Merrell Proterra Vim Sport Hiking Shoe Review

This review is long overdue, but I wanted to get some solid hiking/walking miles in these shoes on various terrain to truly measure how they perform.

Merrell Women’s Proterra Vim Sport Stats:
4 mm drop / 9.5 mm cush / 20.5 mm stack height / 2.5 mm lug depth / 1 lb. 8 oz. / $100 USD retail

A little background, I currently run in the Bare Access Arc 2 which is one of Merrell’s minimalist road running shoes. I have flat feet, overpronate pretty badly, and one foot is a little over a half size longer. Generally minimalist shoes are considered to be bad for people like me, but my frankenfeet have responded well to them. It goes against the conventional thinking of having a highly supportive shoe to deal with these issues. Is it the right thing? I’m still not entirely sure, but it is working for me right now. With an upcoming trip to Colorado, I was in the market for new hiking shoes and almost everything on the market was the more traditional built-up boot. I really didn’t want such a big change in footwear and learned that Merrell had just come out with a new minimalist-style hiker. I went to REI to try them out, and ended up getting a pair in the snazzy purple color. I believe this is a special made-for-REI color, as I have never seen it elsewhere. I am normally a size 8, and a size 8 fit fine. I disregarded online advice to go up a half size for hiking purposes, and I don’t regret that decision.

My first impression was how colorful and stylish these shoes looked. Most hiking shoes are various shades of brown, tan, beige, greige, blah. I was excited to finally see a shoe company inject some color into their hikers. I took them to Wisconsin for a 6-mile walk along the Lake Shore Path on Geneva Lake. This path was a great test as it is comprised of a variety of surfaces: grass, gravel, packed dirt, bricks, pavement, and wood chips. It is not a hilly path, but the ground is uneven enough in most places that it gives a true feel of surface variety. There was also one (paved) hill/road that was a small test to see how it performs going uphill (grip/ground-connect) and downhill (to make sure toes don’t jam in the toe box). The Proterras performed well on all counts. I finished my hike feeling great with no blisters, hot spots, or other issues.

The big test was Colorado, as the terrain is less forgiving than it is here in the Midwest.

  • The grueling 2,000 ft. in ONE MILE climb up the Manitou Springs Incline in Colorado Springs.
  • Up the giant boulders and across the scree fields of the Flatirons 1st and 2nd trail in Boulder (where I spotted ultrarunner Anton Krupicka).
  • Along the dusty, packed-dirt horse trails in Garden of the Gods.
  • All throughout RMNP in Estes Park, including Bierstadt Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, up to Flattop Mountain.
Merrell Proterra Vim Sports taking a break atop Flattop Mountain, with Hallett Peak in the background.

Merrell Proterra Vim Sports taking a break atop Flattop Mountain, with Hallett Peak in the background.

The Proterra Vim Sports performed beautifully on all of these trails. The only time I started to get sore feet was descending Flattop. The surface of the trail is really rocky (they don’t call it Rocky Mountain for nothing!) and all the unevenness combined with the non-stop descent started to wear on my feet. This was also the end of our 10-day trip so my feet were bound to get tired eventually.

Do keep in mind that these are minimalist-style lightweight hiking shoes. It is important to note, you WILL feel the ground with these. This is a huge plus in my book, as I like to feel connected to the terrain, but those use to more traditional hiking shoes will really notice it and may not like it. On the other end of the spectrum, barefoot purists may feel enough ground-feel in these shoes. These are suited best for those who prefer minimalist footwear, but are looking for a bit more protection on the trails. You won’t feel the ground as much as you would in true barefoot-style shoes, but there is enough ground-feel that it should please most.

After 100+ miles, on all kinds of terrain, I can say that these are solid hiking shoes. They still look new (minus some Colorado dust), and the treads show no signs of wear. I’m glad Merrell came out with these, and look forward to more shoes like this in the future.

