The Prairie State Half Marathon

date October 05, 2020 location

This Saturday I completed my first post pandemic in-person race, finishing the Prairie State Half Marathon in 1:20:42 (6:09/mi), 50 seconds slower than my PR, a 1:19:52 (6:05) that I ran back in March. With a goal of besting my PR time in March, my race performance was disappointing but did not overshadow a safe and well run event, proving that in-person racing in the post-covid/pre-vaccine era is possible. While most races this summer and fall have opted for virtual versions of their races, my hat goes off to the Prairie State Half Marathon race organizers who implemented several safety measures, notably: Staggering all runners into 5 minute start intervals, releasing each runner every 10 seconds, requiring masks in the start area, replacing traditional hydration stations with tables of bottled water and gatorade, and providing a virtual option for participants that still didn't feel safe.

The race served as a tune-up race for the Veterans Marathon, a race that I hope to run in Indiana in mid-November. Furthermore, the race has significance beyond just this training cycle for me, as it was this same point in my last training cycle, when 13 weeks into my training for the 2020 Boston Marathon, it's cancellation and a series of overuse injuries had me questioning why I run in the first place. Having overcome the aforementioned injuries, and matching last cycle's mileage with the added emphasis of injury prevention exercises, I went into this race hoping to come back with an exclamation point that I fell a bit short of achieving. At 40 degrees, no wind or precipitation, the weather was perfect and pre-race preparation went perfectly. Finding my ideal pace is always most challenging during the first mile, when I looked at my watch and saw a 6:19 first split after what felt like a moderate effort I was a little worried. The early miles that followed were similar stories, despite what felt like solid effort just didn't reflect as such on the watch. Tempted to throw my hands up and say I just didn't have it today, I know an objective reflection on the race and training leading up to it would serve me better. The leading factors that I consider are:

- Weight: I'm about 5 lbs heavier than I was in March, still not quite down to ideal racing weight following putting on a healthy "Covid 15"
- My PR race was a win: Leading the entire field during most of the Columbia Half Marathon gave me a huge mental boost, not to mention the police escort car which served as a pacer throughout most of the race
- Junk Miles: While most of workouts this cycle show improved performance at VO2 max, Lactate Threshold, and Marathon pace, I have slowed down in many of my other paces due to tired legs from prior runs or weight training

The next few weeks of training will be critical in pursuit of a PR in my 'A' race, the upcoming marathon in November. My training schedule includes some of the toughest weeks I've ever run, and if I am able to stay healthy and perform well during these workouts I think my marathon goal is still possible.

The Best Running Books

date May 26, 2020 location Chicago, IL

Over the last couple of years, I've accumulated quite the list of books about the topic of running. Many of these books were consumed in audiobook format, during my long runs, while others were enjoyed on my kindle. As my reading has picked up during quarantine time, I thought it would be interesting to put together a list of my favorite running books. Most of these books are primarily about running, while others simply pertain to running tangentially (looking at you, Shoe Dog). I ultimately decided to keep a more wide-ranging criteria, making the list more diverse and interesting.

Running books can be classified into these three categories:
Memoirs - biographies and autobiographies about runners and other running related accounts.
Science - science based and instructional books about training, usually including studies on running or running related science.
Fiction - fictional books about running.

My rankings are based on the following criteria:
Accessibility - Does this apply to a broad audience or a smaller niche like elites or ultra marathoners?
Entertainment - Is this a page turner?
Lasting Impression - Did this leave an impact?

Without further ado, I present to you my favorite books about running:

Honorable Mention (in no particular order)

Running the Rift (Naomi Benaron - 2010) Fiction - "Running the Rift" is the fictional story of Jean Patrick, a once in a generation Rwandan runner, whose life and olympic dream is threatened by political tensions between the Tutsi and Hutu populations. The book follows Jean Patrick's life from his early childhood through his adult life as Rwanda's internal conflict threatens not only his athletic aspirations, but also his family and loved ones alike.

The Perfect Mile (Neil Bascomb - 2005) Memoir - "The Perfect Mile" chronicles the pursuit of a sub 4 minute mile by England's Roger Bannister, Australia's John Landy, and American Wes Santee. Following disappointment in the 1952 Summer Olympics, each of the three athletes dedicated their training to pursue becoming the first runner to break the 4 minute barrier in the mile. The book details the unique challenges faced by the runners: Bannister, who would have to balance his training with his studies to become a physician, Landy, who's home country lacked interest in the sport and therefore found himself unable to find other runners to train with, and Santee, whose military obligations and feuds with amateur sports governing bodies interfered with his quest to become the first under four minutes. While this story is a captivating one on its own, it's particularly interesting today, in comparison with Eluid Kipchoge's recent attempt at the sub 2 hour marathon only without the shoe controversy.

