January 27: Ice Skating Lesson 1 (falling, marching, and swizzling)

I am just returning from my very first ice skating lesson! It is only the second time in my entire life I’ve been in ice skates. I opted for hockey skates again this time until my balance improves a bit more. Six women of all ages comprise the Friday morning group. Two graceful seniors actually ice dance competitively, one woman ice skates competitively, two women wanted to practice some advanced skill, and the fifth woman is an advanced beginner. Then there is me: the total newbie.

The first 5 minutes of the lesson were spent warming up. Cassie, our guide provided individual guidance as we skated around two-thirds of the rink (the other third was occupied by tots learning to skate). I was instructed on how to properly fall. So, on my butt isn’t best because I could damage my tailbone. Makes sense. So, if I’m falling backwards, I first lean forward, open my arms and hug myself, tuck my chin into my chest, crouch into a ball, and fall to one side. Yeah, that felt way better than when I fell on my knees and my butt. I also learned how to rise from a fall: roll onto all fours, place one foot on the ice followed by the second foot while keeping your hands, then stand tall. Fear of falling gone!

After about 5 more minutes of warming up, Cassie instructed me to march in place to learn how to pick up my feet from the ice when I skate. I found a close spot to the wall and held onto it with one hand as I marched in skates for the first time. It’s a much more difficult to march in ice skates than it sounds! I moved away from the wall and eventually began lifting my back leg as I pushed off. I felt awkward at first, but I learned how to properly balance on one foot.

Apparently I was doing so well, that I was able to learn my first skill on my first day: the swizzle. Basically, I roll onto the outside blade as I move my feet out from under my hips and then roll onto the inside blade as I pull my feet back under my hips. It’s like making a football shape with my feet. I can’t yet swizzle and maintain any reasonable momentum, so I did three swizzles on each straightaway before returned to skating.

The magic moment came when I watched one of the ice dancers skate in front of me. She actually glided. She pushed off, glided, then pushed off the the opposite foot. Wow! I really was able to gain speed because gliding helped me find a rhythm. I was able to incorporate about three good glides before I came to a curve and had to spend some time finding my rhythm again. I guess tackling the corners is what I will work on in my second lesson.

By body is tired. Ice skating is a total body exercise! My arms actually hurt. It reminds be of ballet where the isometric arm work is deceptively effective. I’m really proud of myself that I’m learning to ice skate. I received lots of compliments on my improvement, and it was really good to hear coming from skilled ice skaters. I likely won’t be a graceful skater after six lessons, but I at least hope to be rhythmic with my skating. I will go skate one day after work next week to gain some practice.

January 20: Ice skating

Georgia born and Georgia raised, the closest I ever came to ice skating growing up was watching figure skating competitions on television. I had a childhood dream of being a figure skater, but I was more tomboyish than graceful dancer. I think I just wanted to compete for an Olympic medal. Anywhoo, living in a college town that has an NCAA championship hockey team, I figured I might as well give ice skating a shot since we have a rink on the campus where I work.

My friend, Brittany, texted me to invite me to “Midnight Skate”, which is held a few times a semester for the students. It’s $2 and includes skate rental. She kindly reminded me that ice skating was one of the things I said I wanted to try. I mean, how can I flake out after that?

Dressed in street clothes, my light but very warm running jacket, a hat, and gloves, I walked into the ice rink. There was a mat with right-foot prints to see what size skates you would need. The snugger the better, particularly around the ankles. I paid my two dollars, and traded my running shoes for a size 7 ladies hockey skates, and laced up. Hockey skates are apparently easier to learn to skate in than regular skates. I’m not really sure why, but I suspect the rigidness of the skates helps stabilize the foot and ankle, which I soon learned was crucial.

Standing and walking in skates is very similar to walking in high heels. It’s surprisingly easy, if not awkward initially. We arrived at the beginning of free skate, so it was not very crowded. That was a relief. I stepped on the ice, and Brittany’s first piece of advice was about posture. Stand straight and resist the urge to lean forward. I guess I thought I was going to be like Bruce Jenner out the gate lol.