Categories: Hiking | Leave a comment

WIAW Oats, Kale, and Chipotle

My first WIAW! I love looking at everyone’s mid-week eats and decided to join in the fun.  Being the literal person that I am, I took “What I Ate Wednesday” to mean to photograph and post everything consumed today, Wednesday. Imagine my surprise when I didn’t even have a foot out the door this morning and I noticed WIAW posts popping up. Apparently most people post what they ate last Wednesday, or what they ate the previous day, or any other day they choose. Maybe this is why it’s not called “What I Ate ON Wednesday”. 😦 Ah, the omission of one little word. For me, this revelation means that today’s entry is being posted later than most.
WIAW Title Nine Lunch Bag

4 out of my 5 (or 6) meals are generally eaten at work, which means presentation lacks while function wins. I am still on the hunt for the perfect clean eating cooler or bento box. Until then, I bring all my eats in glass (or a few plastic) containers and baggies, and haul them in a tote bag. We visited the Title Nine store in Madison over the weekend, and they packaged my purchase in this cheerful little bag which has now become my temporary lunch tote.

Meal 1: Chocolate Cherry Overnight Oats

WIAW Overnight Oats

Overnight oats are so easy! I prefer my oats warm, especially when your furnace goes out on one of the coldest nights of the year; you really don’t want cold oats. I mix it up the night before, put in the fridge, and when I get to work I microwave for 30 seconds to take the chill off. This particular combo was so tasty! I also prefer my oats pretty thick, so if you like yours a bit more watery, wait until morning to see how it looks and add more almond milk as needed. For me, this is the perfect ratio for thick & creamy oats. Here’s my little “recipe”:


Chocolate Cherry Overnight Oats


  • 1/2 Cup Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats
  • 1/2 Cup Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk
  • 1 T Dried Tart Cherries
  • 1 T Peanut Butter & Co. Dark Chocolate Dreams


  1. Mix oats, almond milk, and cherries in a covered container and place in fridge overnight.
  2. In the morning, microwave container for 30 seconds (or eat cold, if you are into that).
  3. Top with chocolate peanut butter.

Serves 1
288 calories, 42 carbs, 12 fat, 9 protein


I also added some fresh sliced strawberries to today’s oats.

Meal 2: Alouette Spreadable Italian Herb Cheese Portion with Crunchmaster Crackers

WIAW Crunchmaster Crackers from Costco

These are the new competition to Laughing Cow Cheese Wedges. They come in foil-wrapped 40-calorie portions which makes it easy to throw in a lunch bag. Very smooth and easy to spread. These Crunchmaster Multigrain Crackers are my current favorite cracker. We buy a big box at Costco. They are gluten-free, but do contain soy from the tamari (soy sauce) they use to flavor it with.

Meal 3: Raw Kale Salad with Cranberries, Pumpkin Seeds & Poppyseed Dressing, Topped with Sliced Cucumbers, Hard-Boiled Eggs & Baby Carrots

WIAW Kale Salad

WIAW Eggs and Carrots

This bagged Sweet Kale Salad by Eat Smart is pretty good! It contains raw finely chopped broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale and chicory with a packet of dried cranberries and roasted pumpkin seeds for a topping. It also comes with a poppyseed dressing which is quite good and works well with the greens. I topped my salad with some cucumbers for a watery crunch, and two hard-boiled eggs for protein. I also had some baby carrots (regular carrots are preferred, but these were actually cheaper that week).

Meal 4: Chobani Apple Cinnamon Greek Yogurt & Earnest Eats Superfood Trail Mix Bar

WIAW Chobani and Earnest Eats

My favorite Chobani flavor. It was my favorite last year, and still is today. I also wanted something chewy, and these bars from Earnest Eats get the job done.

WIAW Starbucks Americano

On my way home from work, I stopped for an Americano at Starbucks for my evening winter commute. This was my first coffee of the day! Surprisingly, I did not miss the early morning jolt, but I have to admit that this afternoon cup tasted wonderful and made the scenery of frozen cornfields seem less wicked.

Meal 5: Chipotle Bowl with Brown Rice, Barbacoa, Fajita Vegetables, Tomato Salsa & Green Tomatillo Salsa

WIAW Chipotle Bowl

Normally I’d have a salad at Chipotle, but I had a salad for lunch and wanted something warmer so I went with the bowl topped with lots of Tabasco. I can never finish a whole bowl myself, so I saved half of this and will have it for a snack or lunch tomorrow.

Maybe next week I’ll have to do “What I Ate On Tuesday, But Blogged About On Wednesday” to join in the fun a little earlier. 😉

What was your favorite food of the day? Do you feel that keeping a visual food diary helps to keep you accountable on your nutrition goals? Do you eat most of your meals at work?

