Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Training for Tuesday - a link-up

Hello! I'm joining A Change of Pace (formerly known as Tracy Tris) and AlyssaGoesBang for their Training for Tuesday link-up again.

I mentioned it in previous link-ups, and then again herehere, and here, but I finally did sign up for RunnersConnect.

My personalize plan so far has been very manageable, and challenging in a good way. This morning I had a hills workout that kind of kicked my butt. Again, in a good way. I couldn't hit the exact prescribed paces, but that's ok. Their prescribed 1 mile pace was a lot faster than I had previously ever run a mile. All in good time.

What I really love is the real-time feedback. There's always a coach on hand to answer questions or just give an encouraging comment.  It's really interesting reading through the other runner's workouts, seeing their successes and pitfalls, and seeing that other people have a lot of the same questions and issues that I have, as well.

Some days, there's just nothing else on my mind besides running. Instead of bugging friends and family with that, RunnersConnect is providing me a place to get my "fix". They have old coach chats archived, and all of the forum questions to what seems like the beginning of time.

Plus, there's all the science. The way our bodies work, why we run certain types of runs, how our bodies process certain chemicals and nutrients, lactate levels, glucose stores...it goes on and on. A lot of it is over my head, but I'm scratching the surface and starting to have a greater understanding in the process. I'm learning that yes, while you can just go out willy-nilly and run, having a plan that follows the science behind running my body is probably going to work out much better in the end. We'll see come October 18th in Detroit!

How's your training going? 

Join us and share your thoughts!

A Change of Pace

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fitness Friday

Happy Friday!

I'm wrapping up another good training week with Runners Connect. Right now, I'm in the "build up" phase. This phase is all about getting you back into running, and getting used to doing some workouts and hitting target paces.

Although my week isn't 100% complete yet, let's look at how things are shaking down.

Monday: Rest/Circuit Training/Hip - this kind of confuses me since true "rest" would involve no workouts. You can do stretching, but it shouldn't even be a cross-training day. Since I was still pretty tired from last week, I did 45 min of Runner's Yoga in the morning, hip stretches after work, and called it good.

Tuesday: 1 mile warm up, 3x1 mile @ 8:10-8:20 pace with 90 sec rest, 1 mile cool down (Threshold Intervals) - this workout was fun and challenging. The 90 second rests were just long enough to catch my breath with some walking/slow jogging, and it was nice to run a little faster. Actual paces: 9:12, 8:15, 8:18, 8:16, 9:25. I did get a little talking to about slowing down my "easy" miles again.

Wednesday: Rest/Core - 45 minutes of Runner's Yoga in the morning, and core exercises after work. Easy peasy.

Thursday: 1 mile easy, 3 miles steady pace (8:45-9:15), 1 mile easy (Steady Run) - again, my "easy" miles were a bit too fast. Actual paces: 9:16, 9:04, 8:53, 8:57, 9:34. It was also lightly snowing with 11-13 mph wind gusts, so a large part of me was just thinking "This sucks, this sucks, this sucks! Let's just get this over with!"

Friday: 3 easy miles (9:35-10:20)/Core/General Strength - I did my 3 easy miles this morning. Although it was super cold (5 degrees), it was not hard to slow down. Part of that is due to the fact that we went out for the United Way Campaign Celebration dinner last night. Not only was I up past my bed time, but I may have "celebrated" a bit too much. Actual paces: 9:40, 9:40, 9:42. Will do the Core & General Strength work outs this evening.

Saturday: Rest/Circuit Training - I'm going to try doing this in the AM so I have plenty of time to rest and relax my legs before my long run on Sunday. I think that doing this routine in the afternoon last Saturday was part of the reason why my legs were tired last Sunday on my long run. We'll see how it goes. Hopefully it's just helping to make me stronger!

Sunday: Long Run - 9 easy miles (9:35-10:20). The weather is looking pretty grim on Sunday, so this may be on the treadmill. That helps ensure that I really do run these slower. It's easier to just dial it in on the treadmill rather than concentrate on pacing myself when I'm outside.