Iron War (Matt Fitzgerald - 2011) Memoir - The story of what Fitzgerald calls "The Greatest Race Ever Run", the 1989 Ironman World Championship. The book details the personal lives and athletic careers of two of the greatest triathletes of all time, Dave Scott and Mark Allen, whose professional running career pinnacles' would align at the sport's greatest competition. Fitzgerald accounts in detail the contrasting upbringings and personalities of these two legends and the buildup and nuance of the race itself, closing out with the careers and lives of the athletes following the race. While I myself am not a triathlete, I found myself captivated by Fitzgerald's storytelling and anxiously waiting for the race outcome, not knowing who would win before reading the book.

The Runner (Markus Torgeby - 2018) Memoir - The autobiography of Markus Torgeby, a Swedish runner that decided to live in a remote Swedish forest at the age of 20 and dedicate his life to running. The book serves as a real-life account of someone who opted for "the simple life", opting for a life outdoors over the more traditional 9 to 5. The story includes the ups and downs of his youth running career, his mother's battle with Multiple Sclerosis, a side trip to Africa, and the author's subsequent battle with a borderline eating disorder. While I found moments of this book liberating, I found that Torgeby's writing lacked engaging detail, focusing too much on the less interesting background of the author's upbringing, and not enough of the liberating anecdotes from his runs in the remote Swedish wilderness.

The Running Dream (Wendelin Van Draanen - 2011) Fiction - The fictional story of Jessica, a high school track star whose life comes crashing before her after suffering the loss of her right leg in a tragic bus accident after a track meet. The novel details Jessica's grief in the loss of her leg and her battle with the idea that she may never run again, let alone compete in another running competition. While the book has overwhelmingly positive reviews on goodreads, I found the story and writing a bit better suited for the young adult audience it was written for.

The Long Walk - (Richard Bachman (Pseudonym), Stephen King - 1999) Fiction - Perhaps the only thriller book ever written related to running, "The Long Walk" is the story of an annual event where 100 boys are selected from across the country to compete in a last man standing race. Each time a competitor drops below the speed of 4 MPH, he earns a warning, and upon the third warning, the runner is euthanized by one of many soldiers enforcing the race bylaws. No, this is not another creation from "The Barkley Marathons" race director Lazurus Lake, this story was penned under Stephen King's pseudonym, Richard Bachman.

How Bad Do You Want It (Matt Fitzgerald - 2015) Science - An interesting read about the psychology of endurance sports. Blending scientific studies with anecdotes as a coach and endurance athlete himself, Fitzgerald explains that our limits are merely a figment of our imagination and there is always room to push a little harder.

Eat and Run (Scott Jurek - 2012) Memoir Science - The amazing, candid story of an unlikely Midwestern kid becoming one of the all-time ultrarunning greats, juxtaposed with anecdotal, often unscientific attribution of those successes to a vegan diet. Without getting into the polarizing debate about the vegan diet, the story of his rise to running success is bookworthy enough. I personally finished feeling like the book would have held up just as well without the soapboxy narrative related to the merits of the vegan diet.

Running with the Buffaloes (Chris Lear - 2000) Memoir - An inside look at the University of Colorado cross country team's quest for a national title during the 1998 season. In my research on the best books about running, this book came up as frequently as any other, but to be honest, I personally found it to be a little underwhelming. While the magnitude of the team's challenge was great and Lear's access unprecedented, I found it to be repetitive and boring. Perhaps because I have never run cross country or participated on any sort of formal running team, I could not relate to the triumphs and tribulations of team-running and found myself quickly growing tired of the training session recaps.

80/20 Running (Matt Fitzgerald - 2015) Science - A training book centered on the idea that the perfect balance of any runner's training regimen consists of 80 percent of runs at low intensity and 20 percent at high intensity. While the book makes many good points about recovery, injury prevention, and physiology, I finished the book feeling like I could have gotten the same value out of a shorter piece.

The Incomplete Book of Running (Peter Sagal - 2018) Memoir - NPR host and Runner's World columnist Peter Sagal's running memoir. Sagal's writing style is humorous and engaging, and his story includes his youth battle with obesity, running the 2013 Boston Marathon (the year of the bombing), guiding multiple blind runners in marathons, his own race PRs, as well as his divorce and dealing with depression. The book also includes some beginner-oriented tips on getting into running, targeting those that have tried but failed to stick with the sport. As a Chicago runner, also in the later stages of my running career, I could relate to Sagal's lighthearted reflections on his running career and personal life.

