Three Cheers for the Lakefront Path, the Green City Market, & Eggplant Lasagna

Eggplant Lasagna Collage

All week I’ve had a hankering for the mixed mushroom lasagna I made last year. I decided to up the health factor and substitute eggplant slices for the pasta sheets, which means I can eat more of it, right? Right. I had grandiose plans to run along the lake and loop back around to the Nature Museum to pick up some mushrooms at the Green City Market, but when I woke up it was in the teens and I just couldn’t abide by that. From outside my apartment I could see plenty of runners executing this idea like champs, but I am still not that hardcore yet.

That is snow sitting on top of the frozen harbor.

That is snow sitting on top of the frozen harbor.

So, I went to the park district fitness center and took another run on the treadmill. I’m finding the treadmill to be almost a completely different animal from running outside. It’s like microwave popcorn vs. fresh movie theater popcorn. Technically they’re the same food, but in actuality they’re really not. (Note I said fresh movie theater popcorn. That stuff they sell at AMC is like stale oily cardboard.) Running outside is both easier and harder than the treadmill. Easier because, according to my pace times, I run faster outside without consciously trying, but harder because my quads are always so much more spent than they are post-treadmill and I never feel like I’m running fast. It’s an odd dichotomy, the two exercises. I think the treadmill will serve me well by varying inclines for “hill” workouts and for doing more precise interval workouts, but mostly it’ll be a way for me to keep up the habit of “running” when the weather is less than tolerable. It’ll never be the same as outside running, but I suppose it’ll serve a very important purpose. (I now understand why every article on running EVER warns against training for races on a treadmill.)

On Sunday it was near 30°, which was warm enough for me to, well, warm up to the idea of a run. That said, I would like to know what meteorological phenomenon makes it possible for the wind to blow in my face both coming and going. Seriously, Chicago. I’ve decided to look at this in a positive light, though: wind makes me stronger. I did 3.19 miles in 32:48. Imagine how fast I could go without wind?

A new piece of art along the path. I call it, “Runner Girl Flies.” It’s better than, “Runner Girl Slips on Slush and Face Plants,” don’t you think?

A new piece of art along the path. I call it, “Runner Girl Flies.” It’s better than, “Runner Girl Slips on Slush and Face Plants,” don’t you think?

The goals for this run were to a) run it non-stop, and b) enjoy it. Of the former goal, I’m happy to say that I completed it well, with the exception of stopping to take the above photos in the first half – I like to also try to appreciate my surroundings during my runs. Of the latter goal, well, I really enjoyed it when Pandora decided to play Nsync in the second half. Does that count?

I found myself struggling with some old running demons, namely seeing numerous people pass me and feeling not fast enough/not strong enough/not good enough to be out there. I had to remind myself that I don’t know their circumstances and they don’t know mine. They could be doing intervals or they could be doing a tempo run. They could have many more years of running behind them than I do. I don’t know why they’re fast and I’m not, but all I can do is hang on and get the most out of my run that I can, no matter how slow that is. Fretting over such comparisons during the Fleet Feet Fun Run pretty much killed my love of running last fall, so I can’t let that happen again.

On a related note, I just have to say how thankful I am that I have the Lakefront path for running. I often do think about how fantastic it is that I have a long stretch of road where I rarely have to worry about cars, even if I do sometimes worry about much more accomplished runners. A friend posted this story on Daily Mile and it reminds me to be even more appreciative that I live in such a running/walking-friendly city.

Back to Saturday. Post-gym I hopped on the bus to the Nature Museum to pick up a bag of oyster, shiitake, and cremini mushrooms. I do so love mushrooms. I also love that we can get awesome local fresh produce throughout the year.

The “lasagna” turned out okay. Don’t get me wrong, it tasted delicious, but there were some execution issues. For one thing, the eggplant doesn’t soak up the extra liquid from the sauce the way that pasta noodles do, so the whole thing was a bit watery. For another thing, the eggplant skin was difficult to cut through with just a fork, making a knife necessary for serving and for eating. But aside from that, I was rather pleased with my veggie loving faux lasagna. For leftovers the next day, I piled a bunch into a ramekin and heated it until it was bubbling. Individual lasagnas, anyone? I’ll have to try that out at some point.

Eggplant Lasagna (3)

Skillet Eggplant “Lasagna” with Mixed Mushrooms & Pork
1 ½ pounds eggplant, sliced into thin rounds
1 28-ounce and 1 15-ounce cans of whole peeled plum tomatoes, chopped for a chunky sauce or pureed for a smooth sauce
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4-5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
coarse salt and ground pepper
¾ pound mushrooms, sliced
⅓ pound ground pork
½ medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon ground oregano
1 large egg yolk
1 ½ cups part-skim ricotta cheese
½ pound mozzarella, shredded
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 300º. Rub the eggplant slices with a little of the olive oil and lay on a baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, flipping halfway through, until the eggplant is soft.

Next, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet. Sauté the sliced mushrooms, working in batches if needed so the mushrooms brown and don’t steam. Remove the mushrooms. Add the pork to the pan and break up with a wooden spoon into small crumbles; add the onion and cook until the pork has browned and the onions have softened. Cook until browned. Add the tomatoes, garlic, and remaining oil to the skillet and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper and lower the heat. Cook on medium until the sauce has reduced and thickened slightly, 12-15 minutes. Add the mushrooms back in.

While the tomatoes are going, mix together the egg yolk, ricotta, and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper in a small bowl.

When the sauce has reached a consistency you like, pour it into a heatproof vessel and return ¾ cup to the skillet, spreading it evenly along the bottom. Add a single layer of the eggplant, overlapping slightly so they cover the surface of the skillet. Top with half the ricotta mixture, spreading it evenly as best you can. Follow with a second layer of eggplant, then 1 ½ cups sauce. Top with the remaining ricotta and a final layer of eggplant and the remaining sauce. Sprinkle the mozzarella and Parmesan over the top.

Bake lasagna until golden and bubbling, 30-35 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

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