Vermont Soap Giveaway!

Vermont may be know for maple syrup and skiing, but it is also home to this organic soap company!

I recently received a box of homemade soap products courtesy of Vermont Soap Organics, the purveyors of everything soap – from cleaners to wash your counters to sultry body soaps for your shower and tub. If any of you follow my other site Bistro Chic, you know by now how much I love soap products, especially little guest soaps, so I just couldn’t pass up a sample or two. And, after doing some research about the product, reading about the ingredients and history, and more, I was smitten with the little soaps.

Like the name says, the products are made from all organic ingredients, handmade from hypoallergenic vegetable bases like coconut and palm oil. The facial and hand soaps are made to fit any skin type from sensitive to dry. Plus – and this is my favorite part – many of their soap products come in a number of scents, including lavender, citrus, butter, and honey. Ooh la la!

Vermont Soap Organics Giveaway!

Now, I have quite a selection of soaps on hand, too many for me to use – so I have a great idea! Why not give some away and let you try them!

One reader will receive a selection of soap products from Vermont Soap Organics, including:

  • Liquid Sunshine for cleaning
  • Lemongrass Zen foaming handsoap
  • Shea nut butter to soothe chapped lips
  • Little bar soaps

To enter, go to Bistro Chic and leave a comment on Bistro Chic telling me which Vermont Soap Organics scented soap intrigues you the most. Or, you can always Tweet or Retweet the Bistro Chic post!  You must enter the giveaway by 9 PM Eastern on Wednesday, October 13, 2010.

Good luck!

5 Reasons To Eat Dark Chocolate Every Day

Dark Chocolate

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The health benefits of dark chocolate have been widely reported in the last few years. It has even been called a superfood due to its positive impact on a variety of health conditions. I rarely need an excuse to eat chocolate. But if you were looking for another reason to eat chocolate every day, here are five good ones!

5 Reasons to Eat Dark Chocolate Every Day

  1. Helps our Heart – Numerous studies have associated heart health with eating dark chocolate. Even recent studies have shown that the powerful antioxidants, flavanols, in dark chocolate can help prevent the activation of platelets in the blood, which contribute to heart disease. Other studies show that the antioxidants can even reverse some of the artery damage cause by smoking, although this is definitely not an incentive to keep smoking nor is it a good excuse to start.
  2. Makes You Smarter – Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids) is a major source of magnesium, a mineral essential for brain health, while it also helps prevent the plaque build-up that leads to Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, there is evidence that chocolate boosts memory, attention span, and increase our reaction time.
  3. Boosts Our Immune System – A 2009  study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that dark chocolate has immunity boosting power, possibly helping us fight off infection.
  4. Reduces Stress – Eating about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate every day may help to reduce your stress level, particularly those with moderate to high anxiety.
  5. Helps Us Live Longer – Finally, Harvard researchers found that people who ate chocolate lived an average of one year longer than those who did not, although the association was stronger in men than women.

Have a great night everyone – I’m off to eat some chocolate!

Food Bloggers and Their Favorite Celebrity Chefs

For the last 6 months, I’ve been running steady at 5 days a week. During these workouts, I’ve alternated between long runs, my longest being 10 miles, fartleks/interval runs, and speed runs. This schedule, although it may seem like a piece of cake for those in training, is a significant schedule for me, as a I juggle a full-time job, writing assignments on the side, two kids, and a husband.

I am now in the thick of my busy season as work – a season that lasts from September-November. As a result, I have decided to give myself a break. I’m cutting my running back to 4 days a week, which may not seem like much, but it frees up a whole morning of running for me, allowing me to sleep in (at least sometimes). I actually started running the 4-day a week schedule 2-3 weeks ago and have found that I not only am running better/stronger, but I am eating less and maintaining my healthy weight. Hmm…maybe 4-day a week runs will be a more permanent schedule? We’ll see!

Cookbook Giveaway Winner!

And now for the winner of the Simply Suppers Giveaway….that would be Erin from A Girl and Her Mutt! She commented…

I LOVE Cat Cora! It’s not often enough that you get to see a great female chef bring it hardcore like she does.

