Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bake Blondies Better!

Wow this is long overdue.  All fall, I've been baking up my signature blondies, although, for the first time in years, I've been switching up the flavors. Keeping things interesting. Healthifying it up!

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In December, my friend Jeff came over to help me prepare not one, not two, but FOUR batches of blondies--each a different flavor.  They're all the same basic recipe, with variations on flavor and dietary-swaps.  I began baking the plain chocolate-chip blondies before he arrived, to get things moving.

It all starts with some melted white chocolate and butter*...


Mix into another bowl containing mixed sweeteners, vanilla, baking powder, and eggs (or sub--see below!)

Anddd flour, etc, combine...


Add your semisweet chocolate chips!  Save a few to top it off with later, and a few to nosh on yourself. (Perks of being the baker.)


Et voila - blondies, 45 minutes later.

Jeff arrived with the rest of the white chocolate needed and made me a VERY happy girl.

Read more to see what else we made with it...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

NYC Blogger Playdate + Kettlebells !!

I am sore today.  Ask me why.  (Why are you sore, Meredith?)  Because I had a kick-butt workout yesterday at Anderson's Martial Arts Academy!

Let me back up, though, because this was part of something majorly momentous:  my first blogger meet-up, a group fitness class and lunch, organized by Keelie at Sweat=Success, who brought a dozen NYC health & fitness gals together on a Saturday afternoon.

Keelie's recap

It started at Anderson's Martial Arts, where stellar instructor Dasha and her team generously treated us to an hour-long runthrough of their signature Kettlebell Kickboxing class.  What are kettlebells, you ask?  They're those funny-looking weights in the photo above, and they come in all shapes and sizes!


The Academy provides a nice description of their unique workout:

Kettlebell Kickboxing is a one-of-a-kind FEMALE only method
developed by fitness & martial art expert Dasha Libin, MS, NASM-PES, NASE.
Kettlebell Kickboxing redefines the body by combining the sleek and deadly motions of Muay Thai
with the power and strength of Russian Kettlebell training, 
creating a NON-impact 60 minute total body scorching class.
Burn 1,000 calories - getting Long & Lean at the same time. 

Sound intense?  It was.

Not only were we swinging around weights...

... but we also were punching, kicking, and doing things that made burpees look easy!

Every minute brought on a new interval, a new move, a new muscle being worked.  Some of the motions were easy enough for me, since I have enough experience in group fitness classes (including kickboxing) to catch on quickly.  Other moves, though... I felt. I felt deep down.  I think it was the leg moves that got me the most.  Sometimes it was tricky figuring out how to best comfortably grasp the Kettlebell, itself.  These are things that, of course, would become more natural the more practice and experience I get with the Kettlebells.  The instructors were so great, though, about coming around and checking our posture, our swing, our motions, and demonstrating the correct way to perform each move.  They wanted us to keep moving, but to get it right, too.  And of course, seeing their impressively toned physiques, I listened.

I was sweating, I was breathing, I was working.  It was a lot of fun learning new moves, being made a beginner again, being in a room with a dozen other girls who, like me, enjoy this process of getting and staying fit, of testing our limits, of making ourselves better.  Girls who want to be there!

That's me. Courtesy of Keelie.

We tested our stamina, our strength, our balance, and more.  When the class was over, we applauded Dasha and her assistants.  They earned it.  Not only did they carefully show us each move and help us adjust our own forms, but they also spent a lot of time explaining the reasoning behind the moves, the philosophy behind the class, the reason we were doing what we were doing.  It's nice to know why I'm twisting this way, why I'm out of breath, why I'm currently in a state of happy pain.  Dasha even went to great lengths explaining the principles behind stretching: how, for how long, and why.  It was more than a workout; it was a lesson that I will take with me and continue to use not only in my kettlebell workouts, but in all my training.  

That's Dasha. Isn't she inspiring?

They gave us passes to come and try their martial arts classes, which I will definitely be checking out!  Although I had a blast with kettlebells and look forward to trying it again in the future, I also can't wait to see what else they've got to offer.  They've got a new DVD coming out soon, so keep an eye out for that!  I know I will...

