Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Grinch?

Happy Halloween! I have absolutely no scary stories, funny costumes, or even "spooky" crafts to share (you will learn I'm not exactly a crafty person). I asked my friends this week: Is there a Halloween version of a Grinch? If so, Terry and I take the cake this year. Even though Halloween is Terry's favorite holiday, we didn't carve jack-o-lanterns, dress up, or even decorate (with the exception of approximately four sad items we found at Pier 1). So it was a sad Halloween for us, but still a great night.

One of our little Halloween decorations, Mr. Owl.

After I got home from mailing in my passport for our upcoming trip to Europe, I used some alone time to make one of my favorites: homemade cereal. It's perfect to make at the beginning of a week, and it'll last at least the rest of the week.

Homemade Cereal
Eat it with yogurt, milk, or by itself!

  • 3 cups oats
  • 3 1/2 cups (total) of nuts - I used 1/2 c. sunflower seeds, 1 cup chopped pecans, 1 cup chopped almonds, 1 cup chopped cashews
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries or other dried fruit
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Heat the oven to 275 degrees. In a small saucepan, heat the butter and honey until melted. Then add the vanilla. Combine the oats, nuts, dried fruit, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl. Pour the melted butter-honey mixture over the dry ingredients and stir until the mixture is evenly wet. Pour the cereal onto a greased cookie sheet and spread out into an even layer. Pop into the oven for an hour. Allow to cool completely. (I give it a good hour.) Then store in a Ziploc bag or airtight container for up to ten days.

Be forewarned: This recipe will make your house smell ridiculously homey. Your roommates/husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/parents/children will suddenly feel very hungry, and you will have to resist eating a fourth bowl once you taste it. You can't beat the crunch! I am a huge cereal junkie (my former roommate Jenn thought it was bizarre that I would eat cereal at 3 pm or even 10 pm on a regular basis), and Terry would eat cereal every morning if I didn't cook or bake other options, but we always ate sugary, processed stuff. I hate to say it, but even the "healthy" stuff is not doing you any favors. (If you're curious as to why, let me know!) Try out this homemade version instead! You can definitely mix it up, too; try different nuts or different dried fruits. Enjoy with some yogurt, ice cream (as a dessert, obviously, but no one will judge you if you eat ice cream for breakfast now and then...), on its own, or with good ol' milk!

When Terry got home tonight, we headed out for a run into Brentwood, the neighborhood directly north of us. We love running through the area, and today was no exception. It was great to catch up on our days and get our workout in. Afterward, we each attacked our push ups and sit ups for the day.

  • 3.25 miles running
  • Push ups: 10, 12, 10, 10
  • Sit ups: 32, 38, 32, 32
As I cooked dinner, I got to enjoy the House Hunters marathon on HGTV! I love this show! If you've never seen it, it's a reality show where people check out three houses and then end up buying one. Half of me gets jealous because Terry and I are nowhere near buying our first home, but the other half of me gets so excited thinking about the future and the process of someday buying our first home. Terry and I also like to watch together and decide which of the three houses we would purchase and guessing which one the people on the show will choose. Luckily, Terry and I almost always agree on which one we like the most, so I'd say that bodes well for our future house hunt!

For dinner this evening, we opted for an Italian classic. I fell in love with this meal in Italy, and I especially love how EASY it is! Terry has been working late almost every night lately, but we still enjoy working out together, so by the time we're both home and showered and all, it's close to 7:30. Luckily, this dinner takes a total of 25 minutes.

Spaghetti alla carbonara
Serves 4 (keeps and reheats well, if you have leftovers)
Italian delight

  • 1 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces pancetta, chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Boil the spaghetti according to the package directions. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned (about 6-7 minutes, which happens to be about how long your spaghetti should take! Coincidence???). In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and half the cheese. Here's how it all comes together: Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the pancetta. Mix, then reduce heat to very low. Pour the egg mixture over the pasta mixture and immediately toss everything together for a few minutes (be careful not to let the eggs get too hot - no one ordered spaghetti alla scrambled eggs!). Turn off the heat, and serve immediately.

I absolutely love the texture of this dish. The eggs provide a creamy coating for the pasta, and the pancetta has the slightest crunch. The pasta provides your whole grains and gives you terrific energy for tomorrow's workout! And as I mentioned above, the pasta reheats perfectly; just add a splash of milk and cook on a stovetop, or, if you only have access to a microwave, add the splash of milk at home in the morning and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute.

We enjoyed our pasta with a spinach salad and a sauvignon blanc. Then we enjoyed leftover apple crisp for dessert while watching the return of the slutty pumpkin on How I Met Your Mother! Terry and I weren't thrilled at the choice of Katie Holmes, but I had to admit she was pretty hilarious. My favorite part was when she sang along to "One Week" by the Barenaked Ladies. Not bad, Katie. Not Bad.

And it wasn't a bad Monday, either. Off to bed to get a jump on Tuesday!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Marriage is "Extremely Difficult"

I felt so guilty all day today, because I took three days of rest over the last week. But the more I battled with myself about it, the more I came to the conclusion that rest is just as important as exercise. Physical rest gives your muscles a chance to recover and gets you ready to be at your best the next time you work out. Mental rest helps relieve stress and gives you more energy for other areas of life. Even rest like spending time away from your significant other can be great to make you appreciate your reunion. And taking breaks from television and Internet can make you more creative with your sources of entertainment.

So today I finally came to terms with the fact that some weeks are just that way. I had a tough week, and something had to give. The thing is, we can't always let it be our workouts that take the back burner. We need balance. Yes, we have to make sacrifices with our time now and then, but we need to rotate those sacrifices. Last week, the fact that I was so tired made my choice easy. Working out would have exhausted me even further, and I still had classes to teach, cheerleaders to coach, and meals to cook. I am excited that this week will be much less busy, especially at work.

Today held two particularly hilarious moments. First, at church, the pastor's sermon focused on marriage, and at one point he mentioned that marriage is "gloriously difficult." His intent was to explain that, while there will be challenges, the love and partnership make it all worth it. After the sermon, I asked Terry what he thought, to which he responded, "Well, I think we're doing well in marriage. I mean, I know it will be extremely difficult, but--" I burst out laughing and reminded Terry that the pastor had used the adverb "gloriously." I have been teasing Terry all day about the fact that he thinks marriage with me is going to be "extremely" difficult.

The second funny moment was actually in pieces throughout the afternoon. I went with three other girls to a murder mystery "dinner"! (Since we had a group going to this event and today was the only option, I did eat out for it, so Terry and I are extending our Let's Eat In Challenge by one day.) We went all out, bought some glamorous outfits at Goodwill, and got into character before heading in, but we found the whole event to be less than stellar. IT was a fun girls' day, though, and it inspired me to want to host a murder mystery when I finally own a mansion (ha!).