Categories: Food | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 15 Healthy Foods From Costco

Back in those dark days before we became Costco members, I associated this warehouse store with over-processed frozen convenience foods and gallon jugs of mayo. I heard stories from co-workers who bought large containers of ranch dressing, and despite their best efforts to dunk everything they consumed into it, most of the dressing ended up in the trash as the expiration date came too quickly. I saw egg rolls and pizzas and other high-calorie, low-nutrient frozen ready-to-go meals in the freezers of people I knew. As a family of two who prefers clean eating, Costco never seemed right for us. Then one Christmas we received a Costco membership as a gift and my perspective changed; big time.

There are many healthy, nutritious foods at Costco that are in reasonably sized containers that a small family (remember, there are just two of us!) can eat without waste. I created this shopping list for those who’ve never been to Costco and are curious if a membership would be worth it to them, or for current members who are looking to add a few new healthy items to their cart this week.

Without further ado, here are my personal top 15 healthy food picks from Costco.

Almond Butter

Our Costco membership pays for itself in the savings on almond butter alone. Not kidding. These jars of MaraNatha are larger than the ones at most grocers (26 oz. vs. 16 oz.), and cost less. We probably go through one jar a month in our house.

MaraNatha Almond Butter from Costco


While all of their fresh fruit options are good, I find that we purchase blueberries most often. A carton will usually last us 5 days. They also sell frozen blueberries in a giant bag for a really, really good price that we keep in the freezer for when the fresh berries run out.

Costco Fresh Blueberries

Ground Turkey

Convenient 4-packs make it easy to pop a few in the freezer if you don’t plan to cook it all at once. I love my turkey meatloaf muffins, and we use turkey in casseroles or pasta sauce over spaghetti squash.

Costco Ground Turkey


From hard-boiled to egg-in-a-cup concoctions, I love having a few dozen eggs in the fridge. Ever since we had to give up our backyard hens, I’ve missed having fresh eggs. While not as good as the straight-from-the-coop that we’d like, these eggs are a good replacement.

Costco Organic Brown Eggs

Greek Yogurt

Yes, Costco sells the Fage Total 0% yogurt that is a staple in most healthy kitchens, but lately I’ve been digging the flavor of this Jalapeno Greek Yogurt Dip. I hesitated to add it to my list as the protein is very low for greek yogurt (1 gram) then their website lists 3g, which makes me wonder. It also has canola oil, but overall is pretty decent. If that is not for you, buy the Fage and mix in your own spices and diced peppers, but for convenience sake this makes it into my cart. Carrots and sugar snap peas are delightful dipped in this stuff. It’s like crack; you’ve been warned.

Costco Jalapeno Greek Yogurt

Medjool Dates

Sometimes a girl just has to have something sweet! Lately I’ve been into making homemade Larabars and these dates are the sweet foundation to my tasty bars. A friend recently told me about how she enjoys a date topped with almond butter, and how she also made brownies that were fruit-sweetened with dates. The ideas to use these are endless.

Medjool Dates from Costco


We end up freezing most of these for smoothies, but we also eat them for snacks or on top of oatmeal.

Dole Bananas

Coconut Oil

Yes! Awesome price on this, and is divine in baked goods or regular cooking. I recently browned some chuck roast in coconut oil for a Sunday slow cooker recipe. You can also use it on your skin and hair. Check out 47 Uses For Coconut Oil for more ideas.

Coconut Oil


A huge 1 lb. container of Earthbound Farm organic spinach from Costco is often the same price as the small bag that you’d find in your typical grocer. I love how the container has a resealable lid, making it easy to grab handfuls of spinach for green monsters. This container also seems to keep the greens fresher for longer, when compared to a traditional plastic bag.

Earthbound Farm Organic Spinach

Brussels Sprouts

The veggie options are Costco are really good! It is hard to pick a favorite, but lately we’ve been enjoying their brussels sprouts as a second favorite to spinach. I love to quarter these are roast them as a side dish for just about any meal.

Brussels Sprouts


A whole bag of perfect avocados? I’ve never had problems with these. Unlike supermarket avocados that are sold loose (and subjected to much handling and squeezing) these are virtually untouched by other shoppers. They make take a few days to ripen on the kitchen counter, but are well worth it for perfect, unblemished, non-stringy avocados.

