Ribs

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One of my favourite meals to go out for is ribs and sweet potato fries at Baton Rouge.  Or, at least, it used to be one of my favourites. That was before I decided to try making them myself.

I have a rule about ordering food in restaurants – I only order what I don’t or can’t make at home. It’s not that the food isn’t good, it’s just that I usually prefer how I make it. Every once in a while, I’m surprised, but more often than not, I am disappointed with my meal. The reverse of this rule is also true – if I love a meal in a restaurant, I don’t make it at home because then I might not be able to go out for it again! (I’m looking at you, East Side Marios, with your linguine chicken amatriciana – now I figured that out, I can’t go back!).

With these rules in mind, I decided that I wouldn’t make ribs.  I honestly thought they’d be too hard to make at home (I had eaten some tough ribs while visiting friends). But in a moment of trying to stick to a tighter budget, I attempted ribs for the first time. And the results were amazing.

What I have discovered is that you just need a good rub, a low oven, and lots of time. I prefer making back ribs, because they’re more tender. But I also only have one other adult and a child who eat small quantities of meat to feed.  If you’re feeding a crowd, baby back ribs can get really expensive. But if you can find them on sale (or supplement with chicken rubbed in the same rub), these are really worth it.

The rub keeps for a long time, so you can definitely make extra and save it for other meat. I typically only use half (again, because we’re a small family). And as for finishing the ribs, you don’t have to barbecue them – they’re tender and cooked right from the oven. But if you like the crisped fat and burn marks, then go for it.

 

Ribs – from The Looneyspoons Collection

(makes 2 racks, about 2 1/2 lbs each)

What you need:

  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp paprika 
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • ribs
  • barbecue sauce (optional)

 

What to do:

  1. Combine the rub ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
  2. Place each slab of ribs on a large piece of aluminum foil. Rub rib rub all over the ribs and wrap each rack tightly in foil.
  3. Place wrapped ribs side by side on a baking sheet and bake at 275F for 2 1/2 hours.

 

Optional instructions if you want to grill the ribs:

  1. Remove the ribs from the oven and let stand covered while you preheat the grill.
  2. Carefully remove the ribs from the foil and cut them into manageable sized pieces.
  3. Place the ribs on a lightly oiled grill.
  4. Slather ribs with barbecue sauce and grill for a few minutes on each side, just enough to caramelize the sauce and crisp up the fat. Be careful not to burn them! (or to leave too much fat in the barbecue).
  5. Serve with your favourite sides.
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Grandma Neeltje Vriend DeKok

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A couple of weeks ago, my grandmother passed away. She had been slowly declining in health over the past few years.  In thinking over her life and the great moments I had with her, I decided to write. Here are some of my memories of her:

My grandma loved to read and have fun. I think my most precious memories of her are in her library (which she let me spend one summer cataloguing) and outdoors. When I was young, she and my grandpa lived just outside of Newmarket, Ontario, in a little cottage on what seemed like an immense plot of land. They had the largest garden I had ever seen and the coldest water I had ever felt from a tap (or in a kiddie pool when she would set it up for us). The house was quite small, so we spent out time outside, playing croquet, running down the hill so fast I thought I would face plant, wandering through the nearby woods.

Even though my grandparents lived a 3 hour drive away, we would visit them a few times a year (Christmases spent sleeping in the cramped and hot freezer room were always an adventure!) and they would always come camping at the provincial park near our home. It was so fun to spend time with Grandma because she wasn’t afraid to get dirty and wet. She would play in the water with us at the beach and let us use their kayak.

My grandparents moved much closer to us when I was 11 or 12. My grandma finally had room for a large library and I loved it. She mostly had Christian historical romances and I read them all. My whole family loves to read and I’m sure it started with her and got passed down to my mom and then us. I am still a voracious reader today.

