Pumpkin: It’s Not Just For Yogurt Anymore

I mean, it never really was. But if you read the Pumpkin Yogurt Wars post a couple weeks back, you might have thought so.

Seriously though, pumpkin is kind of everywhere this year. Like, way more than I can remember in past years. Trader Joe’s new Fearless Flyer has somewhere around 50 Pumpkin Items. I should know, I bought most of them. So, remember when I said I needed someone to stage a ‘pumpkintervention’? I purchased almost every pumpkin spice flavored item I could get my hands on, and my cabinets and counter tops we’re a bevy of orange boxes. I’m a marketing director’s dream, guys. Then, guess what happened?

I got really sick of all of it. It’s terribly sad, I know. But, most of the items were too pumpkin-y, or too spicy, or too sweet, or just plain not good. I hit total pumpkin overload and just didn’t want any of it anymore. Except for one thing.

Actual pumpkin.

See, somewhere buried at the heart of this pumpkin spice lunacy, is a beautiful squash, a superfood that is low in calories (15 per 1/2 cup raw, fresh) and high in fiber, vitamin C and beta carotene. And? It’s freaking delicious!

Now, let’s talk about what to do with pumpkin!

Pumpkin can typically be found in your regular grocery store in three forms; halloween/jack o’ lantern pumpkins (don’t eat those, I don’t think they’ll kill you, but I think they would be pretty woody), whole sugar pumpkins and canned mashed pumpkin. If you shop at Trader Joe’s, one of their 50 pumpkin items is actual pumpkin, peeled, cut, cubed, raw. Unless you don’t have a local Trader Joe’s (I’m so sorry, Mer), you might want to get some of this. I’m about to explain why.

New fun fact I learned this year: Working with whole, raw pumpkin is a major pain in the ass.

My nemesis

You guys know, I spend a lot of time in my kitchen. I don’t shy away from food prep. I have a knife callus the size of a small country on my hand. I do NOT mind getting in there and getting my hands dirty.

All that said, if you plan to venture into the world, of cooking with raw pumpkin, get ready for a workout. The skin is tough, there is an incredible amount of slimy goop and seeds inside, and just cutting the pumpkin into chunks is hard work. And you know that smell when you carve jack o’ lanterns with the kids? Same. So, recap: lots of work, lots of smell, lots of slime.

So, why bother? Because it tastes ahhhhh-ma-zing.

Like almost any squash, pumpkin roasted in the oven with a little oil, salt and pepper is phenomenal. I can, and did, eat it straight out of the pan. But, in case you are looking for some ways to serve pumpkin that don’t involve burning your fingers and tongue, I pulled together a few of my favorites for you.

Pumpkin Zucchini Chocolate Chip Muffins from Ambitious Kitchen. This recipe called for pumpkin puree, so you could make your own, or go with canned. I used canned.

My word, these were delicious. Dense, incredibly moist, spicy but not too spicy. I could have eaten the entire batch.

Pumpkin and White Bean Soup from the New England Soup Factory Cookbook. This recipe called for cut, raw pumpkin. I picked up a bag of the pre-prepped TJ’s pumpkin for this.

This was unexpectedly good. Meaning, when I heard pumpkin and white bean, I was wondering how those were going to fit together. But, in this soup, the beans aren’t pureed, and half the pumpkin is roasted chunks that go in after the puree. The result is a lovely, smooth soup with cubes of roasted pumpkin and white beans in every bite. It was awesome.

Autumn Pumpkin Mix from Women’s Health Magazine. This is another recipe that calls for cut, raw pumpkin. For this one, I cut and prepped my own.

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Oh. My. Goodness. I don’t even know what to say about this. Just, if you like delicious food, make this. The flavor combination just WORKS. Brussel sprouts, pumpkin, pistachios and goat cheese. This came from a list of lunch recipes, but would make an excellent dinner side as well.

There are a million pumpkin recipes in the world. If you know some excellent ones, please share them with me in the comments below. Pretty please. With pumpkin on top.

What do you think of this year’s pumpkin craze? What’s your favorite pumpkin recipe? Do you want recipes for other types of squash? Let’s chat! 

2014 AC Marathon Race Series 10k Recap

One of my tried and true, go-to race series that I return to repeatedly is the Atlantic City Marathon Series. Why? Well, it really boils down to these key points:

1. It’s in my state! New Jersey races for the win!

2. The value is phenomenal. If you sign up early with a finisher’s code, a 10k or half marathon can cost less than other single pricey 5k events.

