Couch to 5K

Let me let you in on a little secret that’s not so secret: I hate to exercise.  I’ve hated it since elementary school when I hated my PE teacher and having to “run” the mile in gym class (I put that in quotes because I rarely, if ever, actually ran the mile).  Let’s face it, I’m just not very athletic.  More of a bookish, writer, has fun spending time researching stuff in the library type.  That’s not to say I hate physical activity of any kind.  I enjoy walking the dog on sunny days and if I’m in the mood hiking in a beautiful forest is a lovely way to pass the time.  I love to dance (ballet, Zumba, ballroom, etc.).  Swimming is enjoyable and I’m pretty sure I would have fun kickboxing or learning some sort of martial art.  However, I rarely make room in my time or my finances to do these sorts of things because they just don’t rank very high on my priority list.

Now, here’s another exciting little tidbit: I hate running more than any other kind of exercise.  I’ve tried to like it, I really have.  It’s free and you can listen to music while you do it, so it seems like it would be great.  I see people in Washington going running in the rain all the time.  I bought an iPod shuffle a couple of years ago specifically to use when running (I got tired of catcalls from random motorist…guys).  Every time I start though I spend the whole time thinking, “how much longer” and eventually I just stop.

So…why would I try again?

Well, for one thing, I’ve always wanted to participate in a 5K run/jog/walk type event.  It just seems like something that everyone should do at some point in their life, don’t ask me why.  Also, because I still really want to like running.  What can I say, I’m a masochist.  So my plan to get in shape this year is basically a build up to participate in a 5K.

I’m starting off slowly at home, doing step workouts, Jillian Michaels, yoga, etc. and then I’m going to slowly incorporate Zumba, kickboxing, and anything else I might fancy.  Then, in April I’m going to start the Couch to 5K program so I can get into full on running mode.  I’m hoping to be in good enough shape by June 15 that I won’t totally embarrass myself.  Because…

I signed up for my very first 5K!  It’s the Stampede Over Stigma 5K, which is helping to “break down mental health stigma; all while raising money for numerous behavioral health organizations!”  Not only that but I’m being backed by the Bramble Berry Athletic Club!  (That picture isn’t embarrassing at all… it was taken right before I helped break the world record for the largest snowball fight!).

So if you’re a fellow exercise hater who is trying to get in shape, I just want you to know that I’m fighting the good fight with you, and that you don’t have to love exercise to love the benefits!

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Accountability & Italy

As a reminder, my accountability goals thus far are:

January

(1) 3 recipes per week

(2) Blog SuMTWTh

(3) Clean 20 min. per day

February

(4) Write 20 min. per day

(5) Don’t procrastinate via internet/tv

(6) Exercise every day

I did really well through most of January but I began to fall off track in a major way during February.  It wasn’t just the goals I’d picked, which were realistic and easily accomplished when I did them, it was a problem with stress and a sudden feeling of being totally overwhelmed in general.  I was going through some major ups and downs due to trying to get financial aid to study abroad in Italy.  Eventually I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to happen and cancelled the trip, getting into a more motivated mindset and preparing for the next few months ahead.  I was seriously ready to go, and totally motivated to work out and get in shape when… I got an email from the financial aid office informing me that my loan had been approved.

Wait… what?!  I was not at all prepared for this.  I was completely resigned to staying stateside and had planned out the next few months in my head to great detail.  After agonizing over whether or not to go for an entire miserable day, I eventually came to the conclusion (with the help of my friends), that this would be the trip of a lifetime and I’d be insane not to go.  So I said yes, thereby creating a whirlwind of craziness in my life, involving obtaining a passport with less than three weeks until my travel date, getting plane tickets, getting a physical, budgeting (serious, serious, painful budgeting — no joke, I’m broker than I’ve ever been), etc.

So what do I have in mind for March goals?

March

(7) Create and stick to a budget

(8) Begin learning Italian

(9) Spend more time with pets*

*(both to help keep my sanity and because I’ll be 2 months without them)

I’m going to continue to work on my other goals, although the recipes will get cheaper, there will be days the blog just doesn’t happen (especially after I leave), cleaning is totally necessary — so no slacking on that one, writing is sidelined a bit, it’s not procrastinating if I’m researching Italy — right??, and exercising is actually going to be more important than ever, since I read that jet lag is less intense the healthier you are, and of course I want to look amazing in Italy.

Anyway, I’ll probably be updating less frequently, perhaps three times a week, though I will continue to post amazing recipes.  You’ll just now have the added bonus of reading my travel woes and freak outs, in addition to the usual repertoire. And if anyone has any tips, for Italy, Florence, traveling, Europe, studying abroad, etc., feel free to let me know in the comments.

Italy

I was going to post today about my new focus for March but that will have to wait until Sunday.

Today I have news.

I’m going to Florence, Italy!  I’ve been planning out this trip for months now, and there was some very real doubt for a time that I would be able to go, but everything came together at the very last second and in less than three weeks I’ll be leaving.  This will mean big changes, both for me and the blog.  I’ll be in Italy for about two months, and so my posting during that time will be less regular, and will likely consist mostly of pictures.  A temporary travel blog!