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I spent a month one summer living with my grandparents while my parents and sisters went on vacation. The two things I remember most are that Grandma was concerned for my health (she was worried I would get pneumonia if the fan pointed at me while I slept, even though it was over 30C) and that she loved to give me what I wanted, as long as we kept it a secret from Grandpa. There was one day we were hungry for dessert, so my friends and I finished all of my grandpa’s ice cream.  My grandma’s response: “Hide the container so he doesn’t know!”

This “hiding” things from Grandpa happened a lot. On a camping trip to Bon Echo Provincial Park, we spent a lot of time on her campsite. My dad had to go away on a business trip and my mom had migraines all week. So each morning I would round up my siblings, cycle over to her campsite and play Mexican Rummy for hours. We also drank all of Grandpa’s cream soda, making sure to hide the empty cans

As for food, my grandma lived in Canada at a time when using boxed and canned foods was considered better than homemade. But she also found some traditional Dutch foods and introduced them to us. As a result, we got to eat a lot of marshmallow fluff and nutella on rusks, covered with sprinkles. Dutch sprinkles are one of the best treats in the world. They aren’t hard candy like American ones. They are almost soft, melt into warm butter and come in tins. And the best part – even adults eat them for breakfast! My favourite were the rainbow sprinkles, but I also enjoyed the anise seed ones.
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For St. Nicholas day, Grandma would give us a chocolate letter (also a Dutch tradition). I did not like chocolate as a child, but I still wanted my letter every year.

My grandparents had a very distinct smell in their kitchen. Grandpa had spent time in Indonesia during the war and their cooking and spices reflected that. (They even had a wooden chest, made to hold all the spices, that they took camping with them.) And the kitchen was right at the front door of the first two homes I visited them in, so it’s a smell that brings me right back. I have no memories of food they cooked for us, just the treats (like Hawaiian punch!), and the cheese.  Lots and lots of gouda.

Grandma also loved to play games. She taught us Mexican Rummy and helped us figure out how to hold 20 cards in a hand at once. She had Rummikub to play at her house, Go Fishing, and Bible trivia games. Being total Bible nerds, we loved playing those. We could spend hours playing games with her.

Grandma, thank you for all the wonderful fun times. Thank you for passing on your love of reading (and good books) and your passion for having fun. I miss you, but I know you’re in a better place now.  I love you!

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Spaghetti Pie

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There are seasons for casseroles. Like fall, when the weather turns frosty.  Or the middle of winter when you’re so cold and need comforting, warm food. Mid June is neither of these times.  However, there are still days when I want to pop a casserole in the oven and then go outside to play until dinner time. This recipe is perfect for that.

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I went to take the recipe out of my box and realized it’s getting so faded I may not be able to read it much longer. So it seemed like the perfect opportunity to type it up and paste it online.

The great thing about this pie is that it is fairly simple to make (the prep is done in about half an hour) and you can leave it for 24 hours before baking it.  That means you can prep it while you have some time and then pop it in the oven and play with the kids until dinner is ready.

Spaghetti Pie (serves 6 or so)

What you need:

  • 6 oz spaghetti (a small handful)
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/3 cup parmesan
  • 1 lb ground beef or sausage
  • 1 onion and any other veggies you like to fry with beef
  • 1 1/2 cups pasta sauce
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella

What to do:

  1. Cook and drain the spaghetti according to the directions on the package. Add the butter to the hot spaghetti and stir it in when melted. Then stir in the eggs and parmesan.  Form this into a “crust” in butter 10″ pie plate.
  2. While the spaghetti cooks, fry the beef and veggies until the meat is brown and the veggies are tender.  Drain off any excess fat and pour in the tomato sauce.
  3. Spread the cottage cheese over the crust.
  4. Pour the meat mixture on top of the cottage cheese.
  5. Cover with foil and refrigerate for 2-24 hours.
  6. When you’re ready to bake it, preheat the oven to 350F and then bake the pie covered for 60 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with mozzarella and bake for 5 minutes more.

Baked Pear Oatmeal

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It is now March and seems like it should be turning to spring.  However, every time the snow melts off the sidewalks, we get a new dump of snow! This lingering winter is making me crave warm baked desserts, casseroles and hearty stews.

