Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Simply Dressed

I was recently given the opportunity as a member of the Clever Girls Collective to review the new line of Marzetti "Simply Dressed" Salad Dressings.  My goal is to only review products that I, myself, would consider buying and including in my meals.  This requires that the products are made of a relatively short list of ingredients, all of which are natural, and complement my healthy lifestyle.

I was impressed by Marzetti's commitment to produce fresh-tasting and pure flavors without preservatives, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, or artificial flavors or colors.  Their dressings include simple ingredients such as EVOO, canola oil, and sea salt.  While this may seem to be a logical approach to salad dressings, try taking a look at the ingredient list on a host of grocery aisle salad dressings and you'll realize this "naturalness" is a rarity.  Marzetti offers many flavors which include:

  • Blue Cheese
  • Ranch
  • Caesar
  • Pomegranate
  • Balsamic
  • Coleslaw
  • Champagne
  • Strawberry Poppyseed
  • Greek Feta
  • Ginger Sesame
The dressings are available in the refrigerated section and range in price from $3.59 - $4.59 depending on your particular grocer.  To find Marzetti's Simply Dressed Salad Dressings at a store near you, visit  They also have several recipe ideas available on their website at

In the past, I've tried the balsamic and champagne dressings, and had mixed reviews.  The balsamic was quite delicious with a strong yet smooth balsamic tang and was very similar to several of the homemade dressings I enjoy making.  The champagne dressing, however, was not nearly as impressive.  The combination of the more gelatinous texture and slightly chemically-taste just did not appeal to me.

I selected the Ginger Sesame to try for this particular review.  The scent of fresh ginger immediately caught my attention as I opened the jar.  I served it over a "kitchen sink" salad for lunch today.  The flavor was moderate and definitely gave the salad an extra punch.  It tasted exactly as I expected a oriental salad dressing to taste.  I especially liked that it wasn't overwhelmingly sweet like many dressings can be.  It would be really good as a marinade for fish or tofu, as a sauce for a stir-fry, or tossed over an Asian-themed salad.
Kitchen Sink Salad - mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumber, sprouts, carrots, bell pepper, quinoa, potatoes, peas, and carrots
Overall, I would certainly buy this particular line of salad dressings in the future.  My only complaint is the high sugar content in a few of the dressings - strawberry poppyseed and pomegranate.  I'd also like to see Marzetti add some yogurt-based dressings that would be slightly less caloric than their oil-based counterparts.

Pick up a bottle of Marzetti "Simply Dressed" salad dressings the next time you're at the grocery store and let me know what you think!

I was one of the bloggers selected by T. Marzetti Company and Clever Girls Collective to host a Marzetti Simply Dressed review. They provided me with product to test myself and compensation for my time.  However, my opinions are entirely my own.

For complete details about their line of salad dressings, visit

Monday, November 28, 2011

Return of the Christmas Spirit

Thanksgiving was Thursday, and by Friday afternoon the fall decorations were coming down and the Christmas-themed decor was arriving in my parent's home.  There's something special about a home decorated for the holidays; I love enjoying a lit and ornament-covered tree, scents of mistletoe (thank you Yankee Candle), and accents of red throughout each room.  Here's a peak at the decorating festivities that occurred while I was home.

Tree Decorating - Complete with Grilled Veggie Pizzas, Salad, Football, and Cookies

The finished product, minus the gold garland that we forgot to put on this year.
Dad scales the roof to hang Christmas lights from each and every peak.  Year number  12 without any accidents!
Bailey the reindeer.  Doesn't she look so happy?!
The Christmas cheer came to a depressingly quick stop when my drive back to Charlotte took nearly 5 hours AGAIN.  I'm now 3 for 3 trips taking 5 hours instead of the more appropriate 3.5 hours.
We sat like this at a complete stop for more than an hour.  All for a "fender-bender" involving just 2 cars but 5 police cars.  Thank you officers for royally destroying the afternoon holiday traffic on 85 North.
The only saving grace to the drive was the amazingly delicious turkey sandwich I enjoyed for dinner.
Great Harvest Stuffing Bread + Organic Turkey + Mustard + Cranberry Sauce.  Yumm!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving!  Mine was a perfect combination of all of my favorite things.

