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beets

While I was reading an article about nutrition and running and beets, the article mentioned a beet smoothie that was included in Shalane Flanagan’s cookbook Run Fast. East Slow. “Hmm… I have that cookbook!”, I said to myself. Joel’s mom gave it to us a while ago and I kind of forgot about it. I am not sure why that was. As I was browsing through it, I could not believe how many delicious recipes it included. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by a new cookbook even though I really wanted to have it… I feel like I have to leave it and come back to re-appreciate everything that is included.

I love beets. We ate a lot of them growing up, as any other Eastern European has. One of my favorites is borscht, of course. My mom makes a superb borscht.

I also love them roasted… especially mingled between sweet potatoes and carrots. I have roasted pans and pans of the combination over the years, especially since having Julia. She loves the combination too. I am always excited when I find different beet varieties… yellow, candy striped, white. They are so pretty… they look like candy!

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Roasting whole beets is also super easy! You simply chop each end to create a flat surface and then place them on a sheet of foil, drizzle them with a bit of oil (I have used both olive oil and sunflower oil), and then close the foil to form a pocket. You can roast them in a 400 degree oven for anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the beets. Once the beets are roasted and cooled, you can peel them using your hand… the skin comes off super easily.

Beets are also great raw. You simply slice them super thin (using a mandolin) and then drizzle them with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle them with some salt and pepper.

Another way to use beets is to include them in a cake along with some cacao… that’s right… beet chocolate cake. It is super delicious! Every time I make it, it gets eaten up. I even made it for Julia’s birthday two years ago and everyone loved it… even all the 4 year-olds!

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Including beets in a smoothie is such a great idea too! Shalane Flanagan’s smoothie includes roasted beets, blueberries, banana, almond butter, coconut water, and almond milk. Yum!!

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Lastly, I discovered these amazing crackers at Trader Joe’s. They also have a sweet potato version that is equally as good.

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Beets are super good for you! They are rich in folate, manganese, and other nutrients. They also seem to help improve sport performance, per the article that I mentioned earlier. What’s not to love! If you are not a big fan, try roasting them… it will definitely change your mind!

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On Sunday, all three of us ran in the Medved Madness Trail Race… Joel and I, along with our friend Marc, ran it as a relay team (My So Called Legs… of course!) and Julia ran the kid race.

As the race was nearing, I kept watching the forecast. The weather for this race has not been that good to us over the past two years, especially last year. Rain and snow greeted me during my leg. I was also training for a half marathon, so I ended up running a little over 9 miles in that miserable weather (read all about it). I was really hoping for something nicer this year. The weather Gods finally took some pity on us and the weather was fantastic!!

Marc started the race for us. He really wanted to run the first leg, since he has not done that leg before and he also wanted to experience a mass start. He liked the rush of being in the pack.

I ran next. I could not remember the exact route for this leg, but I really enjoyed it. I love running in pine forests and I ended up spending a bunch of time in it. The route also went through a grassy field, but it was not too bad. Also, my leg was not very muddy at all, which I was happy about! Ha! I was a little worried about my knee though… I rode my bike on the Wednesday prior to the race and it was kind of bothering me… I had a burning sensation when pedaling hard or while I was pedaling standing up. But it ended up being ok for the race. I tried not to go too hard. I ended up with a 10:48 avg pace for the 4.25 mile route, so I was happy with it!

Joel’s run was amazing!! The kid race was at 10:45 of that morning, so we were unsure if Joel would finish before that. My friend Jess and I joked that we should tell Dan, who is her boyfriend and the organizer of the kid race, to stall the start until Joel finished. The time was getting closer, but all of a sudden I noticed Joel running towards the finish line with 10 minutes to spare! He ran the leg, which was the longest at 5.46 miles, at a 9:07 avg pace. Incredible!!!

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Julia was super excited to run the kid race. She was even more excited that she had an official race bib! The kid race was well attended too… last I heard was that 34 kids signed up. That’s amazing!!

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As soon as Dan yelled “Go!”, they were off. Julia went full force for a while. I decided to run along so I can capture some photos. Not far after the start, I could see that she was slowing down and that she kept rubbing her left side. She made the rookie mistake and went off too hard… she got a cramp. I kept encouraging her to keep going, but then she got upset. I grabbed her hand and reassured her that it was ok and that we can just walk for a bit. And then the mud section came. It was chaos… the kids did not really want to go through all that mud… neither did I, again! We made it through the section and I can tell that she was feeling better. We passed this little girl who was crying uncontrollably since she was full of mud and lost her shoe in the mud deepness. I felt super bad. I saw Joel cheering Julia on so I told him to keep cheering for her and that I was going to help the little girl.

