And that's a pretty amazing thing.
Well, three months after I stated my goals for 2012, I figured it'd be worth doing a check-in, and also to let you know a bit about what's going on in my sexy, thrilling, exciting life. So sexy and thrilling I don't blog anymore!
Okay, it's not that sexy or thrilling. In fact I think I act more like a 90-year-old lady than ever. But it's all pretty great, though. What have I been up to? (...digging through Facebook timeline to aid my addled memory...)
-I got an iPhone! What! I gave up my not-so-beloved Droid and quickly became the most obsessed user of Instragram. That app is something magic.
-I turned 32! Yeah for ambivalent ages that don't really signify anything.
-I continued to run quite a lot and threw in some speedwork and track workouts to try to get faster.
-And I also started marathon training for a spring marathon at the start of May.
-Um... that's it! Oh, I quit drinking for a month at the end of January...
-...and continued to quit drinking through most of February. Guys, I made it 29 days without alcohol! I don't know quite how I did it. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, either. Tips on doing this:
-What else? Oh yeah, then I went to Mexico and drank all the beer. Seriously, I turned into a can of Negro Modelo. Zach and I booked a, dare say I, fabulous vacation to an all-inclusive resort just north of Tulum. It was the Hotel Catalonia Royal Tulum and it was wonderful. I'd never done an all-inclusive resort thing before and worried it would be terrible and cheesy. I think some must be, but this one was adult-only, very grown-up, had excellent food, and one of the most beautiful beaches I'd ever been on. We read, snorkeled, swam, drank, napped and did that on repeat for four days. One day, we got pina coladas on the beach at 11am, because, why not? Mexico! A few photos.
-I didn't quite quit drinking entirely post-Mexico (when I needed another cleanse) but I would say the sober month changed my relationship with alcohol a bit. To be fair, I was already headed down a path of not drinking as much as I used to (which has got to be pretty normal as you enter your 30s). Not because I don't still think beer's awesome, but because I get hungover from 2 beers and the pain and lost time due to even a minor hangover was not worth it anymore, I'd decided. Plus my body is taking aging hard enough and I don't need need to help out its breaking-down-process at all.
Anyways, so I decided at the start of March, from now on, I'm going to try to limit my drinking a certain amount. No more than 3 drinks in one sitting (because 4 drinks in one sitting for ladies is considered binge drinking by the CDC); at least 2 days a week without any booze whatsover; and ideally no more than 7-10 drinks a week total. Definitely exceptions will be made for special ocassions, but hopefully I can stick to that plan (which I still track on socialworkout.com).
-I also ran the Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon March 17 and came away with a new personal record of 1:43:57! Hooray. Sadly, that does not count as beating my brother in a half marathon (one of my 2012 goals) - his best time on that course is 1:39. Damn those fast legs of his. But I have the rest of the year to try another half.
-I continued to run a lot, in hopes of qualifying for the Boston Marathon at some point this year. Um, I think I blogged before that I thought quitting booze for a month would be harder than qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Um, I think I was wrong. Running that fast for that long is going to be real hard. If I want to make it happen (it being running a marathon in under 3:35), my (maximum) pace per mile has got to be about 8:10. I can run that pace for a half marathon (my pace on my half was 7:50), but twice that long is a whole different story.
I ran my first 20-miler this past Saturday and I felt pretty strong and hit my goal paces, but am trying to be kind to myself and recalibrate my expectations for the May marathon. If I don't hit 3:35 this May, I won't be disappointed in myself. I'll just work harder for a fall marathon. After beating myself with a cat o' nine tails, that is.
-I've also obnoxiously gotten into my diet and into juicing this month, as well. Zach was out of town for 10 days this month on a work trip, and what did I do while he was gone? Did I party to relive my days of boozy singlehood? No, I juiced, like, obessively. And then ran a lot. And I made cauliflower rice. Then went to bed at 10pm every night. WHAT IS GOING ON. I am kind of confused as to what's going on with me in terms of my interest in health. I've never been uber unhealthy, but I've never been very healthy, either, despite being relatively slim much of my life. I drank a lot. I smoked occasionally. I ate crap. I sat on the couch for long periods of time.A regular day's food for me would be: coffee, bagel, pasta, pasta, ice cream.