Tier 5 - Just Making the Cut

25. Daniels' Running Formula (Jack Daniels - 1998) Science - Daniels' Running Fomula is a comprehensive guide to competitive running that includes specific running workouts including their relative intensities and physiological purposes, training plans for a variety of race distances, and various tables and formulas for calculating paces across races and training runs. Daniels methods are all backed by extensive science and research, as well as his many years of experience as a coach. The book covers nearly every topic of running including training plans, scientific studies, altitude training, footwear, nutrition, sleep, and much more.

24. My Year of Running Dangerously (Tom Foreman - 2015) Memoir - CNN correspondent Tom Foreman's memoir about running. As far as memoirs go, this is perhaps the most relatable to us weekend warriors managing our 9 to 5s without skipping a workout. Foreman tells the story of taking a 30 year hiatus from the sport before getting the running bug, running several races, then finding himself training with every minute of free time that he can find for an ultra marathon race.

23. Advanced Marathoning (Pete Pfitzinger, Scott Douglas - 2001) Science - Though very specific to running marathons and not meant for the average runner, I personally gained so much from this book in terms of understanding the concepts and purposes of the various types of runs that I felt compelled to include it, if only in the honorable mention section. If you've got a couple of marathons under your belt, and you want to step up your training beyond the typical marathon training plan you can download online, I highly recommend this book as long as you are willing to run at least 55 miles per week.

22. Running with Sherman (Christopher McDougall - 2019) Memoir - Born to Run author Christopher McDougall's unusual story about training a rescue donkey to run a burro race in Colorado. While this book was a departure from the prominent characters and themes of Born to Run, McDougall's storytelling abilities make it nearly as engaging.

21. Finding Ultra (Rich Roll - 2012) Memoir - The comeback story of functioning-alcoholic Rich Roll's transformation into an elite triathlete. While very inspiring, I found that Roll's physical transformation story would have been better received without the snake-oil like pushing of his diet. Nonetheless, Roll's story is an amazing one and definitely worth a read.

Tier 4 - Solid Reads

20. Anatomy for Runners (Jay Dicharry - 2012) Science - While not a page turner by any means, Dicharry's "Anatomy for Runners" is the holy grail source for understanding the complex running machine that is the human body. Furthermore, this book explains the physiology of certain running injuries, followed by exercises to treat and prevent those injuries from occurring in the future. Read this book and you can impress your friends by explaining to them what proprioception means and why they can skip their morning static stretch routines.

19. North (Scott Jurek - 2018) Memoir - World renowned ultrarunner and Eat and Run author Scott Jurek's recount of his attempt to set the FKT (fastest known time) thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail. After decades of ultrarunning, Jurek sets his sights on a new type of adventure that requires him to run nearly 50 miles a day for more than a month and a half on tough terrain. Documenting his experience throughout the journey, Jurek offers a unique account of the record setting event as it unfolds.

18. Run the World (Becky Wade - 2016) Memoir - "Run the World" is the memoir of NCAA All-American, Becky Wade, who earned a Watson fellowship following her 2012 graduation, allowing her to visit nine different countries and explore their cultural approaches to running. Uncertain about pursuing a professional career in running, Wade explores what running means to various cultures, allowing her to identify what running means to her and help reinforce her instinct to dedicate her career to the sport. In researching books about running, "Run the World" was absent from lists put together by others, but filled with history, training practices, and first hand accounts of elite level runs with athletes, this book is an absolute hidden gem.

17. Can't Hurt Me (David Goggins - 2018) Memoir - The amazing autobiographical transformation story of David Goggins. Describing the challenges that come with growing up poor, overweight, and black, Goggins makes drastic changes to his life, making his way through the military ranks before ultimately becoming a Navy Seal and ultra marathon running elite. Reading this book is nearly as inspirational as it gets, made even better by listening to Goggins speak about these adventures in long-form podcast/audiobook format.

16. The Way of the Runner (Adharanand Finn - 2016) Memoir - A follow up to "Running with the Kenyans," "The Way of the Runner" is author Adharanand Finn's recollection of uprooting his family and moving to Japan in hopes of understanding the culture of arguably the most running obsessed country on the planet. "The Way of the Runner" details Japan's infatuation with the Ekiden event - a team based relay race usually of a very long distance. In this book, you'll discover the Hakone Ekiden, Japan's biggest Ekiden race, rivaling the Super Bowl in terms of per-capita viewership, and how the race may actually be holding back Japan's elite runners from global accolades.

