Monday, January 30, 2012

How-To Plan a Dinner Party

Another new and exciting adventure in 2012 is I got to plan a dinner party!  It was so much fun and I thought I would take the time to share my experience to make hosting your own dinner party a little smoother and enjoyable for you - the host(ess).

1. Pick a date (2 - 3 weeks in advance)

Pick a date that works for you and most (if not all) of your guests.  Send invitations through Facebook, Evite, email, or good old fashioned snail mail (people still do that, right?).

2. Pick a theme

Every dinner party should have a theme.  This will help you narrow down recipes for your menu and pick out decorations.  Plus themes make everything so much more fun.  Because the dinner party was the same day and time as a Saints/Lions game, we decided to do a classy tailgate party.  Basically, we wanted to take typical tailgate food and turn it into dinner party food.

3. Pick a menu - 1 week in advance

Once we had the theme, I started to look for recipes that would follow our tailgate party theme.  For appetizers, I wanted to set up a bunch of dips (veggie dip, hummus, some type of salsa) with veggies and chips.  For the sides, I found a cucumber salad recipe from Ina Garten and we decided to make cornbread.  I loved the cucumber salad recipe because it reminded me of a lighter and somewhat classier potato salad. And cornbread is just flat out delicious, especially the Trader Joe's mix with actual kernels of corn and honey.  We then decided the entree would be a DIY burger bar with some classy fixings and BBQ chicken with a homemade BBQ sauce for the people who didn't want red meat.

4. Plan out your shopping and cooking - 3 days in advance

You should be shopping for all of your ingredients at least three days before the event.  Grab all of your recipes and write out what ingredients you'll need for each.  Add together any ingredients that overlap and cross out ingredients you have in your fridge.  Don't go overboard with the ingredients either.  If there's something in your recipe that seems a little out there, find out if there's something else you can substitute for.

Once you have all of your ingredients, plan out when you should do the cooking.  Look at the prep and bake times for each item and see if there are times and temperatures that overlap so you can cook 2 things at once or prep one thing while something else is cooking/marinating.  We decided to cook the chicken ahead of time because that takes much longer than burgers, which could be cooked up and served hot right before the party.  Everything else was either made the day before or that morning (but I do not recommend saving a lot of stuff for the morning of!).

5. Set up your space

Leave plenty of time to do this as well.  Write out or print up tags for each of your dishes so that people know what they're eating.  If a guest at your party has a known allergy, you can also put allergens on the tags.  Also, set up your space in a way that pulls people into the party.  Since we wanted people to gravitate towards the living room, we set up all of the appetizers in there.  Once the dinner was ready, we moved the burgers and chicken from the kitchen to the dining room but left the dips for people to snack on.

6. Have fun with it!

Set some time aside so you can mingle with guests while still making sure everyone is good on food and drinks.  This is your party, make sure you leave yourself enough time to enjoy it.  And don't worry if things don't go as planned, chances are your guests will still have a great time as long as there's stuff to drink and eat and good company to be had :)

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Remember how I said I go on food binges?  Like, how for weeks on end I'll have a grapefruit every day for breakfast or a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch?  I also mentioned having oatmeal for breakfast every day when I shared my baked oatmeal recipe.  I used to make oatmeal from the packets but I've realized that making it yourself is easier and healthier than buying those packets of the flavored oatmeal.

In college, I refused to eat any variety of oatmeal other than the maple and brown sugar kind.  I'd put a packet of that sugary stuff in a mug, fill it with milk, and microwave it for about 1-1/2 minutes.  It was super easy and there's nothing more delicious than a hot breakfast on a 10 degree day (who thought DC got that cold?).  However, when I came back home and wanted my family to eat oatmeal my mom refused to pay extra for the pre-packaged stuff and got the giant tubs of Quaker oatmeal instead.  I probably whined and lamented over the fact that plain oatmeal is disgusting, until I knew how to make it properly.

