Fitness Friday

I know I’ve been using Fridays to do critter of the week, but in an effort to help everyone (myself included) stay healthy this holiday season, I’m starting a new series called Fitness Friday.

I’m using the first installment to introduce you to a program called Elf For Health.

You may have seen this button on my sidebar and wondered what it was:

Two wonderful bloggers, Lindsay and Elle, came up with this great program for the holidays. For Elf for Health, every participant is paired up with another person, their “elf” . They are supposed to support each other in doing daily challenges and meeting any personal health goals they might have for the holidays.

This week’s Challenges were so much fun!


Monday was meatless Monday. I had this lovely breakfast (homemade yogurt, granola, and cranberry conserve, yum!) For dinner I had these nachos, only I left out the meat; just seasoned black beans for me.


Tuesday’s challenge was to write a hand-written note to someone. I got a jump on my Christmas cards, and got quite a few of them done (these cards are from Hallmark by the way; they’re really pretty).


Wednesday we had to try out a new workout. I went for my regular run, and later did my first HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout. It got my heart beating, for sure!


Thursday’s challenge was to wake up early and meditate. I’m not new to meditation, but I rarely ever take them time to get up early, do some yoga, and then watch the sun rise. It was lovely.


Today’s challenge is to eat as many colors as possible. I’ve got some purple cauliflower in the fridge with “stir-fry” written all over it!

My elf for the next two weeks (we switch elves every two weeks for a six week stretch) is Ashley. She writes a blog called Running Bun, and she’s been an inspiration this week. She is a marathon runner, and has all kinds of tips for a new runner like me. Go check out her blog!

Lindsay (The Lean Green Bean) and Elle (Nutritionella) also have amazing blogs. They are both entering into the field as dieticians, so they are a source of great knowledge and inspiration. Plus, if you want to sign up for rounds tow and three of Elf for Health, they both have sign-up forms on their websites.

I’m having a lot of fun with this extended challenge, and meeting all the “elves” has been awesome! I’m looking forward to the next challenges!

The Wife

Split Pea with Ham and Barley

I feel like it’s weird that I haven’t shared any Thanksgiving recipes with you this week (I know, you were thinking it too) but I had to share this with as many people as possible ASAP.

I love soup, and I go a little soup crazy in the Winter. Split pea has always been a favorite of mine. Last Winter, I made some in the crock pot that was…pretty good. But I figured I could do better. As it turns out, I could. Way better. The results of my experiment were hearty, thick and full of flavor. Try this soup on the next cold, bone-chilling day and you’ll thank me.

Split Pea Soup with Ham and Barley


  • 1 bag (1 Lb) dried split peas
  • 4 C. chicken broth
  • 3 C. water
  • 1 C. pearl barley
  • 3 C. ham, cubed
  • 2 C. carrots, chopped
  • 1 C. onion, chopped
  • 1 C. potato, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step 1: Place the split peas, chicken broth, water, and barley together in a large pot or dutch oven.

Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for an hour.

Step 2: While the soup is simmering, chop the veggies

and the ham.

Then clean up all that ham juice on your counter.

I used a ham steak, but you can use a ham hock or ham bone if you prefer. I personally dislike fishing bones out of things, and the ham steak has more meat.

Step 3: After an hour, add the ham to the soup. Let it simmer, covered, for another hour.

Step 4: After the second hour (stir it occasionally, by the way) add the vegetables. Stir them in, then cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, until the veggies are tender.

Serve the soup immediately, or let it cool and freeze it for later. I did both; I ate some, and froze half for a night when The Renaissance Man is not eating with me (he’s not big on split pea soup, unfortunately).

I feel warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about this soup.

The Wife

Christmas In A Jar

I have been posting the canned goods I’ve been making to give as gifts this holiday season. This particular recipe is not a gift. It’s too good, I am going to hoard it all for myself. But it would make a wonderful holiday gift, and the taste can only be described as “Christmas in a jar”. It is cranberry conserve, and while it’s best use is spooned over poultry, I am not above stirring it into yogurt, spreading it on toast, or eating it right out of the jar.

Conserve is a fruit preserve that includes nuts and dried fruits as well as fresh. It sounds like an odd mix, but I promise it is oh, so right. In this conserve I used pecans and dried apricots, but walnuts and raisins would be good, too.

This recipe is perfect for canning, and uses the boiling water bath method. It yields approximately 8 1/2 pint jars.