This baked oatmeal fits the bill perfectly.  I love having a little decadence for breakfast (in this case, caramelized pears and sweetened cream). I do not, however, have time to make a decadent breakfast most mornings. What I love about this recipe is that you can make it ahead, portion it out for the week, and heat up one serving per day.

This recipe is adapted (very slightly) from Deb Perelman’s new cookbook Smitten Kitchen Every Day. The original recipe calls for 3 pears and makes enough for 6 days.  As the only oatmeal eater in my house, 6 servings of oatmeal is a little excessive (I don’t want to get tired of it, after all).  Using 2 pears allows me to snack on a little bit right from the oven and still have enough for 3 breakfasts. I highly suggest you make some this week to enjoy while the snow swirls outside.

note: if you have access to real vanilla beans, this would probably be even more amazing. However, I have made it so often with vanilla extract and it’s still delicious.

Baked Pear Oatmeal

What you need:

for the vanilla sugar:

  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

for the pears:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • pears
  • lemon

 

for the oatmeal:

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats

 

What to do:

  1. Make the vanilla sugar: Pour the sugar into a small bowl and add the vanilla.  Mix until the vanilla has been absorbed.
  2. Heat the oven to 400F. While it’s heating, add the butter to an 8-in square pan and stick it in the oven to melt.
  3. Prepare the pears: Finely grate the zest of the lemon and set it aside in a medium mixing bowl (you will use it for the oatmeal).  Juice the lemon.  Peel the pears, split them in half lengthwise, and scoop out the stem and cores. Toss the pear halves in the lemon juice.
  4. Remove the baking dish from the oven and sprinkle 1/4 cup of the vanilla sugar over the melted butter. Set the pears in cut side down.  Pour the remaining lemon juice on top.  Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes.
  5. Reduce the temperature to 350F and gently flip each pair half over.  Try to spoon some liquid into the pears (this doesn’t work that well for me, but try anyway!)
  6. Prepare the oatmeal: Add the milk, water, butter, eggs and salt to the reserved zest and whisk together.  Sprinkle the baking powder over this and stir to combine.  Add the oats and stir again.
  7. Bake the oats: Carefully spoon the oat mixture around the pears in the pan.  Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pears are soft and the edges of the oatmeal are golden brown.
  8. Make the vanilla cream: While the oatmeal is baking, pour the cream into a small pan and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar.  Simmer the mixture for about 5 minutes.  Chill the mixture.
  9. Serve it up! Scoop one pear half and its surrounding oatmeal into a bowl and drizzle a couple of tablespoons of vanilla cream on top.  Refrigerate the leftovers for up to a week.

 

Miss Monkey’s Lemon Squares

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Cooking and baking are pretty important to me (obviously!) and I have tried to involve my child as much as possible.  When she was a baby, I wore her in an Ergo and cooked dinner (turning her safely away from the stove).  As a toddler, she stood on a stool to dump ingredients in a bowl or stir batter.  As she grew older, I taught her how to whip cream since it’s her favourite pancake topping (and I didn’t have the patience to do it).

The only problem is that kids make messes! And I like my kitchen to work very efficiently.  We’d be happily cooking together until she knocked over some flour, or dropped an egg, and then I would be too annoyed to continue.

Thankfully, she is almost 8 now and I have finally found more patience. So much so that I trust her to do a bit of cooking on her own.  She does need supervision (learned that after the day she kept the microwave popcorn cooking about a minute after it had started burning…). However, she is able to measure ingredients on her own and now just needs help with things like cracking eggs and zesting lemons.

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A few months ago, we were visiting a cookbook store in Montreal and she found a kids cookbook.  She pored over the book for hours! Naturally, she had to cook as many of the recipes as possible.  These lemon squares are one of her favourites.  She can do much of the mixing and prepping (although she is still nervous around the oven, so I help with that) and she always gets rave reviews when she brings them to an event.  If you’re looking for an easy, delicious lemon square recipe, this one is for you!