Costco Avocados


Costco always has fresh salmon for sale, but I am a bit weirded out with fresh salmon (you know, the whole possibility of worms thing). I prefer it frozen, that way I also don’t feel obligated to eat 2 lbs. of salmon in one sitting. While Costco sells several varieties of frozen salmon (salmon burgers, marinated salmon, and another plain variety) the wild caught sockeye is the one I grab. Each filet is individually wrapped and portioned, making it easy to grab what you need to thaw for dinner.

Costco Sockeye Salmon

Vegetable Broth

The price on this amazes me for 6 cartons (that’s 24 cups!). Veggie broth is the perfect base for nearly any soup, or to de-glaze a pan, or to add to cooked veggies. A great pantry staple!

Pacific Vegetable Broth

Almond Milk

Costco is now carrying 6-packs of the unsweetened vanilla almond milk that is a staple in nearly every healthy living blogger’s (HLB) kitchen. We use this in smoothies, baked goods, and overnight oats. I love how they are the regular-sized cartons, and are shelf stable so our fridge doesn’t get overloaded at once. The jury is out on just how healthy (or unhealthy) almond milk really is, but it tastes good, is gentle on my stomach and I will continue to use it since I stay away from soy milk.

Almond Milk

Vitamin D3

Although not a food, this is a good buy in my book. Living up north, and spending most of my days inside of a cubicle, I don’t get a lot of sun. Taking these makes me feel so good, and we hardly ever get sick in our house. This is Vitamin D3 from cholecalciferol, which is the one you want (unless you are vegan).

Kirkland Vitamin D3

I didn’t bother to list prices with each item, as I have found that prices often change with the season and could vary by region. I can vouch that we pay significantly less for all these items than we would at the typical grocery store. These are all items that we use frequently so they rarely go to waste (okay, sometimes I can’t keep up with all that spinach!).

Costco does have its share of unhealthy eats, and unfortunately I see lots of people pushing carts filled with junk food (like those pizzas with the obnoxious amount of pepperoni on them, or boxes of frozen microwave cheeseburgers). Just like any grocery store, it is your choice what you decide to put in your cart, and ultimately in your body. Despite this, there are plenty of food and nutritional items for those who are into clean eating and healthy eating. A lot of these items also work with a gluten-free or Paleo lifestyle.

My one complaint is that I wish Costco’s “food court” had healthier options. The only thing they offer is a Chicken Caesar Salad (which you could leave the dressing off). Everything else is either churros, pizza, fried chicken rolls, or ice cream. It would be nice to have some healthier options, especially since the food court is popular with families with children.

Well there you have it, my go-to clean eating shopping list for Costco. While these are my current top 15, there are plenty of other things that could have rounded my list up to a top 20, or even top 30. 🙂 Ground bison, raw nuts, kale salad, and other healthy foods that we enjoy from Costco; what are yours?

I am not a registered dietician or nutritionist. The opinions expressed in this post are solely my opinion. You should always do your own research when it comes to exercise and nutrition or consult a doctor. 🙂
Categories: Food, Health | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Panera Hidden Menu Review

Last week, I stumbled upon Panera’s Hidden Menu. This is their new off-the-menu – menu – that can only be found online. From first glance, it appears that the items are all gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and paleo. Haven’t confirmed this, but it is probably a good bet.

The options looked very healthy, and I’m all for having fun with my food. I am not a big fan of Panera’s regular menu, but they I like their creativity with this campaign and it proved to be a great marketing strategy to get me through the door.

My first trip was during lunch and I ordered the Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad which was described as all-natural, antibiotic-free chicken, baby spinach, romaine, tomatoes, apple-wood smoked bacon, diced eggs, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil. The girl at the cash register said I was her first person to order off this “secret” menu and she was excited to hear what I thought of the food. Unfortunately when I got my food, it was not the Power Mediterranean Salad. The salad that I received had chicken and spinach, but also had sliced almonds, feta and other ingredients. I explained that it was not what I ordered but the salad-maker seemed convinced that it was correct. I took my salad to whom I assumed was the manager and explained my situation, showed him my receipt (which was rung in correctly, as far as I could tell) and showed him my phone with the photo of what I should have received. He quickly corrected it and said it was a new thing. Normally I wouldn’t “complain” and would just eat it, but I was really wanting to try the item I ordered and decided to speak up to get what I want. While I was waiting for salad #2, I saw him fumbling around trying to find the laminated card that showed how to make it. The other employees seemed a bit confused about the whole matter and it was about 10 minutes of wasted time on my 30 minute lunch break. When I finally received the salad, it was tasty and looked very similar to the photograph.

