18 November 2013

Date Night, A Recipe and A Winter Wonderland

Treebert!  His first big snow!

I've been fortunate to have a week at home with no travel.  It's been bliss and getting time with Dave has been absolutely lovely, fantastic and just what my heart and soul needed.

We started the week off by having a date night in Regina.  We headed over to Beer Brothers for a couple brews, spent some time browsing books at Chapters and then getting our sushi on over at Enso.  It was a great night, dampened only when I believed I lost my driver's license, which Dave then located a couple of days later on the back floor of our car (read:  Heather date night fail).

Monday is Veteran's Day in the States and is Remembrance Day here in Canada.  Coming from a line of veterans - both grandfathers, my parents, my brother-in-law and my husband all serving - this day is one of reflection for me.  One where we remember those who have dedicated time to serving their country in uniform.  We attended the Remembrance Day ceremony here in Moose Jaw along with some of our close friends.  The Air Force, Army, Dragoons and RCMP were present to lay wreaths and remember those lost in service.  A large number of people turned out for the event and it was nice to see that this day means so much to so many.

The rest of the week passed in a blur of work and yoga.  Ah, yoga...getting back to spending some good time on the mat was good for my soul!  

On Friday, Dave and had a domestic date night.  I cooked dinner - a quinoa stuffed acorn squash and pumpkin bread pudding for dessert (recipe for the acorn squash dish below) - and we enjoyed some wine and conversation.  We ended the night watching the documentary Somm which I had been wanting to see. Come Friday night, the air had cooled and the sky looked promising for snow...and snow it did!  It was cozy with the snow falling outside and our holiday lights twinkling inside.

Through the night on Friday and all day Saturday - we were graced to be living in a snowglobe.  It snowed for most of the day Sunday as well and after we ran some errands, Dave and I opted for a walk in Wakamow to enjoy the cool air and snowy paths.  We crossed under bowed branched weighted by piled snowflakes, kicked a path through pristine snow and I even flopped and made a snow angel happen in a clearing by one of the trails.  Wakamow Valley is magical throughout the seasons, but no season more so than winter.  

So grab your mittens and a nice mug of tea...take a walk outside in the crisp air...and when you come back, make this for dinner...you'll be glad you did!

Ingredients for a yummy dinner!

Roasted Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash 
Four servings or two servings with another two for leftovers...


2 acorn squash
1 clove garlic
1 red onion
1 stalk celery
1 bunch kale 
10 large mushrooms (I used baby portabellas)
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup pecan pieces
1 box organic quinoa
1 box organic vegetable broth
2 tablespoons vegan butter
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat your oven to 400F.  

Prep your vegetables and squash.  Cut the squash in half, remove the seeds and pulp (be sure to compost!) and brush the cut sides with the olive oil.  Season with salt, pepper, rosemary and oregano...pinches of each seasoning.

Place the acorn squash olive oil side down on a baking sheet or in a baking dish and roast for 20-30 minutes or until a thin knife inserted into the skin pierces it easily.

In the meantime, prep your veggies.  Chop the onion, celery and mushrooms (I dice them so all the pieces are about the same size) and then chop your kale into ribbons.  Mince your garlic clove.

Place a little olive oil into a pan and heat on high.  Next, add the onions and saute on medium-high until they become slightly translucent.  When that happens, add your garlic and saute for about 30 seconds or until you smell the garlic opening up.  When that happens, add the celery and mushrooms and allow everything to saute together.

As that is happening, cook the quinoa based on the package directions.  I use the veg broth in place of water as it tends to give it a bit more flavour.  Once you quinoa is cooked and your veggies are looking good (about 15 minutes) you can add the pecans, cranberries and kale to the veggie mix.  Work them in until the kale is wilted and the cranberries have become glossy and tender.  Be sure to season with the salt, pepper, rosemary and oregano to your liking.

At this point, your acorn squash are probably good to go.  Remove them from the oven.

Add the quinoa to the veggie mixture and sir so everything is combined.  I put a little dollop of margarine in the center of each acorn squash half before spooning my veggie mixture into each half.  Serve up with a great glass of wine and...presto, let your night begin!

15 November 2013

50 Miles in One Day

It's been a busy running season for me this year.  In January, I took on the Goofy Challenge at Walt Disney World (a half marathon the first day followed by a full marathon the second).  In May, I did a mini version of the challenge in the Canadian Rockies at the Rocky Mountain Soap Company run in Canmore by taking on a trail half marathon the first day and then a 10K the second.  At the beginning of September, I tackled my first mountain marathon in Panorama and in October, finished my fifth Chicago Marathon.  Which brought me to November 2 and the ultimate goal of this year - the Chicago Lakefront 50/50.

