Sunday, November 28, 2010

Getting in the vegetables: Pizzalad!

 I hope you had a happy Turkey Day (for those who celebrate!) and I'm excited to be back. I went on a voyage around the state of New York visiting the fiance's extended family. I decided to not take pictures during that time because it was about spending time with family, not blogging. Now, I'm back! And I have some fun stuff planned for you.

The winner of the cookie and jam giveaway was Chelle and her package is in the mail! There are some more fun giveaways planned through the next month, so stay tuned!


I don't know about you, but when the weather starts to cool outside, salads stop sounding good. I mean, I still like vegetables, but coming in from work on a dark, rainy (or snowy) night does not make me crave a cool, crisp salad.

In fact, lately all I have wanted to eat has been PIZZA.

No, not that kind of pizza. That kind of pizza has a time and a place.

It does not substitute for a salad. It does not make my stomach feel good. It doesn't fill me up.

What I need is a pizza-salad. A PIZZALAD.

How might you make a pizzalad? I thought you'd never ask!
First, you make a crust. Now, I am LAZY and don't care to plan ahead to make a leavened pizza crust. Plus, I like a thin crust. So, you can make my crust recipe, or you can use a tortilla, or you can use a nice piece of crusty bread. Or you can get a yeasty-crust recipe from somewhere else. I won't judge.

Easy-peasy Pizza Dough
3/4 c wheat flour
3/4 c white flour
1.5 tbsp baking powder
1 liberal pinch salt
1/2 c warm water

Preheat Oven to 400 F

Mix together the dry ingredients until thoroughly mixed. Slowly add water until you have a sticky mass of dough. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit in a warm place for 10-20 minutes. Liberally flour a cutting board and move your dough to the board. With a floured rolling pin, flatten the dough. Pick up the dough and pull at the edges, flip over, and roll again. When pizza is thin and stretch to the desired size (for me 0.25 inches thick) flip onto ungreased pizza pan or cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Flip crust. Now you're ready to top it!

First, I like to put down a thin layer of sauce. I like 0.5 cups of good spaghetti sauce. A great trick for something special is to mix 1/2 curry sauce from a jar with 1/2 spaghetti sauce to get a nice curry flavor throughout your pizza.

Add your cooked toppings - like sauteed peppers, onions, and asparagus.

Top your pizza with whatever you like: tomato, spinach, artichoke, etc. Add your cheese, and drizzle with olive oil. 

Look at the awesome pizza! It is a complete and balanced meal. 

Other delicious toppings:

BBQ Chicken: Pull a rotisserie or oven-baked chicken with some bbq sauce. Top the pizza with the mixture. Add onions, peppers, tomato, and pickles (it's awesome!) and top with cheese. 

Taco Pizza: Using leftover taco meat, top the crust with salsa and taco meat. Add cheese. Bake. Then top with lettuce, tomato, onions, etc. 

Thai Pizza: Mix 1/2 spaghetti sauce + 1/2 curry sauce. Top pizza crust with sauce and add tofu or raw shrimp. Add cheese and zucchini, carrot, snap peas, onions. Bake until shrimp are cooked through. It's surprisingly delicious! 

What is your favorite type of pizza? 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Today, I got a medal in the mail.

I am clearly a winner!
It's from a race I didn't even train for in mid-October. Remember when my life was crazy? Yeah, I think I was running away from my life when I earned that medal.

Have I told you how I started running? I suppose 'started' is too strong of a word. In high school, I was a cheerleader. We were competitive. Throwing girls in the air and such. I ran preseason to stay in cardiovascular shape and keep my weight down. I could reliably run 3 miles, but I never tried for any longer.

I left my home state to go to college at the University of Nebraska, where I still ran, but the drastic weather difference between Nebraska and northern Minnesota caused me to stop running in the hotter months. I also had a knee injury from drastically increasing my treadmill-derived mileage (too fast + too many miles = torn up cartillage). I just couldn't handle it and I had to stop running. With the unhealthy lifestyle I had in college, the inevitable happened: I gained weight.
I came home for Christmas and my mom told me I didn't look healthy and I needed to lose weight. It was a hard message, but it was neccesary. My dad had a better idea. He offered to pay me 1 dollar ($1.00) for every mile I ran. I was a broke college student, and I thought that sounded like a really good deal.