Thank you, Anderson Martial Arts 

After working up a sweat and an appetite, a bunch of us set out to Chinatown for a late lunch.  It ended up being an adventure to get to our chosen restaurant, because of the Chinese New Year celebrations in the streets!

We squeezed our way through the crowds, admiring the festivities and parades passing by.

The colors and sounds were almost overwhelming.  Confetti in the popping in the air with a bang, then settling on the ground.

Finally, we made it to our destination: Buddha Bodai, Vegetarian Cuisine


We sat at a nice round table near the front, admiring the chandeliers and lazy susans in the room. ;)

We drank our tea while dissecting the menu, carefully making our choices from their endless selection.  After much consideration and back-and-forth, I settled on the steamed dumplings (vegetable, of course) and a sesame-roll and seaweed salad.  It sounded intriguing and the sesame was appealing to my tastebuds at the moment. I wanted to try something different, so I went for it.  It was all marvelous.

The food was delish, so satisfying after our intense afternoon workout. Still, the company was even better!  It was such a pleasure to meet and get to know these ladies behind the blogs, peers who share my interests and passion for spreading knowledge.  We talked, we laughed, we joked, we told stories.  Coming from all different backgrounds, there was always a new perspective on something.  It was so much fun, and I can't wait to see these gals again!

Keelie, Toni, Ashley, Aubrie, Colleen, Me, and Erika 

Many thanks to Keelie for organizing this fun afternoon!  Again, you can check out her blog and recap here.

Until the next NYC Blogger Playdate...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Virtual 3.5-mile Race Recap

In honor of her 34th birthday and her 1st "blogiversary", Toni at Running, Loving, Living is hosting a virtual race!  

Obviously, I signed up right away. Why not? Just another great excuse to push myself to run at my best.

Today was when I planned to do it.  It worked in well to my running schedule for the week.  The only glitch was that I'd meant to do the run in the morning, but I awoke, got dressed to run, applied EverStride, and affixed my heart rate monitor, only to discover that my Garmin battery was drained. Oops!  So I plugged it in and postponed my run until noontime, and spent my morning fueling up and doing some reading for classes.

Finally, up and out!  This was the perfect day for a "winter" run, and it was actually beneficial that I waited until later in the day, because it was quite warm out!  Sun shining, crisp air, and a dry path; what could be better?

I was planning to run as long as I  could for the first 3.5 miles to time myself for the virtual race, and then do the last 1.5 as best I could, with intervals or something to keep it interesting.  The first half mile was a challenge, but then I found my groove and just kept going.  The only thing really interfering with my stride was the intense winds coming at me.  Pushing through that resistance was not easy, but the first twenty minutes, not so bad.  I actually ran the first two miles at a 9:10 and 9:23 pace, respectively.  Not bad!! After 2 miles, short of breath, I slowed down for a minute before trying to pick back up.  But then...


My knee. What is going on? Why does it feel like someone is slicing off my left knee every time my foot hits the ground?  Aren't I too much of a beginner to already be having these types of injuries?

So, I powerwalked. Easy on the impact. Every so often I tried to jog, essentially limping, and then returning to a walk.  Sigh... this is not how this run was supposed to go!

But then, I saw that, 36 minutes in, I was almost done!  Is that possible?  I was walking!  Guess my running speeds made up for it?  So for just one minute, I forced myself to pick up speed, run through the pain, trying to finish the 3.5 miles within 37 minutes, a very good time for me.  Run, run, push, push... until I hear that beautiful beeping music from my Garmin.

Wow. I finished the race in 36:59:99. Just in time!  

To recap: the first two were not bad, smooth strides, steady pace, just barely below my comfort level.

The third mile and a half were a struggle against my knee, mostly powerwalking, but slipping some 10-second jogs in here and there.  You can see, below, my pace drops off dramatically at the 2-mile-marker, but I still tried my best!

So, success!  I was very happy with my time of 37 minutes.  My goal had been to finish between 35 and 40 minutes, 35 being the best I could possibly do, and 40 being not my greatest effort. The truth is, an average 10:34 pace, if kept at a steady jog for 35 minutes, would have elated me.  I was only disappointed by my knee troubles interrupting my flow.  Still, in the end, I'm very happy with how it turned out, especially considering the pain and walking in the middle.