3. Overall, it’s a really great smaller race series and I love supporting it.

Last year’s 10k was a bit on the soggy side, so I was very happy to see the weather forecast for this year’s race was sunny and clear skies. Especially considering that I’d been sick with a pretty horrible cold throughout the week.

Since I was still recovering, I decided that rather than doing Neptune’s Challenge (which was the 10k and half that I originally signed up for) I was only going to do the 10k. Spoiler alert: I made the right call!

Yes, please!

Yes, please!

In October, you never know what you’re going to get in terms of the weather, but we lucked out! And it’s a good thing because I had my cheer crew with me.

Little and Mom are in the house!

Little and Mom!

Usually I’m flying solo or with friends for races, but this time there was the added bonus of my mom and my youngest son who not only joined me for the expo but also the morning of the race.

Since I live within driving distance, we drove the hour back and forth on both Friday night (for the expo) and Saturday morning. Sadly, there was no day of race pick up – that would have shaved some travel time for us, as well as parking costs (although we got $5 vouchers at the expo). We made the best of our visits by getting treats at the candy shop on the boardwalk and wandering around.

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Little was very excited that he was somewhere that his big brother had never been before. TWICE. It’s all about the competition when you’re five.

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Really excited about this sign. The other side said, “I love you mom, because I love you.”

However, when you’re 37, it’s all about finishing the race and not hacking your lungs out on the boardwalk. Or, well, at least it was for me during this race. Because, let me tell you, this was not a fun race for me.

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The race environment was awesome, as always. Running the boards always feels good because it has that extra give; I enjoyed the running aspect.

This particular race is an out and back – the first mile is on the populated “store area” of the boardwalk, then you run along a residential area. There is a 5k turn around and further down the 10k turn around.

The problem was that my lungs felt like they could never get quite enough air and when they finally did, I was coughing. I ran 2:1 intervals throughout and while I wasn’t feeling wonderful, I did appreciate the view.

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I mean, how can you not?

By the last mile I was so ready to be done, which is a shame, because that’s usually my favorite part of this race. This time? Not so much. The last mile definitely felt like it had doubled in length but finally, I saw the finish line!

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My mom snapped this.

I crossed the finish with a smile on my face, because, YAY! I WAS DONE! They said everyone’s name as we crossed the line, which I thought was a really nice touch and with a field of 950 participants, very doable.

I was immediately handed a medal and a bottle of water. I made my way over to the barrier where my mom and Little were cheering and Little immediately homed in on the water. “Oh, Momma, I’m SO thirsty.” Yes, he took my bottle of water.

Thankfully, in the finisher’s village I was able to snag a plethora of treats including Gatorade, Rita’s Water Ice, a banana, pretzels, bagel, and PowerBar. This was a welcome change from the end of the April Fool’s Half where the back of the pack missed out on most of the snacks. It’s always great when you know that race directors hear you!

After handing off my beer ticket, I met up with my family once more.

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Little promptly took my bagel.

Was it my best race ever? No, it was not. But not for lack of effort on the AC Marathon Series’ part. Some races will just be better than others, due to circumstances beyond control. And hey, that’s okay. My greatest takeaway from this one is that I have the best cheering squad ever! Even if one of them takes all of my things. At least he let me wear the medal.

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What fall race do you have coming up next? I’ll be at the Biggest Loser Run Walk at Six Flags Great Adventure for their 10k and kids race. Ever run a race while under the weather?

All I do is WIN – WIN Detergent review and giveaway

Dear Workout Clothes,

No offense but you stink.

No Love,

Meridith

laundrywin

If you ask me what I’m doing, chances are that about 85% of the time, I’ll give you the same answer: LAUNDRY.

Friends, I do laundry more than I do basically anything else. If I’m not doing laundry, then I’m probably not at home. I wish I were kidding. But I’m not. The other Chicks can back me up on this (you know, if you need verification) because every single email that we exchange includes my laundry woes.

Lately, I’ve been pretty frustrated because while I’m constantly doing laundry, I haven’t felt like my workout clothes have been getting particularly clean. They seem to hold on to the stench of sweat, no matter what. Lovely, it is not. So when Fit Approach gave ambassadors a chance to check out WIN detergent, I was stoked!

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Welcome to my lair, WIN.

So what’s the difference between the regular (blue) bottle and WIN GREEN? Both are good to use on technical apparel and are geared toward sports/workout clothes. The GREEN is hypoallergenic and dye-free, as well as fragrance free. That means that all of my husband’s and my workout clothes as well as my (sensitive skin) kiddo’s soccer uniform were thrown in there together. Additionally, I had some towels in there because, well, we were running low!