I am also a HUGE fan of Mario Batali.

Congratulations Erin! And a HUGE thank you to everyone for sharing the names of your favorite celebrity chef. Leave it to food bloggers to name them all – ha! There were so many names mentioned including Cat Cora, Mario Batali, Paula Deen, Rachel Ray, the Barefoot Contessa, and more. I have to admit, I got a little weepy when I read all of the chef names. I used to watch the Food Network and my favorites chefs all the time. Now that I don’t have cable, I barely watch any TV at all, including the Food Network.

Have a great night everyone 🙂

The Do’s and Don’ts of Carb-Loading for Runners


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When I was training for my first Half Marathon, I remember loading up on pasta, bagels, and breads a few days before the race. I ended up gaining a few pounds and looking awfully chubby and pasty – so NOT how a distance runner should look! But this practice of carb-loading before my race helped me run 2+ hours and still have energy to burn in the after party.

What is carb-loading?

Runners and endurance athletes have embraced the practice of carb-loading for years. Carb-loading involves maximizing your intake of carbohydrates in order to sustain long-term, intense physical activity, such as a triathlon, marathon, or century ride. But…

Why do we need all of those carbs?

Good question! High-intensity sports, like marathon running, take a significant amount of energy to perform. The energy that we need comes from the food we eat in the form of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Our bodies need all three of these nutrients, but carbs (which our bodies turn into sugar) are our body’s main source of energy and what sustains us the longest during exercise. Hence, carb-loading may help you maximize energy storage and boost your athletic performance.

When should I load up on carbs?

Before you start jumping for joy thinking you can eat every carb under the sun, STOP and read this. Carb-loading isn’t necessary for recreational sports or activities, or even running a 10K! For runners, carb-loading is usually recommended a few days to several hours before a run that will last 90 minutes or more.

How do I carb-load my diet before a big race?

Mayo Clinic explains that traditional carb-loading is done in a two-step process the week before a high-endurance activity.

STEP 1: A week before your event, reduce your carb intake to 50 to 55 percent of your total calories. Keep in mind, 1g of carb equals 4 calories. Therefore, in a 2,000 calorie/day diet, you’ll want to eat no more than 275g of carbs per day. During this time, increase your protein and fat intake to compensate for the calories lost in reducing your carbs. Continue training as normal in order to deplete your carb stores and get your body ready for the Step 2 – carb-loading!

STEP 2: Three to four days before your event, increase your carb intake to 70 percent of your total calories, or 4.5g of carbs per pound of body weight (your weight in pounds x 4.5 = number of grams of carbs). Decrease your intake of fatty foods and scale back on training to save your carb/energy stores for the big day.

What carbs should I eat?

Back in the day, all carbohydrates were given the same importance. Endurance athletes would stock up on any and every carb they could find before a big race or sporting event. Now, after years of research, we know that not all carbs are created equal.

According to Runner’s World, before a long race, you want to take in carbs such as whole grains and fruits. These will give you slow-burning energy and help you avoid rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels. During your long training runs or your actual race, you’ll want fast-acting carbs that will convert immediately into glucose/sugar energy. Here’s where bagels, sports gels and drinks, and even candy come in handy.

What about carb intake after my event?

As I’ve mentioned before, remember to eat within an hour of your event to replenish your energy stores. You’ll want to eat a mix of carbs and protein, ie. whole wheat bagels/bread, bananas, protein bar, etc. Keep in mind, you’ll want to reduce your post-event carb intake back to normal levels, about 50-60 percent of your calorie intake.

What are the risks of carb-loading?

1) Weight Gain: On this plan and many carb-loading plans, runners/athletes will gain weight, maybe 2-3 pounds – just as I did. But don’t worry, it’s just water weight and will easily be lost during your high-intensity workout, as long as you don’t continue carb-loading post-race!

2) Digestion Issues: Limit the high-fiber carbs 1-2 days before your event to reduce gas, cramping, and overall digestive discomfort.