So...so far, so good. I still need to work on slowing my easy miles down. I totally get the idea behind those easy miles (building up aerobic fitness, preventing injury, etc), but it's harder to do in practice! Next week has a hills workout that I'm looking forward too, and slightly nervous about. Bring it on!

How has your week been? 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Black Bean Enchiladas with a Warm Verde Salsa

Last night we celebrated Taco Tuesday with this recipe. It was a big hit in my house, so I thought I'd share. I also don't like the way the original recipe reads, so I'm putting it here in a clearer format.

Get in my belly!

Black Bean Filling
  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small white onion
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 2 15-oz. cans black beans, drained but not rinsed
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • Coarse salt to taste
Warm Salsa Verde
  • 12 tomatillos, husked and halved
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small white onion, grated or minced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1 14-oz. can vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • Coarse salt to taste
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • Chopped fresh oregano leaves from 1 or 2 stems, optional
  1. 1. Make the Salsa Verde: Place tomatillos in a food processor, and pulse to a coarsely ground paste.
  2. 2. Heat garlic in oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. When garlic begins to sizzle, grate onion with a hand grater directly into pan. Add jalapeno. Heat onion and jalapeno through for 1 to 2 minutes, and add ground tomatillos. Simmer tomatillos with onion for 5 minutes. Add stock and seasonings.
  3. 3. Halve avocado with skin on by cutting in and down to the pit all around avocado. Separate avocado halves, and scoop out pit with a large spoon. Scoop flesh out of skins and into pot. Mash with back of a fork. Stir avocado into sauce to thicken it. Return sauce to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to warm until enchiladas are assembled.
4. To make Black Bean Filling: Preheat broiler. Heat oil in large skillet, and add garlic. Grate onion into pan with a hand grater. Add jalapeno. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add beans, and mash with back of a fork. Stir in cumin and tomato paste, and season with salt.
  1. 5. Optional step: warm the tortillas by wrapping them in aluminum foil, and heat in oven at 275F until fillings and sauce are ready. I skipped this and just used room temperature tortillas. 
  2. 6. Scoop some sauce onto bottom of a casserole dish or shallow serving platter. To make an enchilada, place 1 to 2 scoops of filling down center of a tortilla, and roll. Place filled tortillas seam side down into sauce on platter or casserole. Line up tortillas, one next to another, and top with remaining sauce and grated cheeses. Melt cheeses under broiler (about 5 minutes), and serve immediately with Warm Salsa Verde. (and more toppings like sour cream, diced tomatoes, extra cheese, etc.)
I found it easiest to dice my onions, garlic, and jalapenos first, that way everything was ready to go and the recipe came together quickly.
Also, I just gave Emily a tortilla filled with warm beans, cheese, sour cream, and tomatoes. Not the bean mixture, but whole beans that I separated out before I made the filling. She would have freaked out about the onions - trust me. But she pounded down her bean taco, so still a win in my book!

Do you "celebrate" Taco Tuesday, Meatless Monday, etc? What's for dinner tonight?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Movies and Running, Running and Movies

Can you guess what I did this weekend? If you guessed watched movies and went running, then you get a gold star!

This weekend we had nothing planned, but somehow "nothing" turns into "something" pretty quickly.

Friday night we decided to just relax at home with a bowl of popcorn and the movie "Birdman". Apparently it was nominated for all kinds of awards. I thought it was just kind of weird. A little sad, too. Then I fell asleep at the end, and we had to re-watch the last 5 minutes or so because Travis said it was the best part. Hey, I can't help it if I was tired!

On Saturday, Travis had to go north to measure some guy's shoreline for a dock that he wants to buy from my father-in-law. He sells docks, so this isn't really weird or out of the ordinary.

I decided that morning to take down the mini blinds in our bedrooms and wash them. This turned out to be a bigger project than I had planned because, guess what? That's a whole lot of plastic to dry off, and where do you hang them while they're drying? I ended up lying them flat on towels in our bathroom, hoping that would dry them a bit.