Learning from my previous mistakes, I made sure to only run a little bit. Plus, I was super busy with school and I could only fit in a little exercise in between classes. I averaged 5 miles per week and the little bit of extra income really helped. Plus, I lost about 20 lbs that first semester. I worked hard to keep up my healthy lifestyle, but of course it became difficult when I moved off-campus and the university recreation center wasn't as close. I also decided to graduate a year earlier than originally planned (I got my B.S. in 3 years + summers), which made my schedule even busier than it had been.
When my friend Maggie told me that she was planning on running a 10k with her sister in the fall, I wanted to make sure that I could come too. I got back into running, but I had never run more than three miles, and I hadn't run more than 2 in years. Could I really do it?

My current boyfriend doubted me, but he was a giant jerk. When we broke up, he made me 'buy-out' his half of our mostly blind, skittish cat. The cat was free, but the initial vet bills were a few hundred dollars. There was no depreciation on that investiment either. Making this cat
the most expensive broken cat I have ever had. Good thing she's pretty...but I digress. Boyfriend thought I couldn't do it, so I wanted to show him. I trained and trained. I ran around my neighborhood in Nebraska. When Maggie's sister was sick and unable to run, I planned for another race. I signed up for the Run for the Roses in Ames, IA (wrong year on the image, but same race).
My boyfriend at the time wanted to come and visit some friends, so we made plans to drive the 3.5 hours to Ames, IA for the weekend of the race. I had only run 6 miles once previously, and it was hard, but I was determined to be strong and finish.

I finished that 10k in 1:02:39. The comraderie and excitement at that race sparked my love of racing that has kept me interested since.

I graduated from Nebraska and I ended up moving to Iowa for grad school. I was able to do many races in the Des Moines area, and I have kept coming back for the Run for the Roses. Some years have been awesome. Two years ago, I was able to PR and get 2nd place in the 10k at the Run for the Roses. Other years have been rough. I once ran a very hilly 10k two weeks after a bike accident. I had cut the ligaments holding my collarbone to my shoulder blade, and my shoulder was in terrible pain. I finished that race, my worst 10k ever, in 1:12 and change. My friend Claire greeted me with a banana when it was over, and I just remember being thankful that I could still run.

I have since completed several 5k and 10k races every year, and I have been including two 1/2 marathons a year for the past two years.

I have finished all but one race. That race actually taught me to respect my body and not make myself sick over something out of my control.

I like the variety and the challenge of races. The running keeps me busy, but it also clears my mind. I've found that running over 25 miles per week doesn't agree with my body, even if I supplement with yoga, so I've found a love for triathlon, which allows more crosstraining.

What is your favorite form of exercise? It could be ANYTHING - dancing, walking, stretching, swimming...


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Whoa! What Smells? (And A Delicious Giveaway!)

 Oh, please you know I'm posting the giveaway at the end of the post. You can scroll down to the bottom right away, or you could learn about smell...and win your next office trivia party. C'mon...all the cool kids are doing it!


Much of what we taste is actually related to smell. Research indicates that 70-75% of what we perceive as taste is dependent on our sense of smell.
Imagine the smell of a freshly baked cupcake...
 The cheesy, hot, spicy smell of pizza...
 The smokey, roasty flavor of grilled chicken...
 Or the cinnamony goodness of a baked apple.

 Are you hungry yet? I know I am. But I've always been curious about what causes some things to have smells (or good smells) and others to lack an aroma.

Smells are caused by small chemicals reaching your olfactory receptors. These molecules have to be small enough to become volatile (or change from a solid or iquid to a gas to reach your nose) or somehow be propelled into your nose (maybe by a spray?).
Sometimes things have a permeating smell that you associate with that item in its normal state. For instance, stinky cheeses and banana smell are really well known and are associated with the foods from the time you pick them up in the grocery store.

Sometimes you have to 'open' foods to get the best smell from them. Like onions and garlic.
They seem perfectly innocent....then the minute you start cutting them, they make you cry and makes your hands stink!

Finally, some things smell when they are fresh, but seem to lose their smell (and thus taste) when they sit out or dry...


Popcorn and fresh herbs have strong, distinct smells when they are fresh. They lose those flavors if they sit out.