But let's go back to the pre-packaged stuff first.  Even though Quaker Oats has reduced the sugar in their packaged oatmeals by 25%, the numbers are still pretty outstanding.  260mg of sodium compared to the 0mg of sodium in plain oatmeal?  And 9g of sugars as opposed to 1g of sugar?  The old fashioned oats have 1g of protein and soluble fibers more than the packaged kind too...

So what am I getting at here?  I know I wanted to share a list of workouts and activities you can do to keep yourself healthy and active during the winter months, but there's more to it than just that.  Living a healthy life also means being aware of what you eat and making healthier decisions when it comes to what you put inside your body.  You'll feel amazing when you couple your workouts with healthy meals.  Also, I find that when I eat healthy first thing in the morning I tend to make better decisions about what I snack on for the rest of the day.

So here's how you make delicious oatmeal:

(Yield: 1 serving)

- 1 c water
- 1/2 c old fashioned oats
- pinch of salt (cut out if you're watching your sodium intake)

Bring water to a boil and add the oats.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 5 min, or until all of the water has been absorbed.  If your oatmeal starts bubbling and foaming, lower the heat or else the oatmeal will be slimy.  Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Now here's where it gets interesting...
Remember how I said that I loved the baked oatmeal because you could put anything in it?  Well the same is true for regular oatmeal.  I personally love to eat mine like hot cereal by pouring milk over it and sprinkling a tiny bit of brown sugar on the top (I just can't get away from the brown sugar!).  Instead of milk, you could serve it with yogurt and top it with any fruit or nuts you may have on hand.  Shredded coconut, bananas, and pineapple would be delicious, don't you think?

I hope you enjoyed this other side of the winter workout series!  How would you enjoy your old fashioned oats?

Monday, January 23, 2012

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life

About two months ago, I was told that today is going to be the first day of the rest of my life.  That's because today is my first day of student teaching.

I've had many mixed reactions from people who went through their student teaching.  Some people loved it while others said it was one of the hardest and most exhausting things they've ever done.  I hope that my experience will be a mix of both.  Student teaching is what you make of it.  You can go in when the kids get there, teach your lessons, and leave when the kids leave.  Or, you can come in early, tutor kids to help them catch up, bring in your own experiences and lessons, and stay after for extra curricular activities.  I really hope to do the latter.  I have been lucky enough to be placed in a school I've loved working in and have had the pleasure of getting to know many of the teachers, students, and parents.

I've also had many mixed reactions about the grade I'll be teaching - 5th grade.  I wanted to be placed in this grade because I want to see if I have what it takes to work with older kids.  I love the challenge that comes with teaching an older crowd and I feel that, like myself, these kids are at such a pivotal point in their life.  They're starting to develop themselves as individuals and will be going through a lot of changes as they advance through middle school.  The begin to discover what their interests are and where they fit in with the rest of the world.  I feel like kids these age need a lot of guidance, and I'm excited at the prospect of getting them ready for middle school.

Unfortunately, it looks like I won't be able to give the blog the attention I have been giving it in the past few weeks.  That doesn't mean I'm going to stop posting, of course, but the posts may be a little less frequent.  I was very fortunate to have a long winter break because it gave me time to decide in what direction I'm going to take the blog this year and store up some posts for the upcoming weeks.  I hope to also share my experience as an up and coming teacher, not just to other teachers but to young professionals in general.  I feel like your quarter life mark is an exhilarating time because it is full of change and new experiences.  Starting from scratch in a new job is always difficult, and I hope to keep inspiring others with my story.

I have really loved watching how much my blog has grown over the past few weeks and I deeply appreciate all of the new followers and reading the comments you have left me.  I love being able to teach others about how to stay active and healthy and yet at the same time sneak in some recipes to indulge in.  I love sharing my story and hearing about your own in all aspects from changing jobs to changing running shoes.  I hope you will continue to follow my journey over these next few trying weeks as I slowly start to discover what it means to be a teacher.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Creamy Tomato Sauce

I. love. cream. cheese.  Seriously.  I could eat it with a spoon.  But, I hate cheesecake.  I really do.  I've tried all different types of cheesecakes and I want to like them because they come from cream cheese but to me, cheesecake just tastes like cream cheese gone sour.  I'm sorry, I know it's supposed to be these silky, decadent cake that melts in your mouth but honestly I cannot get over the fact that it tastes like overripe cream cheese.