Tier 3 - Cracking the Top 15

15. Ultramarathon Man (Dean Karnazes - 2006) Memoir - Icon and ultrarunning pioneer Dean Karnazes describes what it's like to truly be addicted to the sport of running in "Ultramarathon Man." Featuring tales of middle of the night runs, eating whole pizzas without breaking stride, and winning races, "Ultramarathon Man" is responsible, in part, for the recent rise in popularity of the sport.

14. Life is a Marathon (Matt Fitzgerald - 2019) Memoir - Matt Fitzgerald is my favorite running author and "Life is a Marathon" is the running-centric, unflinchingly revealing, roller-coaster story of his life. The memoir toggles between stories of his biggest running moments and those of most significance in his personal life, including his personal struggle with low self-confidence and his wife's battle with mental illness. Though Fitzgerald is by no means a professional runner, nor his life story particularly unique, "Life is a Marathon" serves as a motivational source for us middle-of-the-packers trying to express what running means to us.

13. The Rise of the Ultra Runners (Adharanand Finn - 2019) Memoir - "The Rise of the Ultra Runners" is a piece that captures the current state of the ultra running phenonmenon. The book features profiles and quotes from some of the world's best ultra runners, including internet famous Sage Canaday, and legends Jim Walmsley and Kilian Jornet. It also discusses the complicated question of why the world's best ultra runners don't come from the powerhouse countries of all other running competitions, Kenya and Ethiopia. Finally, the book discusses the author's own experience in the sport of ultra running, giving a first-hand account of what it really takes to race at a distance more than 26.2 miles.

12. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Haruki Murakami - 2008) Memoir - One of running's most famous books, "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" is the story of Japanese author Haruki Murakami's life experiences and their relation to his running career. After selling his small business to devote his life to writing, in 1982, Murakami begins running to fill the void left after leaving his busy entrepreneurial career. Running begins to feed his passion for writing, and vice versa, inspiring running adventure stories in Greece, Japan, Hawaii and New York. "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" is a relatable, yet captivating tale of one man's life and his passion to run.

11. Let Your Mind Run - (Deena Kastor - 2018) Memoir - Olympic medalist Deena Kastor's memoir, "Let Your Mind Run" details the complete and chronological running career of the American legend. Kastor's autobiography teaches us that being born with talent is only a piece of what is required to achieve greatness. Taking us through her youth running career and collegiate struggles before ultimately reaching her professional breakthrough, Kastor explains how she unlocked greatness by paying attention to her thoughts, and shifting her psychology towards positive outcomes. While Kastor is one of the greatest runners in American history, her stories and insight prove inspiring and beneficial for even the most amateur enthusiasts.

Tier 2 - The Best of Science and other Greats

10. Running the Dream (Matt Fitzgerald - 2020) Memoir - The brand new work by running writing legend, Matt Fitzgerald, who, inspired by author George Plimpton's attendance at the Detriot Lions 1963 preseason training camp and subsequent book, "Paper Lion," joins the NAZ elite professional running team for 3 months in an attempt to achieve his marathon PR as a 46 year old runner.

9. Racing Weight / The New Rules of Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition (Matt Fitzgerald 2009/2013) Science - I've combined these two books into a single entry on my list (I make the rules around here). With so many diets being pushed in the running world (veganism, keto, carnivore, etc.), these books provide clarity with scienctific studies and how to apply them in all facets of a running cycle. Racing Weight was published in 2009, and in the ten years since, it has held up tremendously well.

8. Running with the Kenyans (Adharanand Finn - 2012) Memoir - The quest to answer the question: What makes Kenyan runners so much better than everyone else? Spoiler alert: it's a combination of factors. "Running with the Kenyans" is the story of running author Adharanand Finn's journey to Africa in an attempt to understand what makes the Kenyans so damn fast.

7. Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness (Suzy Favor Hamilton - 2015) Memoir - The unbelievable autobiography of Olympian turned Las Vegas escort Suzy Hamilton and her battle with mental health. While there are many stories of destructive behavior in endurance sport literature, this is perhaps the most unique and unexpected.

6. Endure (Alex Hutchinson - 2018) Science - The ultimate scientific overview of human limits in endurance sports, "Endure" is an interesting read that blends scientific studies with real life anecdotes about running. Hutchinson is a legend in the sports writing world and this is his Mona Lisa, earning my top spot for pure running science book.