While they were "drying", I thought it would be a good idea to Windex our bedroom windows. We have tilt-ins, which makes cleaning the second story windows much easier. Wonderful idea for the inside, but given that it was still only 13 degrees outside...not such a great idea. After my spray of Windex froze to the first window pane, I decided to give that up for a warmer day.

My blinds still hadn't dried, so I hung them up wet and used a towel to dry them. Getting water all over my clean windows in the process. Hmm, yea. Spring cleaning fail.

After all this non-sense, I decided that Emily and I should go on a day date to the movies to see the new "Cinderella". I had some reservations because the previews looked a little scary, but she loved it! The only part that was actually scary was when Cinderella has to rush back from the palace before midnight. But Emily did great and just wanted to sit on my lap until it was over.

On Sunday, I had a long run on tap first thing in the morning. My new plan with Runners Connect has me running my "easy" runs at a very slow pace of 9:35-10:20 minutes per mile. Honestly, this is so hard for me! I'm used to running closer to 9:00 min/mile on my long runs, so to slow down that much makes me feel like a turtle. 

Also, I am a little prideful on this one. I feel like people are driving by me thinking "gosh, she is running so slow!". I know this is ridiculous and no one can tell, nor do they care. But it's just something I have to get over. 

I managed to average just at 9:33 min/mile, mostly hanging out at that 9:35 except 2 faster miles. It's probably a good thing that I did run a bit slower. RC also has me doing a lot more strength training routines, including a circuit training workout. This includes things like mountain climbers, burpees, v-ups, lunges, etc. with 3 staggered 800m jogs in between. While that's only 1.5 miles, it wore me out. 

I didn't even think about the repercussions of doing this on Sat, but I think I was still pretty tired Sunday morning! I ended up taking a pretty long nap in the afternoon. Even before lunch, Travis asked me if my run was harder than normal because I looked tired. Geez, thanks hubby! 

I have circuit training planned again for this evening, so hopefully my body will start to adjust and get stronger. ASAP! 

We're in a bit of a cold snap right now, with 6-10 inches of snow (shut up!) in the forecast for later this week. I don't think I even saw 20 degrees on my long run. My water bottles froze!

Hello spring? Can you come back please?

How was your weekend? Get in any good exercise or movies? 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

First Track Workout

Well, I bit the bullet and joined Runners Connect. So far, I am loving it! They have forums to discuss running issues, races, shoes, nutrition, etc. There's also a daily feed where everyone can post their workouts or questions, and other members can "like" the posts and comment on them. It really has a community feel. I've only been on for about a week now, but I'm really digging this site.

The best thing is that they have already loaded a workout schedule for me, even though I am technically still in my free two-week trial. I love the way they map out your running schedule, too. You tell them what race you're aiming for, previous PR's, any injuries or issues, what days you like to run, etc., and they build a personalized plan for you. Each day is mapped out with your run, cross-training or strength-training activities, or just plain old rest.

Yesterday was my first official workout that had something other than "easy run" in it. My runner's group was meeting at our local track for the first time this year, so I thought it would be perfect to meet up with them and run this workout. RC had me do this:

1 mile warm-up, 5 x 3 min 8:00-8:10 pace with 3 min recovery jogs, 1 mile cool down. Basically a fartlek run.

Our group was doing something very similar (makes sense since the "host" is also on RC and has similar workouts geared towards his own training/pacing). We all warmed up together out on the road first, then hit the track for the work out. Everyone can do their own thing, follow a workout, or just hang out and watch. It's really not very strict.

I had some trouble figuring out how the lap feature worked on my Garmin Forerunner, but by the second set I had figured it out. I also figured out that I was running my fartleks too fast.

Can you see that? Sorry it's so small. My fartleks were anywhere between 7:28 min/mile and 8:03. So not horribly off, but too fast. Now that I have it figured out though, I can work better on being consistent. My recovery jogs were all between 9:01-9:03, so I'd say that part was pretty darn consistent! 

