August 24: Capitol Deal

Thus far, I have resisted the whole social coupon phenomenon. Friends on Facebook bragged about the awesome deals they found on GroupOn or LivingSocial. I, however, remained unimpressed. Just like with coupons from the Sunday newspaper, I knew better than to hop on that bandwagon. I always spent more than I would have with coupons than without. I mean, who can resist $0.50 for Oreos?!?! Yea, yea don’t buy it if you don’t need it, but it’s $0.50 for $4 cookies. The psychology of a good deal is really overpowering.

Well, I decided to try out this coupon thing today. I ride Metro to work, and during morning rush our, the Washington Post provides a free Express newspaper. It’s a quick read, and since people don’t actually like to speak to other people in this city, it’s something productive to do during my 25 minute commute. I noticed the daily ad for Capitol Deals which has three brands: one for merchandise or retail, one for food, and one for travel. I didn’t start paying attention to them until last week when Ben and Jerry’s stores in the area were running a year supply for $69 (2 pints per month). I had to talk myself out of that deal because I don’t eat ice cream like that and I was already watching my waistline grow. That run on the National Mall would have to happen daily, in addition to whatever fitness DVD I did in the morning lol…It’s so not worth it!

But Wednesday, I saw a deal I could live with: $25 for painting and wine, or $49 for two people. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at painting, and $25 did not seem like an unreasonable price to pay when all the supplies are provided. So I invited my cousin and bought the voucher this morning! I think the activity will be a great bonding experience and just plain fun! The worst that happens is I have to use my painting for laundry room art instead of living room art lol. But I’m super excited. We have until February 2013 to redeem the voucher, and each month the establishment posts a calendar with paintings of the month. For those unfamiliar with these painting and wine events, everyone paints the same portrait. As with ice skating, I may turn out to be a better painter than I expected. The last time I painted was with Crayola paints in elementary school. I hope I’ve improved from a refrigerator painter just by virtue of being older lol. In the event I enjoy myself exceedingly well, then the regular price of $50 per person is not so bad for free art for my office or for home. And who knows, Mama might still like to display her daughter’s art *smile*

August 20: Running on the National Mall

Moving, especially for a new job, is exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. I have not worked out consistently since May. I finally felt comfortable enough after 5 weeks to venture out for a run around my neighborhood. In my part of town, people don’t really exercise outdoors (and likely not at all). I committed to running for 20 minutes, which I knew was about all I could manage having not run in months and having not worked out in 2.5 weeks (I mistakenly thought the mile I walk each day was doing something for me cardiovascularly). To compound my issue, almost all of my run was uphill! So yeah, for two days I was walking quite gingerly.

My cousin, whom I live with, invited me to go running with his friends after work. I am not an after work exerciser, but I couldn’t resist the lure of running on the Mall. When my cousin said he planned to run from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, which turns out to be about 4.6 miles, I said I would do 2. We missed the rain, so the weather was perfect for running and the sand paths were well-packed and a great running surface. Since my cousin is preparing for the FBI fitness test, he had a different purpose for running, i.e., speed. He charted the course for me and said we’d meet at the WWII Memorial. Off he went. I knew better than to keep up with him, but I was trying to keep my eye on him until I oriented myself with just where I was on the Mall.

I was done by the time I reached the WWII Memorial. I prayed for red lights so I could have a reprieve as I waited to cross the street. I kept wondering how I could be so out of shape. I mean, I just ran hills two days before! A mile shouldn’t wear me out like that. I told my cousin that I was walking back to the car, and he told me no. I was given as much time as I needed to recover, and we started back toward the car.

The thing about running is you can spend lots of time with your thoughts (I think it’s unsafe to run outdoors with earphones on, so I don’t listen to music.). As my body began to rack with great discomfort, I couldn’t help but be reminded that I felt about as bad as I did running across the finish line of my first race, which was a 10K. I wanted to stop running, but I drew on my experience at the Flying Pig and willed myself to the end. The other thing I realized was that I was running a lot more than 2 miles. The most important lesson I learned running last night was that if I am going to continue to run with my cousin in the evenings, I have to do better about fueling my body. Cookies and a PB&J sandwich were such bad choices! I’m embarrassed to even type it, but it’s the truth.