Fear of falling and hurting myself filled my mind, but Brittany was a very good coach and told me not to worry and to balance on her. The first lap seemed like the longest. I stared straight ahead and didn’t pay attention to the skaters going past me. Evidently, ice skating etiquette says that the better skaters should avoid the less experienced skaters. And for the most part, people were mindful of that.

After three laps, I was balancing on my own and a wee bit faster. I was ready to squat a few millimeters to relieve some of the pressure on my knees and better stabilize my ankles. My balance continually drifted forward, so I was constantly correcting my posture. And the counter-intuitive advice makes all the difference in the world. Once I was comfortable with the micro-squat, I learned how to push off by turning the right foot out slightly then the left foot and alternating. Once I was able to put all the pieces together, I gained confidence and picked up speed.

The ice had started to become choppy on the straightaways and the teeth on the front of the blades was starting to catch. I caught one time and took a nasty tumble forward. I didn’t break anything, but I was a little bruised. Brittany and Jordan helped me up, because I was hopeless in that department, and dusted the ice off my clothes. Off I went. I fell once more, this time semi-backwards. Falling backwards on your butt is best. After the second fall, I took a break because I wasn’t comfortable enough with skating on the choppy parts.

The Zamboni cleaned the ice about an hour into free skate. I waited until the ice was carved a bit before going back out. We had  to skate the opposite direction which was harder for me. I loved skating on clean ice, though. The last 20 minutes before we left, I was skating on my own. Evidently, I improved pretty well for a first-timer. I’ve signed up for group lessons that meet weekly on Fridays for 45 minutes. SoOooO excited!

Ice skating is a great workout. I worked up a sweat just learning how to skate, so I can’t imagine the workout once I actually can skate well. My abdominal muscles and weird parts of my thighs and butt hurt Saturday morning, but it was totally worth it. In six weeks, I should be able to keep up during free skate and fall gracefully. I’m looking forward to continuing to skate outdoors on the Mall once I move to D.C.

Bottom line: Learning to skate was the best $2 I’ve spent in a long time, and I enjoyed myself so much that I’m taking weekly skating lessons for the next six weeks.

January 16: TRX

If you have the opportunity, then you must try TRX training. Period. TRX is like the strength training version of Tabatas, assuming you just do cardio Tabatas. Forget Pilates. TRX is where it’s at for core strengthening. I’ve been in a rut with my fitness routine the last few months, so when the Spring semester group fitness schedule was published earlier this month I was so excited to see that TRX was being offered as a class.

TRX requires a suspension system that is no more than two heavy duty nylon adjustable straps with cushioned handles and foot straps. In the group fitness setting, we used a long bar where about 20 of us workout out as a class using individual TRX trainers. I opted for the end because I don’t like being that close to sweaty strangers lol. We spent about 2 minutes practicing how to adjust the straps, which is quite easy, before warming up using the trainer. It was interesting to feel the muscles work differently with my body “suspended”. I guess I should say here that you aren’t actually ever completely suspended in the air, because there are workouts like that. The suspension part refers to the crazy angles that you can perform basic exercises in like chest press or plank. It’s these changes in angles that really force your core to engage to keep you upright. Intially, I was relying too much on the trainer to hold me up rather than my muscles, but once I realized that I wasn’t going to fall, and “trust[ed] the TRX” as my instructor kept saying, then I was really able to challenge myself.

Basically any exercise you can do in a traditional workout, you can do with TRX. We did chest presses, which were more like push ups at a 45° incline and no wall or bench to support you, one legged squats, rows, lunges, planks, push ups. To mix it up, we used the TRX in a circuit and did about 3 different circuits in 45 minutes. At the end of each circuit, we jumped rope. For me, that lasted all of two times before I switched to jumping jacks, high knees, or speed skaters.