I had no idea how long or far the fartlek part of my workout would take. I figured maybe 2 miles for a nice 4 mile run. Remember how math is not my strong suit? 5 x 3 = 15 minutes of running. 4 recovery jogs at 3 min each = 12 min of running, for a total of 27 minutes. That's a 5k for me, basically. Shave some time off for the faster running, but add back the warm-up/cool-down miles and yea, 5+ miles for me at the track. Definitely took a little longer than I had planned! Good thing I started dinner before I left...

That's a boring map, but you get the point. Round and round we went! Good thing there were some other people to help keep me entertained. Either way, I'm proud of myself for doing the workout, and that it was relatively easy. I can't wait to see what else they have on tap for me! 

Do you run track workouts? Do you know what a fartlek is, or do you think I'm just making up rude words? 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Anniversary Getaway

Happy Monday all!

This weekend, Travis and I were lucky enough to be able to spend a night away in Duluth, about 1.5 hrs away from home. Grandma and Grandpa watched the kidlette, so we were off for a fun evening!

We stayed at the Suites Hotel in Canal Park. It used to be an old factory where ships could come right up to the building and load their shipment. It has long since been converted to restaurants and the hotel. The suites are nice with a separate bedroom, kitchenette, and living areas. There are all sorts of different rooms though, some without windows. Luckily we got a room with a window - even though the view was just of the parking lot!

Hello king size bed!

They've kept the "industrial" style and left a lot of duct work and piping exposed. You can tell the hotel is older, but it was still nice and comfortable. 

Canal Park is a really cool part of Duluth. There's lots of shops and restaurants to visit, and since the weather was beautiful we were able to walk from our hotel to some of the shops. We stopped at Northern Waters Smokehaus to pick up some smoked salmon pate. This little shop/restaurant was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives. We brought it back to the room and enjoyed some wine with our pate. 

Yummy treats!

For dinner we went to the Zeitgeist Arts Cafe in downtown Duluth. This is such a cool place! The food was amazing, and all the artwork on the walls is from local artists. 

The dining room.
The dining room is upstairs, with the bar and some seating downstairs. That same night they had a local band playing in the attached theater, so while we were at the bar we bumped into a couple waiting for that show to start. The band seemed a little on the hippy side, and this couple only proved my point. Very 70's, maybe went to Woodstock, probably did a lot of drugs in their day type of people. But so nice! Good conversation.

We skipped the band (the Brothers Burn Mountain) and saw a movie instead. The Zeitgeist is a really fun place because not only do they have the cafe and theater, but they also have the "zinema", a little 2 screen cinema where they play movies. Think indie/Sundance Film type movies. We saw "The Last Five Years", which is based on a musical of the same name. Since it was based on a musical, the two main characters sing the entire dialog. I didn't think Travis would go for it, but he was a good sport and I think even enjoyed it. I thought it was good! Maybe not the type of thing I want to watch all the time, but good enough.

After a late night, surprisingly we woke up at 8 the next morning. I guess that's what happens when you have kids - internal alarm clock is permanently set. We stopped at another one of our Duluth favorites, the Duluth Grill. Also seen on Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives, the Duluth Grill never disappoints. I had the vegetarian breakfast stir-fry loaded with veggies and egg whites accompanied by a caramel pecan roll that was nearly the size of my head. It was amazing! Travis and I split it.

When we were leaving, I snapped a pic of this guy in their parking lot garden. Yes, they grown their own veggies in the summer.

I guess he's there to stand watch and scare the birds away?

Did you have a good weekend? Have you ever seen a giant metal chicken?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Blogging for Books: Ruby by Cynthia Bond

"Ruby Bell was a constant reminder of what could befall a woman whose shoe heels were too high. The people of Liberty Township wove her into cautionary tales of the wages of sin and travel. They called her buck-crazy. Howling, half-naked mad."