I'm always thinking of new things to eat with cream cheese, but it normally just comes down to different types of crackers and jellies (which is not a terrible thing, obviously).  Then one day I saw a commercial where a woman was swirling a block of cream cheese into her tomato sauce.  Best pasta sauce ever.  Next time we wanted to make pasta sauce at home, I convinced my mother to let me throw in half a block of cream cheese.  And by convinced I mean strong armed.  As I put in each cube of cream cheese my mother stood behind me making those mother disgruntled sounds and said, "Weight Watchers would not approve.  I should have taken out my portion and let you fatten up your own sauces."

Ok, I don't blame her for getting worked up.  1 oz of cream cheese is worth 3 Weight Watchers points.  Oops.  So don't go having this cream sauce every night.  And that brings me to my next point - Paula Deen.

First, whether or not she has diabetes and how she chooses to live her life knowing that she does have it is her own business.  On the other hand, I understand completely that people are upset because she's a hypocrite and she took that shady endorsement deal.  But she wasn't standing there pretending her food was healthy, she was just dishing out what Food Network was paying her to dish out.  Many of her recipes, like the bacon cheeseburger between two Krispy Kremes and the deep fried cheesecake, are in my opinion just for shock value.  And yeah everything does taste better with butter, but don't go using a whole stick in your mashed potatoes.  A conscientious person should look at her recipes, think "I need to replace that with low fat dairy" or "Is that extra cup of mayonnaise really necessary?" and not just follow her recipes blindly.  And besides, have you seen any of the other shows on Food Network?  This morning I watched the Pioneer Woman whip up 4 sticks of butter to put on her french toast, which she coated in 4 egg yolks and 2 cups of half and half.  Really?  And by the way, this serves 8 people.  What I want you, reader, to take out of this is that you should always read a recipe very carefully before you make it.  See how many servings it makes or if there are any lighter ingredients you can substitute in.  Read the reviews and comments and see how other people have modified a recipe.

Take this recipe for example.  I tried to keep this creamy sauce as light as possible by using a lot of tomatoes and only 4 oz of cream cheese.  And as far as cream sauces are concerned, this sauce is not heavy at all.  It would go really well with any pasta dish or these grilled chicken and mozzarella raviolis that we buy at Costco.  It's definitely an indulgent sauce, but also a treat.  Plus, it's incredibly adaptable, so feel free to tweak the spices to fit your taste.  And again, you could certainly substitute low-fat or reduced-fat cream cheese for regular cream cheese.

I'm not here to bash anyone; I'm as much of a sucker for the Food Network as the next person.  But, I do know the difference between a healthy meal, a once in a while meal, and an avoid at all costs meal.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: life is all about balance.  Balance between the foods you eat, the exercise you get, and the other things that make you feel happy and healthy.

Creamy Tomato Sauce
Yield: 4 cups
Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 30 min

-                2 tbsp olive oil
-                ½ yellow onion, diced
-                2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
-                1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
-                1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
-                2 tsp oregano
-                2 tsp basil
-                4 oz (1/2 block) cream cheese, cubed
-                salt and pepper, to taste
-                1 (6 oz) can tomato paste (optional*)

Heat a large pan over medium heat and pour in the olive oil.  Add the onion and sauté until onions are translucent.  Add in the garlic, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, oregano, and basil.  Allow to simmer over medium – low heat for 20 minutes. 

Add in the cream cheese and stir until the cubes are melted and incorporated completely (about 10 min).  Taste and add salt or pepper, if desired.  Serve immediately over pasta or store in the refrigerator. 

