Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye 2011!

I took my first real vacation to Disney World and ran the 5K
around Epcot. Let's just forget the fact that I also got
really sick with a head cold.
Winter was pretty harsh and crappy. Gigantic
icicles like this were forming everywhere,
ruining roofs.
I turned 26.
And even at 26, I still played with Legos.
I moved out of my old place!
And into a new place closer to work with Eric. The first thing
we did was play with Legos. I'm sensing a theme here.
I traveled to Norway, all by myself, for work.
It was the first time I'd gone alone, and I was
very nervous. I did it without a single tear
shed though. I personally call that success.
After I returned home, Eric and I decided to teach me how to
play (or rather not be afraid of the) softball. Going to have to
work on that some more...
We had our anniversary dinner at Evoo and Eric decided
to pretend to be a ninja.
I ran the Chase Corporate Challenge but forgot my shoes.
I had to buy a new pair at City Sports an hour before the
race. Woops!
I finished my first 10K!
My Kindle broke. >:(
I actually managed to grow cherry tomatoes. My thumb
isn't black! 
I ran another 5K
with my brother.
I went on a very expensive but rewarding shopping spree.
I ran the Puma (Migraine) 5-miler.
Eric and I got stuck in a hotel during
the hurricane. At least we had power!
We celebrated my mom's birthday with carrot cake cupcakes.
I went to San Francisco and have been obsessed with
finding new combinations of French toast ever since we
ate at Mama's there.
I ran a very miserable longer-than-5K but
advertised-as-5K race. It was just bad.
There was a freak snowstorm on Halloween and we were
without power for 32 hours. Yuck.
We visited the fishies in Boston. I was underwhelmed.
My little brother turned 21! We celebrated with Mini Red
Velvet cupcakes.
Then a week later, we ran our annual turkey trot race together.
After waffling about how short this Zumba
skort is, I actually purchased it. I ended up
loving it!
I celebrated a happy holiday season with my
family and Eric. :)
Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Kitchen Adventure: Challah

I'd been toying with the idea of a fancy French toast dish for Christmas breakfast, but couldn't decide what kind of toppings would go best with Cinnamon-Swirl or Chocolate Babka bread. So I turned to my favorite source of baking knowledge, America's Test Kitchen, only to stumble across their episode about French toast. They suggested that the ideal bread for the dish was Challah bread. I knew that my Baking Illustrated book (also by the awesome folks of ATK!) had a recipe for Challah bread and well, I am still trying to bake my way through the entire book, so the conclusion was rather obvious.
Adapted from Baking Illustrated

3-3.25 cups (15-16.25 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 envelope (2.25 teaspoons) instant yeast
1/4 cup (1.75 oz) sugar
1.25 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs plus 1 egg separated (reserve whites)
1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon room temperature water

1. Combine the flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the 2 large eggs, 1 egg yolk, butter and 1/2 cup water. Mix thoroughly. Note: Since you're going to need the dough hook for the remaining steps, you can just put it on the mixer now. Less dishes is always better.
3. Add the flour mixture, set the mixer to low and mix until a a ball of dough forms. If necessary, add the remaining flour a tablespoon at a time. This step should take roughly 5-7 minutes.
3a. While the dough is mixing, use a fork and whisk the remaining egg white and tablespoon of water. Cover the container and store in the fridge until ready for use.
4. Lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough in it, gently turning to coat the dough with oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm location until roughly doubled in size, 1.5 to 2 hours.
5. Gently punch the dough down to deflate it, cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm location  to rise until doubled in size again, roughly 40 to 60 minutes.
6. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface or a silicone baking mat without flour if you prefer. Divide the dough into two pieces. One piece should be roughly half the size of the other one.  Set the smaller ball aside. Note: My larger ball was approximately 18 oz. and my smaller ended up being about 10 oz.
7. Separate the larger ball into 3 equal pieces and roll each piece into a 16" long rope that is roughly 1" in diameter. Braid the the three pieces and set aside. Repeat this step with the smaller ball of dough, creating ropes that are 16" long and roughly 1/2" in diameter.
8. Using a small amount of egg wash, place the smaller braid atop the larger braid, ensuring that they are centered. Lightly cover the loaf with a piece of plastic wrap and place in a warm, level location for 30 minutes or until it increases in size by approximately a third.  Note: The level part is pretty important unless you want your loaf to look like mine did.
9. Place a rack in the lower-middle position in your oven and preheat it to 375°F.
10. Brush the egg wash all over the loaf. Place in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown and has reached an internal temperature of 190°F.
This is what happens when you allow your third rise to
occur on an uneven surface!
Preparing the cranberry-orange compote
Toasting the slices to remove some extra moisture
As far as bread making goes, this was an extremely simple and easy bread to make. There's no sponge to it, not much kneading and because it's actually quite dry it's easier to handle. I can certainly see why this bread lends itself to French toast with it's lack of moisture. Unfortunately, I didn't allow it to soak up enough egg mixture when I made the French toast, but the cranberry-orange compote made up for it.