Now, out of nowhere, I have a very active interest in my health and particularly what food I put in my mouth. Is this just something that happens when you hit your early 30s, like how when you turn 50 or 60, you get a weird interest in your family tree and start documenting all of your ancestors? (That's not just my family, right?) Anyways, it's interesting and I can't quite explain why I'm so into it. I'm trying to eat 5-10 fruits and veggies a day as well as juice every morning as well as cut out most refined foods and wheat and processed sugar. It might be comforting thinking that with somebody of a family history of breast cancer, I can take an active control and role in my health in terms of prevention.
Anyways... what else? I've kept up pretty well with my other 2012 goals. I've been hiking each month. I'm listening to two albums a month (Tanlines is my favorite). Guys, I WENT TO THE DENTIST! Two cavities and need a new crown. Not great, but for not having gone to the dentist in about 4 years, I'll take it.
And most exciting of all, I just booked a trip to Glacier National Park in August! And I'm dragging along Susan and Tracey. It'll be a fantastic trip of girlfriends gone wild amongst the glaciers. Glaciers, please stick around for the next few months till I can see you.
I think that is a long and windy recap of what I've been up to the past three months. Et tu?
You can really tell I'm getting older because all I love talking about lately is my exercise and my diet.
This hasn't really held recently because I was eating pasta like nobody's business for 1.5 weeks before the marathon, but I've semi-transitioned to what I would disgustedly call a "paleo" diet for the past few months and I love it. I say "disgustedly" because I'm not trying to eat like a cavemen (not that anybody can really know that anyways) and sometimes the paleo people are cuhraaaazy and also recommend you eat 12 pounds of meat and 36 eggs every three days, and no.
But what I have done is try my best to cut out all processed foods and flour/refined sugars as well as most dairy. It's not as hard as a I thought. A sample diet:
Breakfast: Smoothie, with frozen fruit, spinah or kale, a banana, sometimes some canned pumpkin, flax seeds, almond milk, a raw egg.
Snack: Nuts of some sort, or baby carrots, or an apple.
Lunch: Some sort of meat pattie - a burger, or turkey burger. Today I had some sort of delicious chicken/pork premade pattie I picked up from the butcher counter at Whole Foods. This is usually accompanied by an avocado, maybe a tomato, some spinach, another veggie (I buy frozen veggies in bulk now because no matter what I do, all the fresh produce I seem to buy seems to spoil no matter how fast I eat it).
Snack: Lara bar
Dinner: Pretty much a variation on lunch, maybe fish. Occasionally I'll have couscous or brown rice and there's usually some red wine in there. Maybe a couple cans of tuna over spinach with some hardboiled eggs.
Dessert: Coconut ice cream or dark chocolate.
I like it. I'm not a nazi about it, when I go out to eat at restaurants, or wherever, there's still a good chance I'll eat some bread or pasta or whatever. But I try to minimize it.
Benefits - I have better energy, no weirdo carb cravings, a better mood in general. Also feel slimmer/leaner.
Drawbacks: I found I still need carbs for the kind of energy that helps me with long-distance running. I figure I'll just incorporate those in the 1-2 weeks before a race to help me out.
The best part about it is it really makes me look at the food I've been consuming, even stuff that touts itself as healthy. Like in your typical granola bar, here are the ingredients:
Whole Grain Rolled Oats, Sugar, Canola Oil, Crisp Rice With Soy Protein (Rice Flour, Soy Protein Concentrate, Sugar, Malt, Salt), Pecan Pieces, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Brown Sugar Syrup, Salt, Soy Lecithin, Baking Soda, Natural Flavor, Walnut Flour, Almond Flour, Hazelnut Flour, Peanut Flour.
Not terrible, but not a lot of nutritional value, and certainly nobody wants the nasty high fructose corn syrup.
Anyway, my overall general rule for my food intake these days: only eat stuff that a) grew in the earth b) whose entire list of ingredients are visible to the naked eye (ie a Lara Pecan Pie bar has in it: dates, almonds, pecans). I also eat whenever I'm hungry, as long as it's food that meets those rules. So I'm never hungry!
Sounds pretty good to me.
Last June Zach and I went to Brooklyn for the weekend. He'd lived there a few years before moving to DC and took me to one of his favorite spots, Frankie's in Carroll Gardens. I lucked out when ordering the sweet potato ravioli in cheese broth. It was enticing - sweet, savory, spicy, lots of other adjectives that start with S, etc - and I thought I hadn't had pasta so good since the last time I was in Italy, and despaired of only ever having it every time I went up to Brooklyn.
