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Chocolates + Almonds

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So as some of you may know, and may care, I am training for the Wrightsville Beach marathon this March. Since I’m basically just extending my training from the 21 mile trail race I did in January, I’m trying to spend this time fine tuning my method and packing in a lot of cross training like yoga and biking to make sure that I’m as strong as possible when I cross the starting line St. Patrick’s Day. Part of the fine tuning has been finding the right foods to fuel my runs. Over the summer my body had a terrible time adjusting to running in the heat and I fought a lot of nausea, which lead me to energy chews and sodium tablets for my hydration pack. I also incorporated a lot of granola bars, nuts, and pretzels into my long runs.

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Recently I started bringing dark chocolate covered almonds with me on runs to great success. They serve the same purpose as gus or energy chews and they’re a lot more delicious. Not to mention better for me. Instead of a medley of chemicals, salt, flavoring, and gelatin I know what I’m munching on is a whole food with a good balance of fats, calories, and sugar to give me a boost of energy in the short term and fuel for the long haul.

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Wanting to ever simplify (and being frugal) I made a batch this week. And when I got lazy and tired of picking the almonds out of the melted chocolate I scooped the rest of the mix into a lined baking pan and made almond bark. Perfect for runs, for afternoon snacks, or as a night time treat.

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Chocolate + Almonds

4 cups dark chocolate

2 cups raw almonds (unroasted, unsalted)

Optional: sea salt

In a double boiler melt chocolate, stirring occasionally until smooth. Pour almonds in and stir to cover. Line a rack with wax paper and place almonds, separated by a 1/4″ or so, there for a few hours or overnight to dry. To make almond park line a baking sheet with wax paper and pour in, 1/2″ thick. Cover with a handful of raw almonds and let sit to harden.

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Almond Grit Cakes with Clementines & Honey

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One of the very best things about the internet is the community. It has it’s ups and downs, definitely, and sometimes having a public blog that is open to criticism leads to reading, well, criticism of my person and my recipes and my life which sucks but the trade off for the positive is huge. I’ve met people and made connections and friendships that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Not to mention of course that this blog and everything that it is and has become wouldn’t be possible without a supportive community. The readers, the commenters, the people who email to tell me that the like/love/adore the blog make it all worth it. So, thanks friends.

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Through some chain of mutual friends (real and internet) I met the lovely Carrie from Plums in the Icebox on twitter. She’s a Baltimore native and we became friends on the internet and in real life.  She’s great- sweet, intelligent, witty, talented, and a Jill of all trades. Professionally she writes for Bliss Tree and recently she reached out to me about contributing to a “Brunch Off” series she has in the works. The concept is simple- two food bloggers create a brunch menu using the same seasonal ingredient and readers vote on which one they prefer. The ingredient was clementines (something I’ve been buying in bulk for a few months) and I love a good challenge, so count me in!

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My goals with this challenge were to create something fun, tasty, and unique to my niche, Southern food. Surprise to no one I chose grits as a foundation ingredients (are you getting sick of grits?). Sweet grits made with cinnamon, ginger, and almond milk formed into cakes and lightly fried. Topped with fresh clementines that had been tossed in local raw honey. Something light, full of flavor, and designed for brunch. That is to say, complimentary to mimosas and bacon.

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Dan and I tried some this morning and I’m happy with how they turned out. The grits were the perfect base- not overwhelmingly sweet with a good crunch thanks to the slivered almonds and a richness thanks to the almond milk. The clementines in honey were so simple and amazingly delicious, the perfect tribute to two of nature’s most wonderful ingredients. I like that it isn’t anything audacious (like fried chicken eggs benedict) or overdone (like french toast), just an unassuming combination of complimentary flavors and textures. Head over to Bliss Tree to see the Brunch Off, make both recipes, and tell me what you think!

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Almond Grits Cakes with Clementines & Honey

Serves 4-6

grits:

2 cups almond milk

1/2 cup stone ground grits

1 tbsp honey

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp powdered ginger

1/2 cup corn flour

1/4 cup slivered almonds

Dash of cinnamon/ginger

topping:

3-4 clementines

2 tbsp honey

Pinch of salt (optional)

The grits cakes need to be formed at least an hour before being fried, though the night before is ideal.

In a medium saucepan combine grits, almond milk, honey, and spices. Cook over medium heat unti the grits are thick but still creamy. Pour into cupcake pans and chill for 1 hour or overnight.

Chop clementines in half or thirds and toss in honey. Let sit.

Combine corn flour, almonds, and spices and heat 1/4″ of oil in a heavy pan. Carefully (I used a fork so my hands didn’t warm the grits) coat the grits cakes in the flour mixture and fry for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until crispy. Top with clementine mixture and a sprinkle of salt.