A shot of us before the murder!

(Have you seen the movie The Sweetest Thing? We all felt like we were in the scene where Christina Applegate and Cameron Diaz buy crazy outfits to wear at Peter's wedding.)

We were supposed to have leftover chili tonight, but I was beaned-out after our Mexican lunch today. So I opted for something super easy: breakfast for dinner! Banana pancakes - yum! Check out Lisa's recipe here. I added walnuts to a few pancakes and smeared peanut butter on a few others. It was a terrific, simple end to the weekend.

Banana Pancakes with walnuts or peanut butter

We also watched Extract tonight. It wasn't a terrific movie, but I found it to be fairly entertaining and great for a lazy Sunday night. I love most of the actors, but it was a little out there for me. Now we're snuggling up with our DVR recordings of The Daily Show, Colbert Report, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Hope your week starts off great!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

5 Miles and a Bruin Win

Yesterday felt like the terrible-sounding crescendo at the end of a really long, terrible song. If that metaphor didn't work, it's because this week drained my writing abilities. I apologize. This week was tough, especially yesterday, when my cheerleaders performed at three different events throughout the day. When I got home at 11 pm, I couldn't wait to snuggle up and get a good night's sleep.

But even after our exhausting week, I still wanted to squeeze in a good workout before the UCLA game today. I forced myself out of bed at 8 am to get going on a run. I made a new playlist for my iPod because I know music sometimes makes or breaks my running mood, shared half a banana with Terry for fuel, and drank a glass of water to hydrate. I mapped out the run, and we were off!

Today I aimed for 5 miles. After two days of rest, I felt mentally ready to tackle a big run (my longest distance before today was 4.75 miles). I really enjoyed the run today! I felt well rested and eager to log a good distance. Terry ran with me, which made it so much easier, and we ran through some areas I had never explored before. When I run alone, I stick to busy streets with lots of people so I feel safer, but with Terry I feel more comfortable checking out the quieter areas of our neighborhood. West LA provides some awesome sightseeing, including:
  • Gorgeous homes we will never be able to afford
  • A man running with his arms down by his side (have you ever seen the Seinfeld episode where Molly Shannon's character doesn't move her arms when she walks? It was like that)
  • A group of tourists walking through Westwood at 8:30 am on a Saturday, likely disappointed that they chose the worst time of day, because approximately three businesses are open at that hour
  • Lots of puddles (it hasn't rained here since Monday), which Terry enjoyed stepping in to splash me
In the end, we completed 5.19 miles! By far my new record! The last .19 miles (or so I imagine) just about killed me. My legs and hips felt super tight, and I was hungry and thirsty. But the first five miles weren't so bad, especially in the cool weather (well, 65 degrees - cool enough).

For breakfast, we enjoyed some delicious English cheddar scrambled eggs with whole-wheat sourdough bread and a glass of milk. Delicious way to start the day!

Bruins Win for Heidi's Birthday
After the productive morning, we ventured out to Pasadena for a tailgate, the Bruin game, and to celebrate Heidi's birthday! Six of us devoured an awesome spread of two-bean rice salad, mini-cakes, spinach salad, and - the star of the day - Heidi's jalapeno-cream cheese-bacon-stuffed burgers. We all had to take breaks in the middle of our burgers because they were huge! I highly recommend trying out these monsters!
Jalapeno-cream cheese-bacon-stuffed burgers

I had to get a picture of the middle of these bad boys!

My contribution to the tailgate: Spinach Balsamic Salad. Not as fun as Heidi's, but a light side dish to pair with those (^).

Spinach Balsamic Salad
Serves 6 as a side
  • Fresh spinach leaves (we got about 4 big handfuls from the farmers' market)
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients. Serve immediately. To make ahead, mix all ingredients except the tomatoes and vinegar. Add the tomatoes and vinegar right before serving.

Our tailgate turned out to be awesome! Not that I'm surprised, because this group has serious hosting talents, but we pulled together a lovely afternoon. Between the food, the beers and ciders, and what might be our new favorite game, Telestrations, we had a blast. I hope Heidi had a wonderful birthday!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Stress Post #1

Stress has plagued me my entire life. Most friends are surprised to hear it, because I generally keep up a sunny attitude (exception: my especially grumpy post Thursday), but I have struggled with stress-related issues since I was young.

As a little girl, I had terrible anxiety at night. Very early in the evening, I would start to dread bedtime. I hated being alone in my room at night and would often stay up reading until my parents went to bed. Then I would try to fall asleep while they were in their room (which is closer to my room than the family room) but before they actually fell asleep. If I heard them turn their TV off, I would absolutely panic. Now everyone in the house was asleep, and I was not. I'm not sure what I was afraid of. At first, it was that someone would break into the house or try to kidnap me. But in later years, I started to worry that something was actually wrong with me, which, inevitably, kept me up even later. Usually I would sneak into my parents' room and sleep there. But even then I struggled to fall asleep. I had horrible visions of their ceiling (which, by the way, is a huge vaulted ceiling) caving in on me. Not exactly normal for a young child, I'm sure. Sometimes I would sleep on the bottom bunk of my brother's awesome bunk bed, but if he fell asleep I would stand up, wake him up, then hurry back into my bed to try to fall asleep before he did. I am convinced that my midnight attacks are why my brother is now such a sound sleeper (you can't wake that guy up for anything).

Some family history: My parents have both experienced stress-related concerns in their lives; my mom gets dizzy spells during high-stress, and my dad's blood pressure acts up. My brother is the least stressed person I know. He takes everything in stride and has absolutely no trouble relaxing. And, with the exception of road rage and expressing his opinion about Paris Hilton, is generally very calm.

In high school I finally grew out of my sleep anxiety/insomnia issues, but that's more likely because I was forced to be awake by myself. I usually had dance practice until 9:30 or 10, so I would have to stay up late to do homework. By the time I finished, I was so tired that falling asleep was a breeze.

In college, the anxiety returned in weird ways. My insomnia returned whenever my roommates were out of town, but that felt like small beans compared to my daily stress. I was anxious about everything: midterms, finals, finances (even though my parents paid for my tuition, I stressed about spending money), choosing a major, etc. In my sophomore year, I started getting weird stomachaches. It was always the same: a sharp pain in my upper abdomen that would last for about an hour, usually after a meal. The pain was so bad that I would generally just come home and watch Friends and try to sleep it off.