Cranberry Conserve


  • 1 orange, seeds removed and chopped
  • 3 C. water
  • 6 C. fresh cranberries
  • 3 C. granulated sugar
  • 1 C. brown sugar
  • 1 C. dried apricots, roughly chopped
  • 1 C. pecans, chopped

If you are canning this recipe, assemble your canning supplies and begin to heat your lids and jars right when you start the recipe. Everything will be ready at the same time this way.

Step 1: Chop the orange into small pieces, leaving the peel on. In a stainless steel pot, combine the oranges and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 5 minutes.

Step 2: Once the orange peel has softened, add the sugars, cranberries, and chopped apricots (oh, yeah. Chop the apricots.)

Stir everything together and bring it back to a boil. Boil hard for about 10 minutes.

Step 3: If the gel is important to you, remove the conserve from the heat and test the gel. If it is not set enough for you, return to the heat and boil for another 5 minutes. If not (it wasn’t important to me), remove it from the heat and stir in the chopped pecans. Ladle it into hot jars.

Fill the jars to 1/4″ headspace, wipe the rims (this stuff is sticky!) , top with hot lids and screw bands, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Aside from being really beautiful in the jar, this stuff is good on everything. Spread some on a turkey sandwich. Dollop some over ice cream. The possibilities are endless.

The Wife

5 Things I Learned From My First 5k

Happy day after Thanksgiving! If you’re braving the stores this Black Friday, you’re braver than I am.

Yesterday I ran my first 5k race. I finished with a chip time of 37 minutes and 48 seconds (chip time is the time my foot hit the start and finish lines. There is a sensor on the line that reads a chip on your shoe to get the time. Neat, huh?) The process of going from a self-proclaimed couch-potato to 5k runner, and the race itself, has taught me a lot about myself (and a few things about other people). Here are just a few things I’ve learned in the last few months. If you are considering taking up running as a New Year’s Resolution, or just to improve your health, I hope this helps you.

1:I Am Stronger Than I Thought.

I have very little self-discipline. I am aware of this. Generally, if something is not fun or necessary, I’m not going to do it. Examples: going to the dentist = not fun. Vacuuming the carpet every week = not necessary (don’t worry, I do vacuum. Just not as often as I could).

But once I made it a goal to run 3 days a week no matter what (except the flu. The flu kept me down for a week) and forced myself to see it as necessary, I found I could run a lot longer and a lot farther than I thought.

2: The Running Community is Very Inclusive

Most activities similar to running seem to come with an exclusive mentality. You have to do it a certain way, a certain frequency, with a certain brand of clothing before you’re allowed “in”. Running is not like that. While there are elites among runners, most of the people who consider themselves “runners” are very nice, and eager to help a newcomer out.

A perfect example: The Red Faced Runners. This online group was created (by food bloggers, no less) specifically to help and encourage new runners. They are awesome, and I hope they read this. Their support has meant a lot. And again, if you’re entertaining the idea of becoming a runner, check them out.

3: I Have a Healthy Contempt for People Who Walk a Race

This is really just a gripe. I started the race farther back (I am slow) and was dodging walkers the whole race. Literally. They were everywhere in front of me. If you are planning on walking, please start all the way in the back. Thank you. On the flip side, there are some hardcore stroller runners out there. I admire them, and thank them for not running me down.

4: It’s Okay to Push Myself

Seriously. When my body says “no way am I doing that” it’s cool to ignore it. It’s also cool to listen to it. I have bad runs and good runs, and I find that the good runs usually come when I tell my body to stop protesting so much, we’ll have a beer on the couch after we kill this run. Usually the beer-on-couch tactic works.

5: Crossing the Finish Line is Addictive

I’m already planning on training for a 10k. I am also trying to convince The Renaissance Man that running with your wife is awesome. Just look at that sweaty, red face! Who wouldn’t want that as a running partner?

There are way more things I have discovered since starting to run, but we’ll save those for my first 10k.

Anybody planning on working some fitness into their holidays?

The Wife

Thanksgiving Side Dishes

If you’re like me, you have a horrible time trying to decide what to serve with your turkey at Thanksgiving. I don’t mess with the bird at all: we’re a turkey frying family, and that is The Renaissance Man’s domain for sure. But that gives me side dishes and dessert(s) to stress over.

I say “stress” because I tend to get worked up over stuff that I shouldn’t. Thanksgiving is one of those things. We don’t host a big dinner for tons of people; it’s just the two of us every year. And yet, I stress.