Now that we have determined the multiple ways that foods have smell, let's talk about what causes those smells.

Release of odor causing molecules
 In the case of many herbs and spices, molecules that cause the smells are pent up inside special organs that hold the molecules in their liquid phase. These organs, or sacs, hold in the molecules, which are normally compressed into oils. When the organs are cut open, such as when you cut herbs or grind spices, they release these volatile liquids into the environment, where they immediately evaporate into your nose.

For herbs such as mint and basil, these organs are called tricomes. They jut out from the outside of  leaves. When leaves get crushed, dried, or frozen, the tricomes will break open or even fall off. That is why herbs with these glands are so much better when they are fresh.

Chemical Reaction
For foods like onion and garlic, the molecule responsible for the acrid smell that makes us cry isn't even created until we break open the cells.

Garlic and onion contain the enzyme alliinase, which breaks down sulfur containing compounds into their smaller, more volatile components. This is used by the plant to prevent herbivores and insects from damaging the plant. When the plant senses it is in physical danger, it releases alliinase and the stinky compounds are made to deter the pesky pests.

We're kind of pesky pests ourselves, and we actually cause the cell to malfunction when we break open the garlic bulb or onion. The allinase pours into the cell, destroying everything in its path and causing sulfur containing compounds to flood the air. And then we cry.


 Mwahahahahahahahah! I've been waiting for an excuse to do that.

Water vapor or other propellant
Propellants made the news when I was a kid because our cans of Aqua Net hairspray were evidently full of these fluorocarbons that were destroying the ozone layer. These propellants made the sticky glue that made the hairspray become....well, a spray.

The same thing happens naturally in food. When you walk into a house where a stew is cooking or a soup is boiling, the molecules that are in the meats and vegetables are carried into the air on water vapor. The energy of the water vapor allows things to get into the air that would normally be too heavy or soluble to do so.

Another example is popcorn. Popcorn seed is rather boring. No smell. No taste. When we cook popcorn, the water inside the kernel gets excited and gains energy. It explodes the inside of the popcorn seed, and the white structure is the cooked starch that was stored inside the seed. The water vapor then carries that typical popcorn smell into the air.

Now we know HOW things have smells...but what molecules cause these smells? Well, it differs between foods and it is really dependent on the chemical makeup of the food. I don't want to scare off my approximately 5 readers with chemical structures (I can hear you breathing a sigh of relief over the internet!), but I do want to make one point.

One-note vs. the 'Bouquet'

Sometimes we'll hear a snobby wine or food guru describing the types of flavors and smells - or 'notes' - contained in a wine or food. Those are hard for the typical person to pick-up. But they are on to something. Some smells are derived from only one molecule. Things like popcorn (2-acetyl-1-pyrroline, if you cared to know) and cinnamon (cinnamaldehyde...) are one-note. They are composed of only one major scented molecule. However, coffee and peanuts are terribly complex. It was recently estimated that over 36 molecules are responsible for the complex smell of roasted peanuts, with 28 of them being required for positive identification.  These types of foods are described as having a bouquet of compounds  that make up the identified taste or smell.


I hoped you learned something, but I know you're just here for the giveaway ;)

Nothing makes the holidays special like walking into a house filled with the smell of baking cookies (see how it ties in?!?!?). This week I wanted to give my own house this smell, so I made some delicious shortbread thumbprint cookies:

I filled them with the most awesome store-bought jam I have ever had. This stuff is amazing. It's the only thing I've bought that rivals my family's homemade raspberry jam.
Plus, it doesn't have HFCS and it's affordable (it costs about $2.50 at our grocery store). And Smucker's isn't paying me to say this (but if they wanted to...they could let me know!).

My thumbprint cookies were made with triple berry jam, blueberry jam, and homemade raspberry jam. I now have too many cookies in my house. I'm so excited about this product that I want you to try the jam as well!

I will give you:

1) 6 thumbprint cookies in an assortment of three flavors
2) Two jars of Smucker's jam (one for you...and one to share? Or just two for you!)
3) The cookie recipe for your own holiday fun.

If you want this, leave a comment telling me your favorite smell (food related or otherwise). You can also post this to your facebook page and leave me the link in the comments OR post about it on your own blog and leave a comment to make sure I see it. You have until 5pm on Friday, November 26. The package will go out the following Monday, so you can have them for turkey day!