I went to her and tried to calm her down. I grabbed her hand and we walked together the rest of the way. I told her that many of us ran through that mud too and some even lost their shoes. I am not sure that it made her feel any better since she could not stop crying. As we got closer to the finish, her dad met us and he thanked me for helping her.

I ended up not seeing Julia finish her race, but I felt better that the little girl was not alone in distress. After our amazing feast of chicken BBQ, pasta, coleslaw, salad, rolls, and beer (yes, we even got some free beer from The Lost Borough!!), I did capture a photo of Julia at the finish line.

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Both Joel and I told her that she did such a great job. She disagreed saying that she got a cramp. Joel explained to her the mistake that all runners make where they start off too hard and then they cramp or bonk. I think that she got it. We further told her that the most important part was that she had a good time and that she finished. Because is that not the reason why we run… to have some fun in the woods?!?

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Enjoying her prize… an ice cream sandwich!

Thank you Medved for once again putting on a great race and providing us with a delicious feast!!

knee and hip

My left knee decided to join the “I am the knee of a runner and I will hurt” group. It did not even bother to ask me if I wanted to join. Who does that?!? Not very happy at all!! And my hip just decided to start hurting for no reason, I guess.

I have always been pretty good at rolling before and after a run, especially after a run. I have not been very good at stretching though.

The first sign of it was last summer. Joel and I decided to run on the Auburn Trail, which I have done numerous times without any issues. Not even a mile in, my left knee started to hurt. I tried to run a bit more, but it was getting worse and worse. I had trouble even walking back to the car. But then a few days later, I ran on the trail and it was fine. I was unsure what to make of it. I thought that perhaps my road shoes were no longer fitting.

At the end of August, I ran the Midsummer Night’s Madness race as a relay with Joel and our friend Kristin. My leg was pretty much in a bunch of fields, so it was somewhat flat grassy terrain. After about 4 miles in, my knee started to hurt again. I was able to finish my leg, which was about 5 miles, but I had to walk/run pretty much the rest of it. It was very upsetting… I was doing so well too! After the race, Kristin helped me roll my muscles and any pressure on the left thigh was super painful. But then I continued running the rest of the fall with no issues.

We decided to downhill ski this past winter. We thought that it would be a good activity as a family. After about 7 or 8 visits, both my knee and my right hip started to bother me. Running was impossible too… I could only last 1 or 2 miles, if that. After another 2 ski visits, I decided to stop skiing. By this point, I was in constant pain… knee and hip. I was trying to think what I have done differently compared to previous years. I have never experienced so much pain before. Skiing was the only new thing, so it must have been the culprit. Both my knee and hip did get a bit better, but the pain was still there. I was so sad! I was not ready to give up running. It is my go to activity in the winter.

I was chatting with my friend Anna and she suggested that I should go to a chiropractor. I was super surprised that she recommended a chiropractor… I did not even think to do that. Usually chiropractors are for back and neck issues, no? She further mentioned that a bunch of runners go to this one particular chiropractor, Dr Burton, at Focused Health Chiropractic. I was also chatting with Molly, my yoga instructor, and she had only good things to say about that same chiropractor, so I decided to give him a try.

After a quick inspection, he mentioned that I had great flexibility and that I was experiencing IT band syndrome in my left knee. He also mentioned that I had weak hips so I was overcompensating in my legs/stabilizers. And sure enough, skiing was the culprit since my bad form caused pressure on my hips and legs.

“Easy stuff.” he said. I was so relieved! He suggested Active Release Therapy. I have read a bit about it and Molly also mentioned it, so I was set. After about 5 sessions and my home care of rolling, stretching, and icing, I finally started to see some results. I was so happy when I was able to run 4.33 miles without any pain! I did have a setback once, and that is when Dr Burton mentioned that I might have some cartilage issues in my knee. He also mentioned that I will have some bad days from time to time. I guess that I will just have to deal with that.

I am glad that my running days are not done quite yet. I do enjoy trail running a bunch. Now that the warm weather is here, I can start cycling as well, which the cross training will hopefully balance my knees and hips more.

So if you are having IT band issues, see a chiropractor and ask for the Active Release Therapy.

bread

I recently read the book 52 Loaves by William Alexander. The author, while at a restaurant, ate the best bread that he has ever encountered, which prompted him to bake a loaf of bread everyday for a year in order to achieve that perfect loaf of bread. I loved the story and his experiences (I highly recommend it!). One my favorite lines in the book was “Bread is life.”