It started out with a 4:30am alarm clock (not one of my favorites) in preparation for the Atlanta Half-Marathon.  I've done this race for a few years now, but it's always been just me running while the rest of the family enjoyed a lazy Thanksgiving morning at the house.  I've put the guilt trip on them multiple times that I'm the only person there by myself while everyone else's whole family participates in the festivities.  This year my persuasion finally worked and I convinced Dad, Mom, Royce (brother), and Erin (brother's girlfriend) to run the 5k while I did the 13.1.  It was a perfectly crisp and cool morning and I think fun was had by all.  Dad and Royce ran the entire 5k (a FIRST for both of them) and achieved very respectable times.  Mom and Erin walked/jogged the course and enjoyed it.  I finished the half with a time of 1:41.  It was 5 minutes off my PR at that distance, but overall, pretty close to what I was expecting running a conservative race given a nagging hamstring injury that has limited my running to once per week for a couple months.

After the race we brought ourselves home and enjoyed a HOT shower.  Nothing better after a race!  Then it was a mad dash to the food to fill our growling stomachs.  Mom made a delicious pot of soup that featured quinoa, beet greens, and assorted vegetables.  Served alongside were Great Harvest rolls and honeycrisp apple slices.  It was perfect post-race fuel and was enjoyed while watching the Macy's Parade that had recorded earlier that morning.

The afternoon featured lots of laziness, including reading, scouring the newspaper ads, and naps.  Dad also worked to diligently prepare and monitor the turkey on the big green egg.  It's a science and art-form that he takes very seriously!

Post-long run hunger crept in as well and was cured with some tasty snacks.
Snack Plate - Salmon Cheese ball with Triscuits, Seaweed snacks, Prunes, and Apricots

Dinner this year was unique - A Vegan Thanksgiving Feast (plus a not-so vegetarian turkey).  Mom carefully planned the menu to appease the hard-core traditionalists of the family (Royce and Dad) while also improving on the nutritional profile of the meal.  I believe it was a success on all accounts and got the seal of approval from everyone.
Mom hard at work in the kitchen preparing gravy

Thanksgiving Dinner 2011

Slow-Cooked Turkey

The Carving Master
Any chance you saved a piece for the well-trained dog?  Dark meat, please!
Featuring Great Harvest Stuffing Bread (seriously delicious!)
Veggie-Friendly Gravy

Sweet Potato Casserole

Roasted Root Vegetables

Green Bean Casserole

Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Jellied Cranberry Sauce 
Straight from the can - just for Royce!
What a meal!  Everything was spot-on delicious.  The turkey was by far the most moist and flavorful bird we've ever had.  Dad, you raise the expectations every year.  All of the sides were equally fantastic!  I love the fact that Mom was able to create a holiday meal that was nutritious, yet left us feeling as stuffed and satisfied as any prior Thanksgiving meal.  One thing that I can always count on when I come home to visit is amazingly delicious meals!

The entire meal perfectly arrange on a fall-themed table.  Let's eat!
My plate featured some of everything, plus a small second serving of roasted vegetables and dressing.
30 minutes later - I'd say I enjoyed the meal!
The evening concluded with the whole family spending some time lying flat on our backs to help digest the meal.  A little while later we managed to make a little more room in our stomachs for pumpkin pie.  And with that, Turkey Day came to a close.  

Bailey called it quits long before Pumpkin Pie.

From our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!  I have many things to be thankful for this time of year, but these people are most certainly on the top of my list!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Today I Give Thanks For . . .

1. My amazing family - Dad, Mom, and Brother - without whom, life just simply wouldn't be the same.  A one-liner doesn't do the three of you justice, but I'll write the novel at a later date.

2. Having the opportunity to train at a top-ranked orthopaedic residency program.

3. Bailey for always being eager to go for a run and keeping life in perspective.

4. An awesome new life in Charlotte - great house, friends, and job.

5. Triathlons and the crazy world of swimming, biking, and running.  You keep me sane amidst an oftentimes exhausting schedule and constantly force me to challenge my comfort zone.

6. A healthy lifestyle that keeps me feeling fit and capable of fighting off the hospital germs.

7. The hospital cafeteria for providing a pretty great selection of options (including organic) on a daily basis.

8. My bed and the perfect night's sleep it provides.

9. Exotic dark chocolates.  The perfect after-dinner treat for my sweet-tooth.

10. My alarm clock - 4am never gets any easier, but you're there for me day after day not a minute too early or late.

11. Peanut Butter.  Where would I be in life without you?  I can't imagine my day complete without a smear on a banana to start my morning.

12. 2002 Toyota Camry with 125,000 miles and still holding strong.

13. The sun spot on my back deck.  It may be winter, but even on the coldest days that small spot in the sun can feel like 70 degrees.