3) Blood Sugar Changes: Carb-loading can rapidly change your blood sugar levels. If you’ve had problems with your blood sugar in the past, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before indulging in the carbs.

Now, go forth and be smart about your carbs!

Happy running everyone!

Interview with Iron Chef Cat Cora and Cookbook Giveaway!

The Chicago Gourmet held last weekend played host to many of Chicago’s famous chefs, including Rick Bayless and Jimmy Bannos, Sr. But the event also brought in other, more international chefs, including one Iron Chef – Cat Cora. During this event, I had the pleasure of chatting with Cat Cora about her latest book, how she gets her kids to eat new dishes, and about her new show on OWN – the Oprah Winfrey Network.

5 Minutes and 5 Questions with Iron Chef Cat Cora

1) When you’re not doing cooking shows and book tours, what’s a typical day like for you?

I get up with my kids (four boys under age 6), we eat breakfast together, get lunches ready for school, get everybody dressed, then wrangle everybody together to head to school. After that, I go to work in my home office. I also try to get in a workout, maybe a little yoga. Then we end up back at home and done with everything by 5 PM to eat dinner and spend some quality time together.

2) In your latest book, Cat Cora’s Classics With A Twist, you have a variety of flavor combinations and ethnic foods. How do you get your kids or kids in general to eat these ethnic foods and try different things? My kids don’t eat everything that I cook for them in this new book. There are some things that they’re just not ready for. It’s about getting them involved in meal planning and mealtimes, gearing the food toward them and actually getting them invested in the meal. If you get kids invested in the meal, they tend to eat more and eat more often, and they feel empowered because they can help make decisions about the meal. And this whole discussion with kids should be a 5-minute conversation not a two hour negotiation – give them two options and have them pick one.

3) How do you decide if/when a new recipe will be added to your restaurant menu?

You need to decide who your audience is first, which helps narrow things down. Then, you need to think about the style of restaurant you have and your concept. When we started the restaurant at Disney, we really had to look at things that were familiar to people. We couldn’t get too crazy or too out-of-the box because it is Disney. You get people from all over the world and there are a lot of different things that they like to eat. We’re about to open a sexy lounge with small plates at the Virgin America terminal at the San Francisco airport. That’s a whole different dynamic and a whole different audience.

4) If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?

I definitely know that I would want to perform. I would have definitey tried to go into acting of some kind. I also love to write, so maybe a novelist – and I can still do that, it’s in the future plans!

5) What’s on the horizon for Cat Cora?

I have a new show coming out in January 2011 on Oprah’s network – OWN (which stands for Oprah Winfrey Network). It’s an hour-long show, once a week. We can’t announce what it is or what the name is just yet, but it’s really about bringing families together about food and solving people’s dilemmas in the kitchen – very similar to an intervention show. I’m super excited about it.

Cookbook Giveaway

In keeping with the chef/cooking theme, I’m giving away a brand new book by another notable chef and author Jennifer Chandler. Her book Simply Suppers features homestyle comfort foods, such as potato soup and enchiladas, with a southern flair.

To enter the giveaway, you can either…

  1. Leave a comment on this post about who your favorite celebrity chef is and why OR
  2. Tweet/Retweet this post

You have until Tuesday, October 5 at 9 PM Eastern to enter. Good luck!

What the Fartlek? How to Run Faster

Fast runner

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With a few months of running under your belt, you may be looking for a way to improve your speed, which is a combination of strength and endurance. To do this, Runner’s World recommends the following three workouts that have been proven to help runners increase endurance and strength, not to mention overall speed. They can be done throughout your normal running week and can be tailored to fit any running level.

LONG RUNS: You may have heard experienced runners talk about their “long runs” for the week. This is the day that runners run their most mileage. Long runs are different for each runner based on how seasoned they are. If you typically run 3-4 miles a day, your long run may be 6-8 miles. For others who only run a couple miles a day, a long run may be considered 4 miles. No matter now many miles you log in your long run, these once-a-week long runs can help you build major endurance. Please note – when adding more mileage to your weekly runs, keep in mind the 10% rule of running – a runner should add no more than 10% mileage to his/her weekly workouts. So if you normally run 10 miles total in a week, you would run 11 miles the next, etc.