But just days later, my prapers were answered, and Serious Eats posted the recipe to the very dish I was obsessing over! You know what was funny? The ravioli was made with WONTON wrappers!
I set out a few weeks ago to recreate the dish and found it relatively easy for such a complex-tasting meal. It does require several steps, as well as finding wonton wrappers (I could only find egg roll wrappers at Whole Foods, which, when cut to circular sizes with a can, seemed to work), but it's well worth it. And the cheese broth - so simple, so delicious. Who knew adding a parmesan rind to some simmering water would end up so tasty? The one caveat is that making the ravioli, stuffing the wrapper, sealing it, etc etc, takes absolutely forever, so prepare some time. However, you can make these ahead of time and freeze them for later, too.
Anyways, in short, very recommended. You make it in your kitchen and end up with a dish that tastes like it came out of a really great restaurant. Which, I guess, it does! You can find the full recipe here.
Woo! I'm cooking again! Sunday, blessed Sunday. This past Sunday I had literally nothing to do except a quick brunch with my family. This meant two things: I could BUY ALL THE THINGS at the Bloomingdale Farmers Market, and I had several hours of uninterrupted time to cook to my heart's content. So I chose a rather involved recipe: This Macheesmo recipe for pork ragu. Not content with cooking something that took 6 hours, I decided to make homemade tagliatelle to accompany it. (Here's my original post on making fresh pasta; the recipe and method are the same as I used there.)
It was mindblowingly good. And really, though the recipe DOES take several hours, it's mostly unattended simmering, so it's pretty easy. One thing of note: my ragu took far less time than Macheesmo's to finish simmering. So just keep a close eye on it, and look out for when the liquid has finish mostly reducing. But otherwise: perfection. Kriston and Lana came over to try it out and we couldn't stop stuffing our faces. Recommended!
Short version: These were quite good, but as I did them on a grill pan, instead of a real grill, they were blastedly hard to actually properly grill all the way through. I cooked the meat properly, but the veggies never got quite nicely grilled. Would recommend, but only over an open flame. Recipe here.
It's been a while since I baked anything, what with all this ever-loving never-ending cooking I'm doing in the kitchen these days. But I knew I was going to be able to go to the Bloomingdale Farmers Market this morning for the first time in ages and ages, and I knew peaches and blackberries and plums and a million other amazing fruits were going to be calling my name, and I was determined to bake something delicious out of them.
I hit it on the nose with this cake. It's incredibly easy and a wonderful way to incorporate fresh fruit into a dessert. It's nice and spongy, with just a hint of orange, and the blackberries and plums are so, so magnificent. The recipe says to serve it with buttermilk ice cream, but the thought of making homemade ice cream in addition to everything else I cooked today was just exhausting, so I served it with a simple whipped cream.
Hey, guess what? I didn't use a recipe for this! I read it in some magazine but then lost the recipe so decided to just forge ahead on my own! Sure, it has all of three ingredients, but that's progress, right?
Basically you take some amazing peaches from Reid's Orchard at the Bloomingdale Farmers Market, put a little salt and pepper on them, layer a basil leaf on top, wrap in pancetta, and cook in some olive oil for a few minutes on each side.
As you can see the first attempt did not go so swimmingly:
Don't get me wrong; they still tasted great. It was just messy. But once I realized I just need to cut the peach wedges in half, all was PEACHY! HAHA! Ahem.
Another week, another attempt to make one of my boyfriend-in-absentia's favorite foods. I tell myself I'm trying to get a handle on these recipes so I can have them perfected by the time he gets back from his EPIC WORK TRIP, and he gets excited by that fact, but probably the truth is that I'm so lazy I'll only ever make all of these once. Plus, frying stuff is splatter-y. Burning terror droplets of oil splatter-y.
Regardless! I figured that fried chicken was a good thing to try out, never having made it before. And it seemed slightly intimidating, and I'm trying to get over Fear of Intimidating Recipes. It's a chronic condition, you know.
Luckily, everything was simplified by this easy-peasy recipe over at the Bitten Word. The basics: If you can, take your pieces of chicken and soak them in saltwater overnight (we're talking like a half a cup to 4 quarts of salt. Go crazy). I only had 2-3 hours, so that's what I did.