After the semi-successful run

Now, for the first time, I am icing my knee like a "real" runner!  Look at me!  Not that I am by any means happy about this.  It's fine for tomorrow--Spinning and Pilates won't impact my knee.  But will I be able to run again by Thursday?  On the treadmill will probably be worse; should I switch to elliptical?  That wouldn't count in my training for the week, wouldn't contribute to the 20 miles I need to log! What to do?!

For now, I simply ice, and rest, and share my race recap with all of you :)

Hope you enjoyed!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Make up for it!

Is it okay to take a week easy when you're not feeling so well?  Of course!  Is it alright to do an indoor workout instead of your planned outdoor run, because it dropped below freezing and snow covered the streets?  In my book, that's a smart move.  However, do NOT use these as excuses to fall behind in your training plan or to drift further from your goals.

Last week, these two things happened at the same time.  Since the Boston 5k a few weeks ago, I've lost my mojo.  The combination of the weather and my awful head cold kept me from performing at my best, and kept me in the gym all week rather than outside running, and, even then, I didn't give my best.  And now, even today when I'm feeling better, I couldn't seem to get myself to the gym to log miles. Another unplanned rest day. Sigh.

This all meant I fell way below my weekly quota in working toward my 600 Miles in 2012 Challenge.  I logged 3 miles of treadmill running on Monday, but then the remaining miles I covered all took place walking outside, not actually running.  I did a lot of walking around the city this week, which was actually quite exhausting, because I was short of breath to begin with from feeling ill.  So, I definitely didn't come near meeting my goal of 11 or 12 miles for the week, even though I may have had good reason.

SO.  Now what?  Get right back on it!  I'm planning out my workouts for the week, and I am daring myself to make them happen, no matter what!  Treadmill or road, I've got to get my running motivation back!  I'd like to make up for the lost time to keep pace with the online challenge, which is 50 miles per month.  So far for January, I've logged 30.  Not too shabby!  But that leaves 20 miles for the remaining nine days.  This wouldn't be so daunting if running were my only workout.  However, I have all kinds of other fun exercise classes that use up energy and time that would otherwise be spent on running.  Can I still fit 20 miles in to the next nine days' plan?

Let's see...
  • Monday: Double down to make up for lost time!  
    • (AM) Weight training and "Body Combat" - Last day with one of my fave gym instructors before he leaves us! Can't skip this for a run. 
    • (PM) Run 3 miles on the treadmill before yoga 
  • Tuesday: Afternoon run
    • Run 5 miles - ideally outdoors.
  • Wednesday: The usual Wednesday morning. My favorites. Can't give em up. And classes in evening prevent an evening run. Oh well!
    • Spin Class, followed by Pilates.  This combination makes me so happy! 
  • Thursday: Running morning, big time.
    • Run 5 miles on the treadmill.
  • Friday: Another day off from running, for another great morning combo... 
    • Spin Class, followed by Yoga
  • Saturday: REST DAY. I originally put 3 miles here, but decided to give my body one day off in this mad catch-up plan.  Snuck those miles in the following three days...
  • Sunday:
    • Run 5 miles
  • Monday: ??
    • Strength training? Or another substitute... find out who and what are replacing my favorite Weights and Boxing classes :(
  • Tuesday:  End January with 51 miles run!
    • Run 3 miles, before Pilates

Well.  THAT's ambitious.  Do you think I can do it?  Dare me to?  Is it insane?  I'm feeling MUCH better, over my cold from last week.  I didn't schedule running for more than 2 days in a row.  Switching up the workouts will help.  I know my body can handle the above schedule.  The real challenge will be dragging myself out in the cold or to the treadmill at the gym to actually start running.  

I'm a perfect example of the following:

... especially in the middle of winter!!!

So there's my plan--nine days of running and other fitness.  Typing it up and publishing it here to share with all of YOU is what, I hope, will motivate me to follow through.  Plus, I'd really, really like to stay on pace for the 600 mile challenge!  How cool would that be?  I can't start falling behind already; it's only January!

I'll report back in 10 days. Wish me luck!!

Now that you know my plan, what's yours?? 

