up my mother even raised chicken!  But lately I have been trying my best to like them more and incorporate them into my 'eating lifestyle'.
You see I enjoy eggs in a general sense - 'sure I'll have some eggs' - but I never eat them solo.  I would never just munch on a hard boiled egg as a snack and I was never one to just sit down in the morning with scrambled or dippy (yes that is what we call 'over easy' or 'sunny side up' eggs where I grew up).  But I will eat eggs if they are paired with something - for example, I am all about eggs in a breakfast sandwich (everyone eats breakfast sandwiches in the Northeast - which is something I was definitely not accustomed to growing up in Virginia) or eggs with toast or hash browns but never by themselves - and never EVER with ketchup - ew.
There are other foods I should like and that I wish I enjoyed but that I simply hate, for example - tomatoes.  I hate tomatoes, cannot stand them, ew.  However, I don't have a problem with salsa, tomato sauce or other tomatoey based thing - just the fresh ones, it may be a texture thing, who knows.
So anyway, I realize that eggs are a good source of protein and can be a great addition to a diet so lately I have been trying hard to incorporate them in.  I have even gone so far as to tell myself 'yes you like eggs' - eat them!  Ways I have tried to incorporate them include eating eggs with whole wheat toast, adding hard boiled eggs to my salads (I have been doing this quite frequently) and soon I plan on attempting a delicious (hopefully) egg salad recipe.

So there is you have it - a post about eggs!

June 3, 2013

Race #3 - Freihofer's Run for Women

This weekend I completed the third of my three races in three weeks with the 35th Annual Freihofer's Run for Women.  This is the third year I have run this race and it is by far one of my favorite races!  The race begins under the bridge of the Empire State Plaza and we run through Washington Park and around downtown Albany before finishing at the same place we started.  Friday night I headed down to the CDPHP Health & Fitness Expo to pick up my race bib, running shirt, box of cookies and bread.  Yes you read that correctly - registration for the race includes a loaf of bread and a box of the most amazing Freihofer's Chocolate Cookies (they are to die for)!  I was a little disappointed in the shirts this year - the sizing just seemed off.  I got an XL which would normally be big on me (I'm not a fan of running in super tight shirts) but it was skin tight!  So that was a little disappointing. 
For this race they line you up according to time (at registration you enter the time of your last 5K) - slow to fast - walkers in the back and the fastest people in the front.  Each section has a different colored bib - this year mine was green and I was three groups up from the walkers - almost the middle of the pack.  The morning of the race was HOT, probably about 75 degrees and humid when we lined up at 9:45 AM and it reached about 80 throughout the race.  I knew it was going to be hot so I made sure to hydrate a lot the night before.  It is crazy to think that the weekend before I was running the Survive the Farm race in 40 degree rain and just one week later I am running in near 80 degrees and sun!  
As I was standing at the start time waiting for the ceremony to start and the gun to go off I was looking up at the (very) large banner that hangs on the bridge over the start line.  The banner announces the date/time of the race and has a panoramic shot of a bunch of women starting the race.  Well wouldn't you know it but I am one of those women!  I am on the huge banner overlooking the start of the race!  I couldn't believe it and thought it was so cool!  The picture is from two years ago - my first time running Freihofers!
Banner overlooking the start/finish of the race.
It may be pretty hard to tell but I am the one in the dark green shirt.
The race began and we were off!  5,045 women ran the race - a record number and there were a ton of professional runners!  The start of the race is uphill and being a 'back of the pack' starter means you get to watch all the super fast runners race up the hill.  It is a pretty awesome sight to see - those women are so fast!  It may sound somewhat corny but it is really empowering to run a women's only race - it's just something about the energy of being surrounded by so many other women all of whom are there to run and have a good time!
Start of the race!
(Picture taken from the Albany Times Union website)
Personally my race was good but I felt like my time didn't reflect it.  Simply put, I am just slower than I was last year.  I definitely need to work on my speed and the number of times I run during the week needs to increase.  It was also SUPER hot and even though I ran 95% of the race, there were a couple of times I needed to stop and catch my breath or drink some water.
Action shot!  Coming in at the finish!
After the race we went up to the Empire State Plaza and picked up some refreshments - there were a ton of people, bands were playing and everyone was celebrating finishing the race.
Me, Elise and Elise's aunt post race!
I am really happy I ran the race - it is fun, well organized and always empowering.  I will probably end up running it every year I am in Albany!  Freihofer's wrapped up my three races in three weeks and that'll probably be my last race for a couple of months.  I may run the Firecracker 4 Miler in Saratoga but if not I have my eye on a couple in September - maybe even a 10K!