HILLS: Many runners hate hills because they slow us down. Others are scared of hills because they can be very challenging to tackle. But, if you practice on hills you can learn to approach them the right way, which may help you overcome your anxiety. Aside from preparing you to run future hills, running hills can help improve your overall strength and endurance. Believe me, after running a few hills, running on a non-graded surface will make it seem like you’re flying! So, how do you approach a hill? For any hill, you want to avoid being completely upright and rigid in your approach. Instead, you’ll want to lean forward slightly, about 5 inches or so. As for pace, for small to medium hills, increase your speed slightly as you run up and over the hill. Use the downhill run for your recovery. For large hills, cut back on your pace a little – you’ll need to reserve your energy just to reach the top! Try adding a few small hills into your workouts each week. No hills near you? Run the stairs at a local park or school football field.

FARTLEK: Fartlek is a strange-sounding word that’s hard to say without laughing. But the word simply means “speed play” in Swedish. The premise behind a Fartlek workout is to build strength and endurance by alternating a slower, more comfortable pace with a faster, more challenging speed for a set amount of time. It may sound complicated, but all you really need to do is alternate running at your normal pace with a 1-2 minute faster run, and then repeat. The faster run should not be an all-our sprint, but rather 10-25 percent faster than your typical pace. After your fast interval, use your comfortable pace as a recovery period until you’re ready to start your next fast run. Your fast run can range from 30 seconds to 3 minutes, or whatever you’re comfortable with. You don’t need to time yourself either. I do Fartlek runs once a week using trees/mailboxes as my interval markers.

Even if you’re not looking to take your performance beyond your current level, long runs, hills, and Fartleks can add variety to your weekly routines and help keep your runs fun and fresh!

Happy Running!

Chicago Gourmet – Take Two!

Just a few more photos from Chicago Gourmet 2010 – Enjoy the photo tour!

Chicago Gourmet: Wine, Dine, and Lines

For the third consecutive year, the Illinois Restaurant Association hosted the highly anticipated Chicago Gourmet. And for the third year, the attendees, including yours truly, seemed to leave with mixed emotions about the event.

On Saturday, I received my first taste of the event in the form of an hour-long check-in line. Unfortunately, this was not the only line I would encounter throughout the weekend. Luckily, as a corresponding writer for Foodbuzz, I was able to bypass the first queue and get right down to business – drinking wine and eating fancy food. However, within no time at all, I realized that I would be doing quite a bit more drinking than eating. Of the more than 150 food and wine vendors present, wine, beer, and liquor tents easily out-numbered food tents 2 to 1, or at least that is what it seemed like.

Due to this imbalance in food v. alcohol, most of the food tents had lines, albeit many were fast-moving. Reminiscent of the first two years, the lines for the more popular restaurants, ie. Frontera and Gibson’s, snaked around so far that it was hard to tell where they ended. When I did finally work my way up to the front of the line (and I did wait – no line jumping for me!), I was a little surprised at how heavily focused the dishes were on meat and seafood. This, of course, is a man’s dream, but for someone who does not eat meat or who is a vegan, finding food beyond dessert was challenging at best.

Sunday proved an even greater challenge when those lucky enough to score a Groupon discount arrived for their fair share. I am sorry to report that their fair share included even longer lines and even less food, with some vendors even running out of food.

In spite of the lines and limited vegetarian options, there were a number of highlights that deserve a mention. The plentiful seating included a mix of tables with umbrellas and plush chairs and lounge stools – very relaxing and trés chic. The seating combined with the sporadic live jazz interspersed with piped-in music from all decades created an ambience of an upscale outdoor wedding, perfect for a crisp fall day. Furthermore, the long lines for popular restaurants often left much shorter lines at others, especially in the dessert tents.  These were definitely the hidden gems of the event and where I was able to try some fantastic treats, including pumpkin bread pudding, tiramisu, pumpkin and sugar cookie gelato, and sticky toffee pudding.