Do you let weather interfere with your runs?  A bad cold get in the way of a workout?  

What do you do when you miss workouts? 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Use your sportswatch for ALL workouts!

So you remember, last month, I got my very first sportswatch: A Garmin 405CX.  I tested it, it worked out well.  Some of you may have seen the recent New York Times article about the inaccuracies of GPS watches.  For me, this isn't such a huge deal.  As of now, the maximum distance I cover in one run is 6 miles, and usually it's closer to 3, so any error might not affect such a distance. Further, I don't need it to be exact-exact.  In races, I'll trust the course planners' judgment, knowing that my own GPS may not be perfect.  It'll be good enough for logging my miles in 2012 for my resolution!

It was a great help in my training, helping me pace myself.  That's how I stayed strong during January's 5k Resolution Run.  You can see below, it wasn't perfectly steady (or maybe we can blame THAT on error?) but I continuously hovered around my goal pace: 10 min / mile.

HOWEVER, I've found tons of uses for my sportswatch besides the GPS distance-tracker for outdoor runs.  Since getting it, I've used my Garmin's heart rate monitor for...
  • Spinning Class.  I wore the heart rate monitor and watch to track my heart rate and calories burned.  It was exciting to watch my heart rate skyrocket during a sprint and slow back down during rests, and then rise again during difficult hills.  After, I was able to load the data onto my computer and see a chart of my heart rate rising and falling throughout the 45 minute class.  It told me I burned 429 calories.  GREAT!!!  (And, I bet I could've pushed harder than I did that day--now I've got a burn # to beat!)  I've never actually had a way to track how much I burn during my various workouts, and now I do! 
  • Sprint intervals.  On the treadmill, I turned off the GPS feature but turned on an "interval" workout, setting it to beep and tell me when to run and when to walk, according to my own settings.  This particular time, I made it say "run for 1 minute" and I'd go up to 8 or 8.5 mph, and then "walk for 2 minutes" at 3 mph.  How many reps? 10.  Total workout, 30 minutes. Perfect.  This worked out so well, and I could do that for ANY cardio workout:  intervals on the bik, elliptical, treadmill, or even running outside!  And, of course, I got to watch my heartrate go up and down, and get a calories burned total (308!) at the end. 
    • In addition to doing timed-intervals, I could also set it to do distance intervals (outside) or to set intervals based on my own target and recovery heartrates.  Will try those! 
  • Kickboxing.  I have a favorite cardio kickboxing class that I am completely obsessed with ("Body Combat"), and always was curious about how many calories it actually burned.  I never knew whether to call it "kickboxing" or "aerobics" when checking online resources, but now I have a more accurate measure.  60 minutes, including warm-up and cool-down: 473. 
  • (I even tested it in Pilates, to learn that I burned 160 calories and kept my heart rate around 100.)

SO.  Yes, the GPS is a marvelous thing and frees me up to run wherever I please, without worrying about finding the route on a map.  But it also serves a great function during my other regular workouts, and I'm STILL LEARNING what else it can do for me.  Will keep you posted!

What do you use your sportswatch for?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Make an Omelette

This weekend, get some vegetables into your brunch by making a vegetable omelet!  This is for newbies: Omelet-Making 101.

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Although I make omelets all the time, I'm always surprised when someone I know says they don't know how; they just scramble.  So this time, I dare you to make an omelet, and not only that, but to fill it with VEGETABLES instead of meat, cheese, etc.  This is one great way to get those recommended daily servings in, and early on!

Quick question: do you prefer "omelette" or the Americanized version "omelet"?  Tough call, here.  I used to do the double-T French style, but recently I find myself spelling it omelet.  Guess it depends on how fancy I'm feeling?

You can choose whatever produce you like. Here, I chose baby spinach, button mushrooms, and plum tomatoes, but your options are endless: shredded carrots, avocado, broccoli, portobello mushrooms, onions, bell peppers...

Then, slice them and dice them.  Sometimes I keep them pretty large (below), but other times you may want to cut up very small pieces.  That would allow more room for MORE vegetables! 

If you want your vegetables cooked, now's your chance.  Sautee them over the stove and set aside.  (Or, do what I did here, and enjoy them fresh and let them cook slightly with the eggs.)