I've just finished reading Ruby, by Cynthia Bell. Honestly, it has left me without words. I am still unsure how I feel about the novel, but I know this: it is powerful.

Bond explores some major themes that we've seen before:
- racism
- rape/sex/abuse
- escape

But the way she weaves these ideas through Ruby's psychological minefield is pretty unique.

Ruby Bell is a young black woman from Liberty, Texas, born in the era of segregation and racism that our country suffered. She is abandoned by any and every possible caretaker she could have, until she is basically sold into sex slavery at a young age. She gets pregnant at the age of 14 and loses her baby after being beaten by a John, "who paid a little extra. Always a little extra."

Eventually, she escapes to New York, in search of her mother who ran there when Ruby was a young girl. She turns to prostitution to make a living, but falls into an elite crowd when an older, white woman befriends her. "Friend" is probably the wrong word here, for this woman is using her, too. Not for sex, but to have a pretty young thing by her side, who occasionally does house work or serves drinks at her fancy house parties. Ruby learns the ways of high society through this period. But she is eventually called home to Liberty after receiving news that her cousin has passed away.

Upon returning home, she descends into a madness that is both confounding and understandable. Is it because of the memories of her suffering that this madness starts? She lives in an almost feral way for eleven years. ELEVEN YEARS. The townspeople see her, but begin looking through her, accepting her presence and quickly ignoring her for the lost cause they believe her to be.

Or is her madness caused by the ghosts of her past that return to visit her? And I do mean ghosts as a tangible thing. Ruby is followed by "haints". Ghosts, whom she offers up her body to as a safe place to stay. It seems that Ruby is always handing over her body. Does she think that this is her only item worth trading? Is this the only thing she has to offer the world? It is so horrible that a pretty young black woman, at one time, could think that all the world wanted from her was sex. Or maybe not even sex, but power over something - something small and weak that wouldn't fight back.

But her body isn't something that she offers. It's something that is taken from her, again and again. She is used in every way imaginable by anyone that comes along.

Ephram Jennings knows there's more to Ruby than just her crazy. Having loved her since they were children playing in the chinaberry trees, he finally goes to her with a slice of angel lay cake and hope. But why does it take him eleven years to do so? He is not there to use her, but to love her. He sees Ruby's worth as a woman and an individual. If simply for the fact that she deserves love, and he has it to give.

My favorite line is from Ruby: "Before she could teach anything, she had to know it herself." Ultimately, this book is about Ruby finding herself. Finding her value in the world, standing up for herself, and fighting her demons. Although the ending may  not be a purely happy one, it is one that the reader can be satisfied with. Bond's story is not a love story about a man and a woman, but about a woman who learns to love herself.

Ruby, my second book from Blogging for Books, is far and away much better than the first book I reviewed. I can definitely recommend Ruby as a book about self-discovery and acceptance.

For more info on Ruby by Cynthia Bond, go here. For more info on the author, here.
Although I received this book from Blogging for Books to review, all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Circle Link-up: Blog Name Stories

I'm joining Kiki over at In Its Time again this month for the Circle Link-Up. This month we're talking about how and why we named our blogs.

Most of my readers know this, but if you're new here then this is a pretty simple explanation. I was raised in Florida. I married a boy from Minnesota and ended up moving to his home town. I was a true "fish out of water".

So the "sand" in my snow boots is really the nitty-gritty, every day details about my adventures acclimating to living in the Great White North.

I've learned a lot about Midwestern culture, Minnesota Nice, and living in a frigid climate. While I may never be a "true" Minnesotan, I feel like I'm starting to blend in well with the natives. Here are some things I've learned:

1. Tater Tot Hot Dish is a legit thing. You will find this casserole dish in many a church basement (probably Lutheran) for the monthly (or weekly) pot-luck lunch/dinner. Consisting typically of ground beef, some mixed vegetables, tater tots, and cheese, this dish can go either way. Really good, or...not so much. If it's the latter, you have to pull your Minnesota Nice card and say something like "I'm saving room for the cookies!" or "You'll have to give me the recipe!" Just smile and nod. There will definitely be cookies.