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Little Lemon Squares (from Cooking Class by Deanna F. Cook)

What you need:

Crust:

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

 

Filling:

  • eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (from 2-3 lemons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • Confectioners’ sugar (for dusting)

 

What to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Place the butter in a mixing bowl and blend with an electric mixer until fluffy (about one minute).
  3. Add the flour and confectioners’ sugar to the butter.  Mix until it turns into a soft dough.
  4. Press the dough into a 9×13 pan.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until the edges start to brown.  Take the pan out of the oven and let it cool.
  5. While the crust is baking, mix the eggs and sugar with a mixer (you can use the same bowl as before, without even washing it out!).
  6. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla and mix some more.
  7. Blend in the flour.
  8. Pour the filling over the cooled crust and, USING OVEN MITTS, tilt the pan to spread it evenly.
  9. Bake the bars until the filling is set, about 25 minutes.
  10. Let the lemon squares cool slightly and then dust them with confectioners’ sugar.  Slice into 24 (or more) small bars.

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Glazed lemon loaf

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One thing I have discovered in having a child is that you can never be quite sure what they are going to enjoy. There are things I was certain my child would like (berries, watermelon) that she cannot stand eating.  And then there are other things that I did not think kids enjoy and yet she loves them.

 

Lemon desserts fall directly into this category.  My daughter is obsessed with lemonade, lemon squares, lemon loaf and anything else with lemon in the title.  She has also recently discovered that she is able to bake and so we love to try making lemon desserts together.

 

This recipe comes from Sally’s Baking Addiction.  The recipes here make no apologies for sugar, butter, milk and all other great baking ingredients.  You won’t find “healthy” choices or recipes for specific diets.  But you will find delicious desserts that your family will gobble up.  And that works for me!

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Glazed Lemon Loaf (adapted barely from Sally’s Baking Addiction)

What you need:

Lemon loaf:

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

Pinch salt

½ cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 ½ tsp vanilla

Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 Tbsp)

Zest of 2 lemons (you’ll need the juice of the second soon)

½ cup milk

 

For the glaze:

Juice of 1 lemon

1 cup confectioners sugar

 

What to do:

For the loaf:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Spray a 9x5in loaf pan with cooking spray.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  4. Using a mixer, cream the softened butter in a medium bowl on medium speed for 1 minute.  Once it is creamy and smooth, add the sugar and beat on medium speed until it is light in colour.
  5. Beat in the eggs and vanilla, scraping down the sides as needed.
  6. Add the lemon juice and zest and beat for one minute.
  7. Add one third of the flour mixture and mix just until combined.  Then add half the milk.  Continue adding the flour and milk until all is combined.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40-60+ minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. (I find I need to check it at 50 minutes and then turn it around and keep checking every 5 to 10 minutes until it’s done).

 

Make the glaze:

  1. Stir the lemon juice and confectioners’ sugar together in a small bowl until smooth.  Drizzle the glaze directly on the loaf, either in the pan while it cools or just before serving.

 

The loaf will stay fresh at room temperature for about 2 days or in the fridge for 5 (although it has never lasted more than 2 in my house).

How to fuel a long run

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Recently, I ran the Ottawa Race Weekend Half Marathon.  I had spent the days leading up to it with a serious stomach bug and the runs and on the actual day, the weather was so hot and humid, they almost had to cancel the race.  Despite all that, I decided to go for it and just try to finish (which I did, slowly) and in the end, it seemed a fitting culmination of my training.

Let me explain.  The past few months have not been easy.  I signed up for the race last fall, shortly after running my first marathon.  And so, come February, I was ready to start my training plan.  I was planning on improving my fitness and hopefully getting a PR.  Life, however, happened, and I sunk into depression along the way.  Running has always been my “get up and go” time, the first thing I do in the morning, the thing that gets me out the door and full of energy.  But this year, I was finding that I would worry so much about getting up to run in the morning that I would barely sleep all night.  I might fall asleep for a few minutes or even an hour, just to wake up again, panicked and upset.  I spent a lot of nights crying, watching TV on the couch, hoping it would put me to sleep.  I finally had to admit to myself that something was wrong and that I needed to rearrange some things in my life.