By far, my favorite moves were the plank variations. And they, by far, were the most challenging moves for me. Plank is touted as one of the best abdominal exercises because it works all the abdominal muscles, including the hard to work transverse muscles (the corset muscles as I’ve heard them called). In additional to the abdominals, every other muscles is working to stabilize your body. In 2011, I built up my strength to do a 1:45 plank cold. During an intense workout, I’m lucky if I can spend 45 seconds in my special place in part because I lack upper back strength and my shoulders just turn to jelly. I do pretty well with plank using a stability ball (shins on the ball and hands on the floor). So, I was confident when we had to do our first TRX plank.

Please. That’s another thing. TRX will humble you and boost your confidence simultaneously. For the first time in my life, I felt my rectus abdominal muscles instantly. If you do not engage your abs, and if they are not even moderately strong, it’s a wrap. My hips were sagging when I first lifted into TRX plank, and I immediately felt the stress in my low back. I quickly corrected my form, and that’s when I felt my rectus abdominal muscles. To me, I had to rely mostly on my abdominals, somewhat on my upper body, and very little on my legs to maintain proper form. Contrast this to floor plank where all muscles are firing away. The abs compensated for what the legs would normally do to support body weight. We performed high plank, low plank, tucks, oblique tucks, and the grandmama of them all: pikes. You want a nice booty? Do some TRX pikes.

For a first timer, I think I did pretty well. It was an intense workout that required seldom worked muscles but mostly the same muscles in traditional exercises, only TRX allows them to be worked in different ways. In my class there were some people who clearly have been out of the exercise game for awhile. They struggled.

I’m all for physical fitness for all ability levels, but you can really hurt yourself doing suspension training if you have not mastered proper form using good old fashioned elbow and knee grease with floor work. Fortunately, we had three TRX trained staff in the room, so they helped out when they could. But the instructor, whose other classes I regularly attend, generally works under the assumption  you know proper form for basic exercises. She rarely corrects poor form, choosing instead to tell you what proper form is and model it herself. Good or bad, it’s group fitness and not private classes.

I look forward to testing and pushing my limits in TRX this semester. The class is offered once a day M-R. Right now I will stick with once a week, but I hope to be able to attend twice a week as my strength and endurance builds. Today, I’ll be going to another new class offered this semester: awesome arms. Thanks to a broken leg during my infancy, I developed really good muscle tone in my arms because I had to practically drag myself around as I had a full lower body cast before I could walk. It’s relatively easy for my to do biceps and triceps exercises. Shoulder work is another matter altogether. Lateral raises and forward raises are the bane of my existence. My shoulders are also the weakest link in ability to do plank exercises over the duration of a full workout. But that is going to change this semester!

Currently, my fitness routine includes 45-60 minute cardio. I have been performing Tabatas on cardio machines after a quick warm up. The arc trainer and Precor EFX are excellent for this purpose because I can adjust the incline so that I do high knees, which is my exercise of choice when I used just my body weight and the floor. It’s much more challenging on a cardio machine because unlike in my living room, I can’t just stop for 10 seconds. It’s never really a rest period when performing Tabatas on cardio equipment. I attend one or two group fitness classes after work, mostly focused on strength and flexibility, though a few classes incorporate some cardio element either directly or by quickly moving between toning exercises. I’m tired of being skinny fat, and seeing as I can’t seem to muster the discipline to moderate my intake of processed sugar, then I have to spend extra time in the gym to mitigate the effects of the extra sugar. Sad, I know. But I enjoy working out, and I enjoy sugar. What’s a girl to do? *smile* We’ll see what I’m working with when Spring Break rolls around in seven weeks.

January 2: Whole Wheat Banana Nut Bread

During my most recent shopping trip, Kroger was kind enough to bundle very ripe bananas and sell them. I lived here for a year before I asked a produce stocker why the store never put out brown or spotted bananas. The party line I received was that Kroger sells so many bananas that there just aren’t any that are spoiled. Yeah, right. But interestingly enough, from that day on, I noticed that there were always a few bunches of over ripe bananas, which as we know are perfect for making banana bread or banana pancakes!