Here is the photograph from the Panera Blog:

Panera Hidden Menu Power Med Chicken Salad

Here is what I got (the second time):

Actual Med Chicken Salad from Panera Hidden Menu

Pretty close, appearance-wise. Overall I enjoyed it, but Panera you need to do something about your hard-boiled eggs! They are so tiny and flavorless with a spongy texture, not fresh-boiled tasting at all. Another nearby restaurant makes up a beautiful cobb salad that has good hard-boiled eggs, so I know it can be done in the fast food service industry.

My second trip was over the weekend for Sunday breakfast. I am at home on the weekends, so we went to a different Panera location that is closer to our home and ordered the Power Breakfast Egg Bowl with Steak which is described as two all-natural eggs, seared top sirloin, sliced avocado & tomatoes. Again, the cashier said I was the first person to order off the menu. Same as the last cashier, she seemed excited that someone was ordering an item from this menu. Mr. Nine noticed a small QR code placed on the front of the cash register that said “Hidden Menu”. I completely overlooked it amongst the display of cookies, gift cards, and other things that clutter the POP display. Indeed, the menu is hidden! Once again, the “cook” was unknowing of how to prepare my meal. A cashier (manager?) walked over to help him get started, showing him the laminated sheet with the steps. It took awhile, and there was a heavy sigh as the cook had to go into the back to get an avocado, and then cut it for my order, but it was made with the correct ingredients. They say you eat with your eyes first, and sadly this bowl was not very visually appealing! It looked nothing like the photo online, and my “seared top sirloin” was more like cold roast beef deli meat. Eh.

Here is the tempting food photography that Panera lures you in with:

Panera Hidden Menu Power Breakfast Egg Bowl with SteakHere is what I received:

Actual Power Breakfast Bowl from Panera Hidden Menu

Even my camera was a little scared of this concoction, as proved by the blurry photo. 😉 The whole dish was served cold (except for the eggs, which never stay warm for long). The flavor was okay, for what it was, but it was ridiculously hard to eat! I want all Panera employees and management to sit down and try to eat this bowl with the fork and spoon provided. There is a lot of cutting required (of the egg, tomato, and lunch meat) and it is impossible to cut it into bites with just a fork and spoon inside of the bowl. I thought about getting up to ask for a knife (do they even have knives?) but it would still prove difficult to cut inside of a bowl because of its concave shape. It took awhile to cut and eat, but there wasn’t much food here so it was a good thing that I got to make each bite last a little longer. Would I order this again? Probably not anytime soon, but it has inspired me to create my own version at home!

The Panera hidden / secret menu is a cute and novel idea, but needs some work. Employees need to be better educated on how to make these dishes, and some further thought needs to go into some things like the hard-boiled eggs, the “steak”, and how easy it is to eat. I may go back another time (Hummus Chicken Bowl, anyone?) because they say that to see change you must vote with your wallet and I applaud them for creating healthier items that cater to the gluten-free and dairy-free crowds. Maybe if I vote a third time, it will help them realize there is an interest and work on improving and expanding.

If you have dietary restrictions, or are just looking for a lower-calorie, healthier fast food option, do give it a try and let me know what you think!

Categories: Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Marker Madness Poker Run

Saturday was the annual Veteran’s Weekend Poker Run, also known as “Marker Madness”. While most poker runs are done on motorcycles–ours was entirely human-powered–a trail running poker run.

Poker Run Trail Running

Weather was on our side, with morning temps in the 50’s, a rarity for a Midwest November. After receiving our first cards and maps, we set off into the woods orienteering-style.

Poker Run Woods

This park doesn’t see a lot of visitors, downed trees criss-crossed the trail and a thick blanket of leaves covering roots and rocks made the experience a bit rustic and wild.

Poker Run Forest Preserve

Combined with dense vegetation and overgrowth, the trail was very narrow and hard to follow in some areas.

The goal was to follow a very basic map and locate the checkpoints. Checkpoints consisted of one of the following:

  • Marker
  • Pumpkin

If you found a marker, you used it to color the location on your map to prove you found it.

Poker Run Checkpoint

Here I am at one of the checkpoints. The marker was dangling in the rafters of a small shelter which meant that I had to climb up on the bench to reach it.