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Winter Chili

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I’m the first one to admit that over the course of the past year or so I’ve gotten obsessed with running. I really love the act of running (most of the time) but I also have found myself voraciously hungry for running related reading. I’ve subscribed to Runner’s World and Running Times, I’ve read Born to Run twice in recent memory, along with Running on Empty and most recently Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run. This morning I downloaded Ultramarathon Man, which I’m excited to jump into. Something about these books and magazines motivate me and make me more interested in the sport. Which is helpful when it’s freezing and you’ve got a cold (that you’ve had for a month) but you have to run because you’re training for a marathon and you think you might be crazy because 26.2 is a lot of miles but also you’re considering your next step which could be 30, 40, or 50 miles. Or more! The world is you oyster as long as you religiously stretch your IT band and stop falling all the damn time!

IMG_6205 me finishing the neusiok trail race. my sister gen ran the last 1/4 mile with me.

Despite all my enthusiasm for running-related reads and how intrigued I was by his role in Born to Run, I was hesitant to read Eat and Run. The book chronicles Jurek’s career and trajectory from rural Minnesotan to world famous ultramarathoner and vegan. I think it’s great and as a former vegetarian of many years and an advocate of eating whole, complex foods, I understand. What put me off was the tone of the snippet I read in Runner’s World. And that tone was “eat clean or you’re doing it wrong.” Now, I have a MAJOR problem with the phrase “clean eating” in reference to plant-based diets. Bully for you that you don’t eat animal products but the implication that those of us who do are eating DIRTY is incredibly condescending. So anytime someone calls it clean eating I immediately want to walk away. And I’ve considered veganism (a lot, especially lately) so it’s not as though I’m all don’t-understand-damned-sissy-vegans-in-‘Merica-we-eat-fried-chicken. Because of this I was not interested in the book, assuming it would just rile me up. Then my sister in law Megan, someone whose opinion I value highly, recommended it and I thought well hell, I have a plane ride to kill let’s read a book.

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I really enjoyed a lot of the book. The story of his running career and putting himself and everything he had into a passion for pushing himself was amazing and inspiring. Nobody can argue that he’s had an astonishing career. And I found the story of how he became vegan, how he evolved from a four-times-a-week McDonalds eater to someone who makes his own rice milk to be very interesting. I also empathized with his desire to run to find clarity, to push your body beyond what you think your body can do, and to see what is on the other side. I’m not a very fast runner so what intrigues me about the sport is the idea of finding my limits, physical and mental, and pushing them. What I did not like about the book was that he paints a very black and white picture. In his eyes (or at least in the way it is portrayed in the book) it’s either “clean” eating or “dirty eating”- 100% vegan or fast food junkie. I take major issue with that. Dan and I eat very well. We make as much as possible from scratch, we don’t buy much processed food, we aim to eat locally and organically with a focus on whole foods. But we also eat meat. Only a few times a week but we eat it. And dairy. Not much milk but plenty of cheese and yogurt. And whipped cream. I love me some whipped cream. And butter. And cheese, can we talk about how delicious CHEESE is? We focus on eating responsibly- both for our health and for the environment. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. But Scott Jurek does. Maybe he would say that he doesn’t, but the impression that I got from Eat and Run is that he would have contempt for the way that we eat. Which frustrated me and made the book inaccessible.

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On a more book-club side of things I thought the writing was at times difficult to read, too casual, a little forced. And there were moments when he included offensive or off-putting stories that weren’t essential to the plot line, like his friend Dusty (to whom this book is an homage) coining the phrase “getting chicked” (getting passed by a girl. The fear of getting “chicked” was apparently a great motivator for Jurek to run faster) at one of his races. That line alone almost ruined the whole book for me. But the overall message was interesting and some of the recipes look great. I’m excited to try his chocolate and bean brownies and I love the idea of taking simple refried bean burritos on long runs. I also really enjoyed this recipe, his Minnesota Winter Chili. Since I’m not a big fan of meaty chilis the omission of meat was fine with me, but Dan loves traditional chili and still enjoyed this. I made a few adaptations but the core recipe is a strong one, something I’ll definitely repeat in winter months. In summary (tl;dr), I had a lot of issues with Eat and Run, both as a book and Jurek’s point of view and opinion on plant-based eating. But it was a compelling story and a lot of the recipes have value, so came out pretty even. Can’t say I’d recommend it, but I wouldn’t slap it out of your hand if you were interested.

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Scott Jurek’s Winter Chili
Adapted from Eat and Run

2 tbsp olive oil

4 garlic cloves

1 yellow onion

15-20 cremini mushrooms

1 green bell pepper

1 red bell pepper

4 carrots

1 jalapeno

1 cup frozen corn kernels

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp chipotle

1 tsp red pepper flakes

2 tbsp chili powder

2 tsp sea salt

1 28 oz can diced tomatoes

1 can adzuki beans

1 can black eyed peas

1 can red beans

1/2 cup dry bulgar wheat

1 cup water

Roughly chop onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, and carrots. Mince garlic and jalapenos. Heat oil in a large pot. Add garlic first, followed by onions. Once the onions have softened add remaining vegetables and spices. Simmer 20 minutes. Stir in bulgar wheat and water and simmer and additional 30-45 minutes.

Serve topped with cilantro and Greek yogurt or sour cream.

 

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