The first thing to rearrange was my running time.  I decided to try running in the afternoons, so that if I actually fell asleep at night, I could stay asleep until the last possible moment before work.  That meant spending less after-school time with my daughter (although it meant we made time to run together afterward).  And it meant me being more relaxed about meals.  I had to let myself off the hook from cooking amazing dinners eat night.  We have had a lot more bacon and eggs for dinner, or take-out, so that I can get the rest I need.

Thankfully, my family, friends and coworkers have been super supportive along the way.  I had to give up a lot of little things at work and my coworkers had to pick up the slack. My husband and daughter have been so understanding of whatever food I can manage to feed them, and of whatever time I have to give them.

Even with really changing things around, I have still had a lot of down moments.  While we were in Boston, I could barely get through a 4K run because I just wanted to cry.  Before a 5K race in April, I only slept a couple hours, and so struggled to the finish, and through the 8K home afterward.  And I got incredibly sick before the half marathon.

Despite all that, I have proven to myself that I can persevere.  And that I have a crazy amount of determination.  I can get through whatever life throws my way.  And I can keep running through it all.  It’s not always fast, or pretty, and yet, I’ll get through.  And along the way, there will be little moments of joy – training my daughter to run a 2K, seeing a lone duck on the water, watching the sun break through the clouds.

Running hasn’t fixed me, but it certainly has helped.

How to fuel a long run or race

One of the biggest questions in long distance running is how do you eat?  What do you eat?  How on earth do you make it through?

There are so many different products on the market, so really, you just have to figure out what works best for you.  I got into using energy gels because my husband had been using them for cycling long distances and they were his favourite.  I haven’t tried blocks (basically gummies that are packed with the sugars and salts you need), but I have tried different kinds of candy and drinks.  What I have discovered works best for me is to use Gu gels (and occasionally Honey Stinger) every 7K.  For runs and races over 10K, I’ll take a gel before I head out, and then every 7km after that.  I drink a TON of water while I run and if it’s particularly hot or long, I will also drink some Gatorade.  I tried Nuun at my most recent race and found that it was perfect for my tummy every 3K or so.  I will also eat a banana along the way if possible (i.e. if my hubby brings me one).  I’m considering trying orange slices in the future.

Gels do not look appetizing and they certainly don’t taste great the first time you try them, but they work wonders when you’re running for a few hours.  They are definitely my go-to running fuel.  My favourite flavours are Espresso Love, Chocolate Peanut Butter and Root Beer.

Chicken Tetrazzini

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This weekend, I had a happy accident when cooking.  Generally, I don’t just make up recipes.  I spend at least one evening a week looking up recipes online or finding new cookbooks and reading them through, trying to find some new and exciting recipes to try.  I’ll change one small thing here or there to make the meal even better, but I typically don’t stray too far from the original.

Last week, I was looking for casserole recipes to try something new and I found one for chicken tetrazzini.  I must admit that I didn’t know what it was, but anything with pasta in a creamy sauce and chicken works for me!  I looked over the ingredient list, added the items to my shopping list and got ready to make it.

There was only one small problem: I thought the recipe called for a can of mushroom soup, when it actually called for just a can of mushrooms.  When I went to make the recipe Saturday night and I realized the mistake, I decided to just make due, switch some things around and make it work.

The result was SO delicious.  I definitely would not make the recipe the way it was actually written.  I ended up frying up onions with a little white wine, frying chicken and deglazing the pan with more wine, all of which was added to the sauce.  I thickened some chicken broth and added in the mushroom soup with a splash of milk for the sauce.  The result is amazing, even if it isn’t technically a tetrazzini.  Definitely worth trying this week.

Chicken Tetrazzini serves 4-6

Note: This recipe is a little more salty than the food I usually make (and we found it so delicious), but you could reduce the salt by using reduced sodium (or sodium free) chicken broth and mushroom soup.