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I’ve been using WIN detergent since the start of October. The verdict? I’ve been really pleased! The funk of my workout clothes has dissipated and I no longer feel like I smell bad BEFORE I start working out, which is always a positive.

The regular detergent gives the clothes a nice scent and while the GREEN doesn’t have a scent, I think that it’s cleaning my clothes and not masking odors.

I’ll continue using WIN and since it’s available through Amazon I don’t even need to leave my house to get it. Which is great, considering I always have laundry to do.

Want a chance to try WIN detergent? Well, I’m so glad to hear you do! We’ve got a bottle of the regular detergent and the GREEN up for grabs for one lucky reader. Don’t wait to wait to try WIN? Use the discount code WINGIVE1 for $1 off your purchase on Amazon. Cool? Cool!

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Click the pic to enter!

 Thank you Fit Approach for the hook up! Other than the two bottles of detergent and the prize, no other compensation was given. All opinions (and laundry) are completely my own.

Putting Up a Fight…And Winning!

Well, so far.

A few weeks ago I blogged about how I was going on a diet. And the next day I went on said diet. And that same day I asked myself, “Self? Why did you go on this diet?” The day after that I seriously pondered the link between lack of carbs and homicide. But I kept going. And going. And going on phase 1 of the South Beach diet, which lets you have yummy things like lean protein and veggies and dairy (THANK GOD) and nuts and beans and blah blah blah no carbs blah no sugar blah blah what the hell am I going to eat blah blah etcetera.

At any rate, I kept chugging along. And what do you know?

It’s working! I’m down 6 pounds. I’ve actually been down 6 pounds for a couple weeks and have basically plateaued, but you know what? That’s okay, because I’ve lost 6 POUNDS!

Other interesting things to note: when I sneak a bite of something that’s not-so-healthy, I immediately feel it. As in, “wow that was good in my mouth but no me gusta in my stomach.” It seems that my body likes the good stuff I’m feeding it, and now that I’m feeding it 90% good stuff, the bad stuff sticks out even more. I’m surprised by this revelation because I felt like I was always going to have to battle against wanting to eat the crapola foods.

Of course, I say this having just snuck a piece of brownie. But I snuck JUST a piece. That was enough, and yeah, my body’s kind of eh about it. But my mouth? Looooved it.

The best part of all of this is that I’m starting to feel good about my body again. The second best part of all of this is that my co-workers are telling me how great I look. I’m still the same size I was before. I don’t think my body looks insanely different. But my clothes fit better and I’m definitely slimmer and the scale and I are really starting to mend our relationship.

So there it is, people. I’m winning the fight so far. You were all so lovely with your words of commiseration and encouragement that I had to update you.

And, may I submit into evidence this before (left) and after (right)? Both taken in work restrooms, I’m sorry to say. I wish I had a more beautiful backdrop but alas.

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I’m going to keep at it and fight the good fight. If any of you out there are dealing with the same thing (and I know you are!) I hope this encourages YOU, since you were all so wonderful about encouraging me.

Throwaways: the good, the bad and the really ugly

I have a stash of old sweatshirts and hats in the corner of our guest room.

Of course, they’ll go to charity. But first, they get one last use – as early morning road race throwaways!

IMG_1497It’s overflowing

Since the days are growing colder, and I’ve started to actually wear long sleeves while running on crisp mornings (gasp!) so I thought I’d share some tips on throwaways – including a how-to manual to create my infamous tube sock mittens!

Throwaways:

Most race organizers have volunteers collect discarded clothing at the starting line and along the course. Those items are then donated to charity. I love this. It’s such a smart form of recycling and giving an item a second – and third – life.

Typically, I scavenge my house looking for clothing (read: warm outerwear) I don’t mind parting with. I typically don old sweatshirts, long-sleeved shirts and knit caps.

If I forget or can’t find what I am looking for, I head to the Dollar Store or a second-hand store to find what I need. I even found a $5 fleece at Target in a pinch.

A Mylar blanket – the kind you receive at the finish of most large races – or a garbage bag – with a hole for your head – will also do the trick.

vic throwawayMe and my many layers before the Philadelphia Marathon in 2010.

 For my first marathon, I was overdressed with throwaways.  Sweatshirt, sweatpants, mittens and knit cap. I had it all. I also tossed it all before I started running. That taught me that its sometimes smart to hold onto mittens and hats until I warm up, typically a mile or two into my race.

nwh5The chicks and friends in a few throwaway tops before a 2014 race in D.C. Note how Meri dons a fancy shrug. (yeah, its really a ripped Lululemon shirt)

The key is to wear something that will A.) keep you warm and B.) you don’t mind discarding.