Poker Run Map

My map began to look a little more colorful after finding a series of checkpoints.

Poker Run Pumpkin

Some of the checkpoints didn’t have markers, but instead plastic Halloween pumpkins filled with playing cards. These were few and far between, but if you were lucky to find one, you’d (blindly) draw a card from it to build your poker hand.

After running around the woods coloring and collecting cards we headed back to the shelter to turn in our poker hands.

Poker Run Fire

We were greeted with a warm fire.

Poker Run Breakfast

And a fantastic spread of post-run food.

Poker Run Hash

Like this delectable Apple, Butternut Squash, and Bacon Breakfast Hash made by The Girl with the Green Soup Pot. We brought a thermos full of spicy sausage gravy and biscuits, while others brought fruit, muffins, and more. Runners sure know how to eat!

Poker Run Aerial Map

An aerial detail view from my Garmin data. Much of the run was along the narrow river that separates the park into north and south. Most of the route was flat, but there were a few steep climbs up the bluff to keep things interesting.

This was a fun way to get some exercise, use problem-solving skills, and enjoy the company of friends on a dreary late autumn day.

It is good to be a part of this pack, this crazy pack of trail running souls.

Categories: Running | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

First Reaction: Merrell Bare Access Arc 2

My new shoes have arrived!

Merrell Bare Access Arc Running Shoes

These are the Women’s Merrell Bare Access Arc 2 Barefoot Running Shoes in Aqua, or as I affectionately call it, Smurf Blue. These just hit the market this month and are the update to the orignal Bare Access Arc. I like this updated version better than the original. I currently run in the Pace Gloves but was looking for something for longer distances with a tad more cushion. Have done a few miles in these and my initial thoughts are good. I’ll wait to post a full review once I have some more miles on them.

Categories: Running | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Week’s Eats

In a rut and looking for some dinner ideas? Here is what I’ve been making this past week.

Hot Garlic Shrimp and Asparagus

Hot Garlic Shrimp and Asparagus from Eating Bird Food

My Notes: Flavorful and quick! We only used 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper and that was plenty. I’d think that the 1-2 teaspoons the recipe calls for might be too much for most people. You can always start out with less and add more! I added some red and green bell pepper, plus baby spinach, to increase the veggie-ness.

Elana's Pantry Chocolate Chip Scones

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Scones

Chocolate Chip Scones from The Almond Flour Cookbook

My Notes: Makes 12 (not 16). I wouldn’t call these scones as they lack the classic scone texture, but they taste like excellent pillowy cake-like chocolate chip cookies. Try them! I’ve made these twice in one week – once with dark chocolate chips and once with Enjoy Life! chocolate chips.

Clean Eating Apple Grilled Cheese

Apple Grilled Cheese with Grainy Mustard from Clean Eating

My Notes: Added smoked turkey for more protein, and ate with sliced honeycrisp apple and salt & pepper pop chips! Simple, super fast lunch!

Cauliflower Crust Pizza Closeup

Cauliflower Crust Pizza with Veggies

Cauliflower Crust Pizza from Janetha at Meals & Moves

My Notes: Made a much smaller pizza than expected. Used up some veggies on hand (bell peppers and mushrooms). Baked on parchment-lined baking sheet, flipping before adding toppings. Not as crispy as I like my crusts, but nice and “bread-like”. Interesting concept, would try again with some changes, but good base recipe if you want to try working with cauliflower dough.

Tandoor Chef Pizza

Tandoor Chef Roasted Eggplant Naan Pizza

Okay, this isn’t homemade, but it’s out of this world! My local co-op had this on sale for $2.24 and it is worth every penny. The eggplant gets crispy, has a slight spice to it, and the naan crust is fantastic. The only downside is that these pizzas are small and soooo good that I can easily eat a whole one myself, and I do.

Clean Eating Shepherds Pie

Shepherd’s Pie with Buttermilk-Chive Mashed Potato Crust from Clean Eating

My Notes: Liked this more than I thought I would! Good for a cold autumn night. Leftovers were equally as tasty.

All of the above are easy to make and QUICK. I work full-time and don’t have a lot of time and energy to spend hours in the kitchen every night. Most of the recipes I make are quick and require few ingredients.

What are you cooking up this week?

Categories: Food | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Spicy Stuffed Peppers

Here is the recipe that I mentioned yesterday: Spicy Stuffed Peppers!