We know where this is going lol. I bought a bundle of mottled bananas and decided to bake a loaf of banana bread. I seldom bake anymore, so it was good to get back in the kitchen and whip out the mixer. I decided to use whole wheat bread not because I was interested in being healthy but because I needed to use it before I moved. Fortunately, I found several recipes when I Googled. I chose the one by King Arthur since they make whole wheat flour. I scanned the ingredients to make sure I had everything necessary to whip up a batch of whole wheat banana bread. As I waited for my bread to cook, I found this awesome link to Breadtopia that even includes a video and commenters posted pictures of their breads.

So, I won’t bother with the recipe in this post because it’s pretty well documented. I used Kroger brand whole wheat flour and actually modified the recipe similar to the one on Breadtopia. I mean, who makes a banana bread without cinnamon and/or nutmug? I added vanilla extract and no banana extract. I was quite liberal in my use of walnuts *smile*. I resisted the urge to include chocolate chips in this first test of the recipe. But let me tell you, if you like chocolate and you love banana nut bread, you must add chocolate chips to the recipe. Talk about your taste buds having orgasms!

Okay, so what about this healthy banana nut bread? First, the batter was a little thicker than with all-purpose flour. I had to use my spatula to scoop the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Oh, and by the way, the recipe from King Arthur yields one loaf. I usually like to make several loaves, but one is good for trying a new recipe without the hassle of scaling down the recipe. The recipe said I should let the bread “rest” for 10 minutes, which was the first sign the bread would be more bread-like than dessert-like. Ten minutes was good for me to wash up the dishes and clean off the counters.

The bread went in a 325 F oven since I used a dark non-stick pan for 62.5 minutes lol. Random I know. It baked uncovered for 50 minutes, then I placed a piece of aluminum foil over it was 12.5 minutes to “prevent over browning” as King Arthur suggested might occur. The house smelled of delicious banana bread, though interestingly the aroma did not become noticeable until maybe 10 minutes before I covered the bread.

Once I turned the bread onto the cooling rack, I noticed that the loaf was quite heavy. I prefer warm bread, so I cut myself a slice to taste after about 10 minutes. The texture is definitely like bread, dense and weighty while still being moist. This recipe does not create that limp bread that I’m used to.

People who commented on the recipe at Breadtopia and King Arthur proclaimed this recipe the “best banana bread” recipe. Um, I wouldn’t say all that, but it is definitely a tasty, healthier alternative to regular banana bread. I do like that the bread has some weight to it and that crumbs don’t fall all over the place. I found though, that as it cooled, the bread seems to lose its moistness over time, which means don’t plan to have leftovers around more than 2 or 3 days. Perhaps adding more bananas ( I used 3 large bananas) or a touch of milk to the batter can help with the bread retaining moisture. Breadtopia even recommends making sure the bananas are “ultra ripe”, which I interpret as just mushy to the touch. Mine could have ripened another day or two in that case.

Besides the moistness issue with my first loaf, I do not have any complaints.  The bread is sweet without feeling like you’re getting a cavity as you chew and the fact that it’s made of whole wheat flour is imperceptible. I can actually eat one slice and be satisfied. I tend to inhale traditional banana nut bread because the carbs leave me wanting more. It’s a great, healthy banana nut bread that does not sacrifice flavor in the name of health. I have about 4 pounds of whole wheat flour to use, so I will definitely be making more whole wheat banana nut bread during the winter.

UPDATE: So last night (01/04/12) I cut myself a piece of bread and decided to put it in the microwave for 10 seconds to warm it up. Ah-mazing! While I’m not ready to put the blue ribbon on it yet, warmed whole wheat banana nut bread is really good. The texture is still dense but also the moistness is much more evident when the bread is slightly warmed. I would still like to moisten the bread a bit so that I also enjoy it at room temperature almost as much as I enjoy it warm.