*If you find your sauce to be too thin, add in the tomato paste.  If too thick, add water.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What I Ate Wednesday

I've been seeing these pop up around the blogosphere and decided today would be a fun day to partake in one myself, since I actually had a lunch worthy of blogging about.  Weird, I know, but lunch is my least favorite of all meals.  I'm just not creative enough to think up of a good lunch.  But brunch, that is definitely my favorite meal of the day.

Let's start with breakfast, which didn't happen.  I had to get a blood test this morning for a routine check up so I had to miss breakfast.  Terrible.  So for second breakfast I tried one of these.

I had a coupon for a 4-pack of Ensure so I figured why not.  Plus, I thought they would be good to drink on the days that I workout to get that extra protein needed to rebuild my muscles.  The vanilla flavor is alright, but I'd try the chocolate flavor before I get the vanilla again.  And I really don't see myself buying these unless I have a coupon or they're on sale or something.  Not because I'm cheap, but because I don't think they're necessary to drink all of the time (or maybe it's cause I'm cheap...).

For lunch, I decided to eat the food I was photographing.  Two birds with one stone, right?

Chicken with homemade BBQ sauce and cucumber salad.  Recipes to come soon!  Courtesy of Ina Garten.

And finally for dinner, beef stew.  Homemade too.  Although to be honest, I didn't actually eat much of this.  I made some eggs instead.  I just wasn't feeling the stew.

Let's see, what else happened today...

After my doctor's appointment, I headed over to Road Runner Sports to get fitted for some running shoes.  The process was actually pretty awesome.  First, they took a 3D reading of my feet to determine my balance, how much pressure I put on each foot, and whether or not I have high arches.  Well it turns out I have EXTREMELY high arches, and in actuality only my heel and the balls of my feet make contact with the floor.  I had no idea my feet were this bad but it does kind of explain the shin splints, knee problems, and ankle problems.  And it happens that I put more pressure on my left foot rather than my right foot.  So after that, they had me jump on a treadmill and they watched my stride as I jogged barefoot.  When you run, your ankle is supposed to turn in slightly to help your legs take the blow from your foot's contact with the ground.  However, my ankles were overpronating, meaning they leaned in way too much.  The guy suggested I get a shoe with a lot of stability and sent me to one of the sales associates.  After trying on three pairs, I was down to two of them, but one seemed a little tight while the other seemed a little loose.  The sale associate brought out a third pair of shoes as an afterthought and I fell in love.  They were not too tight, but my foot wasn't slipping out of them either.  Plus I already have a Nike+ sensor - now I can finally use it correctly!  I put them on hold and I'm going back on Friday with my mom to get them as an early birthday present :)

The sales associate was trying to convince me to buy the insoles too, but I wasn't really sold on them until she showed me how I ran with and without the insoles.  There was a noticeable difference in how much my ankle leaned in, so I caved and got the insoles.  I figured they would be a good investment, and if I'm going to take my running seriously this year I need to have the right equipment.  Plus you should have seen the video, I can't believe how much my right ankle leans in!

After that, I finally found a pair of black heels that work perfectly for me.  I have been looking for black heels for about a month now, and I finally found a pair that was comfortable and not too tall.  Another good investment in my book.

The rest of the day consisted of getting some work done for student teaching and going to the gym.  My workout session got cut short, however, when the power went out.  Some guys kept working out in the dark and the employees were like "yeah no, you have to stop."

Hope you all enjoyed my first WIAW!  How were your Wednesdays?

Please note that I am not advocating for RRS or DSW, just sharing what I did today.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Core Workout

I've been trying to strike up a nice balance here lately by posting an indulgent recipe followed by a post from my winter workout series.  This workout is one I have been using for a while and I'm really happy with it.  And the best part is, you can do this workout at home!