Tier 1 - The Classics

5. Shoe Dog (Phil Knight - 2016) Memoir - The origin story of Phil Knight, founder and CEO of Nike. An amazing book that I considered for the top spot, but ultimately, it fell short because, while running is a theme of the story, the book centers more on business and other topics.

4. Once a Runner / Again to Carthage / Racing the Rain (John L. Parker Jr. - 1999/2005/2015) Fiction - The fictional trilogy of Quenton Cassidy, a Floridian youth runner whose running and life chronicles are intertwined with Vietnam era politics and struggles. Rather than ranking these three novels individually, I grouped them together, with "Once a Runner" being my favorite and earning the top spot for running fiction book.

3. Running Man (Charlie Engle - 2016) Memoir - The autobiography of one-time crack cocaine addicted, alcoholic ultramarathoner Charlie Engle. This amazing story highlights detailed accounts of addiction, incarceration, recovery, and the flourishing of an ultra running career filled with running feats and firsts that earns the top spot for running autobiography.

2. Born to Run (Christopher McDougall - 2009) Memoir Science - Perhaps no book in the history of literature has been more influential on runners than "Born to Run." "Born to Run" tells the story of the author's struggle to stay healthy running, intertwined with the story of elite American ultramarathoners competing against native Mexican runners of the Tarahumara tribe. The book poses a simple question that remains unanswered more than 10 years after its publication: do modern shoes make us better runners or more injury prone?

1. Unbroken - (Laura Hillenbrand - 2010) Memoir - The amazing survival story of American Olympian Louis Zamperini, whose pursuit of a gold medal at the Olympic games was put on hold as he joined the Army Air Forces during World War II.

Admittedly, I haven't read every running book in existence - no one has. Here are a handful of other running-related books on my to-read backlog. I plan on updating my list as I finish these. If you have other suggestions, hit me up on goodreads.

Easy Portobello Sandwiches

date April 30, 2020 location The Kitchen

As the warm weather is starting to tease us with its presence in the Midwest, I decided to take my first crack at the grill of this season, and what better way to do that than a grilled portobello sandwich. This recipe is super simple, quick, and best of all, requires little cleanup. My only complaint is, as a runner, the macros aren't great and the protein content from the mushrooms and cheese aren't high enough to offset the added carbs from the bread.

Ingredients (makes 2 sandwiches):

4 Bread Slices
2 Portobello Mushrooms
1 Bell Pepper
1 Garlic Clove (minced)
1 Green Onion (chopped)
1 bunch Parsley (minced)
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
2 slices of Soft Cheese (Mozzarella, Provolone, etc)
(optional side of asparagus)

Slice the bell pepper in half and remove the seeds.
In a small bowl, combine the bell pepper, portobello mushrooms, garlic clove, and olive oil.

Apply olive oil on both sides of the bread. Grill the mushrooms, bell pepper, and bread until cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per side.

Top two of the bread slices with cheese and melt in the grill or under the oven broiler.

Slice the bell pepper into thin slices.
Assemble the sandwiches by topping one of the cheese-less halves with the mushroom, pepper slices, and herbs.

Goes great with a side of roasted asparagus!

The Farm Taste Review and Unboxing

date April 29, 2020 location The Kitchen

As I mentioned in an earlier post, a co-worker of mine introduced me to his friend's startup: The Farm Taste. The service is brand new, and the founder personally delivers food directly from local farms that have lost business due to lost demand from the restaurant industry. Having these boxes delivered has both helped avoid or delay making a trip to the grocery store, and also adds some excitement and quality to my meals as restaurant-quality meals remain a figment of the distant past for the foreseeable future.

I am not compensated in any way for making this and other posts about the Farm Taste, I am simply posting because of my own excitement about it, and because I think it's an idea that will catch on.

Without further ado, here are a few photos I took during an unboxing of my latest order: The Essential Dairy Box, and the Vegetarian Farm Box.

The Essential Dairy Box (Family Size) includes:
1/2 gallon Fresh Milk
1 dozen Fresh Eggs
1/2 lb Brick Cheese
1/2 lb Butter

Of all the items I've received, I may have been the most impressed with the milk. The milk comes from a local dairy farm and I was just blown away with the creaminess of it. I usually buy whole milk at the store and even store bought whole milk can't hold a candle to the creaminess of this milk. It's as if all the milk I've been drinking has been watered down compared to this.