Anyway, with that in mind, I’ll be rather busy (and poor) the upcoming weeks so I’ll likely do fewer recipes and possibly fewer posts, but we’ll just have to see.

Studying abroad has long been on my list of to-dos, and I’m so excited for the opportunity and I’ll that I’ll be able to experience in the months ahead, though for the next few weeks I’ll probably just be a ball of stress.

Salad in a Jar & Oatmeal Smoothies

Though I’ve tried to ensure that most of the recipes on this blog are healthy (well, except for the desserts…), I’ve never written a post specifically about that, or chosen a recipe based off of its healthfulness.  The method to my madness thus far has been to choose whatever recipes look most delicious to me on the day that I do the grocery shopping.  That is about to change, at least slightly.  I am not on a diet, but I am attempting to become more health conscious, and especially to exercise more.

I honestly don’t really believe that anyone needs to be on a diet to lose weight, or that you necessarily need to completely eliminate any particular foods or food groups from your diet in order to be healthy (barring the possibility you have a food allergy, are gluten or lactose intolerant, etc.).  Some will disagree with me, and certainly I only have a single nutrition class and some books under my belt, so I am by no means an expert, this is just my own personal philosophy.

What I think is the key to success, is moderation.  I myself have difficulty with the practice of this concept, because I tend to be more “all or nothing” by nature.  But my most successful diet changes have always been about moderation, except perhaps the elimination of soda from my diet in the 8th grade.  The changes I am about to embark on are not really anything new in my life, I’ve done all of them before with great success.  My problem has always been falling off the wagon and languishing by the side of the road for months (sometimes years), rather than a problem with the way that I choose to eat when I am actively being healthy.

So all I am doing now is vowing not to fall off the wagon again, or at least to dust myself off and jump back on again as soon as possible if I do.  With the following I managed to lose 17lbs in 2 months in 2010:

  • No dessert items.
  • Eat 4 meals per day, nothing after 7pm.
  • At least 32oz of water per day.
  • No meat other than eggs and fish.
  • Exercise at least 45min per day/4 days per week.
  • Godiva Day is a splurge day (as are holidays/birthdays).

That simple.  I have made a few changes this time around:

  • 4 splurges per month (so I can participate in some work things & not feel guilty if I really do need that cream puff).
  • At least 64oz of water/tea per day.
  • Severely limit dairy & gluten intake to only one serving of either per day.
  • My 3 recipes per week are exempt from the dairy/meat/gluten rules (because it’s important to me that I learn how to cook/bake everything) but I need to be careful with portion size if it contains these three.
  • Exercise every day.

Now, I’m sure that anyone can argue that these rules are either too stringent or not stringent enough depending on their own personal health beliefs, but they are what works for me and I’m happy with them, which is all that really matters.  With that in mind, I present you with the first two recipes of this week, both found on pinterest.

(1) Salad in a Jar

This is the best thing I’ve ever found for taking lunch to work.  It’s super simple to make, not particularly expensive, you can create enough for the whole week on Sunday and just grab them and go from the fridge in the morning.  Awesome.  The only things I would change the next time I make them (and there will be a next time), is to swap the tomatoes out for bell peppers, add raisins, and put a touch more dressing in.  The pin comes from Fat Girl Trapped in a Skinny Body and I have some layer by layer photos for you here:

(2) Oatmeal Smoothie

Another pinterest find.  I never would have thought to put oatmeal in a smoothie before, but it added substance that helped keep me full for most of the day.  It was totally delicious.  I changed a few things here: instead of raspberries I used frozen strawberries and peaches, instead of low fat plain yogurt I used 1/2 plain Greek yogurt (for protein) and 1/2 vanilla coconut yogurt, I added some Barlean’s Omega Swirl Flax Oil, and I used way more than just 1 cup coconut water — I used the entire can in the picture which is 17.5oz.  The original pin comes from Martha Stewart, so you know it’s good.

Oh wait… those aren’t a part of the smoothie recipe.  But they’re so important to my mental state each day.  I constantly buy myself flowers for the kitchen so I have something pretty to look at every morning before I leave the house.  You might have noticed them in the background of some other food pictures — these ones seem particularly happy looking to me.

And this isn’t the smoothie either… this is just the salted avocado I ate while I was making it…

Ah!  Here we go:

In the Name of Love

“The most powerful symptom of love is a tenderness which becomes at times almost insupportable.” — Victor Hugo

Because the big V-Day is this week I want to dedicate the whole week to real love, instead of just a single day based around giving and getting, like a pink and red version of Christmas.  How best to accomplish this?  I don’t know.  I think every day will be different.  Today, I made a treat (to be shared in a later post) to celebrate a coworker’s birthday on Tuesday (yes, his birthday is Valentines Day), I picked out a menu for my own V-Day night with my boyfriend and let him choose the dessert, I watched romantic comedies all day on TV, including the end of You’ve Got Mail, my all time favorite romantic comedy (my all time favorite romantic movie is An Affair to Remember), and I signed up to write love letters for The World Needs More Love Letters, so here’s to hoping they send me a bundle!  And of course, I played with my babies:

As for my goals, I’ve been doing okay.  I’ve been consistent with the blog and the recipes, and doing my 20 min. cleans about every other day, although I’m still struggling with the writing and exercise goals.  It’s so easy to push them to the back of my to do list and then end up at 9:00 thinking it’s too late.  I swear though, as soon as I finish this blog post I’m going to do some serious working out with my Gaiam ball.  I only have five weeks until Spring Break and one more quarter after that until summer, so I’m already counting down the days until I get a little free time to catch up on things.  I’m trying to remember though, that I have six hours in a day after work and two before if I get up on time, and that is more than enough to stay caught up, if not totally sane!