Back soon with more fun and nerdy posts.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Winter Exercise Routine

Winter in Iowa is cold. Did you know?

As an avid outdoor exercise lady, winter can put a  pretty good damper on my exercise routine. Inevitably, I end up slowing down my routine and gaining weight until about Christmas. Then I see pictures of myself and say 'Something has to change' and get back to exercising.

Unacceptable! This year, I'm going to be proactive about avoiding the 'winter-onset-weight-gain'. And of course, since I'm a scientist, this will be a very scientific decision-making process!
(source) I hope you find the picture as hilarious as I do!

Step 1: Identify the problem.

To be clear, we usually don't get snow until mid-November (but I hear it will be early and abundant this year!). I can run and bike outside until then, although biking becomes uncomfortable due to the wind. Once the snow falls, I can still run, but ice and deep snow usually cause me to cut down on the mileage. Biking is out of the question. I've had far too many accidents to even think about it!

Step 2: Brainstorm potential solutions.

Well, I belong to an awesome gym. I love it. I can't tell you which one because it isn't a nationwide chain and it's specific to my town, but there are three facilities in my 50,000 person town (yes, overkill. But awesome!). There is an indoor pool, many pieces of equipment, and a variety of classes. I also have a static trainer for my bicycle. If you're unfamilliar, they look like this:


Mine isn't that cool, but it works. It's really noisy, but I could set it up on my porch and just wear appropriate clothing. I may also use it to annoy my loud, nocturnal upstairs neighbors at 7am on a Saturday. You never know ;)  I can also run outside when it is nice enough - not windy, and not treacherous. Finally, I could increase my daily activity by taking the stairs more often and incorporating more active breaks into my day.

Step 3: Make a plan
My plan is to take 3 classes per week and run ~15 miles per week from now until March. Sometimes I won't be able to make the classes because they are at set times, but I plan to do an hour of cardio/weights/intervals/circuits to get the same amount of exercise on my own.

Step 4: Anticipate problems and solutions

Potential problem: I am going to get bored or lazy.

Potential solutions: Go to different classes! Right now, I am going to some spin (cycling classes) and weight lifting classes. There are yoga, dance, interval, and kickboxing classes at the same gym. I can also create my own circuits at the gym. Key is just making time for it. I have a habit of allowing my job to take over my life.

Potential problem: I will feel gross or tired and not want to go.

Potential solutions: Normally, I am not an advocate of retail therapy. I believe in buying new shoes to prevent injuries, and I only replace workout gear when it breaks down over time. However, I think having new clothes is a great way to motivate yourself. Behold:

 And the #1 reason I couldn't take a picture of all of the new clothes together: Thanks, Lyra.

I also have subscriptions to some science magazines (Chemical and Engineering News, Science, and Scientific American) and some girly magazines (Self and Glamour) that pass the time on the treadmill and elliptical while teaching me valuable and not-so-valuable life skills.

I'll let you know how it goes, but I'm excited. I'll also take some outdoor running pics along the way. How do you stay fit in the winter?

Also, if you like health & fitness with a fashion twist, you should check out The Daily Balance, where Shannon provides a healthy and realistic view of everyday life. Plus, she's sponsoring an awesome Shopbop giftcard giveaway here:

Check it out! Back with some science and food later this week!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Three Pumpkin Recipes

I love all things fall.

I love trees. I love leaves. I love chilly air. I love warm, homey dishes.

This fall has been full of them. So good. So warm. So fibrous.

A while ago, I stopped blogging the majority of my meals. They got really repetitive. But, a couple times a week, I manage to whip out a few nutritious and delicious meals.

Three meals. Two recipes (oh're going to love this! Read on) and all healthy, comfort foods.

