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Grace’s Coconut Oat and Nut Granola

Coconut Flake and Nut Granola

Granola’s great in the summer. However, there’s something about heating up the oven, stirring up a large bowl of oats.  And then letting the warm, toasty smells fill the room while baking away the morning of a cold winter day. Call it winter solace. Granola solace. Call it whatever you want to describe a moment that sometimes just can’t be summed up in words.

Coconut Flake and Nut Granola

Coconut flakes are my new obsession, and I find them now to almost be a mandatory component of granola. I tracked through Philadelphia for nearly 2 hours – across 5 different stores – just to find them a few months ago, determined to make this Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with Coconut Bacon. At the time, I was questioning my sanity. But after finally finding the flakes, and later obsessing over them during multiple cooking encounters, I am now questioning the sanity of the stores that are not carrying them.  Coconut flakes are worth every last step of an adventure to go find them.

For my Philly followers, check out Essene Market in Queen’s Village. For everyone else, I got tipped off along my travels that is a good place to order coconut flakes.

Whatever you do, don’t succumb to buying the shreds. Unfortunately, they’re simply not the same as their larger, flakier counterpart.

Coconut Flake and Nut GranolaFeel free to play around with the nuts you use in your granola. I personally love a little variety. Pecans, walnuts & almonds are always a must for me, and various other seeds are generally just an added, crunchy health bonus.

Coconut Flake and Nut Granola

Spoon over hot or cold cereal in the morning, enjoy as is with milk, or simply pack a handful in a bag to eat on the run. Granola is a versatile, energy-packed snack, and when you make it yourself, you can ensure you’re fueling up on the good stuff. Forget chowing down on a bag of sugar and unnecessary processed ingredients. That’s no good. Plus, when you skip out on making it yourself, you miss that toasty smell from your oven like I mentioned before. Nothing beats that.

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Discoveries from a Running Break

So yesterday I blogged about taking a break from running for a couple months. If you’re not an avid runner, this may seem trivial. But most people who regularly run can probably attest that this can be both challenging, and for some, much needed. It was definitely much needed for me and ended up doing me a whole lot of good. From taking a break for a substantial amount of time from something I was so used to doing on a consistent basis, I actually learned a lot about my body.

Here are a few things I discovered:

-Yoga feels great. Yup, that’s not a revolutionary thought or a new discovery to me, but I had to start the list off with that one. Yoga calms the mind, heals the body, and can keep you in pretty decent shape. Looks like a win-win combo. to me. Also, no running means more time to practice yoga. And since I didn’t want yoga to fall into the boring zone too, I discovered a lot of fun things I could do. Like the scorpion pose. And back-handsprings off the wall. And my never-ending efforts to move my handstand away from the wall. That’s always a fun one.

-No running + minimal strength training really does the body wonders in terms of flexibility.  After a few weeks of solely doing yoga, I was sliding into splits like they were no big deal and rolling into shoulder stands that felt straighter than the wall. Once returning to running, I can already feel my body beginning to tighten up a bit, even with a fairly consistent yoga practice. You want to get your legs behind your head…ditch the running for a bit and practice yoga everyday instead.

-Losing weight is more about how much and what foods you put in your body rather than how many minutes you work up a sweat at the gym. Don’t get me wrong, exercise is an important part of any weight loss program, but decreasing calorie intake is where you’re going to see the pounds drop. For me, running really amps up my appetite. Once I stopped running, I found it so much easier to balance my diet/cravings/meals. I actually ended up unintentionally dropping a few pounds (yep, losing weight from discontinuing running!) because I no longer felt myself wanting to snack all the time. Doing yoga regularly automatically makes you become more in tune with your body. And with less running means less of an insatiable appetite, making it easier to gauge when you’re full. So no, stopping my running rouinte certainly didn’t instantly make me fat and lazy. No worries there.

-A break can take running from a chore to luxury. Since I broke my routine for awhile, running no longer seems like just another part of my same old, same old routine anymore. Instead, those chances I get to run now feel like a treat. I’m excited to log some miles rather than count down some minutes.

What about you, have you ever taken a break from one of your passions? What did you discover from the experience?

A Break From Running

Finding my own balance

So I have a confession to make. Me, lover of all things running, gave my little legs a restful hiatus over the past few months. I pushed my worn-out (although, I like to think perfectly worn-in) running shoes to the side, tucked my favorite, super lightweight running shorts in their proper drawer, and kissed my Girl Talk, hip hop-filled playlist goodbye for awhile. Heck, I even cut back a little on my fresh-air intake, something I’m rarely fond of doing.

Why? When running starts to become a chore rather than a recreational release, you know it’s time for a break. At least, that’s how I run my life, no pun intended. So this is what happened to me. As my life started to become busier and busier, running began to appear as just another thing on my mental list that needed to be crossed off. I felt tired. Uninspired. Worn-out, but not in that good way that was letting my favorite pair of Asics reap a ton of comfortable benefits. I simply became bored with running, and life’s daily stresses were drawing me away from a once loved activity. So that’s when I knew. I was going to take a hiatus from running for however long I needed. No guilt. No regrets. But instead, tons and tons of stress-relieving, rejuvenating yoga.

So my second confession? Not running felt amazing. It freed up sometime for me to further pursue other activities (i.e. YOGA!) and also gave me a little extra time just to relax. I can’t say it was entirely easy, giving up something you’re used to doing day in and day out. Especially when you have a roommate training for a half marathon (which she completed in excellent time, woohoo!). But the more I focused on yoga, the better I felt. I began to see that I didn’t need running to make my life complete or make me feel (or look) good. It was almost like freeing myself from an addiction, although certainly not that extreme. Eventually, I found that the break helped me not only regenerate my energy but my desire to start getting those legs and arms of mine pumping again too.