I developed this routine from workouts I did for ultimate frisbee and tips from my brother.  This core  routine works out every single part of your abdominals - the lower abdominals, upper abdominals, sides (by your ribs), and obliques (by your hips).  Remember when you're doing these workouts to always keep your core engaged, meaning keep your back straight and your core muscles tight.  If you've never done this workout before, try doing a set of 10 reps for each exercise.  Then, gauge how well you can do each exercise and set a baseline level that is challenging but doable.  This was my baseline level for the first set I did:

40 crunches
30 bicycles
20 side crunches (each side)
15 leg lifts
15 Russian twists w/ 4 lb ball

Once I was comfortable doing this set, I added a second set, meaning I went through the rotation a second time.  And then once I became comfortable with that (meaning it was no longer challenging), I added on a third set.

I wouldn't recommend going past 3 sets for this workout, so if you find one of these exercises is comfortable for you, start upping your reps for that exercise instead of adding on another set (that is why I'm not doing the same number of reps for most of the different exercises).  Make sure you're working at a pace that is challenging but it isn't difficult enough so that you can't complete it.  It'll take a lot of adjusting, but once you find the numbers that work for you this routine will really get you into shape.  Here's a run down on how to do each of the above exercises.

Please note that I am not a trained professional.  I crafted this workout based on exercises I had done in fitness classes and during my training for ultimate frisbee.  If any part of this workout is painful do not continue to do it.  


I know, easy, right?  I used to do dozens of crunches without a second thought until a fellow gym goer pointed out I was heading towards injury.  When you're doing crunches, make sure you're looking straight up at the ceiling and not at the wall in front of you.  If you tuck your chin to your chest while you're doing crunches, you're going to strain your neck.  Lift yourself off of the ground with your abdominals by contracting them and not by pulling yourself up by your shoulders.


Lie on your back with your knees bent at a 90 degree angle so your calves are parallel with the floor.  Lock your hands behind your head and keep your elbows out to your sides.  Lift yourself off of the ground as if you're doing a crunch, but twist your torso so that your left elbow touches your right knee. Immediately twist your torso the other way so your right elbow touches your left knee.  As you alternate between legs, extend one leg as you touch your knee to the other.  That was 1 rep.  Do not lower yourself back to the floor.  Keep your shoulders off the ground and your core engaged as you continue through your reps.

Side crunches

Lie on your right side with your knees slightly bent and your hips stacked (make sure your knees match up evenly).  Contract your left side to bring your right shoulder off the ground.  Lower yourself back down.  That was 1 rep.  Make sure to switch to your left side when you have finished all of your reps.

Leg lifts

Lie on your back and lift your legs up so they are at a 45 degree angle with the ground.  Lower your legs just to the point before your lower back lifts off the ground.  Hold for a second and raise back up to a 45 degree angle.  That was 1 rep.

Russian twists

Sit on the floor with your knees bent at a 90 degree angle so your calves are parallel with the floor.  Grab a medicine ball (or foam ball) and twist your body to the right, touching the ball to the floor.  Twist your body to the left, touching the ball to the floor.  This was 1 rep.  Keep your back straight and your legs up off the floor for the entire set.

As always, if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email.  Hope you guys enjoy this workout as much as I do :)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Coconut Mocha Fudge

I used to be a Starbucks junkie.  At college, there was a Starbucks right below our library (that was definitely not a coincidence).  I would usually get a caramel macchiatto, what ever that means, but sometimes I would branch out and try their newest flavor combination such as the white chocolate mocha and green tea latte. The last time I went to Starbucks was to try their new salted caramel mocha and to be honest, I wasn't really that impressed.  I haven't gone back to Starbucks since then and probably won't any time soon, but I have always been a fan of their flavor combinations and looked to recreate them at home.

When I saw Jessica's recipe for coconut mocha fudge, I was reminded of Starbucks' toasted coconut mocha.  I'm a sucker for toasted coconut and whipped cream, and I had some left over coconut chips from a fish dinner I had made a few weeks ago.  I knew this was a winning flavor combination and I resigned to try to make my first batch of fudge.

I think the most valuable piece of equipment in my kitchen is my double boiler.  It's perfect for melting chocolate without scalding it and slowly warming butter and milk without burning it.  A shatter proof bowl over a pot of water works fine as well (and so does melting it in the microwave), but I feel a double boiler is just as effective and easy to use.