14. Sunday morning pancake breakfasts.  Enough said.

15. Having parents who love to cook and always prepare an extravagant feast for the holidays.

16. Ice Baths - we have a love/hate relationship

17. Sushi dinners

18. Lululemon pants and a hoodie sweatshirt

19. An endless array of food blogs who constantly inspire my creativity and ambition in the kitchen.

20. Roasted sweet potatoes dusted with cinnamon and cayenne.

21. The Sport Factory and all of my teammates who are both supportive and competitive.  I certainly wouldn't be anywhere near the athlete I've become without you all.

22. iPhone.  Honestly, I can't imagine the world without you.  An addiction, perhaps most certainly, but a pretty darn great one.

23. TiVO, because without you, I would never watch any TV.  And in your absence, I'd never survive bike trainer workouts.

24. The Charlotte Farmer's Market for providing the best selection of fresh, local, and cheap produce I could ever ask for.

25. Great Harvest Breads, without which a sandwich could not possibly taste the same.

26. Yoga and the constant challenge it provides me both mentally and physically.

27. My Vitamix blender.  Simply stated, you have revolutionized the world of smoothies.

28. A vegetarian diet.  Simple, natural, guilt-free, and flavorful ingredients that provide ample nutrition and energy.

29. Starbucks Soy Lattes for providing me with a comforting and energizing cup of deliciousness that is perfect enough to make everything right in the world.

30. Extended family - grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins - who provide a network of love, humor, and unconditional support.

This list could go on for quite some time and I'm sure I'm leaving off many important people and objects.  But from just this short list, I have learned that my life is pretty darn amazing when I really step back and think about it!  On a nearly daily basis I'll find myself getting caught up in the stress or frustration of one of life's quirks.  In reality, the focus should instead be on all of the great people and things we are surrounded by.  Life's too short to focus on the should-have's or would-have's.  Live in the moment, capture each experience and learn from it, and love those with whom you are closest.

What are you thankful for on this Turkey Day 2011?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekend Eats

Friday Lunch = Casa Crystal
Vegetable Soup + Whole Grain Goodness Toast + Apples

Friday Dinner = Cabo Fish Taco in NoDa
This restaurant was featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.  I must say I was quite skeptical when we arrived in NoDa and were greeted with a rather eclectic and unimpressive exterior.  Boy were we glad we stuck it out though.  This was yet another FANTASTIC meal in Charlotte!
For me:  Tavarua Tuna Taco + BBQ Mahi Taco + Mexi-slaw
For Royce:  Salmon Baja Bowl
Saturday Breakfast (Casa Crystal) = Scrambled Eggs, English Muffins, Fruit Salad

Saturday Snack (MUGS Coffee) = White Hot Cocoa for Royce and Erin and Decaf Hazelnut Latte for me

Saturday Lunch = The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar
Royce and Erin (shared):  Shroomin' Swiss Burger with Sweet Potato Fries and Mad Mango-cado Roll
Me:  The Heavenly Veggie Burger with Seaweed Salad
Dessert (shared 3-ways):  The Mousse Is Loose
 Assorted layers of classic fudge brownie, chocolate mousse and vanilla mousse
Saturday Dinner (Casa Crystal) = Roasted Chicken + Roasted Red Potatoes, Carrots, and Onion

Sunday Breakfast (Casa Crystal) = Gingerbread Pancakes + Fruit Smoothies

Sunday Lunch (Casa Crystal) = A Collection of Leftovers

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Stroll In The Park

Royce and Erin have arrived in Charlotte for the weekend!  Between their busy school schedules (they both graduate in May!) and working full-time, they rarely have time for vacation.  However, Royce had vacation days to burn and so they came to visit me in Charlotte and explore a new city.  They brought their chocolate lab - Kaluha - with them, so priority number one once they arrived was to get some exercise after spending 4+ hours in the car.  After giving them a brief driving tour of Charlotte, we headed to Freedom Park.

One of the many things I love about Charlotte is the abundance of parks and greenways.  Freedom Park is located just about 2 miles from my house, which makes it perfectly located to be incorporated in my many running routes.  Plus, it allows me to run past all of the amazing Myers Park mansions in which I like to dream about living some day.  Today, however, we took a casual stroll to allow for picture taking.  Erin is an excellent photographer and I'm sure her fancy camera pictures FAR exceed my iPhone photos, but here's a quick glimpse into the beautiful afternoon stroll.

Perfect blue skies on a crisp, cold day.

Royce and Kaluha

Come on, Dad, let me off the leash so I can go visit the Canada geese!

The whole family capturing the action.

Check out the reflection in the water.

Got to love Charlotte!