Eventually, I went to a gastrointestinal specialist at UCLA (can you imagine the anxiety I felt before that appointment?) to learn that I had non-ulcer dyspepsia. Huh? Well, the good news was I didn't have an ulcer. The bad news? I was well on my way to developing one. The doctor prescribed me an acid-reducing pill that made my stomach even more upset and put me on a 4-week diet to confirm his suspicions. During that month, I had to avoid acidic foods, including citrus fruits, chocolate (I almost cried), broccoli and some other green vegetables, bread, milk, beans, cauliflower, soda, caffeine, pasta, alcohol, anything spicy, etc. I lost about 10 pounds. Dinners usually consisted of plain grilled chicken, brown rice, and salad. It was horrible! But my stomach hurt only about two times in those four weeks instead of up to three times a day.

The doctor explained that my stomach issues were related to stress, and I needed to find ways to relieve that stress. I found a few great stress-relieving techniques that helped calm me down when I started to feel stressed, like deep breathing, exercising, yoga, finding time to do something I truly enjoy (like watching television, reading, or going for a walk). I also became very friendly with Pepto-Bismol and Tums. Of course, the issues still flared up once in awhile. Two times, I got so stressed about a test that I actually threw up the morning of.

Now, I still get stomachaches when I'm stressed and eat the wrong foods, but it only happens if I'm lacking sleep or seriously not taking care of myself. When I eat natural foods (unprocessed, whole foods), I never get stomachaches. Goes to show you - you really feel what you eat! At night, I look forward to going to sleep (though, much to my husband's chagrin, I like to fall asleep with the TV on). I enjoy spending time alone and rarely feel my old anxiety acting up.

Soon, I hope to outline some more detailed ways to reduce stress, both for the short term (if you're having a panic attack or need to calm down in a high-stress situation like a job interview) and long term (if you notice you're having health issues like I was). I look forward to sharing some stress-reducers that have helped me combat my anxiety.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Not My Day

Not an awesome day. It did start off well though!

This morning's breakfast: Cranberry-walnut muffins.

On the way to my workshop, I went to the wrong building. Twice. (To be fair, they all have the same address and no signs describing which rooms are in which building.) We got out early (hooray!), and then I got caught in tons of traffic. I tried to get my passport name-change form mailed in, and I found out that FedEx does not deliver to P.O. boxes. I didn't get home until 5:30 (so much for an early day!). At some point during the chaos, I found out that I'll be working from 7 am to 11 pm tomorrow - no breaks. And I didn't get a chance to work out! Instead, I cleaned house, so at least I found some productivity at the end of the crazy day.

Appetizer - English cheddar, crackers, and walnuts.

I know, things could be worse. But at the end of this long week, I guess I needed to complain a little. Terry's had a rough week, too, but he came home to cook his classic chili tonight.

Red and Black Beer Chili

Red and Black Beer Chili
  • 1 cup black beans
  • 1 cup kidney beans
  • 1 pound ground beef or turkey
  • 3/4 cup beer
  • 1 onion
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons Cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • Grated cheddar cheese
  • Sour cream
Dice the onions and heat in a large pan or pot. About two minutes in, add the ground beef. Meanwhile, diced the tomatoes, removing some of their juice. When the beef is browned, add the tomatoes, beans, and beer. Add the spices and stir the chili until combined. Simmer for at least 10 minutes, or up to an hour. The beer will reduce, but feel free to add more if it gets dry. To serve, top the chili with sour cream and grated cheese. Enjoy!

Side dish: A simple spinach salad with olive oil, balsamic, salt, and pepper.

Delicious! This few-ingredient meal has been a staple in our house for the last three years. Terry got the recipe from his family, but it's really evolved each time he makes it. This time, we bought dry beans. I had never used dry beans before, but it's a great way to reduce sodium. The thing is, you have to remember to soak the beans overnight. And then you have to simmer the beans for about 90 minutes before you can eat them. I love the idea of healthier beans, but I'm not sure if the added time is worth the switch.
Pre-soaked beans.

For dessert, I couldn't wait to make an apple crisp! I had never baked anything apple, so I did some research to figure out the best ingredients and methods for a crisp. The recipes called for as much as a cup of brown sugar (and some added white sugar on top of that!) and up to a cup of butter. So I tried out a few ideas, and here's my altered version:

No-Sugar Apple Crisp
Serves 6
Healthier apple crisp!
  • 3 large apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thinly
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped pecans, divided
  • 3/4 cup oats
  • 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
Grease an 8x8 or 9x9 baking dish. I used an adorable polka-dot one my mom got me.
Adorable baking dish for a classic American dessert.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the apples into quarters, then slice thinly crosswise. Layer the apple slices in the baking dish and mix in 1/2 cup of the chopped pecans. For the topping, combine the melted butter, oats, flour, honey, syrup, and spices. Stir in the rest of the pecans, then layer the topping over the apples. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown.

The result? Autumn-amazingness! The sweet crunch of the topping and the warm apples made me feel all cozy. Ice cream was the perfect complement!

This week really hit me hard, and we have one more big day tomorrow. Terry is supposed to have every other Friday off, but he's putting in overtime tomorrow. As for me - classes, volleyball game with my girls, and away football game with my girls.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Speedy Stir-Fry

Today was a struggle. Work kept me busy, but my students kept me laughing. I pushed through classes, meetings, cheer practice, and traffic, but by the end of the day I wanted nothing more than to veg out and relax. But no! I had lots to do!

I started some laundry, then came back to the apartment for some strength training. I focused on abs and biceps.

  • 25 crunches with legs in butterfly position
  • 25 regular crunches
  • 30 "hundreds" (from Pilates)
  • 2 x 30 straddle side bends - Sit on the floor in a straddle with your torso stretched up as straight as possible and your hands clasped above your head. Band slowly from side to side, stretching your hands as far toward your foot as you can. Great for your obliques and lower back.
  • 3 x 20 curls @ 10 lbs (each arm)
  • 3 x 10 dumbbell bent over rows @ 10 lbs. (each arm)
  • 3 x 15 lat pull downs @ 50 lbs.
After I moved the laundry to the dryers, I headed to our apartment complex's gym for some treadmill action. I was NOT feeling it today! The music wasn't getting me into it, my foot was aching, and I felt mentally out of it. But, my parents mentioned on Facebook that they hiked 8 miles in Half Moon Bay today. Dang! So I pushed myself to three miles at 6.6 mph with several stops. I was dying. I'm sure the guy on the treadmill next to me was relieved when I finally gave up all that panting and sweating (and I was, too!).

After a quick shower and laundry folding, Terry finally got home around 7:45. Good thing dinner took about 20 minutes total!

Speedy Stir-Fry

Look at those colors!!!

Somehow I resisted eating this bite long enough to take a picture.
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 large bell pepper, any color, diced (we used a chocolate one, which I didn't know existed until we found one at our farmers' market last weekend - it tastes like a regular bell pepper but a little sweeter)
  • 3 medium zucchini or 1 medium eggplant, cubed (squash would work, too!)
  • a bunch of asparagus
  • 1 cup diced (fresh) pineapple
  • 3 cups brown rice
  • 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
If using stove top brown rice, get that going first. (We use Trader Joe's frozen brown rice, which is ready in 3 minutes in the microwave. I believe it's one of the world's modern wonders.)

Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the onions and cook until they are a little soft, about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste (I love a lot of pepper!). Add the bell pepper and cook for abut two minutes, then add the zucchini/eggplant/squash. Cook the veggie mixture for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the teriyaki sauce. When the rice is ready, stir it in, along with the asparagus* and pineapple. Serve hot.

*If your asparagus is thick, you'll need to add it before you add the rice to give it several minutes to cook. We had superthin asparagus, so it only took about a minute to cook.

This meal is one of our favorite go-to weeknight meals. It's loaded with delicious vegetables and whole grains, it gives us leftovers for lunch or dinner the following day, and it tastes great! I especially love the pineapple - that juicy sweetness balances delightfully with the heartiness of the other vegetables. This meal keeps in the fridge for a few days and microwaves perfectly for lunch. Plus, you can play with the ingredients - add green beans, mushrooms, chicken, spinach, even use the stir-fry as a filling for a tortilla!

Tomorrow, tomorrow
I love ya, tomorrow! I'm super excited about tomorrow, because I'm attending a classroom management workshop with some of my colleagues. I always love educational workshops, but I'm especially excited about this topic. Generally, my students behave like angels, but if I ever end up teaching general ed English again, especially in a 36-student classroom, all tips for management are welcome!

Tomorrow also looks great because I always love a good change of pace. While it's a TON of work to write a sub plan, I look forward to a chance to get to know my coworkers better, get out of the classroom for a day, and learn something new. I'm sad to be missing my JV girls' game tomorrow afternoon, but I am so grateful to get home at 4:00! I'll be able to work out, run errands (I need to send in my passport name-change request for our trip to Europe), bake, and maybe even relax! Nah, let's not get ahead of ourselves...

Speaking of baking, here's tomorrow's breakfast:
Muffin batter - almost as good as the baked version.

Scrumptious pecan-walnut-cranberry whole-wheat muffins. Perfect for breakfast or a snack! I felt compelled to bake some breakfast items after this morning's scramble to make oatmeal because we have virtually no other foods (we're even out of toast!). I got the recipe from one of my favorite blogs, 100 Days of Real Food. You probably have all the ingredients in your house right now!

Happy Thursday (in 42 minutes)!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Zexy Zumba

Do you remember the Friends episode where Monica is playing the stock market and chooses "ZXY" because she thinks "it sounds zexy"? (I may or may not have seen a few too many episodes of that show in my life.)

Zumba most certainly is a rather "zexy" workout. My friend Jenn invited me to class with her tonight, and I jumped at the chance to try something new and get in some girl time. Jenn has been one of my closest friends since we met at UCLA seven years ago (yikes!). We have a lot of the same values, especially our willingness to try new things. Jenn is always finding new yoga studios or restaurants. My contribution? I go with her! And I usually suggest our less active outings, like grabbing a drink to catch up on our busy lives.
In this photo, Jenn is about to open the pull up bar we got her for her birthday. Isn't she adorable?

So Jenn picked me up, and, dorks that we are, we realized we were in matching outfits. Hot pink tops, black pants - ready for Zumba!

Things I loved about the class:
  • The all-female class consisted of ages 20-60 by my estimation, with a variety of body types and fitness levels.
  • The instructor had tons of energy and played mostly great music.
  • It felt great to be back in a dance studio!
  • You don't need to worry about getting the moves down perfectly; just go with it and be zexy!
  • I definitely worked up a sweat, and my quads were burning a few times throughout the hour.
  • I enjoyed trying something different and being with my friend. It's always more fun to work out with someone!
Things I didn't love:
  • This class felt challenging, because it was my first time, but I can see the repetition getting boring (Jenn says her other Zumba class has more complex and varied moves, and I appreciate the mental challenge to keep my mind off the burn).
The class felt great, and I had so much fun dancing with my buddy! Jenn has encouraged me to try all sorts of different classes, including aerial arts and a fun warrior yoga class. My recommendation for the day: If you have an opportunity to try a new physical activity, do it! Say yes!

Tonight I'm saying yes to two guilty pleasures: The Biggest Loser and House Hunters. Terry is at a hockey game with a friend, so after Zumba I ate leftover chicken soup with bruschetta, cleaned house, played with the kitten, and snuggled up for some TV!

Halfway Point!
On October 10th, Terry and I started our 30-Day Let's Eat In Challenge. I thought I'd give an update now that we're on Day 15. So far, so good! Here's what's happened:
  • We've each lost a few pounds without trying, even though we're eating plenty every day.
  • I've made about five new recipes in two weeks, because part of our challenge is no repeat meals (tonight I cheated a little and ate a repeat appetizer, but I hope you'll overlook it).
  • By being up front with our friends about our challenge, they've been willing to work with us and do picnics or potlucks instead of restaurants.
  • We're spending more time together, cooking, eating, even doing dishes and cleaning up.
  • We've planned our meals weekly and spent less time going to grocery stores every few days.
  • Even on the days we're exhausted and don't want to cook, we have options for quick meals.
I've really enjoyed this challenge so far. I'm hoping we'll continue to limit our eating out, even after November 10th. Meanwhile, we have two more weeks to go and plenty of delicious recipes to try!

Monday, October 24, 2011

5-4-3-2-1 Treadmill Workout

Reason #1 Scout is like a dog - he chases his tail!

Today did not feel like a Monday! (No complaints here...) I woke up early to get in to work by 7 am, which gave me an hour to grade and prep my lessons. As a teacher, I could probably spend 10 hours a day in my classroom and still never feel bored or run out of things to do. But today I had to race home after school because Obamageddon came to West LA today. So I opted for a new workout!

  • 25 crunches with legs extended out in front of you
  • 25 crunches with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle
  • 50 bicycle crunches
  • 25 crunches with legs straight at a 45-degree angle
Push ups
  • 10 wide push ups (get your arms as far apart as possible)
  • 10 extra-narrow push ups (make sure your elbows "hug" your ribs)
  • Repeat three times
  • 15 minutes: Start at level 5 for two minutes, then increase by 2 levels every 2 minutes through level 11; then switch to pedaling backwards and repeat the intervals backwards (level 11 for 2 minutes, then level 9 for 2 minutes, etc.)
5-4-3-2-1 Treadmill
  • 5 minutes: 6.7 mph, 0 incline
  • 5 minutes: 4.3 mph, 5 incline
  • 4 minutes: 6.9 mph, 0 incline
  • 4 minutes: 4.4 mph, 6 incline
  • 3 minutes: 7.1 mph, 0 incline
  • 3 minutes: 4.5 mph, 7 incline
  • 2 minutes: 7.3 mph, 0 incline
  • 2 minutes: 4.4 mph, 6 incline
  • 1 minute: 7.5 mph, 0 incline
  • 1 minute: 4.0 mph, 0 incline
As you can tell, this workout is a great way to get your heart rate up! Even just the treadmill part of the workout would be sufficient cardio. You can also adjust my numbers to match your level of fitness.