I have a bread obsession too. When someone tells me that they gave up bread, I cannot imagine that world. Walking by the bakery section of my grocery store is like candy. Just a woof of the freshly baked bread makes my mouth water. I cannot resist not buying anything. The best day is when the bread is hot or warm… oh my!!

Bread has always been part of my life. Growing up in Romania, bread was served with every meal. My parents used to send me to the bakery and while walking back to our apartment, I could not resist and dig my hand in the soft inside of the bread. I would eat half of a loaf before getting home. My mom would always yell at me. Luckily I always bought two loaves.

A while back I had stomach issues, so my doctor recommended that I get tested for Celiac disease since apparently a lot of folks who are from Eastern Europe suffer from it. I was so grateful that my test was negative. That would have been the worst day of my life (it is bad enough that I am lactose intolerant!!). I wondered why that was though. In his book, William Alexander discusses the history of flour and how the process in the US has changed over the years, including the addition of these enriching ingredients. Can that be the culprit?

Since not much was available in Romania, my mom baked a bunch. Once in the US, she took out her recipe book and started baking the same cakes, cookies, sweet breads that she baked for years. But they never came out the same as they did in Romania. She finally realized that the four was different. Since then, she has found a flour that only the local German or Russian store sells… her baked goods are back to normal. It was very interesting.

A friend of a friend mentioned that her husband owns a bread delivery service and that he delivers via his bicycle. How cool is that!! Two of my favorite things in one! But after a minute I realized how dangerous that would be… I do not think that anyone would appreciate half eaten bread.

Julia likes Mo Willems books, so while at the library, I found Nanette’s Baguette. In the book, Nanetts’s mom sends Nanette to the bakery to buy a baguette. But on her way home, Nanette eats the baguette. Then both Nanette and her mom go to the bakery to buy a baguette and on the way home, Nanette’s mom eats the baguette.

I am glad to see that I am not the only one who finds bread irresistible!

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Julia has been really interested in helping me cook lately. She loves to crack eggs, add ingredients to the bowl or pot, and mix everything. It is fun cooking and baking with her!

I have been thinking about these coconut date bars that I have found while browsing the Isa Does It cookbook. The recipe is simple… it requires smooth peanut butter, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, coconut oil, vanilla, a bit of salt, oats, crisp rice cereal, unsweetened coconut, and dates.

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After looking at the ingredients, I realized that I did not have any crisp rice cereal and brown rice syrup. Purchasing the crisp rice cereal was easy enough. The brown rice syrup on the other hand was not. After visiting the grocery store several times with no luck, I finally asked someone about it. Apparently, Lundberg brown rice syrup, which is the only brown rice syrup that I have ever found around my area, had a factory malfunction, so they have been out of commission.

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The woman at the grocery store mentioned that it was probably going to be out until the summer. So much for my bars! But she also mentioned that a substitute exists… Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Luckily I was able to locate it in the grocery store, so I was now ready to bake the bars.

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I asked Julia if she wanted to help me make them and she agreed.

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We mixed everything together and added the batter to a lined baking pan. I pressed it pretty firmly per the recipe and placed it in the oven.

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The bars were pretty good! I did find them a bit sweet. I wondered if it was due to my brown rice syrup substitute. The recipe required 1/3 cup of brown rice syrup and 1/3 cup of maple syrup. I will have to try them again once I can find the brown rice syrup. Or I wonder if I can cut the sugar a bit… maybe to a 1/4 cup each.

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I also found the bars to be flaky. For some reason I was expecting them to be firmer, similar to a rice crispy bar but maybe not quite as firm. The coconut flakes that I used were not finely shredded… I wonder if that was the culprit. Although, the recipe does not require finely shredded, so maybe not.

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Lastly, I think that next time I will add a bit more peanut butter. I did not taste it too much and I think that it will be a good change.

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Nevertheless, we enjoyed the bars!

Every March 9, in some regions within Romania, folks celebrate the day by making măcinici. The măcinici are different depending on the region… they vary from a pasta-like dough to a bread-like dough. Growing up, my family always made the pasta-like dough (read more about the tradition in an old post).

Since having Julia, exposing her to my childhood traditions have been important and fun. We have also exposed her to the Jewish traditions, which I also love. Julia is curious and seems to enjoy them all, which makes it even more fun.