I managed to make it back to the Capitol where my cousin was waiting. I was so nauseous when I should have been feeling awesome. Fortunately, the scenery more than made up for my ill-planned run. I mean, why not enjoy the time spent working out? And what better than taking in the sights of our Nation’s capital!?!? It was a relief and a beautiful sight seeing the U.S. Capitol lit up at against the dusk sky as I made my final push down the Mall. For just a moment, I forgot about my discomfort and savored the moment. It’s going to be really pretty to run in the Fall, and I’m looking forward to it. I plan to be on the Mall every Monday I am able to run. I’m in the process of setting goals, but the end goal is to run from the Capitol to the Jefferson Memorial, which I estimate is about 6 miles round trip. The Jefferson Memorial is my favorite monument. It’s so serene by the Tidal Basin because very few people take the time to walk the extra distance. Framed by cherry blossoms, it’s so beautiful. But before I get my personal 10K on, I have to manage running from the Capitol to the WWII Memorial and back. As it turns out, the distance round trip is about 4 miles, and I ran it in 33 minutes, which includes the time I was stopped at lights. So while my poor running-day diet was highly problematic, the fact that I was averaging sub-10 minute pace for that distance was more likely my issue. It is refreshing, however, to know that with proper conditioning, I should be able to put up some personal bests in future races!
I guess walking one mile a day during the work week has been helping a sista out *smile*

July 29: 1800 Tequila Coconut

I am not a drinker. I barely qualify as a social drinker. The taste of alcohol is really, really unappealing. And because I never acquired a taste for alcohol, I’m not even a lightweight; I’m a featherweight. I feel a sense of intoxication just smelling alcohol. I don’t even know if it is biochemically possible to get a buzz from smelling alcohol lol but I do!…Okay, so my cousin had a housewarming party yesterday. The bar filled up rather quickly with wine and spirits. One particular bottle caught my eye: the 1800 Coconut. Jose Cuervo does an excellent job of branding. Not only is their name instantly recognizable,but the shape of the one liter bottle is really distinctive. I was particularly drawn to the coconut part because I love love love coconut. Coconut milk, coconut pie, coconut cake, macaroons, magic bars, coconut water, coconut meat. I must have been from a tropical locale in my last life because pineapple and coconut are two of my favorite things. I actually like them more than chocolate, which is saying quite a lot. And all three together? Don’t get me started!

Anywhoo, so I tasted the tequila and was instantly hooked. It’s smooth with a robust, but not overpowering, coconut flavor. A little bite on the back of the tongue was the only cue that I was drinking alcohol. My cousin didn’t have pineapple juice, so I mixed half-of-a-shot-if-that with about 6 oz of ginger ale and garnished with a sliver of lime. I had three 6 oz cups before the night was over! We had to hide the bottle of 1800 halfway through the party because guests were like me lol.

Yes, I will be buying a bottle of 1800 with my first paycheck at the end of August. And when I go to happy hour (metro D.C. is like the land of happy hour), I know what I’m ordering! I feel quite cosmopolitan now having the beginnings of a signature drink *smile*

July 26: Chipotle Vegetarian Bowl–the at home edition known as Fauxpotle Vegetarian Bowl

It’s been a minute since I posted about anything new. I would tell you about the wonderful adventure of trying to move twice in three weeks (OH to GA, GA to DC), but I’ll give you the bottom line now: Don’t do it! lol Just don’t do that to yourself. Ever. Life in D.C. is quite different as a working professional, who’s technically unemployed until Wednesday, than it was as a free-spirited undergraduate. I found the basic establishments: grocers, Metro, gas station, and the Chemistry department where I’ll be working.

I can’t say I’ve tried many new things since May when I last posted. Relocating and some much needed R&R were priorities. Now that I have some semblance of normalcy in my life again, it’s time to try new things! Yay! Okay, so first up, what I’m calling Fauxpotle vegetarian bowl. My first weekend in the city, I went with a friend to the Smithsonian American Art Museum to see a special exhibit related to Black American life. We had lunch at the Chipotle on the next block and I ordered the vegetarian bowl.

I’m always looking for recipe ideas, and the vegetarian bowl seemed quite simple if only I could figure out the seasonings in the rice. I plan to save the mild sauce for another attempt. Baby steps. Search engines are a beautiful thing. I found this recipe that claims to be sources from Chipotle’s executive chef. I have my doubts, and I’ll tell you why in a minute. I made my grocery list and picked up ingredients.