5-4-3-2-1 Treadmill - Custom
To start, choose your starting run speed. It should be challenging, maybe even difficult, but not crazy. Remember, you're only going up! I started at my usual mile pace for when I run long distances.

Next, choose your starting walk speed. The walk intervals aren't rests - they should still be challenging. You're just using different muscles and lowering your heart rate a bit.
  • 5 minutes: Starting run speed (SS), 0 incline
  • 5 minutes: Starting walk speed (WS) mph, 5 incline
  • 4 minutes: SS + 0.2 mph, 0 incline
  • 4 minutes: WS + 0.1 mph, 6 incline
  • 3 minutes: SS + 0.4 mph, 0 incline
  • 3 minutes: WS + 0.2 mph, 7 incline
  • 2 minutes: SS + 0.6 mph, 0 incline
  • 2 minutes: WS + 0.2 mph, 6 incline
  • 1 minute: SS + 0.8 mph, 0 incline
  • 1 minute: WS - 0.3 mph, 0 incline
WHEW! I left the gym just dripping in sweat. I know, you're bummed you weren't here to witness such a sexy moment, but I took a picture!
Terry came home shortly after, and I'm still not sure how he resisted that hot mess. I'm sure he was just distracted by our yummy dinner on the stove!

Chicken Noodle Soup
Serves 4, with potential for leftovers

Pre-broth veggie & chicken mixture.

Comfort food for the win!
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large or 2 small yellow onions, diced
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • ~7 cups of chicken broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 3/4 cup milk --> key ingredient!
  • 1 pound of chicken, diced
  • 1/2 pound of whole-wheat pasta, such as rotini (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
In a Dutch oven or other large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion(s) and cook until translucent. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then add to the pot. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the carrots and celery. Cook about 5 more minutes, then add the broth and water. Bring the soup up to a boil. At this point, you can allow to simmer for 30 minutes or more, or you can continue right away. The benefit to waiting is that you allow the flavors the really come together.

Whenever you are ready, bring the soup up to a boil again and add your noodles, if desired. Allow to cook for about 8 minutes, adding the milk at the very end. Serve, and enjoy!

Yum, yum, yum! I'm not a soup person, but I think that's because I always had the canned stuff. Homemade is SOOOOO much better! Far less salty and far more delicious! The noodles cooked to al dente perfectly, and the chicken stayed moist in the broth. We enjoyed our soup with some croutons, like my mom used to. I remember cold, rainy days watching romantic comedies with my mom while she ate soup and croutons out of a coffee mug. Isn't it weird, the stuff you remember?

Homemade Sourdough Croutons

  • A hunk of sourdough bread, cubed
  • 1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the bread, olive oil, salt, and pepper on a cookie sheet, then spread in an even layer. Bake for about 20 minutes, turning once. The croutons should be golden brown when done.

I would gladly eat these croutons as a meal if it was socially acceptable. Croutons and wine - what more do we need? ...Oh, yes, dessert! We always need dessert. Tonight's dessert was some peanut butter cookies. WAY too sweet! I tried a new recipe from, but I am looking forward to trying the recipe again to tone down the sugar!

Scout's tired. We're going to bed.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Day o' Fun!

I can't believe it's already Sunday night! Another weekend gone by too quickly. Let's start with today's breakfast. I knew we didn't have much time before our meet time for Day o' Fun, so I opted for oatmeal with an autumn twist.

Autumn Oatmeal
Serves 2

Even though it was hot in LA today, this meal made it feel like fall!

  • 1 3/4 C. water
  • 1 1/2 C. oats
  • 1 handful pecans, chopped
  • 1 handful walnuts, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • Cinnamon
Boil the water, and cook the oats according to the package instructions. Meanwhile, toast the nuts on a small baking sheet at 350 degrees for about 3-4 minutes(we used our toaster oven). When the oatmeal is ready, top with the walnuts, then pour one teaspoon of maple syrup over the top and sprinkle the nuts and a dash of cinnamon on top.

We ate our oatmeal with a glass of apple juice, which turned out to be an even more incredible autumn meal, and we were both stuffed!

It was great we had such a substantial breakfast, because our day was packed! After planning our week of meals, we ventured out to the farmers' market to grab the necessary supplies. We're getting pretty good! We finished our shopping in less than 25 minutes. Terry still had to run to Trader Joe's for a few more items, but I stayed home to pack up our picnic lunch supplies.

We met up with two other couples at Malibu Wines for a picnic lunch. The six of us ended up with a huge spread of meats, cheeses, breads, salad skewers, cookies, veggies, fruits, and hummus, and then we bought a bottle of wine to share. The drive there was really beautiful, and the grounds were perfect for a picnic. The wine was good, too! I was pleasantly surprised and excited because I had never had Malibu wine. I've heard great things and would love to explore the area more.
Our delightful picnic!

The girls and me at Malibu Wines

After our picnic, we packed up and headed to Thousand Oaks to redeem a Living Social deal for go karting. Things I learned:
  • I really, really suck at go karting.
But the group had fun, and Terry even got the highest score. Our next adventure (oh yes, the day continued!) took us to Camarillo for laser tag and arcade games. Looking back, this day may have been better suited for middle school children, but we had a blast. When was the last time you played laser tag? We got to play two games. During the first, we split up our group, had no idea how to play, and probably looked ridiculous. During the second, we joined a first grader's birthday party, totally knew how to play, and still looked ridiculous. We had a blast! The arcade games were a bit weak but still brought us back to our childhoods, which, I suppose, is the whole point of a day o' fun.

Finally, our last stop was a local Irish pub in Camarillo. We each enjoyed a drink or two, played darts, and eventually parted ways. We miss our friends because they live about an hour away from us now, so days like this one make us so happy!

For dinner tonight, super quick burritos! We didn't get home from our awesome outing until 7:30, but dinner was on the table before 8:00. Impressive! I know Rachael Ray has her 30-Minute Meal dynasty, but those never actually take 30 least for me. Usually I have to make a meal several times before it's a quick one, and yet tonight's can truly go under the "easy and quick" category!