So, after a few months, I’ve slowly started running again. The first run…yeah, it was a little tough. I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t lose a little stamina. (I’m a firm believer that yoga can make you as strong as a tiger, but to be as fast as a cheetah, well, you need a little cardiovascular work too.) My breath was heavy, and I was giving myself a pat on the back and calling it a day after just two miles. All just a normal part of taking a break. According to Runner’s World, within just 21 days your muscles’ aerobic enzymes (key chemicals that help produce the energy you need to run) fall by 25% or more. And a several week break is guaranteed to add a minute to your superstar 5-K time. But who cares. I actually found running for just 20 minutes to be more enjoyable than ever before. And only a couple runs later, I’m already doubling my miles, getting back in the groove of my normal running times. It’s called muscle memory.

Now, I look at running more as a luxury rather than a chore.  And like yoga, it’s once again become a stress-reliever, rather than a stress-generator. What better time to come to this feeling than in between the holidays, when I probably could use a little stress-relief and a holiday cookie-burning sweat the most.

The bottom line and reason I’ve shared this today is that if you want to take a break, then do it. Whether it be from running, cooking, yoga, or anything you might find yourself becoming bored with. No matter how healthy the activity is, losing a happy balance in life is never truly healthy. No regrets. No guilt. Nothing to lose. The activity will always be there for you if you decide you may want to come back to it. For me, I’ll always be a runner. But I will never let running run my life.

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing a few things I discovered over the hiatus…like maybe running isn’t the best way to shed weight? At least for me.

Hyde Park

Enjoy some time away from the streets of London and head to Hyde Park.  Filled with 4,000 trees, a jumbo lake complete with the cutest quackers, and tons of historical monuments, Hyde Park is the perfect place for a stroll.

Stretching across 350 acres, Hyde Park is no small playground.  Equipped with a carousel, tennis courts, boat rentals, and tons of grassy fields to stretch your legs, Hyde Park is quite the public park.  If you get a chance to go, which you should if you’re ever in London, make sure to check out some of the historical sites, such as the Diana Fountain, a memorial for Princess Diana, or Kensington Palace, standing beautifully just at the edge of the park.

What I love most about Hyde Park is that despite being located in one of the most populated cities in the world, there are many spots in the park where it’s incredibly quiet.  As I lay in the grass enjoying my runner’s high, listening to the birds and staring at the tops of the trees, I feel like I’m the only person in the park.  Yet as I sit up and glance around, I notice a slightly entangled couple perched just a few trees away, a young woman propped up against a sycamore invested in a book, a man spread out in the grass just as I was, and a fairly sparse but continuous stream of walkers striding along the trail just a few feet away.  Surrounded by so many people, yet I feel as though the park is my own.  When I lay back down, my thoughts drift back to myself as I watch the swift London clouds flow quickly right on by.

It’s the perfect place for a picnic. Or a run, a hike, or a bike ride.  Jump in a pick-up soccer game or to read a book amidst greenery and gardens.  Whatever you decide to do, the space in Hyde Parks is yours to use. (Just remember to share and keep it clean!)

Review: Born to Run

I have wanted to read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall since I heard about it when it initially came out.  A little over a year later, I’ve finally purchased the book and have finished it in no time.  Filled with astonishing facts, noteworthy tips, interesting secrets, and intriguing characters, Born to Run was undoubtedly a quick and worthy read.

After suffering countless running injuries (and he certainly isn’t alone, with 8 out of every 10 runners becoming hurt every year), McDougall ventured deep into the Copper Canyons of Mexico to learn the secrets of some of the best runners around, the Tarahumara Indians.  The superhuman tribe, immune to not just most modern day diseases, but also said to be free of crime, war, and theft, can run hundreds of miles at a time along steep canyon trails with nothing but some flimsy sandals strapped to their feet.  With distance running of 50 or more miles constituting as one of their favorite leisurely activities, each of the Tarahumara Indians track quite a bit of mileage on their own two legs, all without nearly ever suffering from a single injury.

McDougall’s journey through some of North America’s “most savage terrain” would lead him to not only the answers he was seeking of how to avoid runner’s injury, but also to the explanation that we as humans were literally born to run.

At the dawn of his travels, McDougall encounters Caballo Blanco, a non-Tarahumara, “mysterious loner” living among the tribe.   Blanco initially guides McDougall to the cliffs high in the mountains where the Tarahumara secretly reside, where he then tries to absorb and obtain as much information he can gather from the taciturn, seemingly elusive tribe.

Blanco and McDougall keep in contact even after McDougall’s return to the states, where Blanco eventually informs him of a 50-mile race he has brewing in his mind, intending to combine both the superhuman Tarahumara runners and some of America’s best ultramarathoners.  With some effort and presumably a bit of luck, Blanco gathers a substantial unique and lively crew, including some of Tarahumara’s best runners, Scott Jurek, America’s top ultramarathon runner, a babbling barefoot runner named Ted, and a youthful couple from Virginia Beach, all willing to run the race of Blanco’s dreams.  And don’t forget McDougall who uses his new knowledge of running to train for his very own first endurance race, injury free.

As the story unfolds from start to end, McDougall uses his witty and highly entertaining voice to cram in interesting facts, statistics, and scientific stories, as he takes you on your own picturesque journey through the land of the Tarahumara Indians and inside the eclectic personalities of all those who travel there to run.  By the end of the book, you’re bound to want to lace up your sneakers (or buy a new, less cushioned pair first), and hit the ground running…proving to your body that you’re born to soar through the outdoors like never before.