The Matilda Cake [aka the chocolatiest chocolate cake ever. hands down.]

One of my goals this year is to strengthen relationships with friends and family and one of the accompanying resolutions is to remember and acknowledge birthdays.  I’ve never considered myself a particularly good baker, other than chocolate chip cookies, due to a botched cream puff attempt in my younger years, and I think now that I was a bit harsh on myself, especially considering the good reviews I’ve gotten for my banana bread and muffins.  What do these two things have to do with one another?

Every year on my birthday I take the day off, however for the last two years I have stopped by work to drop off some freshly baked chocolate cookies (a secret recipe).  I decided that this year I would celebrate my coworkers birthdays as well by bringing in baked goods every time one of them had a birthday.  Today just so happened to be one of my best friend’s birthday and she just happens to work with me.  What a perfect opportunity!

Aside from buying her a card and flowers I decided to show my appreciation for her friendship with a particularly special recipe that I’ve been wanting to try for years.  If you’ve seen the movie Matilda, you’ll likely know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that I’ve always wanted to try the cake that Ms. Trunchbull forces poor Bruce Bogtrotter to eat in front of an assembly of students.  It honestly looks like the moistest, chocolatiest cake ever baked.

Quite a long time ago I googled to see if there was a recipe for the cake, not really expecting anything.  Lo and behold — Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes does in fact have a recipe for the very cake I’d been craving for years, and someone on livejournal had  posted it online in the bakebakebake forum!  Despite how ecstatic I was to find it, I didn’t set out to bake it immediately, for who knows what reason (I suppose I was waiting for the perfect opportunity?).

As soon as I decided that I was going to bring in something for my dear friend’s birthday I knew it had to be this cake and so I set to work gathering up the ingredients:

Cake

  • 8oz good quality plain chocolate (I used 50z Green & Black’s Organic 72% Baking Chocolate & 3oz Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate)
  • 6oz unsalted butter
  • 8oz caster sugar (which I found out is just the British term for superfine baking sugar)
  • 4 tbsp plain flour (I used pastry flour)
  • 6 eggs, separated

Coating
  • 8oz good quality plain chocolate (I used 4oz Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate and 4oz Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate)
  • 8oz double cream (British for heavy whipping cream)
  • **my own personal addition of 3oz grated dark chocolate — you’ll see why later
(1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
(2) Melt the chocolate (for the cake) in a bowl, either in a double boiler or in the microwave.  Since we don’t have a microwave in our new apartment and I gave my double boiler away so I mimicked a double boiler by just holding a second pot over the first.
(3) Mix in the butter and stir until melted.
(4) Add flour, sugar, and lightly beaten egg yolks.
(5) Whisk the egg whites until stiff.  I’d never done this before so I wasn’t sure how long it would take, which for me was about 15 minutes by hand.  Towards the end I added a pinch of salt and a few drops of lemon juice which seemed to help it along.
(6) Gently fold half the whites into the chocolate mixture, mixing thoroughly, then fold in the remaining half.  By the time I was done folding in the whites the mixture seemed to have the consistency of very thick pudding.
(7) Bake for approximately 35 minutes.  The cake develops a thin crust and the middle will seem to still need more time if you do a toothpick test, but not to worry, that’s just the kind of cake it is.
(8) Leave the cake to cool on a wire rack.
(9) Melt the (coating) chocolate and whipping cream in a double boiler until they are totally blended.  Allow the mixture to cool slightly.  Or, if you’re impatient like me, don’t.  But be prepared for consequences — it will likely overflow the plate your cake is on.
(10) After taking the cake out of the pan and placing it on a plate, carefully spread the chocolate coating over the cake (or pour it on).
(11) Allow to cool.  When the temperature of the coating is room temperature or cooler, dust the cake with the grated chocolate.  Likely some of it will melt into the coating but it will still give it texture.  I even grated up a couple of Andes chocolates onto the top of it, which is why the middle is a slightly different color.
Be warned: this is not a chocolate cake for the faint of heart.  There is a reason the cake was used as punishment for poor Bruce.  It is without a doubt the chocolatiest, richest, most decadent, moistest, densest chocolate cake you will ever encounter.  It is like fudge on steroids.  Small slices, people, small slices.  But delicious, melt in your mouth, heavenly ones.
I brought the cake into work today and it was a raging success.  One thing I’ve noticed about bringing treats in is that it not only make me popular (ha!) but it adds a bit of positivity and happiness to everyone’s day.  Good food = warm feelings.  Fun to make, great to serve, lovely to eat.  Remember, the big V-Day is coming up…