Power Salad

Last week Earth Fare's weekly coupon was for one of the new Earthbound Farm's Power Meals.  The line includes 3 different salads - Cranberry Boost Protein Meal, Blackberry Quinoa Protein Balance, and Tomatillo Black Bean Protein Energy.  Each 6.5 ounce container includes the salad greens, "protein topping", and dressing.  The entire meal totals just 360 calories and includes 6 grams of fiber and 7-9 grams of plant-based protein.

At $5.99 per salad, this probably isn't something I would have considered buying had it not been for the coupon.  Salads in general are very simple to toss together and certainly not worth that price tag to me.  I'm all about free groceries though, so I gave tossed the cranberry boost salad into my cart.

Despite being an "easy" month, plastic surgery kept me very busy at the start of the week and I was glad to know I had an easy meal waiting for me at home in the evenings.  I split the salad into two servings.  The envelope of "protein" contained whole-grain bulgur wheat and wheat berries with garbanzo beans and dried cranberries.  Sadly, it was quite small and didn't appear very filling.  I bulked the salad up cumin-spiced chickpeas from Trader Joes.  

Salad Night #1.  Served along side Trader Joe's tomato bisque.
Salad Night #2.  Prepared salad with topped with an over-easy egg.
Gooey egg yolk makes the perfect salad topper.
Overall I'd say the salad was decent.  It was a tasty combination of ingredients and tasted very fresh.  The price tag, however, probably means I won't be a frequent consumer.  For those that are time-crunched or simply looking for a very easy to prepare healthy dinner option it is certainly a good option.  And the entire container for one 360 calories would make for a very filling meal.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Long Road

Last Sunday I made the drive from Atlanta back to Charlotte after spending the weekend at The Sport Factory Elite/Scholarship training camp.  Little did I know that the "short" 3.5 hour drive would turn into a 5 hour pilgrimage.  About an hour outside of Charlotte I noticed a highway sign that stated "accident at exit 92, one lane closed."  Traffic was cruising 80mph and it was nearing 6:30pm on a Sunday so I assumed that closing a single lane wouldn't have much of an affect on my trip time.

Well, let me tell you, boy was I ever wrong.  As I was cresting a hill near mile marker 82 and singing the joys of being just 40 minutes from home, I was greeted with brake lights as far as I could see. This must just be a small little accident that has things slowed down, I thought to myself.  Or maybe it's just a construction zone?  Surely it's not related to the single lane closed 10 miles up the road.  A quick call home told the unfortunate tale - a crazy person shot 2 family members and then led police on a high speed chase before crashing his car, attempting to shoot the police officers, and finally, being shot himself.  All of this drama happened at 11:30am.  Yes, that's right, a whopping 8 hours before.  Yet the interstate was still a parking lot and there was going to be nothing quick and easy about the "short"  drive that remained in front of me.

When life throws you a challenge, you can either find a foul mood and be angry or you can laugh life straight in the face and move on.  In most situations, I choose the later.  Mostly because it's pretty fun to find the humor in situations that light a fire in the soul of others, but also because there's nothing to be gained from being miserable.

So in addition to providing my parents with the play-by-play via cell phone, I also snapped some pictures that capture the true spirit of "middle-of-nowhere-South-Carolina."  Sadly missing from the photos is the 3 story tall cross with neon lights reading "Jesus Saves" that greated me with open arms as traffic first came to a standstill.  I little irony - me thinks so!  Here's the narrative that accompanies the images I did capture.  Enjoy!

Hmm, maybe just a small traffic hiccup.  I'm sure we'll be moving soon.
Not looking good - lots of red lights ahead.
This guy must have heard we were in for a long  night on the interstate.
Do you think he has a grill inside that we can hook up to the generator and have a little roadkill barbecue for dinner?
Not a good sign.  I much prefer the little red line to be pointing at 80.
I'm hungry and I've already consumed the carrots, apple, and granola bar I packed for snack.
What are the odds that one-toothed Farmer Tom has some peaches for sale in the dead of winter?
A hungry Crystal = grouchy Crystal.  
23 minutes into the traffic nightmare and I've gone 1 mile.  
Major progress!  We're moving!
The movement was only a tease.  Time to put it back in park and enjoy the  music.  Oh wait, there is NO good music in the middle of rural South Carolina.
Finally, signs of life!  Shopping was tempting, as was the food court food (NOT!).
Too bad it was after 7pm and all the stores were closed.
And after the big buildup and suspense, I've reached the scene of the crime.
300lb Jimmy and his partners haphazardly roaming along the side of the road cleaning up cones from the closure.  Thank you American tax dollars for hiring motivated and hard working road crews.
5 hours after leaving Atlanta, I've never been so happy to be back home.
MUST FIND FOOD!  Priorities, people.