The Vegetarian Farm Box came with:
1 lb Asparagus
1 lb Beets
2 lb Cabbage
1 lb Carrots
2 lb Celery
1 Garlic Head
4 Portobello Mushrooms
2 Bell Peppers
4 Russet Potatoes
1 bunch Spinach
1 bunch Parsley
1 bunch Green Onions
3 cups Strawberries
1 loaf Fresh Bread from a local bakery

As you can see there are a ton of goodies included. I actually had to leave out some of the strawberries and spinach so I could fit everything in the frame. The quality of everything is superb and I may have trouble if I ever have to go back to grocery store bought vegetables.

You can use the code "FRIENDS100" to save $10 off your next order.

The Farm Taste - Steak Fajita Burritos

date April 25, 2020 location The Kitchen

A co-worker of mine introduced me to his friend's startup: The Farm Taste. The service is brand new, and the founder personally delivers food directly from local farms that have lost business due to lost demand in the restaurant industry. I ordered my first box last week and was amazed at the quality of their produce and dairy products (use the code FRIENDS100 to save $10).

I would like to post more recipes inspired by their boxes, and I have an idea for a steak and homemade pasta recipe that could use almost every item in their Essential Farm Box, so be on the lookout for that. In the meantime, this is a steak fajitas burrito recipe.


2 10oz Ribeye Steaks (Essential Farm Box)
2 Bell Peppers (Essential Farm Box)
1/2 cup Cheddar Cheese (shredded) (Essential Dairy Box)
2 Garlic Cloves (Essential Farm Box)
1 tablespoon Chili Powder
1 teaspoon Paprika
1 teaspoon Cumin
1 pinch Cayenne Pepper (spice to your liking)
1/2 teaspoon Salt
2 Flour Tortillas

Preheat the Oven to 400 degrees.
Slice the bell peppers into strips, and add to an oven safe dish. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil, then add all of the spices and garlic. Mix.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

While the fajitas are baking, prepare your steak to your liking. I used the Serious Eats Reverse Sear method on the girl which involves adding salt to the steak, refrigerating for 40 minutes, cooking on the cold side of a preheated grill until reaching 125 degrees, then finished on the oiled hot side of a grill for 45 seconds per side. I used the oven/skillet method of his Reverse Sear with the other portion of my steak and preferred that method though to grilling, though grilling felt right for a Mexican steak.

Shred the cheese.

Slice the steak, combine in a burrito with the peppers and shredded cheese and serve with your favorite toppings. I went for sour cream (not pictured) and salsa.

Easy, Healthy Fish Tacos

date April 21, 2020 location The Kitchen

The term "healthy" when describing food can be pretty subjective and contextual. The best model for evaluating the health of food that I've come across was something I read in a Matt Fitzgerald book, which considers 3 criteria: nutrient density, naturalness, and caloric density. So a food packed with nutrients, unaltered from it's original state, and low in calories would be extremely, healthy while a food with few nutrients, heavily processed, and loaded with calories would not be considered healthy. Given this criteria, I think these fish tacos meet the former criteria, and better yet contian one of my favorite foods as of late, cabbage.

For the Fish:
8oz White Fish (cod, pollock, mahi mahi) - I used pollock
1/2 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoons Salt
1 teaspoon Caribbean Seasoning

For The Cabbage Slaw
1/4 cup Cilantro
1 cup Cabbage
1 cup Red Cabbage
1/4 cup Shredded Carrots
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Lime Juice
1/4 cup Greek Yogurt
1/2 teaspoon Salt
8 Corn Tortillas

If using frozen fish, thaw completely. Pat fish dry with a towel and season with salt, cumin and caribeean seasoning.

Combine the slaw ingredients and keep refrigerated.

Heat a skillet with cooking oil and pan fry the fish for about 4 or 5 minutes on each side until fish because to look golden brown.

Lightly oil the tortillas and grill for about a minute on each side.
To assemble the tacos place some slaw on the bottom of each tortilla and to with the fish.

Chopped Challenge Round 2: Matty

date April 14, 2020 location The Kitchen

As the second contestant in the chopped challenge, I had the advantage of strategizing around Brit's performance. If her meal didn't come together the way she wanted, I could impose a more conservative strategy in my dish, doing just enough to outperform her. Unfortunately, that was not the case and I knew I had pull out all the stops for my challenge.

The mystery ingredients:

- Greek Yogurt
- Wonton Wrappers
- Blueberries
- Bratwursts

This was definitely a tough basket, and struggling to think creatively around wonton wrappers, the best idea I could come up with was to make... wontons.