Then have a bowl filled with milk, and one filled with flour/salt/pepper (and probably anything else you'd like to throw in there for flavor). Dip chicken in milk, dredge in flour. Repeat.
The recipe calls for a chicken cut up into 8 pieces, but I used drumsticks because, well, I was in Whole Foods, and I just try to get in and out of that place as quickly as possible, and well, all these drumsticks bundled up looked like a whole chicken I KNOW I'M AN IDIOT OKAY also I can't read.
The Bitten Word recipe doesn't say this, but elsewhere on the internet I read that you should let the chicken rest after it's dredged so the coating has time to set. That's what those drumsticks up there are doing, about 15-30 minutes.
Then pour about an inch of vegetable oil in your cast iron skillet. Heat it up, medium high. Place the chicken bits in there (do it in batches so there's plenty of space for all the pieces and they're not crammed in there). Fry 7-8 minutes on one side; flip and do the same on the other side. Use tongs. Dodge splatter-y oil bullets. Then put on a wire rack over a baking sheet to cool/rest/drip off extra grease.
The end result?
Tastiness. For good measure, I also made this zucchini and corn salad, also from the Bitten Word. Super easy and very of the season.
This all resulted in four very happy lady guests, who were over to help me declutter my apartment (another 30 while 30 goal). But that's another post for another time...
A few weeks ago after a long Saturday training run, we were sitting around zonked watching food shows and infomercials. (Seriously, you would not believe the crap we zone out to after being exhausted by these runs. One day, we watched the entirety of the Brady Bunch Movie [although, that is pretty funny, all said and done...] and the other day an entire informercial about ZUMBA! ZUMBA ZUMBA ZUMBA! Has anybody else seen this REVOLUTIONARY DANCING WORKOUT?). One episode that came on was Martha Stewart's Everyday Food, and it was all devoted to grilling -- but indoors, using a grill pan.
A grill pan?! As somebody who's never owned her own grill, and probably never will, and is entirely too lazy to do that whole...thing...with the coals and the fire and whatnot, this appealed to me enormously. So I went out and bought a $20 grill pan at Macy's. And tonight I tested it out with these lamb burgers and grilled tomatoes. The result?
All very tasty. Now, I really do think the tomatoes would have been better if grilled on a proper grill, but I was nevertheless happy with the result. And the burgers were divine. How could they not be? They were stuffed with cheese.
One of my favorite things to eat in this city is the pork shoulder on a garlic trencher at Bar Pilar. Every time Zach and I go there we order it without fail (usually whatever variation of mushrooms they have, too) and every time, without doubt, it makes our eyes roll back in our heads, it's so good.
Zach left today for a 1-2 month stint for work out in California, and I figured since I'm going to have a lot of time coming up, I should try to perfect the elusive Bar Pilar pork shoulder. I started out with this Kitchn recipe, and holy moly. It was no Bar Pilar version (the flavoring was totally different, which I knew going in) but it ruled my world anyways. Photos and directions below.
I haven't done a weekend report in forever! And my weekends have been quite full and fun. I've just been utterly lazy. But I had a particularly good weekend this past one, so why not share? AND TALK ABOUT SO MUCH NAKED TILDA SWINTON?
Friday night: Charles took me to the orchestra! We swung by his parents' place in Arlington and had a beer with his wonderful mom, whom I hadn't seen in forever. Then we grabbed a tasty Salvadorian dinner at La Union up the street, and then it was off to Wolf Trap for orchestral/operatic renditions of music inspired by Romeo & Juliet. It was lovely and we were in literally the very first row of the pit. I have never been covered by so much opera singer spit ever in my life.
I'm going to do you a favor and tell you right off the bat about this Martha Stewart recipe: if you're looking for a completely average yet totally easy to put together dinner, make this. It won't blow your mind, but you won't be retching while eating it, either. You may even go back for seconds because, hey, it's food, and it's there. And if that isn't a ringing endorsement for a recipe, I don't know what is!
The reason for cooking this recipe came about as many do during this time of year, I suspect: Way too many fucking squashes and zucchinis in my house. In a desperate move to get rid of them, I found this recipe, which seemed promising and relatively easy. And it was relatively easy -- but the result? Kind of meh. Turns out dumping a bunch of zucchini and unseasoned lamb all together and stirring it in with a bunch of pasta does not a flavorful meal make. You'd be astounded if I told you the amount of salt I dumped into this thing. Nevertheless, not terrible, just not outstanding.