Are you a fruit topping or maple syrup lover when it comes to French toast and pancakes? Let me know in a comment down below!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Maintenance: Year Two

Two years ago, I made my goal weight.
One year ago, I was astounded I'd made it a year. This year, I'm less astounded, up a few pounds (a mixture of muscle and fat, more muscle than fat fortunately) and I'm starting to realize maintenance is just a little bit easier when you've adopted a lifestyle of moderation. I forgot to take a picture of my new charm this year, but I ended up choosing the Running With The Wolves 10K. The accomplishment of my first 10K was actually greater than getting a great PR on a 5K this year.

Last year I answered questions provided to me from a Calorie King friend, Mikala. This year Ms. Tina has graciously sent me a list of questions to answer, so without further ado I will get right into it!

1. As many people know, weight maintence is one of the tougher battles. What is your secret or trick to maintaining your weight? What advice can you give to others?
There's really no secret or trick to maintaining a weight loss. It's all about moderation. I believe that everything can be part of a healthy diet in moderation. That being said, moderation can be an elusive concept. What is moderation for one person isn't necessarily moderation for another. It's all about knowing your own body and how it reacts to particular foods. For example, I know that my body does not get along well with overly processed foods (Pop-Tarts, White Bread, etc.) so I keep them out of my daily diet. However, every few months I allow myself to have a Pop-Tart or a PB and J on white bread if I want one. I never feel deprived this way.

2. What is the best advice you have been given?
This is an interesting question because I've never actually been given advice. All of the interesting tidbits that I've picked up have been from extensive reading and Googling. The best piece of advice I've come across in  my reading though? Learn to forgive yourself when you don't make the best choices. Accept that you didn't make the best choice, learn from it and then move on. Don't stew about it and feel bad for yourself. Self-pity parties help no one.

3. What is one of your biggest weaknesses (regarding food and exercise)?
Chocolate peanut butter. It's evil. I'll eat it out of the container with a spoon if I have it around. I don't buy it very often because of that. I love to exercise and feel off if I don't, no weaknesses for me there.

4. Many people are unknowingly "sizeists," judging people who they perceive to be too big or too small. How is life on the 'thin' side compared to the big side? Do you feel you were discriminated against, now looking back at your big days? What has your experience been?
This is a great question! When I was fat, I noticed that people often overlooked me. People didn't smile at me randomly in the hallway or stop to hold the door open for me. No one ever really said much to me about being fat. I notice now that people are more likely to hold doors open for me or smile and say hello at me in the hallways. I've found that many people seem to worry that I work out too much, eat too little and am possibly anorexic. Random strangers will also assume that I've always been thin and don't have to work at it. Our society needs some massive revolution when it comes to healthy body image.

I do however want to note that I think a lot of how I was treated when I was fat and how I am treated now has more to do with projecting confidence than sizeism.

Thanks Tina for preparing these questions for me! Here's to another year of maintenance for me. :)

Happy Holidays to all!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Eric Reviews: Miso-Marinated Lamb Racks with Carrots and Potatoes

It's been quite a while since Eric has offered to document one of his kitchen experiments for me, but I was happy to have this arrive in my inbox last night. Enjoy!

With Christmas coming up and time running short before Sarah and I went off to our respective hometowns for the holidays, I wanted to cook a final meal of the year before we left. We had stopped off at Borders a few months ago while they were having their out-of-business sale (you know, the one where the advertise 50% of off everything, but they mark everything up to make up the difference). Admittedly, I was there to look to see if they had any Legos for sale because I'm a Lego freak, but I ended up in the cookbook section to check if there was anything left that was worth purchasing.

They had quite a few copies of Simply Ming One-Pot Meals: Quick, Healthy and Affordable Recipes.
It had pretty pictures...and I'm a sucker for cookbooks with pretty pictures. The recipes seemed fairly straightforward as well. That week, I made some fairly unimpressive chicken, and because of that disappointing result, I stashed the book away for a while. Then a few weeks ago, I wanted to make a meal because I hadn't made something nice for the both of us for a while. It was cold, so I flipped over to the soups section and decided to try a Miso Butter Pork Ramen-Noodle soup and Crispy Tofu with Miso Butter and Iceberg Lettuce as a side. I guess I was emboldened by the Vietnamese sandwiches I had made for myself earlier and was on an Asian kick (not so crazy since I' know...Asian and all) which I'll have to write about some other time since Sarah took some nice pictures of them. Anyway, the Noodle soup turned out great (if not a little bit too rich), but one downside is that I now had a container of Shiro Miso that I didn't really know what I was going to do with.