What you need:

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, halved (or 4 thighs)
  • 1-2 onions, thinly sliced or diced
  • a few splashes white wine (optional)
  • 2Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 can condensed mushroom soup
  • splash of milk
  • 1/2 – 3/4 pound of spaghetti, broken into smaller pieces
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

 

What to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13 pan.
  2. Heat some oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat.  Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper.  Sear the chicken for 6-8 minutes per side (or until crispy on the outside and cooked through).  Remove the chicken from the pan and deglaze the yummy bits with about 2 Tbsp of wine.  Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and set everything to the side.
  3. Meanwhile, heat some more oil in another frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and fry until soft and even brown (to whatever point you like your onions cooked).  At the end, add a few splashes of wine and boil off a bit of the liquid.  Set this aside.
  4. Set a pot of water on the stove to boil.  Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions.
  5. Meanwhile, make the sauce.  Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the flour and cook for one minute.  Slowly pour in the chicken broth and cook, while stirring most of the time, until it thickens and starts to boil.  Then pour in the condensed soup and stir until smooth.  Add some milk, until you like the taste / texture.
  6. Add the onions, chicken and wine from the chicken to the sauce.  Add the spaghetti to the sauce.  I started with adding only some of the noodles and gradually added more until I liked how it looked (depends on how saucy you like your food).
  7. Pour everything in the 9×13 pan and sprinkle with Parmesan.
  8. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbly.

French Toast Bagel with Caramelized Apples (or My First Marathon)

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Two weeks ago, on a chilly Sunday morning in Toronto, I ran a marathon.  That is one sentence I never thought I’d write.  I. Ran. A. Marathon.

Two years ago, I decided it was time to do something new.  I had broken my arm cycling and had spent the summer doing anything but exercise.  I realized I needed a change and so I took up a couch to 5K program.  Realizing I could run a whole 5K was exhilarating.  I slowly moved up to trying 10K and even half marathons.  But the whole time I said I would never run a marathon.  Run for over 4 hours?!?!?!? That seems just crazy.

And then, I found myself registering for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.  I trained for what seemed like an eternity (5 months) and then one cold Sunday morning, found myself at the start line of the marathon.  I could hardly believe I was there.

They say a marathon is one of the ultimate tests of human strength and limits.  Running 42.2km pushes you past the point of what your body can regularly handle.  It’s a distance you have to respect.  I knew this going into it and yet, it still overwhelmed me.  Throughout the race, I went through a gamut of emotions.  The first 21.1km were through the streets and along beautiful sections of Lake Ontario.  There were so many half marathon runners running along with us.  Spectators lined the streets.  The sun was shining.  I was happy, alive, encouraging others, enjoying myself.  Things went a little downhill after that.  There were significantly fewer people, the streets we ran through seemed mostly industrial, the sun hid behind a cloud.  I was just in pain and no amount of counting up or down the kilometers seemed to help.

But in the end, I made it.  My amazing husband was a huge part of it, encouraging me through all the training and riding his bike through the streets of Toronto to meet up with me every few kilometers as my support crew.  The random person handing out bananas at 34K also gave me the strength I needed to push on.  Seeing the people behind me pushing on while injured made me keep going.  And all the people who sent me text messages as encouragement helped me hold on.

I cried (or welled up because I refused to use up the energy it required to cry) three times that morning.  Once, when they sang O Canada (I was so proud of my country).  Once, when I crossed the starting line (I’m finally here! I’m doing it!).  And once as I approached the finish line (I’m doing it!  OMG! I’m doing it!).  It took me more time than I was hoping and it hurt way more than I thought possible, but finishing made me realize there’s nothing I can’t do.  I am a marathoner now and nothing will take that away.