January 1: Smithfield Garlic and Herb Pork Sirloin

Happy New Year! I originally planned to only write this blog for one year since it was a new thing I was trying. But in hindsight, I didn’t anticipate how much writing would keep me accountable for continuing to try new things. New Year’s Eve weekend 2010 I wrote a list of things I wanted to try in 2011. I accomplished maybe 10 of them *doh* but I tried so many things I didn’t think I would even do like cooking classes (the roasted tomato bisque post was the 5th most viewed post of 2011) and pomelo (which was not a popular post lol). I intended to run the Rock ‘N Roll half marathon in Vegas on December 4, but finances derailed that endeavor. Training was still enjoyable. Things worked out well because I had two job interviews the week of the race, both of which offered me the positions! So, I increased my cardiovascular endurance and have a job next fall as an assistant professor!

So, all that to say I made a pork sirloin for a traditional Southern New Year’s Day dinner. Growing up in Georgia, and with grandparents in South Carolina, I can’t recall a January 1 where I didn’t have collard (mustard, turnip) greens, black-eyed (field) peas, and some part of a pig. We eat these foods as good luck for the new year in the areas of health and prosperity. A staple dinner in the Deep South, at least in Black American households, our traditions have become somewhat mainstream thanks to morning news shows. Similarly, other cultures’ new year dinner traditions have been brought to my attention, like sauerkraut for health in the new year.

So new year’s eve, I was collecting ingredients for dinner. I bought a bag of Glory collard greens, frozen black eyed peas, and a Smithfield Garlic and Herb Pork Sirloin. I had no idea that there was a sirloin cut of pork. I haven’t eaten pork regularly in about 10 years, but I do not recall my mother ever cooking a pork sirloin. We’ve had pork tenderloin plenty of times, though. The main reason I opted for the sirloin was that it was smaller and I didn’t want to have a bunch of leftovers. FYI: warmed pork tenderloin makes excellent sandwich meat.

Juicy and tasty Smithfield Garlic and Herb Pork Sirloin

The cooking instructions were the same as the Smithfield tenderloin: cook at 425 F for 20 minutes per pound. Either the directions are incorrect or my oven is janky because while that worked for the tenderloin I cooked a week prior during vacation, I had to leave the sirloin in the oven an additional 20 minutes before the thermometer registered 160 F, the recommended temperature for doneness.

I do not cover my pork with aluminum foil during any part of the cooking process, so I was a little concerned when the sirloin came out from the oven looking a little dry. As it rested on a plate, I was pleased to return to the kitchen and find that it was glistening with tasty juices. Since I baked chicken thighs and peppers, I simply sliced the sirloin and placed it in the refrigerator for new year’s dinner the next day.

Sunday, I cooked carrots, collards, and black eyed peas on the stove. If you are interested in trying collard greens, which symbolize prosperity in the form of greenbacks, I recommend buying Glory brand prepared greens. I paid $1.50 for a bag. I would pay up to $4 for a bag of pre-washed and cut greens because it is such a pain to clean them. Cleaning greens to remove dirt and debris is a past-time in my grandmother’s and mother’s kitchens. I will forever cherish the stories and the time spent watching them as I grew up. So, if you have young children, it’s worth it to buy a bunch of greens. But if you’re single like me, do yourself a favor and buy a bag lol.

Anywhoo, I digress. I enjoyed the pork sirloin. It is definitely less tender than a tenderloin though the taste is still the same in my opinion. The texture reminded me of pork chops more than pork tenderloin, which makes sense I suppose. The cost per pound was the same, so it really just comes down to personal preference and portion size as to whether to choose tenderloin or sirloin. I will say, though, that if you like to make sandwiches with leftovers, stick with the tenderloin. A traditional Southern new year’s day dinner is pretty cost effective and can definitely be prepared throughout the year. I spent about $12 for all the ingredients, and it is enough food for 6 people/servings. Perhaps next year I will step from my comfort zone and include a tradition from another culture.

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog. Thank goodness because I was going to have to do it :o)

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,200 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 37 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.