The coconut will crisp up in the oven in about 3 minutes.  Don't leave it in the oven for too long or else you will lose a lot of the flavor.  I'm giving you this warning because I actually had to throw my first batch of toasted coconut out...and my second.  Seriously.

The coconut flavoring I found at Chef Central, but it's the same kind of flavoring you put in candies and chocolates.  I'm sure they sell them in places like AC Moore and Michael's.  And you could also use coconut extract, just be sure to double the amount called for in the recipe since the candy flavoring is much more concentrated than the extract.

Working with chocolate can be incredibly frustrating.  It's finicky and will change its consistency while your back is turned.  However, it's chocolate, so no matter what happens (unless you burn it), it's going to taste delicious.  The coconut in the white chocolate and the coffee in the chocolate is a delicious combination, and the toasted coconut on top is a nice touch.  However, I think next time I'm going to use milk chocolate and a little less espresso powder - the semi-sweet chocolate was a little too bitter for my taste.  Everyone raved about this dessert and I'm excited about discovering new flavor combinations so I can continue to feed my friends fudge.  Sorry not sorry ;).  I did get them to sign up for some boot camp classes with me, though!  Remember, it's all about balance!

Mocha Coconut Fudge
Yield: 1 8x8in pan
Prep Time: 2 ½ - 3 hours (including chilling time)

-                1 (12 oz) bag chocolate chips
-                1 (12 oz) bag white chocolate chips
-                1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
-                1 tbsp espresso powder
-                1 tsp vanilla extract
-                ½ tsp coconut candy and baking flavoring
-                ½ c flaked coconut (coconut chips), toasted

Grease the sides and bottom of a 8x8 in pan with cooking spray. 

Add semisweet chocolate chips to a double boiler and melt completely.  Once melted, add the vanilla extract and espresso powder.  Add in half of the sweetened condensed milk.  Pour the milk chocolate into the 8x8 in pan and place in the refrigerator for 30 – 60 min.

Clean out the bowl of the double boiler and melt the white chocolate.  Add in the remaining sweetened condensed milk and the coconut flavoring and stir until combined.  Remove fudge from refrigerator and pour melted white chocolate on top, spreading evenly.  Top with toasted coconut and chill completely in refrigerator for 60 – 90 minutes. 

Adapted from How Sweet Eats

Note: This post is not meant to promote Starbucks in any means, it's just a reflection of my feelings for this particular store.  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

How-to Use the Treadmill Effectively

I didn't make any resolutions for this year.  I have some goals for 2012, like finding a teaching job and continuing to develop myself as a professional, but I haven't set any strict resolutions.  When I was developing a workout plan for myself, I noticed that when I had told myself I needed to do this workout on this exact day I would put a lot of pressure on myself to complete this workout even if I had other stuff going on.  Instead of doing the workout at a later time I would do an abbreviated workout instead and in the end, I would feel like I hadn't really accomplished anything.  And if I had to miss the workout for one reason or another, I'd later feel really down on myself and beat myself up about it.  There was a time when I developed a really negative attitude towards completing my workouts and for a while I fell off the bandwagon.

However, when I had an idea for what I would do for my next workout and told myself to do it at my convenience, I started working out more.  When I felt like the workout wasn't looming over my head, I was more excited to do it.  I was working out and running for the joy of doing so, not because it was glaring at me from my calendar.  I feel the same goes for New Year's resolutions.  If you force yourself to not eat sweets or if you drag yourself to the gym every morning, you're going to be doing these things because you have to, not because you find joy in them.  When I set off on this journey into a new chapter of my life I told myself to do things because I enjoyed them, not because I had to.  It makes navigating your quarter life crisis (or any other part of your life for that matter) much more enjoyable.