Paleo Gluten-Free Stuffed Bell Peppers

I wanted something inexpensive, simple, and tasty that could be a one-dish oven meal and these peppers did not disappoint. The subtle kick from a sriracha-laced glaze and crushed red pepper-spiked filling gave these peppers a dose of flavor. Shredded raw cauliflower takes the place of rice and cheese, while sneaking in extra nutrients. Nobody would ever guess that cauliflower is inside!



Spicy Stuffed Peppers

This recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and paleo-friendly.


  • 6 bell peppers (any color, I used half green and half red)
  • 1 lb. 93% lean ground beef
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 15 oz. can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, drained (I like Muir Glen)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 1/2 cups cauliflower, shredded (see note below)
  • 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha hot sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon worcestershire sauce*


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cut tops off bell peppers, discarding membranes and seeds. Place peppers cut-side up in a 11″ x 7″ baking dish. Save tops for another use.
  3. In a large skillet, brown ground beef and onions over medium heat until meat is cooked throughout and no longer pink, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic, cook 1 minute until fragrant. Add diced tomatoes through shredded cauliflower, stirring until combined and most of liquid is evaporated, about 1 minute. Turn off heat.
  4. Fill prepared peppers with ground beef mixture.
  5. In a small bowl, combine tomato sauce, sriracha, and worcestershire. Spread tomato sauce mixture over the tops of the peppers, completely covering the beef filling.
  6. Bake uncovered, in a 350 degree oven, for 1 hour.

Serves 6.


*Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce is gluten-free and was reformulated a few years ago to also be soy-free, but check label if soy is a concern to you, or simply omit.

I use 93% lean ground beef so there is little fat leftover in the skillet. If you find that you have a lot of grease after browning, feel free to drain it before adding the garlic and other ingredients.

How to Shred Cauliflower: Wash and cut cauliflower into small chunks. Attach the shredding disc and stem to your food processor. Drop cauliflower chunks into food processor shoot, pressing down with the tamper. Alternatively, you could also use a cheese grater held over a large bowl. I prefer the food processor because it shreds in perfect small pieces quick and easy. You want the cauliflower to look something like this.


Gluten-Free Peppers

Step 3: Fill Prepared Peppers with Beef Mixture

Healthy Stuffed Bell Peppers

Step 4: Top with Sriracha-Tomato Sauce

My beautiful friend Dana inspired this recipe, when she recently mentioned that she wanted to make stuffed peppers. Her family has gluten, soy, and dairy restrictions, which is why I wanted to make something that fit that profile. Coupling that with recent concerns of arsenic in rice products, some are also limiting their consumption of rice, while others omit it for the Paleo diet. I decided that cauliflower was a good, healthy substitute to alleviate concerns from all of the above.

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Sunday in the Kitchen

Today was our town’s big 10k. I’ve run this race every year since I’ve been a runner (3 years) and this was the first year that I had to gracefully bow out. I’m still struggling with running injury-free, and while things are definitely a lot better than they were a year ago, I have to practice patience and learn not to push myself. I could have run, but I didn’t want to end up not being able to run the rest of fall, and then I’d miss out on all these windy, chilly, fabulous fall days.

Instead, today I stayed in and spent most of the day in the kitchen.

Mr. Nine took care of breakfast, delivering a warm heaping plate of scrambled eggs, toasted Ezekiel bread, bacon (!), apple-maple chicken sausage, and coffee to my warm place on the couch. I love having breakfast underneath a big blanket sitting in our living room. It is the only meal I’ll eat away from the table. For some reason eating lunch and dinner on the couch is a big no-no to me, but breakfast is okay. Probably because I am too lazy to move to the dining room that early in the morning.

After breakfast we walked down to the 10k race with cow bell in hand to cheer on some of our friends. Seeing those lead runners trailing the pace car was amazing!

Seeing the race actually made me relieved that I wasn’t running. I could just walk back home, not worry about splits, and instead spend the day at home being domestic. Hey, I did run a 5k yesterday so I’m not being totally lazy. 🙂

I started off by baking up a batch of Gluten-Free Banana Blueberry Muffins.

Gluten-Free Banana Blueberry Muffins in Pan

Gluten-Free Banana Blueberry Muffins Close-Up

These were good, although a little eggy, but since they lacked sweetener they were very mild. I secretly wanted to sprinkle on a bit of Truvia to make it a little sweet. 🙂

Next up was a throw-it-together pasta.