I struggle with this. I want everything to have a second life. And I hold onto some clothing for far too long. What’s that? You want an example? Well, ok.

Nov13 to May14 079See these duds? They are hideous and I couldn’t part with the 17-year-old fleece for about 15 years too many. That and my hubby’s torn-on-the-behind sweatpants have me looking voluminous pre-NYC Marathon in 2013. But hey, Christy Turlington Burns complimented them as we waited to start the race.

Brooke is fantastic about tossing unwanted or damaged clothes. We’ve traded throwaway layers at more than one race.

bthrowawyBefore the 2012 Princess Half Marathon, Brooke tossed these layers.

Sometimes, I really don’t want to part with an item.

In March, I passed on a favorite pair of warm up pants I’d had for years. They were ratty, but fit over my sneakers so became my go-to pants for regattas and road races.

Nov13 to May14 1601I memorialized these pants before I discarded them before a race in March.

Good bye, old friend.

The key with throwaway pants is the ability to take them off in a rush – without having to untie your shoes.

Most warmup pants don’t fit over my sneakers, so I make them fit. I take a pair of scissors and cut up the seam of the pants, starting at the ankle. I make the opening large enough for my show to fit through. (If you look closely at the first pic in this post, you can see my handiwork)

And yes, this is why a supermodel/runner told me I was brilliant before we both ran NYC last fall.

How to make your own tube sock mittens:

It’s easy. Place tube socks over your hands and push your thumb through the heel area of the sock.

IMG_1499So simple, so stylish

If you’re like me, your socks are well worn and might even already have a hole in your heel.

If you don’t wear your socks to threads, you can opt to use scissors.

Presto change-o! Done! Tube sock mittens.

wineglassmittensTube sock mittens paired with an old sweatshirt. These mittens lived to see another race day.

Now that you’ve seen my hideous throwaways, I want to hear what YOU do! Share pics of you in your discard layers with us on social media! – We’re ScootaDoot on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook!

Product Review: MyOatmeal.com

Every once in a while, we talk about our enjoyment of oatmeal. There may have been posts dedicated to oatmeal before.

Fine, we’re obsessed. You caught us. If you think we talk about oatmeal a lot on here, you should see the number of times oatmeal comes up in email between Mer and I.

But, when I first happened upon myoatmeal.com, I skipped email and went straight to text! And there was some back and forth flailing.

Because custom oatmeal? Where do I sign up for that??? On the My Oatmeal website, of course! (I’m not even kidding. You can literally sign up for the Oatmeal of the Month Club, and along with sending you a bag of handmade oatmeal each month, they will donate a bag of oatmeal to a hungry child in the US for each subscription purchased).

So, when I got the chance to do a review for myoatmeal.com, I was beyond excited. To say it took me a while to decide is a vast understatement. I just wanted to make sure it was the PERFECT blend. And there is a lot to choose from! Thankfully, the website is super easy and has lots of information on the ingredients.

Custom Built Oatmeal? Best ever.

Custom Built Oatmeal? Best ever.

First, you decide on your size (1, 2.5 or 4 pounds) and pick your oats. Rolled oats, Steel Cut, Instant… they’re all there, just pick your favorite. Then you add your flavors, which are 100% Natural, Vegan, Gluten-Free and Non GMO. Also, they’re FUN! And then, you’ve get to decide if you want to do add-ins (you really do, I swear). Fruits, nuts, protein, sweetener. There are practically limitless options to make your custom oatmeal exactly what you want it to be.

And then? The most fun part of all? You get to name your oatmeal! (I accept that this might not be the most fun part for everyone, but I got totally dorky with this part. You’ll see below.) I’ve seen some pretty cute things people have done here, including on person who named theirs ‘Don’t Touch This Bag’. I feel you, friend.

If you can’t figure out what you would want in your oatmeal (hardest choice ever), they also have some Seasonal and Popular blends already picked out for you. And, they have a Mystery Blend option if you think “I don’t care what’s in it, just send me some oats!”

Myoatmeal.com also sells PBLean, which is dehydrated Peanut Butter powder. You can reconstitute it with water for a Peanut Butter with 85% less fat, mix it with any liquid, throw it in smoothies, use it in baking, etc. And it’s just as customizable as the oatmeal!

But if you’re watching what you eat, which I always am, one of the coolest parts was the nutrition calculator. It sits on the side of the screen and updates as you add customization. So the whole time you’re making your oatmeal, you can keep an eye on the nutritional impact and make sure it fits your points/calories/carbs/macros/whatever.