For wine and alcohol enthusiasts, Chicago Gourmet was a virtual dream come true. The wine and other spirits flowed freely and merchants weren’t hesitant about filling and refilling glasses. And, just like the chefs who were present, the wine merchants were passionate about their wineries and their products which made for enjoyable conversation.

The wine tastings and cooking demonstrations, often led by Chicago’s top chefs, were more than informative and enjoyable. The demonstrations held on the main Bon Appetit stage made you feel as if you were actually watching a professional cooking show, while the smaller stages made for more intimate demos. No matter what demonstration you witnessed, the chefs and other presenters, including such top names at Iron Chef Cat Cora and Chicago’s own Rick Bayless, were more than willing to interact with the audience, take questions, and allow for photos.

Even with two years under its proverbial belt – not to mention Bon Appetit magazine as the title sponsor, Chicago Gourmet still had a few sticky spots – even beyond the decadently sticky toffee pudding I tried. That’s not to say it was all for naught. Most of the people I encountered seemed to be in good spirits – although maybe due to the alcohol – even those who had traveled quite a distance to get there.

Overall, Chicago Gourmet may not have lived up to its expectation, especially for foodie purists, but it still has great potential. Let’s hope that fourth time’s a charm.

Chicago Gourmet Teaser…

The weekend was full of wine, gourmet food, and chats with famous chefs – including this Iron Chef…

I’d love to give you a complete review of Chicago Gourmet, however, I’m still “digesting” my fabulous weekend – both mentally and physically. Check back for full details of my interviews with Iron Chef Cat Cora, Bon Appetit Editor-in-Chief Barbara Fairchild, as well as a review of Chicago Gourmet.

Runner’s Rut: Strategies To Keep Running Fresh and Fun

Female runner

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Runner’s rut – we all go through it at some point. The dreaded rut means different things to different runners. For many, runner’s rut signifies that they’ve reached a training or performance plateau. After months of running, they just can’t seem to get over the hump and improve. But for me, runner’s rut means that running loses its luster and seems more like a chore than a treat.

Gasp! Yes, that’s right. Although I love running, I have to admit that running can get monotonous. Think about it, who wouldn’t get bored doing the same workout every day? And I don’t just mean running on the treadmill – that’s a whole other boredom story that I’ll save for another time.

If you’ve ever experienced runner’s rut, rest assured that there are some easy ways to snap out of it. To break through this monotony and keep running fun and fresh, you just need to change it up a bit. Try the following strategies – one is bound to stick and help you find your runner’s high again.

Run with a Friend – Even if you’re typically a lone wolf runner like me, running with partner or in a group can motivate us to push a little harder or even help us see running from a different perspective. At the very least, having someone to talk to helps the time go by faster!

Try a Different Route – Sometimes, all you need is a change in scenery to breath life back into your running routine. If you always run on the road, try a trail. If you always run in the city, try running along the lakeshore, etc.

Change Your Routine – We all get comfortable with our running routine. Heck, I ran the same 5 miles every day for months! Even if you can’t add more miles to your workout, try interval runs or speed training to add some pizzazz to your workout.

Get Some New Tunes – If you know exactly what song you will end up on when you hit mile 3, it’s time to change your tunes!

Set a Goal – It’s easy to get motivated when you have something to look forward to, like a goal of breaking your 5-mile record or running a local 10K. Better yet, run for a cause and channel your extra motivation to help others!

Sport a New Outfit – OK, I just had to throw that in there. It may be pathetic, but I am motivated by cute running clothes. If I have on a new running shirt or shorts, somehow I feel stronger and sexier. What can I say, I am a runner, but I’m also a girl!

Take a Break – Give running a rest for a week and try something new. Go for a walk, try swimming, or organize a hike. Then, after a week, go back to running, hopefully feeling fully recharged!

How do you break through a running or workout rut?

Happy running everyone!