March 9 fell on a Friday this year. Making anything on a weeknight is challenging, but my mom and I decided to still make them… we could not break the tradition. My mom made the dough and I took a half a day vacation so we can get an early start. Making măcinici is time consuming.

As soon as we rolled the dough into a sheet, Julia insisted that she wanted to use the punch. The punch is not an easy tool… you really have to press it into the dough, wiggle it a bit to release the dough from the rest, and then lift and press the top to release the cutout. She tried a couple of times and got frustrated. My mom and I told her that it was even hard for us to do, but I am not sure if that made her feel better.

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My mom had an idea… she tasked Julia with moving the măcinici from our working area to the towel so that they can dry. Julia thought that it was the best idea! She was even counting them.

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At one point I looked over and Julia was arranging the măcinici in rows… it looked so pretty so we continued the pattern.

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As with any 5 year old kids, she eventually got tired of moving the măcinici over so she abandoned her post. My mom and I continued for a while. After about 2 hours and a few breaks, we were ready to boil them.

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The măcinici are pretty much considered fresh pasta, so just like fresh pasta, once they come to the surface, they are done. To finish them off, we added finely ground and chopped walnuts, lemon zest, cinnamon, vanilla and rum extract, sugar, and a pinch of salt. We boiled it a bit more until the sugar dissolved and then we were done.

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We truly enjoyed our hard work… the măcinici were delicious.

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hamantaschen cookies

Ever since I met Joel, we have celebrated the Jewish holidays… Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Chanukah. But of course there are many more, including Purim. A traditional dish for Purim is hamantaschen cookies, which are triangular shaped cookies, that resemble a hat, and are filled with poppy seeds as well as fruit jams. I was surprised to learn about the poppy seed filling tradition… poppy seeds are used in traditional Romanian cooking and baking too, especially for Christmas. I love all the similarities that I discover about the Romanian and Jewish traditions. There are more than I have ever imagined.

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My favorite hamantaschen cookies have always been the fruit filled ones, specifically the prune filled. I must admit that I have not seen any poppy seed filled cookies at the local Jewish bakery or the grocery store. Not sure why that is. Also, I have always wanted to make them, but the recipes that I have found did not appeal to me, since most of them require a ton of dairy… butter, cream cheese, and/or sour cream.

My friend Mark and I were chatting the other day and he asked me if I was planning on making the cookies since Purim is this week. I explained my recipe dilemma to him. But then I got inspired and decided to search for a non-dairy recipe. After reading through the search results on Food52, I found the perfect recipe! I also thought that it would be fun to make the cookies with Julia, since she loves to help me bake.

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The dough recipe is super simple… it requires flour, baking powder, salt, a bit of water, vegetable oil, eggs, and sugar. You mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, then you mix the wet ingredients in another bowl, and then you mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until a thick dough forms. Lastly, you knead the dough a bit to bring it together into a ball, cut it in half, and then form two disks. The caveat was that you had to let the dough chill for at least 3 hours or overnight, so Julia and I made the dough first thing in the morning and then continued with the rest 3 hours later.

Although the recipe included the chocolate poppy seed filling, I really wanted to use prune jam and apricot jam, since I love both flavors. Also, my mom gave me a few jars of her home-made prune jam, so I thought that it was the perfect opportunity to use some of it. As I was grabbing the prune jam, I realized that I forgot to buy the apricot jam. But then I remembered that my mom also gave me a jar of her home-made peach jam, so I decided to use that instead. The cookies came out delicious!

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I do have a few things to share about the recipe…

I, of course, cut the sugar… I cut it from 1/2 a cup to a 1/3 of a cup and the cookies were plenty sweet. I also added a teaspoon of vanilla since I like the flavor. I did not have to add any extra water since the dough seemed good.

The recipe suggests rolling the dough to an 1/8 inch thickness. I found this to be too thin when shaping the cookies. Having the dough slightly thicker made shaping them much easier. Also, the folding technique explained did not make any sense to me, so I just pinched the circle in 3 spots, which still resembled the traditional cookie shape.

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A few of my cookies did loose their shape during baking. After talking to my sister, I found out that she had the same issue when she baked some and she used a different recipe/dough. I do not feel too terrible about it, since they still taste good. I wonder how the cookies that are sold at the grocery store come out so perfectly-shaped… they must have a bunch of discards. I am picturing the bakers enjoying them.. I hope. Ha!

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I am glad that I finally gave these cookies a try. I would definitely make them again, even though they were a bit time consuming. It is also a nice tradition to start with Julia. Happy Purim!!

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