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French Toast Bagels with Caramelized Apples

Running and training so much basically means I’m ravenous ALL THE TIME.  Eating a filling, nutritious and well-balanced breakfast keeps me from snacking on ridiculous amounts of candy and cookies throughout the day.  This recipe is from Runner’s World magazine, and was made by a Montrealer JP Desjardins (Go Canada!).  The only real change I made is that I didn’t have bourbon on hand, so I didn’t use any.  Also, I found you can make way more than 2 bagels with the batter.  So I make as many as 4 and then just toast up the bagels later while caramelizing another apple.

What you need:IMG_2213
2-4 bagels
2 eggs
⅔ cup milk
1 tablespoon honey (or maple syrup or sugar)
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

For the caramelized apples (if you’re making more than two bagels, then adjust this part of the recipe accordingly):
1 or 2 apples, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon honey (or maple syrup or sugar)
1 ounce bourbon (optional)

What to do:IMG_2212
1. In a small bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt.

2. Cut bagel in half and soak for a few minutes until softened.

3. In a small pan, sauté apple with 1 teaspoon butter and 1 tablespoon honey. When apples are golden brown, add bourbon and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan.

4. Pan-sear the soaked bagel with 1 teaspoon butter and cook on medium heat until one side is golden brown. Flip bagel, and cook until second side is golden brown.

5. Place the bagel slices on a plate and top with caramelized apples. Serves two or more.

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Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

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It is already mid-October and I still haven’t gotten myself a Pumpkin Spice Latte.  I am not sure exactly what has kept me away, but I suspect it might be the discovery of these cinnamon buns from Smitten Kitchen.  They have all the pumpkin and spice that I need for fall, without costing me $5 plus the time it would take to drive up to Starbucks.  They come together in an afternoon (or the evening before you want them for breakfast) and they make my family so happy I get extra hugs.  All in all, these are the perfect pumpkin spice treat for me. (I will willingly take a latte if anyone offers, however).

Note: I find these cinnamon buns quite amazing on their own, but you can add a glaze or icing if that’s your thing.  Just head over to Smitten Kitchen’s website to get all the details.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls (from Smitten Kitchen)

What you need:

Dough
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, to be divided
1/2 cup \whole milk, warmedIMG_2156
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out
1/4 cup (packed) light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cups pumpkin puree, canned or homemade
1 large egg
Oil for coating rising bowl

Filling
3/4 cup light or dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon

What to do:

Make the dough:
1. Melt the butter.  If you like to brown butter, this is a great time to do it!  Melt the butter in a small pan.  Once melted, keep cooking it over medium heat for a few minutes.  It will start to sizzle and foam and then smell nutty as the solids on the bottom of the pan brown.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

2. Combine the warmed milk and yeast in a small bowl and set aside.  It should start to get foamy after a bit.IMG_2157

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour, both sugars, salt and spices.

4. Add just 1/4 cup of the browned butter and stir to combine.

5. Add yeast-milk mixture, pumpkin and egg and mix until combined.

6. Switch mixer to a dough hook and run on low for 5 minutes.

7. Scrape mixture into a large oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Set aside of 1 hour or until just about double.

Assemble buns:

1. Spray a 9×13 or 2 8-inch pans with non stick spray.

2. Scoop dough onto a very well floured surface and then sprinkle flour on top of the dough.

3. With a rolling pin, roll the dough to a 16×11 inch rectangle (mine is never perfect – just make it sort of work).

4. Brush reserved butter over dough.

5. Stir together filling ingredients in a small bowl and sprinkle over the dough.

6. Starting on a longer side, roll the dough in a tight spiral.  It never works out perfectly, but not to worry! It’ll still taste great!IMG_2159

7. Use a serrated knife to carefully cut one-inch segments of the “log”.  You will get 16 or more segments.

8. Place each little roll in the pan(s).

9. Cover the pan(s) with plastic wrap and let rise for another 45 minutes.

*If you’re making these ahead of time, put them in the fridge now.  In the morning, leave them out for about an hour to warm and finish rising.

10. Just before you’re ready to bake them, preheat the oven to 350F.

11. Remove the plastic wrap and bake for 25 minutes.

12. Transfer pans to wire cooling racks and then enjoy!