Due to New Year's resolutions and the colder temperatures, the number of people at my gym has tripled in size.  Over the past few weeks, I've noticed that many people don't use the treadmill safely or use it to its full potential.  For this installation of the winter workout series, I want to give you a few tips to make your treadmill workout both productive and safe.

Please note that these guidelines are based on personal observations and experiences and articles I have read from sources such as NYRR, NYCruns, and Runner's World.  I am not a trained professional and therefore you should always speak to your doctor if you are concerned about starting a new exercise regiment.  If at any point you feel short of breath or dizzy while on the treadmill slow your pace down to a brisk walk and speak to a doctor.  

1. Warm up and cool down

This is incredibly important and it's something that most people do not do when they use the treadmill.    The only walking I've done before getting on the treadmill is the walk across the parking lot. So when I get on the treadmill, I like to start at a normal-paced walk, and then work my way up to a jog.  Minute by minute, I go from a walk, to a brisk walk, to a slow jog, to a quicker jog.  You should do this for about 8 - 10 minutes so your muscles get warmed up and ready for your run.

The same goes for the cool down.  Running on a treadmill messes with your perception because the ground is moving underneath you while you're staying in place.  The blood in your body is also rushing around at a much faster rate since your muscles, heart, and lungs were in need of more oxygen.  The first time I used a treadmill, I decided I was done with my run, turned off the machine, and stepped off.  I pretty much fell over once my brain realized the ground wasn't moving underneath me anymore.  Take at least 5 minutes to walk on the treadmill and allow your brain and your body to adjust to your surroundings.

2. Don't over do it

The treadmill is unforgiving.  The track on the treadmill doesn't absorb a lot of impact, so repeated running on the treadmill can do damage to your shins, ankles, and knees.  I like to do 3 days on the treadmill followed by 1 day on the bike.

3. Use the incline

Running on the treadmill is artificial in the sense that you're not running with wind resistance or on uneven territory.  In fact, running on a flat treadmill is like running slightly downhill.  Try raising the incline on the treadmill to level 2 or 3 before you up your speed.  You'll get a more efficient workout that mimics running outside on ground that is never completely flat.  Use this conversion chart to figure out your pace in terms of your speed and the incline.

4. Focus on time, not on distance

The distance you run on the treadmill may not always be accurate, especially if your gym doesn't calibrate the machines often.  Focus on how long you've run in terms of minutes rather than miles.

5. Keep your back straight

Because the conveyer belt is constantly pulling you backwards, your posture can be compromised while you're running on the treadmill.  Make sure your hips are lined up with the rest of your torso (in other words, don't let your butt stick out!).

Running on the treadmill can have many advantages.  It keeps you out of the cold weather, mimics outdoor running more than any other cardio machine, and can up your mental game (honestly, there is nothing more boring than running on a treadmill - keeping at it for 30 minutes is a workout for your body and your mind!).  On the other hand, it can negatively affect your posture and stride and can lead to injury if you're not careful.  Just follow these guidelines, though, and you can get in a great run without having to brave the cold.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cherry Lime Margarita Whoopie Pies

Here's something I learned for 2012 - if you need to bake, leave yourself plenty of time to do it.  Because you do not want to be rushing.  And that could be a good life lesson for me as well, because I never leave enough time to do things and therefore am always rushing.  

Here's what happened.

There were only a few hours left in 2011 and I was making these whoopie pies for a New Year's party.  We'll come back to where I got the idea for these whoopie pies in a bit.  So, the first batch of whoopie pie chips came out a little flat.  I realized my recipe did not have nearly enough baking powder, so I threw about another teaspoon in and remixed my batter.  I say "about" because what I actually did was take the baking powder container and sprinkle some in to the batter.  Why would I do such a careless thing?  Because I was rushing.  Oh, did I mention the bottom rack in my oven was actually on the bottom and not the middle, burning all of my little chips?  Yeah, I could have moved it, but I wasn't thinking about it because I was rushing.  