I flipped through the book again since it was still out, looking for recipes that used shiro miso, and came upon Miso-Marinated Lamb Racks with Carrots and Potatoes. I scanned the recipe and it looked fast and easy, so we settled on that since Sarah likes lamb. The only thing that was not something we would usually buy were the lamb racks, wasabi, and sake (and miso of course, but I had plenty of that to spare). Making this recipe was really simple and I like meals that I can prepare fully beforehand and then just wait until dinnertime to bake. After Sarah made a quick trip to the local Wegman's and procurred the necessary ingredients, it was just a matter of making the marinade and putting the racks into a bag and let it sit until dinnertime arrived. The recipe consisted of the miso, wasabi, shallots, sugar, sake, and oil for the marinade. Then chop up some potatoes and take a bag of carrot nubs with some more marinade and you have a great tasting, great looking, ready to be eaten meal. The only thing I would have added was some salt to the lamb racks and maybe some more wasabi to give it some more kick. (Ed. note: I agree with the salt assessment and that's profoundly unusual for me.)

Of course, now I have to look through the book for recipes that use sake, because we now have a large bottle of it sitting in the cupboard.

If anyone would like the recipe in full, send me an email. Or if anyone has any ideas for what we can do with the sake, let us know in a comment down below!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Kitchen Adventure: Chocolate Hazelnut Thumbprints

I'm a sucker for any nut butter combined with chocolate. You name it, I love it. Chocolate peanut butter spread? The devil! I'll eat it straight out of the container with a spoon. Chocolate hazelnut spread? Same problem. Chocolate almond spread? I've never purchased it but I'm afraid it would meet the same end as the aforementioned chocolate nut butters.  Given my adoration for chocolate nut butters, it should come as no surprise that I've wanted to make these cookies for a couple of years now. It was quite a pleasant surprise to receive two packets of Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter in my Foodzie box this month because it gave me the opportunity to make them:
Chocolate-Hazelnut Thumbprints
Adapted from Cooking Light, December 2009

1/4 cup hazelnuts, very finely chopped and toasted
4.5 oz unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup (120g) powdered sugar
1/3 cup (40g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp. instant espresso or coffee granules
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4-1/3 cup chocolate- hazelnut spread (such as Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter blend)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Chop and toast the hazelnuts. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the first 4 ingredients. Stir with a whisk until combined.
3. In a small bowl, combine the yolks and espresso/coffee granules. Whisk with fork until coffee is thoroughly incorporated.
4. Using either a stand or handheld mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Add the yolk mixture and vanilla to the butter and beat until thoroughly incorporated.
5. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix at low speed until a ball forms. NOTE: This might actually take a little bit of time. I was worried at first when my "dough" looked like coarse sand but given a little more mixing it finally came together.
6. When the dough has formed a ball, turn the dough out onto a piece of wax paper or a silicone baking mat. Knead the dough until it's smooth and shiny. Portion the dough out into 21 balls.
7. Roll each ball in the chopped hazelnuts and place 1" apart on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Using your thumb, gently indent the center of each ball.
8. Bake for 10 minutes. NOTE: When I removed my cookies from the oven, they'd lost their indentation in the center, so I used a 1/2 tsp. and gently pressed the centers down again before the cookies could cool.
9. When the cookies are cool, fill each one with a bit of chocolate hazelnut spread.
10. Enjoy!
Oopsy, one's missing from the center.  I've simply got no
idea where that went. *brushes crumbs off apron*

What's your favorite kind of nut butter? Do you eat it out of the container with a spoon?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011: Race T-Shirts

My closet is filled with an array of race t-shirts from over the years. This year I added eight to my collection, three of which are tech t-shirts. Most of them are too big for me and one of them I just wouldn't even wear because it's not true.
I love the brightly colored t-shirts. I almost
wish more races had them.
Of course I had to run a 5K on my first real vacation!
I was pretty sick when I ran this race
though...good thing it wasn't timed.

This race, while containing the longest and steepest hill
of all my races this year, was my best.
I got an amazing PR on this race.

The corporate challenge race was not the most fun for me.
I spent too much of my time weaving around the thousands
of people. And hundreds of people were wearing the shirt
before they finished the race.
You're not a finisher until the race is over!!

My first 10K ever! I'm looking forward to beating my time
in 2012.
I loved this race... 
but I really hated the t-shirt. I'm thinking of adding a caret
and adding a "NOT" in there.
They only offered mediums at this race so while this
is a nice tech tshirt. It's more like a tent on me.
I liked the design of this t-shirt, despite the fact that the
race was horribly planned. I'm pretty sure it was also longer
than 5K. More like 3.22mi!
My last race of the year! It's a long sleeve tech t-shirt
that's a smidgen too large for me and gives me the worst
static shocks.

Do you have a favorite t-shirt from your races this year? Do you wish more races would offer tech tshirts? Let me know in a comment down below!