Super Quick Burritos
Serves 4
Burritos (minus the sour cream and salsa)
  • 1 lb. ground beef, preferably grass fed
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 2 tortillas, preferably whole-wheat and homemade
  • 1+ oz. shredded cheddar cheese
  • Sour cream
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. Cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste
For the salsa:
Terry made the salsa!
  • 1/2 cup onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 1 red jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large tomato, diced
Combine the first five ingredients (through garlic) and let sit for a few hours if possible. Stir in the tomatoes just before serving.

These burritos were delicious! The ingredients are simple and usually stuff we have on hand, so it makes for a great go-to recipe on weeknights. The salsa isn't too hot or too mild, but you can determine your own level of spiciness. I like a little bit of kick, but Terry can handle the crazy stuff. Plus, you can play with the burrito ingredients: Add extra vegetables, beans, different spices, more peppers, different toppings. I'm all about taking a great recipe and finding ways to make it more exciting!

And now, alas, it's Sunday night. Another crazy week at work for both of us, but hopefully one we can survive. Our day o' fun tuckered us out, so here's hoping Monday is kind!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

All About Running

After last night's football game, somehow we didn't get to sleep until 1:00 in the morning. Who do we think we are, college students? Needless to say, Terry and I were exhausted when our alarm (Scout) went off (jumped up on our television) at 7:00 today. So I wasn't too sure I'd be in the mood for a run, but I forced myself into my workout clothes and charged my iPod while Terry headed out for a few hours at work (he's so important!).

Pictures from last night's game.

A note on music - I really love running with music, but I'm pretty picky. When I find songs that work, I can listen to them on repeat for an entire workout. A song that brings me down can seriously affect my motivation. Terry doesn't run with music. Perhaps my thoughts aren't as interesting as his, but I think it's also that I use running to clear my head and get away from other stressors. (<--My Google spell check thinks "stressors" isn't a word, but it is. I looked it up to double check. Plus I've been using it for years, so that would have been embarrassing.) When Terry and I run together, I leave my iPod at home, but if we're not talking I'm in pain!

The goal today was to run into Westwood, but I didn't have an exact turnaround spot. Running from our apartment to the edge of the main part of Westwood is only about 1.25 miles, maybe less depending on the route, but today I managed to run all the way to campus! It was a full 4.75 miles. Whew! I've only run that far one other time, right before our wedding. It feels great that I've gotten back to that point of in-shape-ness (<-- not a word. I agree with Google this time) without a wedding dress to motivate me! The first mile was tough, and I hit a bunch of stoplights, which is probably why I was able to go as far as I did, but I ran the whole way when the lights were green.

Things I love about running in the morning:
  • Cooler weather, even in LA
  • A good run in the morning boosts my metabolism and helps burn fat throughout the rest of the day
  • Getting the workout done early means I can't talk myself out of doing it later
  • The neighborhood is so much quieter and more peaceful. In LA, we're very used to tons of traffic and cars honking at each other, so a break from that chaos gives me a great feeling
Things I love about running in the afternoon/evening:
  • It relieves all the stress from the day
  • I'm more hydrated and have more calories in me to get through the run
  • If Terry and I run together, we can catch up on our work days and usually engage in other fun conversations, like talking about the future or Scout
  • Running past all the cars stopped in traffic gives me an odd sense of triumph, even though I was usually just in that traffic
  • The day's over, so I can take my time winding down when I get home from the run
My favorite running technology
  • MyTracks, a FREE running app by Google that tracks your route (no matter what mode of transportation), documents start and end points, calculates average moving speed, takes into account any stopping, provides a GPS map of your route, and a few other awesome statistics about your run/walk. Plus, you can upload all the information to your computer in spreadsheet form.
  •, a website that helps you plan your routes for a run or walk. Though I didn't plan my route today, I usually love having a number of miles in my head to keep me motivated. When I know I'm going to run, say, 3.2 miles, I feel more compelled to go the whole way.
Post-Run Breakfast
After my big run this morning (okay, half my friends are busy training for marathons, so I know 4.75 miles isn't really that impressive, but it is for me!), I wasn't all that hungry but knew I needed to refuel. I made an egg sandwich and enjoyed a glass of milk.

Yummy post-run breakfast.

Time to get the day started!

Friday, October 21, 2011

London for Christmas!

What a day! It was nonstop from 6 am to 10:30 pm. I'm exhausted, so I'll only provide a quick update before bed.

Europe Trip Confirmed!
We are officially headed to Europe for Christmas and New Year's! As I mentioned a few days ago, Terry and I are planning a trip for our first married Christmas, and we decided on Europe because we have 11 days off together. My school schedule really only allows us to travel during peak seasons, so we're growing used to the high prices that come with popular travel dates. Thankfully, Virgin Atlantic provided us a terrific deal to get to London, so we're getting to visit our favorite city!

London is truly magical. We spent eight days there in July for our honeymoon and absolutely fell in love (with the city - we were already in love with each other...awww). Things we loved about London:
  • The weather reminded me of San Francisco. Cold but beautiful.
  • The pubs provided excellent selections of cask ales and nearby imports, plus the pub scene is something out of a movie. Hundreds of people crowd the sidewalks outside the pubs after work.
  • Visiting the famous landmarks, such as St. Paul's, Big Ben, and (our favorite) Westminster Abbey, makes you feel like you're part of history. The places that held such significant events hundreds of years ago are still used today. Mind blowing.
  • The accent. Done.
  • At any given point, there is (however slight) a chance that you could see the Queen. Or William and Kate or Harry.
  • The architecture makes you want to quit your job, move to London, and become an architecture Ph.D. student (does that exist?).
Me and Terry on Waterloo Bridge in London.

I could go on for days. The idea of visiting such a delightful city at Christmas makes me giddy. I'm hoping it will be like Love Actually or The Holiday, except I've already got the happy ending part.

We're also hoping to visit one additional city in Europe, and it looks like Munich is winning so far. We've heard great things, but I need to do some research! Where to stay? What is there to the dead of winter? Can we take a side trip from there to Salzburg, Austria? I can't wait!

By the way. a quick little leftovers review. Today I had leftovers from Wednesday's Whole Chicken recipe. With the football game tonight, I didn't have time to heat it up or even create a rounded meal, so I ate it cold, straight out of the Tupperware. The chicken was delicious!!! I can't believe how moist and flavorful it is, even two days later!

Okay, off to bed. We're looking forward to a fun weekend of some work and lots of play, including watching X-Men: First Class and visiting some friends for a wine picnic, laser tag, and go karting. Yes, get excited for Sunday's post. Good night!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Inevitable Cat-astrophe

Well, we knew it would happen. We didn't know when, or exactly how it would play out, but we expected quickly and tragically, and we were right.

See, when Terry and I got a cat, we knew my mother would suddenly begin buying us gifts and cards related to cats. My birthday card this year? A picture of a kitten. One of my Christmas gifts last year? Pajamas with cats all over the pants, plus a cat on the shirt with a 3-D bow attached. They are, quite literally, the cat's pajamas. Given that my mom's not a cat person, I suppose this is her way of illustrating her acceptance of our pet. I look forward to gift- and card- giving holidays so much more now!