Which brings me back to the side dishes. I am a big fan of one-dish meals, so sides are a little out of my comfort zone anyway, but to stand up to our delicious turkey, I feel the need to step it up a notch.

While I’m trying some new things this year, I thought I’d give everyone else a hand and give you some ideas for great sides that I think would be great for Thanksgiving.

Don’t stress like me. Just use one of these ideas:

Roasted Leeks

I had to put these roasted leeks first. They are so simple, yet so very, very delicious, that everyone should try them at least once. TRM keeps asking for them, which is always a sign that something is good. Plus, they have a great earthy flavor that would compliment turkey quite well.

Mashed Potatoes

Duh. Mashed potatoes will go perfectly with all that amazing turkey gravy you’ve got going for Thanksgiving. Especially if you add plenty of butter, garlic, and fresh pepper like these have.

Macaroni and Cheese

If you are feeding a lot of people, some of them are bound to be picky. And I have never met a person who didn’t love mac and cheese. If someone in your family turns their nose up at anything with weird ingredients or the word “reduction” in it, make a big casserole dish of this, and they’ll be coming back for seconds.

Au Gratin Potatoes

If you’re tired of the same old potato dishes for the big day, try these au gratin potatoes. They’re definitely a departure from the ordinary Thanksgiving fare, but they sure are warm, comforting, and delicious.

Sauteed Mushrooms in Wine

A few pounds of mushrooms sliced and sauteed in olive oil and wine (I suggest red for Thanksgiving) and you’ve got a side that tastes fancy and only took ten minutes. Make the mushrooms with with spinach for some color on your plate.

I hope these ideas saved you from stressing out the day before Thanksgiving. Or at least gave you some ideas for regular meals.

What are you serving as sides for Thanksgiving?

The Wife

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving in Advance! I will be running a 5k tomorrow morning, and will be sharing our turkey day fare with you on Friday. I am thankful for you, my wonderful readers, this year!

Making Bark

I love peppermint bark, but I hate white chocolate. The kind I like best has regular chocolate underneath and white chocolate mixed with peppermint pieces on the top. But it’s kinda hard to find without paying an arm and a leg for Girardelli’s peppermint bark.

So this year I decided to make some myself. Since I’ve never made any kind of bark before (and messing up peppermint bark might be too devastating), I thought I’d experiment with some leftover candy corn we had from Halloween.

Apparently making bark has a learning curve. While the end result was edible, it was way too thick, and I didn’t end up loving the chocolate I used. But live and learn, right?

Candy Corn Bark


  • 1 Lb. chocolate chips
  • candy corn for sprinkling

Step 1: Melt the chocolate in a double boiler (or a glass bowl set over a pan of water. Stir it occasionally until it’s all melted.

For what it’s worth, I used chocolate specifically for melting and making candy. It came in a block from the grocery store:

Next time I will use semi-sweet chocolate chips. This stuff, while convenient, was way too sweet.

Step 2: Pour the melted chocolate into a baking dish lined with foil or waxed paper. Next time I will use a cookie sheet, since the bark was too thick. Sprinkle the candy corn over the top.

Step 3: Throw it in the fridge or freezer until set, then break apart and enjoy!

Does anybody out there make candy bark on a regular basis and want to impart some wisdom?

The Wife

Critter of the Week

Something happened this week that inspired this post.

I was in bed at an obscenely early hour (7:00 PM if you must know) and I was reading a book, winding down from the day. Suddenly I hear this horrifying, growly yowl from right outside my bedroom window. Since I never like to walk into a situation unprepared I got up and grabbed a flashlight, a spray bottle full of water, and my pocket knife.

When I got out to the backyard, our cat was locked in a life-and-death struggle with a big yellow cat. They were kicking and scratching and biting each other, and paid no attention to me as I walked up to them.

Obviously I started to spray them both with the spray bottle. They yellow can ran away, and our cat followed him. He appeared on the front porch later, completely unharmed and not very grateful that his mama finished a fight for him.

It’s like The Jungle Book around here.

This is Harvey, our yard tiger. He used to be an indoor cat, but was languishing inside, so we let him out one day. He refuses to come back inside (unless there is food around).

This is Harvey as a wee little Walmart kitten. The Renaissance Man picked him out of a cardboard box outside a Walmart in the middle of nowhere.

And here he is now, prowling the back yard.

He is still mad at me for chasing that yellow cat off, by the way.

The Wife