Notice the recipe says to stir the rice in lime juice. The mere fact there was not a volume should have been a red flag. But hey, I’m just going with it. The fragrance of the lime juice reducing was wonderful. I cooked the rice without cilantro (I really need to start my herb garden because I will waste a bunch of cilantro), and after what seemed like forever, my rice was still wet, not as in water, but wet with sugar. The lime juice reduced to its sugar. Yes, yuck.

As my rice was messing up, I sauteed sliced green pepper (one large) and slices of half of a large red onion in chicken broth on high heat in a skillet. I liberally seasoned the vegetables with Cajun seasoning before cooking. In the microwave, I cooked half a bag of frozen sweet corn (about 2.5 cups). I added the corn to a pan of rinsed, canned black beans that were heating on low. Since I did not add liquid, I just warmed them.

In a large glass bowl, I mixed all the ingredients — including the gummy rice, which tasted surprisingly good, if not a little “lime-y”. Despite the texture and appearance, the Fauxpotle vegetarian bowl was quite tasty. And super cheap. I was able to make four servings (~1.5 cups per serving) for less than $5 total. I think that’s the cheapest meal I’ve made to date!

So, bottom line, the Fauxpotle vegetarian bowl is a keeper. In fact, I stocked up on black beans lol. After the epic fail on the rice, I went back to re-read the recipe to make sure I wasn’t crazy, and I saw a second recipe below. That one seems much more promising. It calls for the rice to be stirred in oil and cooked as usual. Then the lime juice is added. For you carnivores, adding meat and choice of sauce will make the dish more Chipotle-like. I like that this recipe is a basic recipe that can be tweaked with different seasoning, rice, beans, and vegetables. One of these days, I’ll try it with some thick white fish (like cod) and made a wrap. Perfect for lunch! The recipe written together is below.

Fauxpotle Vegetarian Bowl

Ingredients

1 large bell pepper

1 medium red onion

Chicken broth, enough to cover the bottom of a 10 in skillet about 1/4 inch

Your choice of seasoning. I used a store-bought Cajun blend

1 can of black beans, rinsed

2.5 cups frozen, sweet corn, cooked

4 cups of jasmine rice, cooked. Any kind of rice will do.

Directions:

Heat broth to boiling. Cook vegetables on high until desired tenderness.

Microwave the corn per manufacturer’s directions. Add to warmed black beans.

For the rice, follow Ramya Maddela’s recipe (Recipe#2).

Stir all ingredients together and enjoy! Happy cooking!

May 2: Vegetable stir-fry and updates

Well, I’m alive. It’s been so hectic, and not having internet at home makes it challenging to blog regularly. But all of that will change soon. So last I wrote it was Lent (where I was a vegetarian for 40 days and 40 nights, plus weekends) and I was an ice skating queen. I’ll start with ice skating. I finished my 10 weeks of group lessons April 14. I almost cried because it will be the last time I skate for awhile. The ice skating rink is located on the university campus where I work, and group lessons will not start again until June. I have several conferences I plan to attend, and with preparing to move to D.C. (via Georgia), ice skating is just on hold. I learned and became proficient in ice skating in 10 weeks. I can snow plow stop on my right leg (I do not hold my breath for learning on my left leg lol), swizzle forward, do one legged-glides on both legs, skate backwards (though not very well yet), and crossover with both legs. Not bad for someone who never donned ice skates before in her life!

The other update relates to the stir fry. I gave up meat (including fish) for Lent this year. It was a bit traumatic after the initial excitement wore off. I mean, what “sacrifice” should be fun and enjoyable, right? Other than the recipes I blogged about, I didn’t really try many new vegetarian dishes. After Lent, I started eating meat again, though I came to enjoy being vegetarian. It’s a learning curve creating new dishes or figuring out how to make favorite meals meatless. I even told my friends on Facebook that I would start having “Meat Mondays” instead of “Meatless Mondays”. Well, that didn’t last long. Not one to waste food willingly, I felt obligated to eat the frozen meat I had in my freezer, which was mostly chicken. Shortly after Easter, I bought some chicken stir fry with General Tso’s sauce from one of the dining facilities on campus. I was able to select raw vegetables from a veggie bar, choose oil or broth to cook the vegetables, a meat of my choice, rice or noodles, and a sauce. I watched the chef prepare my meal and thought, “That looks easy enough”. As with nearly all food made on campus, the stir fry was pretty much amazing. So, in April I began experimenting with stir fry dishes that I can cook without a wok.