Scout loves my pajamas.

Neither of us wanted to work out tonight. I fought 70 minutes worth of traffic after a 10-hour work day, and Terry struggled with some tough data problems at work that I will never fully (or perhaps even partially) understand. But still, knowing I'll have no time to work out tomorrow, I suggested a two-mile run to get our blood pumping. We made it! And on the way home, I did about 80 walking lunges to boot.

It's strange; Terry is feeling foot pain similar to mine, except mine is located on the third, fourth, and fifth metatarsals, and Terry's is on the inside of his big toe. Sympathy pains?

We suffered through the run, which actually wasn't so bad after the first half-mile, and then Terry made dinner while I snuggled up in my cat's pajamas. Tonight Terry made ahi tuna fillet sandwiches. He says he wants to tweak the recipe before I post it, but I thought it was delicious! He also made green beans sauteed with sliced almonds. I'm so proud to have a husband who cooks!

Thank goodness tomorrow is Friday! Fridays are long for me, because I stay at school for the football games with my cheerleaders, but the nights are fun and the girls keep me energized. For now, we're about to purchase our tickets to Europe for Christmas!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Upcoming Travel & Early Morning Yoga

I'm at work late for a meeting tonight, so here's my first post from my classroom! I'm excited to get home, though, because tonight we're planning out some travel for winter and spring.

It's our first Christmas as a married couple, and we agreed to spend it just the two of us. Then we thought we'd take it a step further and use Christmas to travel, since we have eleven full days off together. So now it's a matter of where to go...

I'm signed up for approximately 32 distinct travel websites and receive something like 18 travel deals each day. So for the last few weeks I've been searching for the perfect deal. We would love to return to Europe, where we spent our honeymoon in July, but perhaps some new cities, like Munich or Paris. Can you imagine Christmas in Europe? How gorgeous and romantic! We hope we can work something out, even though prices can be high during the holidays.

Our next trip, which we have actually planned, will be our first real vacation with friends. We're taking a cruise in the spring (Spring Break, woo hoo!) to the Caribbean! We'll be sailing on Norwegian Cruise Line's Epic, a huge ship that sounds like a blast to explore. I haven't sailed NCL yet, but we've done Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival, so I look forward to comparing our experience. Our ports of call include St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and the Bahamas, plus a few days at sea. Tonight we're working on booking our flights to Florida, and I'm hoping for Virgin America. We've flown with them a few times, and they really set the standard in terms of atmosphere and service for domestic flights. Plus, you can't beat their prices!

Early Morning Yoga
This morning I woke up early to squeeze in a workout before school. 5:00 might be normal for some, but my body was not happy. I tried to go to sleep at 10, which turned into 10:30, and I couldn't fall asleep until closer to 11. I was hoping our cable would still be out, but alas, I was able to access our OnDemand Exercise TV channel. Damn.

So, coffee table pushed aside and yoga mat laid out, I suffered through some morning power yoga. Scout loves watching me do yoga and occasionally "pounces" on my ponytail when I'm upside down. It's pretty adorable and a great distraction from my tired arms. The workout was a new one, under "Yoga Bootcamp" if you have OnDemand. These types of workouts can be hit or miss, depending on the instructors. I've found a few I love, especially Tandy Gutierrez and Elise Gulan, so they're a guaranteed great workout. I also recently got into the Butt Bible, which is killer for not just your glutes and legs but also your upper body. I like videos because they get me through my strength training fairly quickly, and I haven't yet found a yoga class I love in West LA.

Tonight we're making a whole chicken, which is currently cooking in our crock pot. I simply combine equal parts (about a teaspoon each) of cumin, black pepper, salt, paprika, garlic powder, parsley, and oregano, and rub it all over the chicken. Stick it in the crock pot and turn it on. Usually, we cook it on high for 3-4 hours, but today we're attempting to leave it alone all day (our crock pot has a timer that stops the cooking at a certain point, so we cooked it on low and set it for 7 hours). Hopefully it turns out well! Pictures and a review to come!

Whole Chicken
The complete meal: chicken, steamed broccoli, cottage cheese, and applesauce.

  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon parsley
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 whole chicken
*Special equipment: Crock pot

Combine all spices, then rub the spice mixture all over the chicken. Place the chicken, breast side down, in the crock pot. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 8-9 hours (you can check your crock pot's recommended cooking times based on the chicken size). To check if the chicken is done, use a sharp knife to make a small incision between the leg and body. If the juices run clear, your chicken is ready!

Crock Pot Chicken Broth
It's so easy you'll never buy chicken broth again! After you make your crock pot chicken and pull all the meat off the bones, throw the carcass back into the crock pot and add 10 cups of water. Leave the crock pot on low overnight, about 8 hours. Strain the broth, and viola! You have homemade broth!

I'm sure I could have spiced things up (forgive the pun) with bunches of fresh parsley, basil, or other fresh herbs. I also could have added some vegetables, like onions, celery, or carrots, to boost the flavor. But even at its most basic, this broth freezes wonderfully and can be used as a base for any recipe that calls for chicken broth. Enjoy!

The Great Toe-Strikes Debate

A few days ago, I mentioned on Facebook that I visited the podiatrist to figure out what's going on with my sore foot. It has ached for a few months, even with rest from exercise and wearing tennis shoes. Fortunately, it's not broken or fractured, and all ligaments and tendons are in tact; unfortunately, the doctor didn't know exactly what's wrong. But he did give me permission to continue running.

So my mention of being able to run and my visit to the doctor prompted a little controversy about running technique. I have no idea if my running style is causing the foot pain, but one friend suggested trying toe-strikes. Apparently Harvard conducted a study that shows how toe-strikes decrease impact during running. Another friend agreed and said it essentially healed her shin splints, but then a third friend warned me that toe-strikes can help some runners but can also cause other issues, such as calf strain, because the calf muscle is consistently engaged.

I'm curious to know more about running technique, especially since I now run about four times per week. I usually run on concrete, because that's what's available in our area, but I know softer ground is supposed to be better. I'll continue to research; meanwhile, I'm taking Aleve for my foot in hopes of reducing any possible inflammation.

Chocolate Chip Cookies - A Classic

Yes, I'm all about eating healthy. But anyone who knows me knows that my sweet tooth sets a new standard. I crave dessert after breakfast. So I try to have small treats here and there, but I am not the type to believe that a few berries will satisfy my desire for something sweet. So here's a recipe for cookies that do the job perfectly. Enjoy - in moderation!