Mix your eggs.  Whether you choose whole eggs, egg whites, or an egg-substitute, mix them up in a cup or small bowl and add seasonings: ground pepper, parsley, oregano, basil, whatever strikes your fancy. 

My pick: 1 whole egg + 2 egg whites

Oil-spray your pan over medium heat, and add egg mixture.

Let it settle for a minute or two, occasionally lifting up a side and tilting, to allow the uncooked egg to reach the hot pan. 

When it's about 80% cooked, add your vegetables! 

My eyes were bigger than my omelet.  Just stuff em all in there!

Sometimes when my veggies overpower my eggs, I scramble it up instead.  But have no fear, you can still squeeze it together.  When it's mostly cooked, flip one side over!

Et voila!  A quick & easy vegetable-packed breakfast.

What do you like to put in your omelets?

Whether your like your eggs plain or prefer other mix-ins, another great and tasty way to sneak veggies into your omelet is to add salsa!  

Try it, I dare you.

Looks like I threw extra spinach on top.
A nutritious way to start the day

Monday, January 9, 2012

Don't Stop: 5k resolution race

What a weekend!  Where do I begin?  Well, I guess I'll start at the very beginning ("a very good place to start..."), and in the middle, you'll get to read about my second 5k race!

From the start:
On Friday I traveled to Boston to visit my cousins Stephanie & Aaron.  Steph and I did some running-related errands (scoping out Garmins, buying running socks, trying on masks) before settling at home, where Aaron had prepared a deliiiicious eggplant parmesan dinner.


For dessert, Stephanie whipped out her ice-cream machine (ooh, ahh) and we tossed in Greek yogurt, sugar, and... was it vanilla? to make homemade FROYO!!


Wowww.  It churned and churned for 20 minutes before it magically emerged as frozen yogurt, tasting just like the best froyo in Philadelphia.  I like it because it really tastes like actual yogurt (because it is), but sweeter (sugar. duhh).  Delish!  We added all kinds of toppings, of course, although it was definitely tasty enough to eat plain.  Between the eggplant, challah, frozen yogurt, and chocolate, I was definitely more than full.  But that's okay, because I was fueling up for...

The 5k Resolution Run to Kick Cancer ! 

A month and a half after my first 5k race, I was ready for another.  In November, my goal had been simply to finish, and ideally in under thirty minutes.  I crossed that finish line in 28:09.  However, I did not run the entire race.  I ran about half of it too quickly before allowing myself a walking recovery for 30 seconds, another run, another brief walk, and so on.  Since then, I've worked on learning to pace myself.  I bought a Garmin sports watch to help track my distance, time, and heart rate.  It lets me know when I'm going too fast, too slow, or just right.  For me, a 10-minute mile is just about right.  I'm able to keep it up without becoming too winded.  With the help of pacing information, I worked on consistency in my running: trained myself to slow down when necessary, no need to sprint, slow and steady wins the race... I've since run the 3 miles continuously on the treadmill (once), but not yet outside, where my record was still 2 miles. Time to take it to the road.

Saturday morning, I was nervous for the race, because my runs during the previous two weeks had been slightly disappointing.  The cold made running very difficult for me, not yet used to it. However, we awoke on Saturday to a beautiful, unnaturally warm January day.  Leaving my earwarmers and gloves at home, I set out with Stephanie, Aaron, and 900 others to kick cancer.

Started in the crowd by the 10:00+ pace marker, although everyone seemed to give the signs little regard.  After the horn, off we go!  Last time, I'd started up front, so slowly inching forward after the clock started was new to me, and quite irritating.  Let's go, already!  Finally, we were off.  Ran the first mile or so with Aaron and his cousin Brenna at about a 9:50 pace before we amicably parted ways.  My goal was to run as long as I could, to not wear myself out too quickly.  I needed all the energy I could muster, especially when a few hills presented themselves.  It wasn't always clear to my eyes, but my legs told the truth.  I just focused on my pace, my music, and my breathing.  Also tried to remind myself to appreciate the scene: runners on all sides, quaint Lexington buildings all around me, and the sun bearing down.  I actually got hot.  In January.  In New England.  (Yes, it's nice... yes, "I'll take it," but doesn't that terrify anyone else??)