The first attempt, I poached chicken tenders (poaching helps the chicken retain moisture) and used frozen stir fry vegetables. The poached chicken stock was used to cook the vegetables. I bought a bottle of General Tso’s sauce from Kroger. I haven’t cooked rice in over a year, preferring quinoa instead, so I used some whole wheat spaghetti noodles instead of rice. The meal was decent. The sauce had a nice amount of heat to it, which I enjoyed. I don’t like sweet General Tso’s; I might as well use sweet and sour sauce. Frozen stir fry vegetables are a no no.

Second attempt, I repeated the experiment (can you tell I’m a chemist? lol) with fresh vegetables: green beans, strips of red bell pepper, carrots cut into bite size match sticks, and bean sprouts. Love bean sprouts. In my pantry, I found some teryaki sauce that I had good experience with in the past. And I thawed out some grouper fillets. I cooked even more noodles because I knew all that I needed was fresh vegetables to take the meal up to restaurant quality. If only that was the solution.

I attempted to find lo mein noodles in Kroger because the spaghetti, while an acceptable substitute, was still spaghetti. And mentally, what I normally use to make Italian cuisine mixed in with Chinese cuisine just bothered me. After all, I wouldn’t eat stir fry with, say penne noodles. Well, with teryaki, noodle choice makes a huge difference. It tasted like spaghetti with teryaki sauce (yuck is right), and to make matters worse, I overcooked my vegetables *sigh*. I really tried to eat it. But I had to toss out that disaster last night so I could use the pot for my third attempt.

I gave up on spaghetti noodles and bought a bag of jasmine rice. I prepared as directed, though I added currants. In a large saucepan, I heated one-quarter cup of chicken broth until it started to boil. That morning, when I was up way too early for my own good, I prepared fresh vegetables (sweet yellow onion, green beans, red pepper strips, and carrot matchsticks). So, when the broth began to boil, I tossed the vegetables (~4.5 cups) into the hot pan. Unfortunately, one-quarter cup was not enough liquid. During experiment #2 I used one cup of broth; the vegetables released a lot of water, so I ended up with too much liquid. Apparently one-half cup of broth is the magic number. At any rate, I stirred the vegetables continuously until the carrots were just tender. I did not add any sauce to the pot, instead I just add sauce before eating.

The verdict is that I have a triple; not quite a home run. The jasmine rice with currants is definitely a keeper. The blend of vegetables is definitely a keeper. I bought a handful of bean sprouts, but i forgot to add them. I’ll saute them up tonight and dump them in with the leftovers. Anywhoo, so how did I miss the home run? I need to add the different vegetables at different times. The carrots were perfect, but the onions were caramelized and the green beans where extra crispy, though a beautiful green color lol. It’s not anything to complain about since I’m the only one eating what I cook these days. I just wanted my third at bat to be a home run *shrug*. The taste was spectacular. Everything tasted so fresh. I had a variety of colors to appeal to my visual sense. The seasoned broth added great flavor to the vegetables. And there was no meat in sight.

I decided a few days ago that I am going to become a pescatarian. Ever since I began eating meat again last month, I have not felt well. It’s really hard to describe. I feel lethargic. I just feel blah. And I didn’t even notice that I felt better during Lent. It wasn’t until I asked myself what is different now that a month ago that it occurred to me: it’s the meat silly. So, I will try to find a home for the last package of frozen chicken breasts. I have a small package of stew beef that  I will use to make this awesome Moroccan-inspired beef stew (which is why I have currants) before the weather heats up too much. I do not intend to consume much fish (nasty toxic metals). On the rare occasion I want poultry or beef, it will come from animals that were fed a proper diet and treated well. I am hopeful for a future consuming more fresh vegetables and less meat.