Naturally, the meat would be a component in the wonton filling which left the blueberries and greek yogurt as a sauce. What I came up with is Broccoli, Bratwurst and Cheddar Bechamel stuffed Wontons, served over a Blueberry Balsamic sauce.

For the Wontons:

1/2 Onion, diced
4 Bratwurst Sausage Links
1 cup Broccoli
Cheddar Bechamel (recipe follows)

For the Bechamel Cheddar:
2 tablespoons Butter
2 tablespoons Flour
1 1/4 cups Milk, heated
1/2 cup Cheddar Cheese
Freshly ground pepper

For the Blueberry Balsamic Sauce:

1 tablespoon Butter
1 cup fresh Blueberries
1 tablespoon Honey
1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 cup Greek Yogurt, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon Corn Starch

Preparation Steps:
For the Wontons:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine broccoli with about a tablespoon of cooking oil, add salt to taste. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until broccoli begins to brown.

Grease a skillet with cooking oil. Over medium heat, cook onions for about 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add bratwursts and continue to cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bratuwursts and dice finely.

Make the Cheddar Bechamel:
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but don't let it brown - about 2 minutes. Congratulations, you've made a Roux! Add the hot milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring it to a boil. Add cheese, salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat, and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove from the heat.

In a large mixing bowl, combine bratwurst, broccoli.

Add the Cheddar Bechamel.

Add about a a teaspoon of filling to each wonton and wrap - I used the diamond method, folding the wrappers into a triangle diaganolly, then affixing one corner to the other.

Fry the wontons in at least an inch of cooking oil at 375 degrees, for about 1-2 minutes on each side.

For the Blueberry Balsamic Sauce

Add the balsamic vinegar, honey, and blueberries to the pan and bring to a boil, until almost completely reduced, around 5 minutes (you can stir, but try to preserve the shape of the blueberries).

Remove from heat, add the butter and let cool for a few minutes. Strain the mixture, separating the blueberries.

The next step is to combine the greek yogurt with the sauce. This will add a nice thick creaminess to the sauce, but you'll need to be careful as yogurt curdles at high temperatures, particularly nonfat greek yogurt which is what I used. Adding fat (butter), and combining the greek yogurt with corn starch helps prevent curdling.

Combine the Greek Yogurt and cornstarch.
Stir greek yogurt into the sauce.

To plate, using a large spoon, splash the sauce onto the plate and place a bunch of blueberries at the start of the splash. Distribute wontons across plate.

Chopped Challenge Round 1: Brit

date April 13, 2020 location The Kitchen

Several years ago, Brittany and I played a game with two other couples where one couple would host dinner while the remaining guest couples would scheme together at the grocery store and show up to the meal with "mystery ingredients" - the more exotic, the better. The hosting couple would be forced to prepare a meal with the mystery ingredients and whatever else they had in their kitchen, a game based on the Food Network show "Chopped".

With the pandemic having us look to alternative forms of entertainment, and a recent shopping spree of shelf-stable pantry items having us look to make room in the cabinet and freezer, my wife and I decided to play a 1 on 1 version of the game using some ingredients that were nearing their expiration date. The rules are as follows:

- All 4 ingredients must be used
- Each chef is given 24 hours notice of the ingredients, and may leverage the internet for inspiration

The dish will then be judged on the following criteria:
- Taste
- Use of the mystery ingredients (does the recipe showcase the ingredients or hide them)
- Plating/Presentation

Oh, and just like the show, there is only 1 ice cream maker. First come, first served.

Brit's Mystery Ingredients:

- Pancake Mix
- Black-Eyed Peas
- Salmon
- Champagne Mango

Brit's Plan: Salmon Croquettes with Black Eyed Pea Purée and a Mango Sweet Chili Drizzle

For the Croquettes:

1/2 onion, diced
1/2 cup Pancake Mix
1/4 cup Corn Meal
1/2 cup Bell Peppers, diced
1/4 cup Mayonnaisse
1 teaspoon Cajun Seasoning
2 Garlic Cloves, minced

For the Mango Sweet Chili Sauce:

1 Champagne Mango
2 tablespoons Thai Sweet Chili Sauce

For the Black-Eyed Peas
1 package Frozen Black-Eyed Peas
1/4 cup Butter
Salt, to taste

Preparation Steps:
For the Croquettes:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place salmon on greased baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes until cooked.

In a large mixing bowl, pull the salmon apart with two forks. Add the onion, pancake mix, corn meal, bell peppers, mayo, cajun seasoning and garlic cloves.