2. Pasties are a food item. Past like "in the past", not the other kind of pasties that sound more like "paste". Because that would not be appropriate in your Lutheran church basement. This dough pocket is usually filled with ground beef, some kind of vegetable, and maybe potatoes. Best eaten with ketchup. Usually made as a fundraiser for the hockey team/volleyball team/insert-random-team here.

It's ok if you skip it. They have no flavor unless you drown it with ketchup. If you get stuck with one, just smile and nod.

3. Minnesota was settled by mostly Norwegian, Finnish, and Swedish immigrants. Lots of Sven and Ole's abound here. I don't think any of them know what spice or seasonings are. See above for examples. Will that get my Minnesota Nice card revoked? Sorry! But they sure can bake. There will definitely be cookies.

4. Winters are no joke. You think you know cold? Unless you are Canadian, you do not know our cold. -20 is not unusual as a daytime temp in January. When it warms up to 0, many people you encounter that day will say "Hey, it warmed up to 0!" Even better if the sun is shining - then it almost feels warm! 

Mountains of snow are just business as usual here. Almost every one of our neighbors either has a) a snow plow blade on their truck or b) a snow plow attachment on their ATV. I am kind of jealous. School is rarely cancelled for snow. Pffft. Cold? Sure. But snow? Come on!

5. Drinking is both a social activity and basically a lifestyle. Even those Lutheran church ladies - they love their wine. Hey, you have to combat the cold somehow. 

6. Summers here more than make up for winter. Seriously, you should visit in July or August. June and September can be a crap-shoot. May is still pretty chilly - there will be no lake swimming for me in May.

Our lakes are beautiful. Is there anything better than cruising the lake in a pontoon on a gorgeous summer day, drink in hand? Nothing makes you appreciate the sun on your face and a warm breeze more than knowing that winter is probably just a month away. 

Views like this are the reason we stay.

After living here for nearly 6 years, I will say that I'm getting used to it. There are still days when I miss Florida, but we've built a happy little life here. I'm even getting the accent down pat. Dontcha know?

If you have a blog, where did the name come from? 

Join up and tell us about it!


Monday, March 9, 2015

Brace Face

Do you remember a few months ago when I wrote about having braces put on? Do you remember how it was just the tops at that point?

Well, today was the day. I am now the proud (not so much) owner of a complete set of braces. Except I either forgot or was never informed that the bottom braces have to be metal. They can't put the pretty, white, ceramic brackets on the bottom.

*Sad Face Here*

Let me tell you what - these suckers are ugly. It's a good thing that you mostly can't see them when I smile or talk. Mostly.

But you can still see them a little. Just a little bit.



I asked for this, right? I am willingly handing over thousands of dollars for these ugly suckers to fix and straighten my teeth. I had to get them on at some point. Might as well get this over with, right?

The best part? I get special little rubber bands with "bumpers" on them because I currently bite down on the brackets. Like my teeth are poor bowlers and need the bumper lane at the bowling alley.

I'm not posting a picture for you, dear reader. So this is all I have for you today.

Pity party for one...

Friday, March 6, 2015

6th Anniversary!

I feel like I was just writing this post. Literally like it was yesterday. Yet here we are, a full year later.

We've had a busy year full of trips, home projects, birthdays, and just life in general. But thankfully there were no major crises, and we're all in good health. It's nice when life is just peaceful.

Anniversary time always makes me look back on our wedding day. The crisp details of the day are starting to get a bit fuzzy, so it's nice to have the pictures to look back on.

I loved my bouquet with the calla lilies sticking out of the top, giving it kind of an asymmetrical look. I should have had them saved somehow.

Our decor was so pretty. Those black table cloths really gave the reception some punch. They were my mom's idea. 

I learned calligraphy just so I could hand write all the invitations and the place cards. That was definitely a labor of love. 