All in all, it’s a pretty rocking process. But let’s get down to brass tacks. How does it taste??? I’ll break down each of the products I tried for you.

Mystery Blend Oatmeal

I decided to try out a bag of the Mystery Blend. Sometimes, I don’t have to have complete control! This was one fine bowl of oats, I tell you. It had fruits and nuts and spice. YUM. That said, this is not what I was expecting. When it said Mystery Blend, I thought that the mystery would be solved upon arrival. Essentially, I thought that when I got the bag, it would tell me what was in it, so that if I wanted to, I could order again. No such luck. I’m not sure if Mystery Blend is always the same, or if it changes every time you order. Either way, it was delicious and at only 6.99 for a 1 pound bag, it was a very cost-effective option.

Bananas Foster the People

See? I told you I was a dork. But, once I went with banana bread and dark caramel flavor, the name just hit me! For my custom blend, I added the following: Smash Blend Oats, Banana Bread and Dark Caramel Flavor, Banana Chips, Ground Flax Seed, Quinoa Flakes and Brown Cane Sugar Granules. This was SO good. On the sweet side, which I like. The smash blend oats, which have some added barley, rye and red wheat, were nice and chewy. I hate mushy oats, so this was good. I could definitely taste the banana and caramel flavors. The only thing I would change would be the banana chips. They stayed a little too hard, and didn’t add much in the way of flavor. Next time, I think I’d throw in some pecans instead.

Bananas Foster the People Oatmeal with Fresh Bananas and Caramel Bits

Bananas Foster the People Oatmeal with Fresh Bananas and Caramel Bits

 

Sticky Toffee Pudding Butter

PBLean is not my first rodeo with powdered peanut butter. I’ve had products like this before, and I’ve always enjoyed them. But this was the first time I could customize it! I went with Light Roasted Peanuts, Dark Caramel and English Toffee flavors, and Brown Cane Sugar Granules. This was complete and told win. I made a smoothie with vanilla protein powder, milk, ice and PBLean. Dude. So good. And below, I reconstituted it with water and thinned it more than I normally would to make Caramel Toffee Peanut Butter syrup to go with Double Chocolate Waffle Sticks. Insanely good.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Butter 'syrup' with Double Chocolate Waffle Sticks

Sticky Toffee Pudding Butter ‘syrup’ with Double Chocolate Waffle Sticks

All in all, I’m a huge fan of this company and their products. They were incredibly nice to deal with, and they’re selling an awesome, healthy product line. I will totally be making myself some more. If you think this all sounds like the most fun ever, or even if you just want some PDT (Pretty Darn Tasty) oatmeal, you can use coupon code Scoot15 to get 15% off of your order. Do it! No pressure. Seriously, though. You won’t be sorry. And then you should come tell me what you picked and we can talk even more endlessly about oatmeal!

Win/win.

*The products I tried were provided by myoatmeal.com in exchange for an honest review. 

Tales of the Wild Sisterhood

I’ve always considered myself a natural kind of girl.  So when one of my bestest friends, Kinsie, mentioned she was going to be barefoot dancing in the mountains of North Carolina, I jumped on the bandwagon.  We participated in the Wild Woman Sisterhood’s Wild Feminine retreat.  The Wild Woman Sisterhood focuses on reconnecting with Mother Earth and getting in touch with the inner wild feminine inside.  They began in the Netherlands as a response to the conflict so many females find with other females.  I’ll admit it.  I’ve said it before: “Oh, I just don’t connect with other girls.”  But after high school, I had the opportunity to travel the state of California for a girl’s service organization with a group of amazing young women. And I connected with them. For the last 15 years, I’ve shared many unforgettable experiences with these three ladies.

We recently celebrated 15 years of friendship with matching tattoos.

We recently celebrated 15 years of friendship with matching tattoos.

The Wild Feminine retreat wasn’t what I expected.  It was so much more.  Three whole days of self-introspection.  Three days of group therapy.  Three days of getting in touch with emotions I stifle and brush aside in order to get through my daily routines. Three days of dancing and meditating and singing.  It was exhausting.  And like any detox, the hardest part is entering back into the real world.

wild sisterhood collage The whole time I was there, I felt light, that weightlessness that comes with emotional release.  It rained the first night we were there and living in California, this was glorious.  I felt connected with nature.  I felt strong and powerful in my femininity, dancing in flowy skirts with scarves and anklets made of bells will do that to you.  I felt quiet and still.  Reality is a culture shock.  And I’m still adjusting, slowly incorporating all the things I learned into the chaos so that there’s balance.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the chaos.  But the quiet is nice too.