Combine into batter, then form into patties about 4 inches in diameter.

Fry patties on a greased, medium temp pre-heated skillet for about 3 minutes per side.

For the Mango Chili Sauce:
Combine the mango and sweet chili sauce in a blender and blend until smooth, store the sauce in a plastic squeeze bottle.

For the Black-Eyed Peas:
Add 3 cups of water to a large pot and bring to a boil. Add black-eyed peas, return to a boil then reduce heat to low. Let simmer for 40 minutes covered. Remove from heat.

In a blender, combine melted butter, cooked peas, and salt. Blend until smooth.

To serve, spoon the black-eyed peas on a plate, top with Croquettes. Carefully squeeze out a zig-zag pattern of the mango chili sauce on the cakes.

Grandma's Famous Swedish Pancakes

date April 13, 2020 location The Kitchen

These are my grandma's famous Swedish Pancakes, always prepared with mandarin orange sauce. The recipe has been in the family for a long, long time and when I asked my mom where it came from she wasn't certain and thought it may have been cut out of a newspaper. While its origins remain a mystery, it is a certainty that this recipe has left many Hart family grandchildren with full bellies over the years.

For the Mandarin Orange Sauce:
1/2 cup Sugar
2 tablespoons Corn Starch
1 11oz can Mandarin Oranges
1/2 cup Orange Juice

For the Swedish Pancakes:
3 eggs
1 cup Flour
1 cup Milk
1 cup Half and Half
3 tablespoons Butter, melted
1 tablespoon Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Salt

For the Mandarin Orange Sauce:
Combine sugar and corn starch in a medium saucepan.

Drain 1/2 cup of juice from canned oranges and combine with the 1/2 cup of orange juice. Discard excess canned orange juice (though the can usually contains exactly 1/2 cup of juice).
Stir juice mixture into sauce pan until smooth. Heat until boiling, stirring constantly until thick around oranges. Serve warm.

For the Pancakes:
Beat eggs with 1/2 cup milk for 3 minutes.
Add flour, beat to heavy, smooth consistency. Beat in remaining milk, sugar, half and half, butter and salt.

Pour onto lightly greased griddle.

Spinach Pancakes with Cream Cheese and Corn

date April 13, 2020 location The Kitchen

A couple of years ago, Brittany and I would occasionally splurge on a meal delivery service. Though we now prefer to do our own shopping, these services are a great way to discover new meal ideas, unique ingredients, and combinations you would never have thought of. One of our favorite dishes was Meez Meal's Spinach Pancakes with Basil Corn Relish.

The below recipe is a slightly healthier spin-off of that dish. To make it even healthier, just skip the cream cheese and use less butter in the rosemary corn topping.


For the Pancakes:
1 10oz package Frozen Spinach
2 tablespoons butter
2 Eggs
1/2 cup Semi-Soft Italian Cheese (Fontina, Gruyere, Provalone, Gouda or Emmentel) - I used mozzarella here which is a little too Soft
1 15oz can Chickpeas
1 Onion
2 garlic cloves

For the Cream Cheese:
4oz Cream Cheese
1 tablespoon Lemon Juice

For the Corn:
3 tablespoons Butter
1 sprig of fresh Rosemary
5oz Corn (Fresh, frozen, canned) - in that order of priority

Preparation Steps:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Separate the chickpeas from their liquid but do not discard (this will be used to make aquafaba later which gives the pancakes a fluffier texture).

In a large bowl, mash the chickpeas to a smooth texture using a fork or potato masher. Melt the butter and add it to the bowl. Drain all the water from the spinach and add it to the bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, then add them to the large bowl. Shred the cheese and add it to the bowl. Mince the garlic, dice the onion and them to the bowl and combine all the ingredients into a batter.

To make the aquafaba, put the liquid from the can of chickpeas in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk on high for 3 to 5 minutes until stiff peaks form. Add the aquafaba to the large bowl and stir until comined.

Melt 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter, cooking oil, or ghee (if you're fancy like me) on a skillet over medium heat. Ladle the batter on the griddle and cook until golden brown (2-3 minutes), then flip and cook for another 2 or so minutes.

Transfer the pancakes to a greased baking sheet and continue baking in the oven for 7-10 minutes.

While the pancakes are baking, prepare the cream cheese and corn toppings.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add cream cheese and lemon juice and whip until smooth.

In a small saucepan add butter, rosemary and corn and cook over medium-low heat until the butter just starts to brown.

To serve, top pancakes with a scoop of cream cheese, and spoon the butter rosemary corn on top.