Gluten-Free Pasta Toss

I didn’t follow a recipe, but here is what I did:

  • Cooked a box of Ancient Grains Quinoa Pasta (Rotelle).
  • Removed the casings from a package of  Smart Chicken Sweet Italian Sausage, crumbled and browned.
  • Removed the cooked chicken and set aside, and in the same pan, cooked up a container of mushrooms.
  • Stirred in a few handfuls of fresh spinach until wilted.
  • Added a handful of multi-colored cherry tomatoes, sliced in half.
  • Seasoned with some spices (crushed red pepper, oregano, salt)
  • Added the chicken back to the pan.
  • Added the cooked, drained pasta to pan.
  • Poured in 1/4 jar of Newman’s Own Marinara Sauce.

That’s it! Super easy, yet healthy and tasty. This batch will last us for a few work lunches this week.

Next up were the Paleo Pumpkin Bars.

Paleo Pumpkin Bars

Paleo Pumpkin Bars Detail View

This is the second time I’ve made these in a week, they are so good! A note on these: I found that these need to be cooked approximately twice as long as the recipe states. I bake mine for 45 minutes, which could be that I use canned pumpkin. These definitely have a coconut flavor from both the coconut flour and oil, but I really like that.

I also experimented with dinner and made stuffed bell peppers with cauliflower “rice”. We really liked them, and I wrote down the recipe because I am planning on keeping this one around. I’ll post the recipe for that tomorrow.

No workouts today, but a lot of running… the dishwasher. 😉 We did have a last-minute trip to visit family due to an unexpected circumstance, so our day was full as it was. Dinner for tomorrow is already planned out, so I should have time to get a workout in after work.

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Homemade Pumpkin Cream Cheese

The last few days have been a tease with temps in the upper 70’s with abundant sunshine, a rare treat for an Upper Midwest late October. All good things come to an end, and this morning I woke up to a damp and chilly house, with outside temperatures back in the 30’s.

After pulling on a fleece and filling my mug with hot coffee, I toasted a bagel for breakfast. We were in Madison last weekend and rode our bikes to Bagels Forever and purchased a half-dozen. I don’t eat bagels often because I try to limit that sort of thing, but when I do, they have to be Bagels Forever!  These are the best bagels, with a nice chewy texture. At 240 calories they are not horrible, and the ingredient list is simple.

I usually top my bagels with almond butter, but when I opened the fridge, I spotted a tub of 1/3 less fat cream cheese sitting right next to a container of leftover pumpkin puree. Coincidence? I think not!

On a chilly fall morning, what would be better than a creamy pumpkin topping on a warm toasted bagel? I grabbed a few ingredients and mixed them together and was pleased with the outcome.

Homemade Pumpkin Cream Cheese



Simple Whipped Pumpkin Cream Cheese

DIY pumpkin cream cheese made with pantry staples. Recipe yields just enough for topping two bagels.


  • 1/4 cup cream cheese
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Stir together all of the ingredients until blended and light and fluffy.

Serves 1-2.


The pumpkin really changes the texture of the normally firm cream cheese, making it soft and dreamy.

After breakfast, I wanted to get in a quick trip to the market for groceries. I got in my car and pulled out of the driveway, only to turn around a block later when I realized that I was driving on the rim. Flat tire. Mr. Nine got out the air compressor and inflated it enough to be able to drive a mile to the tire shop. To patch a flat is $15.50, however my tire was deemed unrepairable, costing a cool $135.

I was walking around the house feeling a little bummed, when a friend stopped by and dropped off a package.

Fingerless Mitts Wrapped Up

About a month ago, I had given her a bag of yarn and knitting needles that I wasn’t going to use. While I admire those who knit and think it is a charming, splendid hobby, I could just never get into it and only produced in a few scarves. I knew that she knitted and is a creative soul, so I figured that maybe she could get some use out of it.

When I opened up the package that she brought over, I saw that it was a pair of fingerless mitts that she created with some of the yarn! 🙂

Fingerless Mitts Top

Aren’t they beautiful?

Fingerless Mitts Bottom

This kind gesture definitely turned my day around, making the flat tire seem not as bad. She had no idea that I was having tire issues or feeling bummed, but her timing was just right.  We don’t always realize it, but kind acts like this go far in bringing a smile to others, often when they need it most.

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