Vegetable Chowder
1 14oz can pumpkin
1 14 oz can creamed corn
1 cup reduced fat milk
1/4 c butter or butter substitute
1/4 c flour or cornstarch
1 onion, diced
2-3 garlic cloves
Assorted vegetables (ideas: 1 chopped red pepper, 1 cup chopped broccoli, 1 cup chopped cauliflower, or any other small-cut veggie of your choice)
1.5 tsp dried sage
1.5 tsp dried thyme
1 ham shank OR smoked salt to taste OR 4 splashes liquid smoke
1 tsp pepper
salt to taste

Saute onion and garlic until browned and set aside (you can pour them into a dish and continue using the same pan if you like). Melt butter and stir in flour. Continue to stir until the rue (flour-butter mixture) browns slightly. Add milk and whisk to remove clumps. Add pumpkin, creamed corn, and 1 cup water. Return onion and garlic to pan and simmer until slightly thickened. Add thyme, sage, and ham shank if desired. Simmer 20 minutes. Add chopped veggies, and more water if neccesary, and simmer until veggies are soft (10-15 minutes). Salt and pepper to taste. 

*If you are a vegetarian friend and don't want to use the ham shank, you can skip it and just season with smoked salt or use liquid smoke to obtain a depth of flavor.

The next two recipes use the same filling or base. For an easy dinner party, one makes a good main course and the other could be an appetizer. Plus, I doubt people are going to know that you used the same mixture twice! 

High-Protein Pumpkin Pasta Bake 
The wagon-wheel noodle dish is first. It looks like macaroni and cheese, but it's not!

Pumpkin Mixture
1 block soft tofu
1.5 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
14 oz pumpkin
1 tbsp dried sage
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp lemon juice
1 onion, chopped 
2-3 garlic cloves, minced

1 lb pasta
2-3 oz good parmeggiano reggiano cheese
Saute onion and garlic until translucent. Add spices and saute until slightly brown. Remove from heat. In a blender, blend pumpkin, tofu, and ricotta. Add onion/garlic/spice mix and blend until smooth. Add salt *It's more salt than you think you need!* and set aside. Boil pasta to al dente. Grease a casserole dish (I used a 9x13 pan). Smear a small layer of pumkin mixture on the bottom and cover with noodles. Cover with 3/4 of remaining pumpkin mixture and 1 cup of water. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, cover with shredded parmeggiano, and bake 10 minutes or until browned on top. 

This recipe uses the same pumpkin mixture as the pasta bake. You can serve them fried (which we did) or boiled (I had them later in the week boiled and they were SOOOO good).

Pumpkin Ravioli

1-1.5 c pumpkin mixture from pasta bake
20 or so wonton wrappers (small 2x2" squares)

oil for frying

1 oz good parmeggiano reggiano

Separate wonton wrappers on a clean, lightly floured cutting board. Make one layer, spread out end-to-end. Into each wrapper, deposit less than 1 tbsp of pumpkin mixture, directly in the middle of the square. Wet your finger with lukewarm water and trace along edges of the square. Then, fold the square into a triangle, carefully pressing the edges together. Move to a lightly floured plate. 

When you have assembled the raviolis, you can fry them in some vegetable oil and top them with parmeggiano and salt. Or, you can boil them for 2-3 minutes at a low boil. They are done when they float. If you boil too hard, they will fall apart. Remove from water and top with parmeggiano and a drizzle of good olive oil. Amazing! 

These cannot be assembled far ahead of time, so it could be a fun pre-dinner activity for your guests. They will be amazed at the taste and your ingenuity!

Hope you enjoyed the recipes! I'll be back with a post on my exercise routine and how it changes for winter, the science of how food smells delicious, and the final metabolism post. Have a great week!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween is made for troublemakers

Like us!

Just to be clear...we normally look more like this...
Except when we look like this...

Evidently we are ok at transformations.

What did it take...

1) $6.00 worth of clothes from goodwill: Skirt, Shirt, Tank

2) Make-up. Because I don't actually own silver glitter or fake lashes. I even got some fake nails.

3) One very long, very fake hair piece and a bump-enhancing clip.


The fiance is very Italian. VERY Italian. This costume set was his idea. I was actually nervous that I wouldn't be able to live up to his cultural expectations. But, we watched several hours of Jersey Shore and had a few mock-arguments in the living room, and we were in character. I actually liked this costume a lot because I was completely covered from head to toe and actually was warm enough this year. Plus, it looks tight, but it was suprisingly comfortable (thank you, spandex!) and I was able to eat and drink to my heart's content.

Ok. Back tomorrow with  more heathy lifestyle-type stuff!

What is your favorite holiday? Why?