See? Even the photo makes it look a bit bland:
Hi strangers! I've been away for far too long. Part of the reason? I went to New York for a few days last week, and it was amaaaaazing. I've always secretly sort of detested New York, but I think that was because I was just scared and overwhelmed by the city. Going there with somebody who knows their way around the city helps a lot. So does constantly drinking and eating. We had some truly excellent meals, the highlights being brunch at Applewood (duck confit omelet and the best grits I've ever had in my life) and dinner at Frankie's (sweet potato and sage ravioli in parmesan broth; Seriouseats.com actually posted the recipe to that like two days later in a nice coincidence. I can't wait to try to make it). And the booze. Oh, the booze. We had excellent cocktails Saturday night at Prime Meat, and then basically drank our way through the city as we watched World Cup games and walked miles and miles. Turns out that beers in New York (well, Brooklyn)? Actually way cheaper than DC. Huzzah, $3 drafts everywhere. And now, because I am so lazy: PHOTO TIME!
I'm trying to catch up with my cooking goals! I think I may be only one recipe behind with this post. I wanted something light, easy, and that didn't involve a lot of ingredients because I was also going to the grocery store to shop for a big camping trip this weekend and didn't want to be weighed down further. I found everything I needed in this Martha Stewart recipe for trout with olives, capers and brown butter.
It was super easy, super light...almost too light. Like I'm still hungry. Anyways, I paired it with some quinoa I had, tossed with butter, salt and pepper, and leftover parsley. Voila!
>> See all Catherine Learns to Cook posts
Steak steak steak steak steak! I'm back on the cooking wagon! Once again, this isn't an exact recipe -- more just fooling around in the kitchen. Which I think means I'm getting halfway decent at this cooking thing.
So, I have a Thursday farmers market near my work, which pretty much rules. I picked up these steaks there last week. I've never really made steak. It's one of those things that everybody thinks they know how to do best, and as a result there's an overwhelming amount of advice out there about how to cook a single piece of meat, and it's scary. But I persevered. Salt and pepper, three minutes per side on a hot hot cast iron skillet. Perfection!
We topped them with delicious shitaake mushrooms sauteed in butter (BTW: Have you ever had the mushroom dish at Bar Pilar? I'm obsessed with it. Our mushrooms tasted good, but that stuff exists on another plane. One day I'd like to try to replicate it). Then we had sauteed green beans on the side, along with orzo tossed with parsley, salt, pepper and olive oil. A very simple, very fresh, very hearty meal. Topped off with a bottle of fine Virginia red that I purchased this weekend while at UVa. Lovely all around.
Can you believe I'm on recipe 17? That means that, since I've caught up, I've been cooking for 17 weeks. This kind of blows my mind! I mean, it's not much in the grand scheme of things, as I hope to do this for 52 weeks (and beyond!), but, still. Anyways! This isn't so much a recipe as sort of a thing that was thrown together. I think this means that maybe I'm feeling a bit more confident in the kitchen (though my cooking partner handled the heavy lifting on this one).
At the Dupont Farmers Market, we found two perfect looking pork chops, and decided we had to have them. Then using the slick Epicurious recipe app (it really is nice. Hey, Epicurious, when do us Droid folks get one?) we found this Spring Vegetable Quinoa recipe and decided that'd make a nice accompaniment.
From there, though, it was all really pretty free-form. We had gobs of vegetables from a CSA, so we basically just chopped up all of them and sauteed them, then mixed them in with the quinoa when that was done.
As for the pork chops, we seared them, then put them in my dutch oven with some cream of mushroom and a crap ton of the OTHER massive group of vegetables we had (more rooty stuff; potatoes, celery, carrots), and somehow they turned out perfectly. I'd never made porkchops like that, but, hey, it somehow worked. It makes me curiously to try out Marcella Hazan's recipe for pork chops boiled in milk. Anyways, it was a mix of what seemed like heartier winter fare (the pork chops with root vegetables) and a light, spring dish, but it worked and was totally delicious!
SPECIAL BONUS RECIPE:
We also roasted three giant beets. We did nothing more than salt and butter them, unpeeled with the stems cut off, wrap them in tin foil, and roasted them at 400 degrees for maybe 90 minutes. Very tender and delicious. Long live the beet!