Our drive from the church to the reception hall was maybe 10 minutes. The reception hall was right next to the hotel where I got ready, and then we stayed there for the night. So I rode in the limo-SUV from the hotel to the church for 10 minutes, and then we all rode back to the reception hall for 10 minutes. Complete waste of money, but it was fun! I don't think I even had time to finish that glass of champagne. 

Both our best man, my brother-in-law, and one of the groomsmen gave speeches. They were hilarious. HILARIOUS. I have them on video if you ever want to see them. Mostly because of the guys in particular, their stories, and the pre-gaming they had already done. 

Everyone danced. Everyone had a great time. We had the best DJ and an awesome playlist for the evening.

I mean, everyone danced. This is such a great picture of my aunt!

So thanks for coming down memory lane with me. I don't know how many years I have left on this earth, but I told Travis this morning: 6 years down, infinity to go! 

Do you dance at weddings? Did you dance at your own wedding?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Great Olive Oil Debate

Yesterday, while perusing Facebook, I stumbled across this article that several of my friends have shared:

Fake Olive Oil: What You Need to Know

It kind of freaked me out because we use a ton of olive oil in our every day cooking. I mean, not vats of it, but probably a tablespoon a day depending on what we're cooking. Most days, olive oil is involved.

The article basically says that the suppliers of certain brands are putting things in their olive oils other than strictly the oil from local olives. It could be other oils like sunflower or canola, or even chemicals. Say what?? I do not want chemicals in my olive oil. The suppliers basically dupe the distributors into thinking they're getting high grade, real deal olive oil. While I kind of side eye this, because I believe that distributors should be responsible for knowing what they're selling, I can see it happening. The suppliers spend less with sub-par olive oil and increase their profit margin after selling it to the distributor. Money rules the world, ya know.

The article gave a list of the top offenders based on "independent" testing done at UC-Davis. UC-Davis also happens to have a huge Olive Center where they study and make olive oils. Soooo...their testing may have been biased. I say this because of course, the "better" brands are all mostly Californian olive oil makers. But not all of them.

Based on another article I found from Zester, here are some tips in buying legit olive oil:

1. Read the label to see where the olives are from. The less countries involved, the better. If the olives are from several countries, they had to travel to the bottling center (say in Italy), so there was travel time involved. Read: not vine to bottling plant directly. So maybe not the freshest olives involved.

2. Look for a harvest date. The most recent should be the best. Olive oil can turn over time, which is a good reason to store your oil in a room temperature, dark cabinet.

3. Look for seals of approval. If your olive oil passed quality testing of some sort, it's bound to be better than Joe Schmoe's olive oil with a fancy label slapped on it.

4. Smell it and taste it. This is hard to do in the grocery store, obviously, but the Zester article suggests buying smaller bottles to taste at home. It shouldn't have any off smells, and should taste robust. Also, olive oil shops are becoming quite popular. They sell a variety of oils and you can taste them before you buy them. That's pretty cool!

5. Take it back. If you don't like it, take it back to the grocery store. Did you know you can return things to the grocery store? Many people don't. Even produce! Just tell them it tastes off and they should refund your money.

6. Finally, favor domestic oils. This ensures that you have the freshest, farm-to-table oil possible. It didn't have to travel across the Atlantic, sit on a dock, make it through customs, be distributed to your grocery store, etc. etc.

Because I had to go to the store for some other things anyway, I decided to take a look at our olive oil selection. My options are pretty limited here in small town America, but I did compare our olive oil at home with the new bottle I bought at the store yesterday.

The brand we had at home is Bertolli, one of the top offenders on the "fake" list.

It seems legit with the fancy label. Bertolli is also a pretty trusted name, right? The back of the label clearly shows a harvest date (sorry, hard to read here), and also notes that the olives came from Spain. There is no seal of approval noted though. I guess that's one strike against them.

The other brand I bought was Pompeian, which is on the "good" list in one article. Although I found it on a "fake" list in another article. But it seemed the least offensive out of my other five options. 

