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*

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!

February 7: Hersheys’ Perfectly Chocolate Cake

I’ve made Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Cake with Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Frosting about three or four times before. The  recipe is always on the back of their baking cocoa. Some things it’s just as good to use a box cake for, but when it comes to chocolate cakes, scratch is where it’s at. And I love Hershey’s cake because it’s super easy. I don’t have to cream butter and sugar. I don’t even have to whip out the mixer.

So what’s new about this cake that I feel compelled to blog about it? I had leftover buttermilk from making chocolate doughnuts this weekend. While some people enjoy drinking buttermilk, I am not one of them. I happened to find a bag of all-purpose flour while I was looking for my sifter this weekend. When you have flour, you make chocolate cake lol. So, last night I whipped up a chocolate cake and added 1 cup of buttermilk instead of 1 cup of skim milk. I also sifted the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cocoa together before mixing in the sugar. The result was a light, fluffy, super moist chocolate cake! Most of the baking recipes I choose are about 8, maybe 9 on a scale of 10. I must say that this cake recipe with buttermilk and sifted ingredients is at least a 12. It’s so over and beyond.

Bottom line: Stop buying boxed chocolate cake mix and make Hershey’s perfectly chocolate cake. Even without a sifter, just adding buttermilk will elevate this simple recipe to decadence. I don’t know about other chocolate cake recipes, but this is truly a perfect chocolate cake. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the $5.95 slice I buy in some restaurants was made with this recipe. I love it when I find recipes that are restaurant quality and easy to make. When I tell people I made the cake and frosting from scratch it’s the same incredulous look I get when I tell people I’m a chemist. Classic.

Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake with Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Frosting

A view from the top: I want to practice piping frosting so that the cake doesn't look so plain. I garnished with walnut halves.

February 4: Chocolate Frosted Doughnuts

I will be relocating this summer, so I have been on the look out for new recipes so I can consume the all-purpose and whole wheat flours I have in my cupboards. A few months ago, Shape included recipes for “fonuts“, which are vegan versions of baked doughnuts. The recipes were a little fancy for me (because I’m not vegan), but it did tickle my fancy about learning to make baked doughnuts. I love the internet; I can find just about anything. I happened upon Lara Ferroni’s recipe and decided to make them.

I don’t own a doughnut pan, so I had to modify the cooking time since I used a non-stick muffin pan. I also substituted half the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour, used Fage 0% fat Greek yogurt, and opted for 3 T coconut oil instead of butter. The recipe was really simple to follow. My dough never became coarse crumbs, even after adding an additional tablespoon of coconut oil. The doughnuts were no worse for wear, though! I baked the doughnuts until the centers sprang to the touch, which was about 15 minutes at 350 °F.

After cooling in the pan for 10 minutes, I transferred the chocolate doughnuts to a parchment paper covered wire rack to finish cooling. Meanwhile, I whipped up a mini batch of Hershey’s perfectly chocolate frosting. I melted about 3T of coconut oil in a microwave safe bowl, added 3 heaping tablespoons of Hershey’s baking cocoa to the melted butter, and stirred. I sweetened to taste by adding powdered sugar. The frosting was more of a glaze as I thinned it out a bit with some buttermilk. Ms. Ferroni’s recipe yielded 12 doughnut muffins. And I ate every last one of them over the weekend lol.

Bottom line: baked doughnuts are pretty much awesome. They are really simple to make. Greasing the muffin pan meant super easy clean up. I’m not sure if it was the whole wheat flour or not, but the doughnuts had a slightly gritty texture. Almost as if I had used cornmeal. The texture was complementary rather than being like chewing sand, though. My only criticism of the doughnuts is that they weren’t chocolatey enough. But that’s easy to fix.

I think Ms. Ferroni’s recipe is a good base doughnut recipe. Instead of adding cocoa powder, I’m sure I would be able to add more flour and flavor the batter with any flavor I want. I’m thinking rum doughnuts or adding red food coloring to the chocolate recipe for red velvet doughnuts! Oh the possibilities are endless!

Lara Ferroni's chocolate doughnuts

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