Each time I consulted my Garmin, I was pleased to see that I was keeping a steady speed, hovering just below a 10:00 pace for each mile.  I did my best to keep it up, taking my time but staying at a run.  When my watch said I'd traveled 2.2 miles, I was elated--this is the longest I've run outside without walking!  OK--don't celebrate yet, Meredith, you've got 0.9 miles to go.  Hmm can I rest for just 5 seconds?  NO!  Gahh OK.

I told myself to keep my eyes ahead; no more checking my wrist.  My distance, pace, time... no longer important.  Just follow the road, finish this last mile because you can, don't slow down until you cross that finish line!

Shockingly, I listened to myself.  Kept going until I saw crowds... that must be it.  Some already-finished runners were coming back this way to finish out the race with friends and family.  I must be near the end... where iiiisss it.... don't slow down... The 3-mile marker... There's Steph (already finished, of course) waving, cheering me on!!   YESS I am doing this....

BOOM.  Done. I did it.  Crossed that finish line before letting myself slow down to a walk.  Quickly scanned the crowds for the nearest source of water.  Volunteers were handing out Hint water, VitaCoco, and regular bottled water.  Yes, please!  I switched off my Garmin, hydrated, and went to stand by Steph as we awaited the others' arrivals. 

I was beaming, so happy.  I didn't stop!  I accomplished my goal:
I ran the whole 5k (YES!) ... in ... 30:03 ! 
That is a time I can be happy with!  Sure, it's 2 minutes behind my first race, but this time I did it right.  I didn't hurry through the first mile, didn't tire too quickly.  I paced myself, took my time, stayed in the zone, resisted the urge to walk.  Ran the whole race.

Still not stopping...

Elated.  Mission Accomplished. =) 

Speedy Stephanie PRed 8 minutes ahead of me, and Aaron clocked in just 3 min behind me.  All in good time, all satisfying our own goals. We all walked away winners.

We three winners went home to shower and eat before heading back out for my tour through Boston.   Why not spend this lovely afternoon out in the city?  We walked up and down Newbury street, celebrating our morning with some (more) tasty frozen yogurt.

Newbury Street, Boston
Sweet Reward

Then I got a drive-through tour of the different areas of Boston, with Aaron providing history lessons and tidbits about his and Stephanie's time here in law school.  Beautiful city!

For dinner, we cooked up some homemade pizza...

And Aaron taught me how to make Challah!

Thennn we had chocolate-chip cookies for dessert and watched TV!  But that's okay, because we ran a race today

As if all that weren't enough, the next day had even more festivities...

Sunday started with challah french toast, with a special guest appearance by my friend Rachel!

Homemade challah, doused and baked in eggs and vanilla?  That was one tasty breakfast.  Plus, Rachel and I got to catch up after a few months apart. :)  Then we hurried off to...

Wellness Day! 

Stephanie planned this incredible expo, bringing together a mix of wellness professionals, including a whole foods chef, yoga instructors, personal trainers, massage therapists, an acupuncturist, and more, PLUS samples from Fruit+, Pretzel Crisps, Stonyfield Yogurt, and Popchips!

Preparing raffle prizes

All the vendors were great and full of information to share.  I learned a lot and also got to relax with a balance test, a massage, a paraffin wax hand treatment, a blood pressure measurement, and on and on.  There was so much to do and learn!

By the time it was all over and cleaned up, we enjoyed dinner out before crashing at home. Pajama time!  It was only 7:30 but felt like midnight. We relaxed for a bit before calling it a night.

What a weekend!!  I returned home with so much to share!  Pride in my race accomplishment, new recipes from Aaron, and tons of running tips and fuel from Stephanie.  

Now, after all that running around (no pun in tended), I need a vacation from my vacation!  Now that I've accomplished my goal of running the entire 5k, my goal is to become comfortable with it. To repeat this weekend's performance again and again.  So while I take a day to recover, I dare YOU: don't stop. Run toward your goal!  Each day, you'll get a little bit closer, until victory!  

How was your weekend?  Did you get in a workout, a walk, a run?  Reach any goals?  How are your 2012 or January resolutions going?