Again, the bottle looks fancy with some pretty Italian scenery, and states that it's "Imported". Which to Americans means "ooo la la, this must be so much better!", but we are learning that that is not the case with olive oil. 

The Pompeian label also has a harvest date, but says the olives are from Italy and Spain. However, there is a seal of approval from the North American Olive Oil Association and the USDA. 

Travis and I did a little taste test last night. We both preferred the Pompeian oil over the Bertolli, agreeing that the Bertolli left an aftertaste that wasn't exactly unpleasant, but not exactly pleasant either.

So, how much of this can we really believe? How in depth are we willing to research our olive oil? I guess that depends on the individual. For my family, I'm willing to look locally for more brands, possibly Californian brands, but I think Pompeian will be fine for now. We will probably not use the rest of the Bertolli based on taste alone. 

Sorry Bertolli. 

Are you an olive oil connoisseur? Do you read labels on the food you buy? 

Monday, March 2, 2015

North Shore Weekend!

I mentioned on Thursday that we were off to Lutsen this weekend for a little R&R with the family. We had a great time!

We arrived around 5 on Friday after leaving work early, packing the car up, and driving up to the North Shore. Our villa was right on the lake, and we had great views:

Taken from inside our living room.

It's amazing to think of how big Lake Superior really is. Although there was a lot of ice built up on the coast line, most of the lake is still open water.

Our villa had 2 bedrooms, one of which was more like a "bunk room" with a loft. That's where we slept, along with both sister-in-law's, a boyfriend, and the kiddo.

It was definitely cozy. But thankfully there were two full bathrooms, so we all didn't have to share one. This only child did not grow up sharing a bathroom. Call me spoiled, but it is what it is. 

After going out to dinner on Friday night at the main lodge and staying up way too late, Emily decided that 7 am was an acceptable time to wake up Saturday morning. I mean, who wants to miss a minute of vacation!? But who can complain when you get this kind of view?

Sunrise over Lake Superior

After breakfast, we left Emily with the grandparents and all the "kids" went cross-country skiing. It was so much fun! It was also a good work out, which I think we all needed. Fresh air, sweat out some toxins, you know.

Before we set off

I wasn't sure how to dress, because I anticipated falling down a lot. Surprisingly I was actually able to keep my balance and only fell to a knee once going up a steep hill. I actually held the lead for awhile and was able to truck along pretty well for my first time. But I was definitely over dressed. At one point I took my jacket off. I would have taken my snow pants off too, except then I would have had to carry them back anyway.

Looking good! That's Stefanie and Travis behind me. 

We did a 5K trail, which was plenty long enough for all of us. Once we got back, we ate a quick lunch, then Emily, Travis, and I went off to the pool. Mom started fading fast, so we ended up going back to the villa for naps. I think Emily and I slept for nearly 2 hours. Vacation is hard work!

For dinner, we drove up to Grand Marais to visit My Sister's Place for dinner. Apparently it's been on Andrew Zimmern's Weird Food TV show for their "Goober Burger", which has peanut butter and mayo. I opted for the Granny Burger: bacon, BBQ sauce, cheddar cheese, and Granny Smith apple slices. Oh boy was it good!

We headed home Sunday morning, but not without making a stop at the infamous Betty's Pies. Because who can pass up world famous pie? Who cares that it's 10am? 

This little restaurant is a North Shore legend. Besides their pie, they have pretty darn good food too. So we had a late breakfast before our pie. 

I had the Great Lakes pie, which has apple, blueberry, rhubarb, strawberry, and raspberry along with a crumble topping. Trav and Emily split a slice of Banana Cream. Not my thing, but they sure enjoyed it! After pie, we rolled ourselves out to the car for the 2 hour drive home. 

It really was a great weekend with great company, good weather, and lots of good food. I think I could probably skip eating for a week. Yea right, but it feels that way! 

Did you have a good weekend? What's your favorite kind of pie?