March 11: Ice Skating (update)

It’s been seven weeks since I last went to public ice skating. I have taken 6 group lessons and signed up for the next session that includes 5 lessons. Two weeks ago I learned how to snowplow stop, so I felt confident that I would not be a danger to anyone on the ice. In the local community coupon book, the ice center had a buy one get one free admission coupon. I invited my friend Brittany (who introduced me to the wonder world of ice skating!) to accompany me to my first public skate since I began my lessons.

As it turned out, Brittany did not know how to stop! So, it was a good feeling to be able to show her my new skills considering she picked me up off the ice a few times several weeks ago lol. I won’t begrudge that she picked up snowplow stops much better than I did! The ice was not crowded, so it was good to just skate and have fun. We skated for 50 minutes non-stop before heading home. My legs were like jelly, so I knew it was time to end the adventure, though my mind wanted to keep skating.

Ice skating is SO much fun! I have already found an indoor rink in Virginia, so if I decide to continue lessons once I move, I have a place. I am in the process of learning to skate backwards, so hopefully in the next 5 weeks I will learn to do crossovers with both feet, snowplow stop with my left leg, and skate backwards. Thanks to ice skating my lower body is nicely toned. When I fell off the fitness wagon, ice skating was great cardio. I want to live in ice skates lol. My lessons are the highlight of my week! I regret not looking into ice skating lessons as soon as I started my job 18 months ago. I’ve made such amazing progress in 7 weeks, imagine what I would be able to do with more than a year’s worth of experience! Oh well. I won’t make that mistake with kayaking. In fact, I already found a company that offers kayaking lessons and  trips, and wait for it: stand-up paddleboarding! omg, bye bye gym membership!

March 9: Red Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

The problem with going vegetarian cold turkey is that I didn’t see how the sharp reduction in protein would affect me. I had been waking up hungry the last few days but attributed the issue to my stoked metabolism (I fell off the fitness wagon for a few weeks).  I inspected my diet and realized that I was not eating enough protein to compensate for the lack of meat. It’s only so much Fage greek yogurt I can eat in one day, so I opted for a more economical solution: quinoa.

The back of the regular quinoa box had a recipe for stuffed peppers. My mom made the best stuffed peppers when I was growing up. She used ground beef, white rice, canned crushed tomatoes, diced yellow onion and cheese. I’ve actually followed her recipe to make stuffed peppers before, so I didn’t bother with the recipe on the quinoa box. I picked up ingredients at Kroger: a bag of 3 tri-colored peppers, a yellow onion (that I didn’t end up using), vine-ripened tomatoes (I’m anti BPA), and a bag of Private Selection Zesty frozen vegetables.

So this zesty vegetables is pretty tasty. It’s black beans, sweet corn, diced onion, diced green pepper, diced red pepper, and spices. The bag is steamable, which makes cooking super easy. I figured rather than ice a bunch of vegetables, which I wasn’t feeling, I would cheat and use the frozen veggie medley as my filler. I did dice the tomatoes because I love fresh tomatoes.

I did not multi-task very well. Start the quinoa before prepping the vegetables; red quinoa takes longer to cook than regular quinoa. I washed the vegetables with produce spray and rinsed. I chopped the tomatoes. I sliced the tops from the peppers and removed the seeds and pulp from the peppers. After the vegetables steamed in the microwave for 5 minutes, I transferred them to a large mixing bowl with the diced tomatoes. I transferred the 2 cups of cooked quinoa to the mixing bowl (0.5 cup dry = 2 cups cooked) and stirred. I mixed in some shredded queso cheese (something Kroger makes) because I like my stuffed peppers to be cheeeeeeesy! Stuff the peppers and top with lots of shredded cheese!

The peppers were placed in a baking dish lined with foil. Filled peppers don’t stand up well on their own, so I reconfigured the stuffed peppers in the dish so they wouldn’t fall over while cooking. The dish went into a 350 F oven until the peppers were cooked. I didn’t cover my peppers with foil, and the cheese did not burn. My mom would wait until the peppers were cooked before topping with cheese.

Anyway, dinner was delicious. I roasted asparagus in a separate baking dish while the peppers cooked. So, lots and lots of vegetables with a touch of protein. I had extra filling, so 2 small tomatoes, the steamable bag of vegetables, and 2 cups of quinoa can stuff 5 medium bell peppers. Quite the economical and hearty meal!

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