I’ve made these cookies with my mom since I can remember. We always used the same brown ceramic bowl to mix, and my older brother and I used to help spoon the dough onto the cookie sheet. I can’t wait to share the same experience with my kids someday.

Obviously, these definitely break the rules if you’re trying to eat unprocessed foods, but these cookies are better than slice-and-bake for several reasons:

  • It takes far more time and effort to make these cookies than to run out for a tub of premade cookie dough, so you are a) far less likely to eat them absolutely any time you crave sweets, b) more likely to acknowledge that you don’t want to run out, so you might eat fewer.
  • You know exactly what ingredients are going into your cookies, and, therefore, your tummy.
  • They are FAR less processed than anything you can find at a grocery store, and you will be able to pronounce every ingredient.
  • They taste incredible, and your friends and family will be impressed!

The smell of these cookies brings me home, which is very convenient considering I live about 400 miles from where I grew up. I hope you love them as much as my family does!

Ode to my childhood

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar (I’ve used a variety, and they all come out great)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (reduce to 1 cup if using other mix-ins)
  • (Optional mix-ins: walnuts, pecans, butterscotch chips, M&Ms…be creative!)
  • Sea salt (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl (it’s okay if you don’t have an awesome brown ceramic bowl from the 70s), use an electric mixer on low to medium speed to mix the sugars and butter. Add the eggs and vanilla, mix until smooth. (If you need to taste test at this point, as I always do, feel free. No one is watching.) Add the baking soda and flour (gradually so as not to end up with a lightly dusted kitchen) until all ingredients are smoothly mixed. Stir in chocolate chips and desired mix-ins.

Drop cookie dough by heaping tablespoons onto a greased cookie sheet. If you want an extra dash of deliciousness, sprinkle the tops of the raw cookies with sea salt. Bake 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Cool on a cooling rack and enjoy with cold milk.

These cookies freeze beautifully. My mom always has a batch in the freezer when I go home, which I love because I think hers come out better (yet she thinks mine are better – but we use the exact same recipe!).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gryffindor Pasta...with Leftovers!

What's that picture? It's so rare in our house that I had to take a picture. It's...leftovers!!! When I first met Terry, he hadn't worked out in something like a year, but you wouldn't be able to tell by looking at him. Now that he works out regularly, though, he eats a LOT. I try to provide lots of snacks so he doesn't come home starving, but he always, always, ALWAYS eats second (and sometimes third) helpings of dinner. So tonight's feat - actually having three containers of leftovers - felt like a miracle.

Terry's post-workout ritual: Chocolate milk

My post-workout ritual: Cuddle with Scout

In other miraculous news, I learned that red and yellow together doesn't always have to be a bad combination. As a Bruin, I've learned to reject anything related to USC, to the point where Terry and I have agreed that we wouldn't take a red car if it was free. I deliberately avoid wearing red and yellow together, and I'm seriously disappointed that J.K. Rowling, an otherwise sensational writer, chose the absolute worst color combination for the Gryffindor house. But still, tonight I found myself with all yellow and red ingredients, at least for the main dish. And I think I finally found something that makes yellow and red work together beautifully!

Gryffindor Pasta (I'm trying to be more creative with my recipe names)

Gryffindor Pasta with Cheesy Garlic Bread
  • 3 large tomatoes (firm but ripe) – I used two red and one yellow heirloom
  • 2 large bell peppers, one yellow, one red, roughly diced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound chicken breast cutlets
  • 1 cup red wine
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 5 leaves fresh basil
  • 1 pound whole-wheat penne

*Special equipment: Food processor

In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the bell peppers and sauté about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, roughly chop the tomatoes and puree in your food processor until blended but textured. Add the tomatoes to the bell peppers, along with the spices, and bring to a boil. Add about the wine, return to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding the water ¼ cup at a time and allowing it to reduce.

As the sauce simmers, heat a small pan over medium heat. If you have a Misto (for spraying olive oil), here’s a great use – cooking chicken! For a little extra flavor, sprinkle the raw chicken with a little extra pepper and oregano. Then spray the pan with your Misto, add the chicken, spice-side down, to the pan, and sprinkle the opposite side with the same spices. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, then cut into one-inch cubes and add to the sauce. Allow to simmer for an additional 10 minutes so the chicken can finish cooking. Add the basil right before serving.

Boil a large pot of boiling water and follow the pasta’s directions for al dente cooking. Drain, then add the pasta to the sauce. Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

This recipe turned out great! I’ve always been nervous to actually make my own pasta sauce from scratch, but it was far easier than I expected. Once I got the tomatoes to the right consistency in the food processor, they served as the perfect base for my sauce. I was a little worried about the bell peppers getting soggy, but I only sautéed them for a few minutes before adding the tomatoes, so I think that kept them a little crunchy throughout the cooking process. In the end, the acidity of the tomatoes was perfectly balanced with the sweet bell peppers, and the whole sauce worked great with the chicken. If you try it, let me know what you think!

To accompany our pasta, I served a simple salad with romaine lettuce, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar, a crisp and fresh complement to the warm pasta. I was also craving garlic bread, but you know how some restaurants serve “cheesy garlic bread” and it’s delicious but super high in calories? Well, I figured there must be a healthier version of it, and here’s my attempt.

Cheesy Garlic Bread
Serves 2

  • 2 slices whole wheat sourdough bread
  • ½ tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 thin slices fresh mozzarella

Preheat an oven or toaster oven to 450 degrees. Lightly butter each piece of bread, then sprinkle the garlic powder over each piece. Tear the mozzarella and spread out over the bread slices. Place the bread on a cookie sheet and bake for about 8 minutes, until the cheese is barely melted and the bread is golden brown.

It’s just as delicious as cheesy garlic bread at a restaurant, but I’m sure it’s about a quarter of the calories and actually holds some nutritional value. It made a great side dish for our yummy pasta, too!

Tonight our cable went out. I’m bummed because it’s Biggest Loser night, and I’m missing it! I watch exactly two reality competition shows: Biggest Loser and So You Think You Can Dance. The latter is because I used to be a dancer and love to watch such phenomenal athletes get some national attention. I love Biggest Loser because it truly changes people’s lives. The transformations absolutely overwhelm me, and I cry almost every week. I love the trainers’ don’t-make-excuses attitudes, and I generally find the contestants to be interesting and entertaining. I disagree a little with the built-in advertising, where the contestants awkwardly hold a conversation about how “delicious” their power bar or protein shake or microwave breakfast tastes. I understand that shows need to make money, but I’m disappointed to see that a show that should be directing people toward healthier living advocates such processed foods. Still, at least it’s better (at least in portion size?) than whatever these folks were eating before!

Tonight’s Workout:

  • Tandy Gutierrez’s Pilates Abs video (OnDemand through Time Warner Cable)
  • 2.4 mile run