David and I fled south for a few weeks of training in Tuscany, and on the first day, we took our bikes exploring into the mountains. The weather here is a good 10-15 C warmer than Graz, but after a scenic sunny climb, we froze descending through a deep, shaded valley, gingerly making our way down icy hairpin turns, frost crackling under our skinny tires. We had to stop twice to swing our arms around to force blood back into our burning cold fingers. Physically, those forty minutes of coasting were miserable. As David put it, “I never thought I could dislike descending so much.”
It’s a funny thing with cycling, though: how quickly physical suffering takes a back seat to beauty. What I remember from that ride isn’t the awful pain of cold in my face, but that despite our discomfort, we pointed to the beautiful things – the old brick arches and belfries tucked against the slopes, mossy tile roofs with their chimneys like small campaniles and the astonishing aquamarine color of the stream flowing beside us. Around every corner we called out to each other, “Wow did you see that?”
Once home, we tucked in to a hot meal, and that familiar uncomfortable thawing of the toes and deep fatigue and hunger -- it all eased into a good, satisfying feeling.
That is why, in winter, I like to prepare a big batch of hearty soup on my rest days, so I can quickly heat up leftovers after cold rides to bring me back to life. Soup also happens to be an easy way to get tons of good, nutrient-rich veggies into your diet without feeling like a ruminant, and offers the chance to liven up boring veggies like spinach and broccoli with more appealing flavors.
Below you’ll find a recipe for one of my favorite winter soups. What I like most about this recipe is how forgiving it is. The chopping doesn’t have to be pretty; it’s all going to be blended anyway. Likewise, if you leave the soup simmering on the stove while distracted by The Internet, overcooked veggies are no problem. (It’s also gluten-free, dairy-free and can be made vegan.)
I hope this post will inspire you to prepare some tasty, healthful recovery meals this winter. The holidays can be a tough time to maintain good nutrition, but remember, the holidays are also meant to be enjoyed. Sometimes the stress from trying to avoid certain foods (sweets, carbs, whatever) can be worse for you than eating the actual foods themselves. (I just baked a holiday cake and have been nibbling on my stash of dark chocolate between rides; I like to think of it as good fuel and antioxidants!)
A good rule of thumb: it’s not what you eat between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but what you eat between New Year’s Eve and Christmas that matters most for your health. Strive to eat healthfully most of the time, and allow yourself to truly enjoy occasional indulgences.
Life is short; value your health, and allow yourself to enjoy it!
Makes 10-12 servings.
Combine in a large stock pot:
- 1 ½ liters vegetable stock,
- ¼ whole celery root, coarsely chopped or grated,
- 3-4 big carrots, coarsely chopped or grated,
- 4 medium yellow onions, coarsely chopped, and
- 6-8 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped.
Bring everything to a rolling boil; then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.
- ½ liter water,
- 1 bunch Italian parsley, de-stemmed and coarsely chopped,
- 600g frozen creamed spinach (or a huge bag of fresh baby spinach, or both), and
- 2 big leaves of kale, de-veined and torn into small pieces.
Let parsley, spinach and kale cook long enough to wilt; then cook another 5-10 minutes.
- 300 g raw pine nuts,
- 150 g raw walnuts,
- 1 whole head of broccoli florets, coarsely chopped, and
- Water (enough to be sure the florets are mostly, but not completely, submerged).
Cook until broccoli is mushy. (I know, but trust me on this...)
- 2 tsp sea salt, and
- 12 – 15 drops liquid smoke.
Stir to incorporate the flavors. Remove from heat, and using a handheld immersion blender, blend everything until you get a smooth, creamy consistency. Taste, and add salt if needed. (If you don't have liquid smoke, you can add a handful of smoked, cubed pancetta at Step 5.) Remove blender and return the pot of green goop to medium heat.
- 500 g turkey breast, cubed.
Simmer over medium-low heat until turkey is cooked. Do a final taste test, and add salt if needed. Store for future post-ride meals. Enjoy!
Thank you for all of your support and thoughtful comments throughout the year.
Wishing you all a good slide into 2012!
Ich wünsche euch allen einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!
A tutti voi, felice nuovo anno!
Thank you for reading,
Do you have a favorite post-ride meal? Please share your thoughts and recipes in the comments section below!
Amber Pierce - An American expat living in Austria, Amber has made the leap across the Atlantic in pursuit of her dreams on the road. After making a name for herself as one of the top road cyclists in the US, she now faces new challenges in her life on the road in Europe.
Amber's path to full-time racing in Europe has been anything but linear. From high school valedictorian holding national swimming records, to scholarship athlete at Stanford University and researcher on the open ocean, she has found herself in countless adventures all over the globe. With 53 career victories under her belt, however, Amber appears to have found her calling on the bicycle.
Photos: Amber Pierce