I have no idea how long my second batch was in the oven because I was rushing and forgot to set the timer.  Luckily I remembered them when I went over to eat one of the thin chips and was able to pull them out of the oven before I had to discard another batch of whoopie pie chips.  After pulling the second batch out of the oven I decided they still weren't fluffy enough so in went another maybe 1/2 tsp of baking powder.  I could have learned from my previous mistake and stopped to measure it but I didn't because I was rushing.  I also threw in some flour, just for good measure.

The third batch came out better.  After that I was ready to fill.  Which brings me to where I got the idea for these whoopie pies in the first place...

My friend had some leftover frosting from the cookie swap and asked if I could do anything with it.  I couldn't turn down free frosting, so I happily agreed to take it off her hands.  The idea of making whoopie pies was suggested at the party and I immediately began thinking of margarita flavors (the frosting was tequila-lime buttercream).  I thought of cherries and lime and decided to incorporate those flavors into the cake.

I wasn't sure if I was going to post these until I brought them to the party and people seemed to really like them.  I tried one myself and they were pretty good, even though they didn't puff up like my other whoopie pies.  They're sweet and tangy and the acidity in the buttercream is balanced out by the fruit in the chips.  You can omit the tequila completely if you'd like these to be kid friendly.  Also, refer to my other whoopie pie post about making evenly sized chips.

In the end, I wanted to include this recipe because both the cake and the frosting were delicious independently as well as together as a whoopie pie.  Next time, I may actually use cherry filling instead of fresh cherries to get a richer flavor.  And make I leave enough time to prepare my batter so I'm not rushing...

Also, I just entered this dessert in Sweet As Sugar Cookie's Sweets for a Saturday!  If you enjoyed reading this recipe, please click on my submission!  I'm # 224.

Cherry Lime Margarita Whoopie Pies
Yield: 24 whoopie pies
Prep Time: 25 min
Bake Time: 8 min

For the whoopie pies:
- 3 c cherries, pitted
- 2 c + 2 tbsp flour
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2/3 c sugar
- 1 lg egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 c milk
- zest of 1 lime

For the filling:
- ½ c unsalted butter, room temperature
- ¼ c vegetable shortening
- 3 c confectioner's sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ¾ tbsp merengue powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
-  juice from 1 lime
- 1 tbsp tequila

Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with a silicone mat.

Pour cherries into a blender and puree.  Pour puree into a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl.  Set aside to allow the liquid to drain out.

To make the whoopie pies, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar.  Add in the egg and vanilla extract and combine.  Alternate adding the dry ingredients about 1 c at a time and the milk, combining completely after each addition.  Fold in the lime zest and the cherry puree. 

Affix a pastry bag with a round, open tip and fill with batter.  Pipe the batter onto the silicone baking mats, making circles about the size of a quarter.  Be sure to space the circles about 3 inches apart.  Place baking sheets in the oven and bake for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on pans for about 5 minutes before transferring them to wire racks.

To make the filling, cream together the butter and the shortening.  Add in the confectioner’s sugar about 1 c at a time and combine completely after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla extract, merengue powder, salt, lime juice, and tequila.  Beat for about 10 minutes.

Match the whoopie pie chips up by size and fill with frosting by either spreading it on one side with a spatula or using a pastry bag.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Winter Workout Series

As the temperature drops, I know I would rather spend more time inside on the couch snuggled under blankets than working out.  The cold weather can be very discouraging, but there are plenty of quick workouts you (some you can do in the comfort of your own home) that will keep you active through these cold winter months.  Over the next few weeks, I want to share some of my workouts that I do over the winter to prepare myself for running and ultimate in the spring.  Whether you're conditioning or fulfilling your New Year's resolution, my goal is to give you workouts you can use to fit your needs and goals.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be dishing out workouts that focus on your arms, back, core, and legs.  I'll be writing about how to safely and effectively use the treadmill as well as some cross training activities you can do that are fun and help keep you in shape.  I hope you guys enjoy these workouts and activities as much as I have doing them!

Oh and don't worry, I'll still be posting about those whoopie pies.  Life is all about balance after all...