The Lakefront 50/50 has two choices for the steady of foot - the 50 mile distance or the 50K distance.  Last year, I took on the 50K and had a great time doing it.  I finished in a great time and, while pretty sore after, made the decision that I would go for the 50 mile distance the following year.

The 50 miler was fantastic.  It started on a chilly November morning on the south side of Chicago with about 130 other runners looking to go the distance.  My friend Christin paced me for the first 12.5 mile loop and set the tone for the rest of the day.  It was chilly, but we managed to stay warm as we chatted and encouraged the other runners on the course.  I grabbed Gatorade at the aid stations and had been sure to pack some real food in my pack for the day as I knew it would be a long one.  At the turnaround, I stuffed a Clif Bar in my mouth, bid adieu to Christin and started the second 12.5 loop.  

Almost halfway through, I was met by my friend, Katie.  It was great to see her and she joined me for about a mile on the trail.  I ate some pretzels and pickles at the aid station and enjoyed catching up with her along the route.  It felt as though the temperature was dropping a bit, so I was happy to be warmed by some awesome company!

Katie and I on the course.
At the turnaround to start the third 12.5 mile loop, I ate a hummus and spinach wrap which tasted SO GOOD at that point.  I knew this would be a long one as I wasn't going to have any support and so I needed to watch my pace and ensure I wasn't getting ahead of myself.  I kept focusing on other runners going by, encouraging them and handing out a few high fives along the way as well.  That's the awesome thing about these ultra-distance runs...everybody is rooting for everyone else to finish!

At the fourth loop turnaround, I was met by the best smile from my friend, Matt.  He was ready to bring me home and it was great to see him!  He and I chatted about music, friendships and pop culture as we worked our way through the first half of the last loop.  At the turnaround, I noted to him that I was going to have to change up my pace and go a little faster as I was tiring of the slower pace.  He and I picked it up and ate a few of the yummy homemade fuel snacks he brought with him along with some gels.  I ended up kicking it up for the last mile and a half and finished with a smile on my face...freezing, but having had one of the best running days of my life!

My reward...an awesome belt buckle, lots of memories and a hunger to do it all over again!

01 November 2013

Flashback to August: Prague

I am catching up on blogging since stepping away for a little long while.  So, these updates are a long time in coming.

Prague is a dream.  I've been lucky enough to visit the city three times now and each time the staggering beauty of the place flattens my heart and makes my breath catch in my throat.  The architecture is stunning with pre-WWII buildings, spires and cobblestones weaving their way around the city revealing unique little surprises around every corner.  The Vltava river snakes through the center of the city allowing for bridges of never-ending beauty to span from shore to shore, connecting one amazing neighborhood to another.  The people, after many years, finally warming up to the tourists who flock to this corner of Europe to eat, drink and be merry and envelope themselves in the rich history of the place.

I arrived on a Friday afternoon and met up with my friend, Sarah.  We were both there to present at a Festival and were excited to be in Europe together for the adventure.  After a bus ride downtown from the airport and lugging our suitcases down one street to another, we finally checked in and came upon the most exquisite apartment I secured for our week-long stay in the city.  It was gorgeous with lofty ceilings, yummy beds, a gourmet kitchen and a massive amount of space for us to play and work in.  The apartment is located right in the heart of the Old Jewish Quarter and overlooks the Jewish Cemetery...a spot in Prague that is rich in the history and heartbreak that makes this part of Europe such a remarkable place to be.

We were both hungry and so after quickly un-packing, we headed over to a lovely little gallery/restaurant, Nostress, for dinner.  We had vino and ate some of the most delicious food we would have all week!

The next morning I got up and immediately went out for a run along the river.  The path from the apartment led me straight along the water and I enjoyed getting out into the fresh air to shake off the beer and get to the know more of the city on foot (it also helped that I had a training schedule to keep for my upcoming marathons!).  I returned "home" and Sarah and I headed out for our first day in town. Under a searing sun - it was incredibly warm until the last day of our stay - we walked and talked and walked, popping into shops and cafes and gathering groceries for the rest of the week.  We kept having to do math in our heads as the exchange rate made beer cheaper than water and vegetables a steal!  We couldn't believe the prices we were encountering.  After gathering our provisions, we headed back to the apartment to settle in and discuss our upcoming presentations.

That evening, we decided we should shake off our jet-lag by participating in what the locals do best!  We took a walk over the river to this huge park where there is most amazing outdoor beer garden.  We ordered a few pivos and sat out under the stars along with hundreds of our closest local friends.  Other people from our organization (folks from across the U.S.) showed up and we had a great time getting to know one another.  It's amazing how you sometimes need to cross an ocean to get more in touch with the people you work with!  We stayed until the pivo was downed and we made our way back to the apartment to sleep and dream of our adventures.

On Sunday the Festival kicked off and Sarah and I headed out to meet our colleagues and other festival participants.  The opening was to be short-lived, however, as temperatures during the day had soared near the 34 degree mark and allowed for storms to brew.  Just a mere 30 minutes after the Festival gates opened, a massive downpour began accompanied by fierce lighting and gale-force winds that ripped tents and signage from their posts.  We were hustled from the Festival tents into a stronger building that would shield the participants from the elements outside.  We waited for around two hours and then the decision was made to delay the official opening until the following day.  Sarah and I, soggy and disappointed, headed back to our abode to hunker down for the night and prepare for the next day.

The next morning shone bright and I headed out for another run.  Soon after returning home, we quickly realized through a flurry of messages that the opening was further delayed due to damage to the festival grounds and while Sarah and I were disappointed, we were also excited to get another free day to explore the city and what it had to offer.  I had done a fair amount of research on cafes in Prague and so we headed out on foot to explore and search out good coffee in the town.  As a side note, the first time I was in Prague was in the early 90s - no Starbucks.  Five years earlier in 2008 - one Starbucks.  In 2013, I was seeing them everywhere!  We wanted anything but the 'bucks and so we made a conscious effort to seek out those places that would provide us with alternatives.  We wandered and poked our heads into shops, stopped and ate when we felt like it.  At some point on one day, I can't remember which now...this is why I don't like waiting so long to post...we found the most amazing pub that featured koalas everywhere....Tlustá Koala (translated to "Fat Koala").  It is a British-style spot and we managed to go during a very off-hour time.  We pitched up and shared a pint while admiring the dedication to "saving the koalas" that seemed to be everywhere!

That evening, we headed over to the Festival grounds to see the delayed opening and enjoyed catching up with good friends.  We headed to bed early as the skies darkened for yet another fierce storm as we knew it was going to be a long week from that point out!

The next morning Sarah and I had to work early so we caught the tram and made our way to the Festival grounds for the first day of our workshop series.  It went really well and then we had the afternoon to decide what we wanted to make out of our day.  We knew we had the next day off so we had lunch at the Festival and wandered around to see what was happening.  We had also sent out an invite to our friends who were in Prague to invite them over for a pasta dinner at the apartment on the Thursday night of that week.  I was busy planning the menu in my head and Sarah and I continued to chat and swoon over the sights Prague had to offer us.

Most days consisted of the same patterns.  However, we did experience two gems of spaces that, the next time you are in Prague, you must check out.  One day, I encouraged Sarah to go for a long walk hike with me over to the other side of town to check out a most wonderful cafe - Muj Salek Kavy.  If you are in Prague, you must go.  The gazpacho I had was incredible and all of their coffee is fair trade.  This is a cafe that takes community and coffee just as seriously as the other and it shows.  The staff was friendly and helped Sarah make a most informed decision about her dessert choice...they did not steer her wrong!  Another space that has a special place in my heart is the Cafe Savoy on the river.  It is a neo-renaissance cafe/wine bar and is a perfect place for sitting outside for an entire afternoon on a lovely sunny summer day (right, Sarah?!?).  If you like gorgeous decor with amazing food to go along with it, this is your spot.

Some other spots to check out during your time in the city...(because you know you are going!)...

Astronomical Clock (a must-see)

A pivo at a spot along the river...pick one...there are many!

The Farmer's Markets - there is even one along the Vltava River
Kampa Island (a nice place to stretch out on the lawn)

Ride the trams!

The week passed in a blur once the Festival really got going.  It was a whirl of presenting and exploring, wandering and getting caught up in it all.  The last night of my stay, we got a huge group together to feast on dinner at a local restaurant, re-telling stories from the week and celebrating our new-found connections with one another.  Prague is an amazing place and I can't wait to go back!