Monday, February 18, 2008

Ups and downs

One of my goals this year was to drop five pounds by the time I go to Aruba, which is in two days. I’m sad to say that I didn’t quite make it. I only lost 3 pounds. However, all that weight lifting, running and ellipticizing has gotten me in decent shape, even though the scale refuses to agree with me. Good enough shape that yesterday I went out and bought a pair of jeans in a size I never, ever thought I’d be able to wear. Granted, the cut of the jeans, which have a slightly higher rise than I normally wear, greatly affected the size. Had I bought jeans in my normal super low-rise style, I would have had to go up one or two sizes. But still, nothing can put a smile on my face like successfully zipping up a pair of jeans four sizes smaller than I wore at my heaviest.

Because I’m thinking about that resolution, I thought I’d check in with a few others as well. For starters, there’s my goal to run a 5k in less than 30 minutes. Being February in Chicago, I’ve done little outdoor running this year. So, I've used a treadmill, where I’ve managed to clock in a 5k at 31:30. However, that’s inside, sans wind, on a totally flat surface. So, I’m thinking I’ll need to get that down to less than 27 minutes inside to actually be able to do it in less than 30 outside.

As far as my mileage goes, I ran about 37 miles in January. I’ll need to crank up my weekly mileage if I want to break 500 miles this year, but hopefully once the weather gets better, I’ll be able to get in more long runs outside.

Speaking of the weather, I’m so done. I really try not to complain about the weather in Chicago, as I’m quite defensive of the city when others complain about it. Besides, I’ve lived in upstate New York; Chicago’s weather pales in comparison.

However, this year, I just can’t take it anymore. This winter has been awful. Tons of snow. Super cold temperatures. Days on end without seeing the sun. Everyday, I trudge through the snow (because the shit heads in my neighborhood don’t shovel their sidewalks) to the bus stop, then wait for 20 minutes. Then I do the whole thing over again at night. Except at night, the bus is usually running super late, so I wait for a half hour, only to have a totally full bus refuse to stop to pick me up because it can’t take any more passengers. So I wait for another 10 minutes, in the cold, and the wind, on the brink of tears. Every. Day.

I’m not the type of person who gets depressed. Like, if I’m feeling down, it usually lasts about 20 minutes. But this winter, I’ve been in a serious funk. Note the frequency of posts. It’s gotten better as I’ve gotten closer to the Aruba trip, but for most of this winter, I’ve been seriously down. Like, sleeping for 14 hours straight, not eating, and crying for no reason. And I can’t explain it. I don’t know why I feel this way. Then there’s this anxiety, like I’m trapped by the weather. I feel like I can’t get warm enough. I’m always cold. It sucks.

I don’t know much about seasonal affective disorder, but I sorta think that might be what’s going on. But what I don’t understand is why I’ve never felt this way before. I’ve certainly dealt with my fair share of long, snowy, cold winters. I hope that this upcoming trip to the always-85-degree-and-sunny island will recharge whatever needs recharging. But I’m scared that I’ll return and fall into an even deeper funk because I won’t have another island getaway to look forward to.

Ugh. Sorry this post is such a downer.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Delusions of a Food Blog

I apologize for my recent absenteeism. Since I last posted, I got a promotion (yay!), and then I got a nasty cold (boo). In any case, it’s time to get back to the blog, and now I sorta have something to blog about:

It’s Lent.

I’m not Catholic, nor am I particularly religious. I am, however, a big fan of testing my willpower and forcing loved ones to play along. So this year for Lent, Chris and I decided to give up all meat except fish. Basically, this was the result of many conversations we’ve had about our favorite foods that have ended in, “You know, I could totally give up everything except seafood.” So far, I’ve barely even noticed the change, except that I eat a lot less soup now. But luckily, Trader Joe’s came along and filled that void with so many wonderful different bean dishes. I used to hate beans, but now, I’m obsessed. Like lentils? More like delicious-tils! But my new bean obsession is another post for another day.

Anyway, the decision to become a pescetarian for Lent also happened to coincide with another new obsession: food blogs. Smitten Kitchen, for example, has become a new daily must-read (along with this site, which has absolutely nothing to do with food blogs...).

Yeah, so, anyway, I had this great idea in my head that I would start blogging about my fantastic fish/vegetarian creations and prove to the world that I am some sort of domestic goddess, despite the fact that my husband does most of the delicious cooking in our house, while I am merely the baker. However, it turns out that food blogging is a lot more difficult than I first thought. For starters, most nights I get home from work and have a bowl of cereal for dinner. This has nothing to do with Lent; it’s just my dinner of choice — and obviously not food-blog worthy. And second, assuming I’ve actually gone to the trouble of creating something to blog about, once I’ve finished cooking, instead of getting to enjoy my tasty delights right away, I have to whip out the camera and document my work. This simple, yet oh-so-important step, is often skipped.

For example, Chris and I had a little dinner party this weekend. Well first, let me back up a bit. Remember our friends Barkley and his urine-obsessed buddy Popcorn? Turns out even though the humans in our house weren’t too keen on sharing our digs with three dogs, Rosie thought it was coolest shit ever. So, when Barks and Pops went home, Rosie went into a bit of doggie-withdrawal depression.

So, to lift her spirits, we decided to have a dinner party and invite over some of our friends and their pet dogs. The result was a rottweilier, wheaten terrier and shih-tzu joyously running around and around our kitchen table:

Later in the evening, after the puppies were spent from all the table rounding and backyard snow diving, and after their owners had polished off a few bottles of wine, Rosie decided that it was bedtime, and that she should invite her new friends to our her bed:

The doggie party definitely lifted Rosie’s spirits. Although the next day, she was pretty tuckered out:

(It’s because of moments like these that Chris and I have so willingly turned over our bed, couch, carpets, freedom and any hope of a clean house to Rosie.)

But anyway, back to the food. For our little dinner party, Chris made an amazing Greek shrimp dish, which we devoured long before I remembered to take out the camera for documentation. The same goes for the mini spanakopitas I made as a side dish. In fact, the only proof I have of our efforts is this sad, leftover piece of flourless chocolate cake topped with whipped cream and raspberries:

Keep in mind that I made the cake on Saturday, but took this pic on Tuesday. In the meantime, the raspberry sauce has soaked into the chocolate. So I swear, it looked better three days ago. The recipes for both the cake and spanakopita, along with a few notes, are below. Enjoy!

Flourless Chocolate Cake
Adapted from a Wolfgang Puck recipe found at the Food Network

4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces (I didn’t have any bittersweet in the house, so I used a combo of unsweetened and semi-sweet. I used 6 ounces semi-sweet and 2 ounces unsweetened. Personally, I’m a fan of super dark chocolate, so in the future, I may up the unsweetened percentage.)
5 eggs, separated
Pinch salt
2/3 cup sugar
Powdered sugar, for garnish
Unsweetened whipped cream, for garnish (I just used the canned variety)
Half package frozen raspberries, thawed (I added this last ingredient because I love the combination of chocolate and raspberries. Fresh raspberries would probably be better, however, they’re not in season, and the frozen raspberries are more soupy, which makes them easier to spread out on top of the cake.)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour a 10-inch round cake pan.

Combine the butter and chocolate and melt in a double boiler over barely simmering water. Whisk together the egg yolks, salt, and all but 3 tablespoons of the sugar. Stir the melted chocolate into the egg yolks until thoroughly combined.

With an electric mixer, on medium speed, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining sugar and continue to whip until the egg whites are stiff, but not dry,

Carefully fold the chocolate mixture into the egg whites. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn out onto a rack immediately. As the cake cools, the center will sink and crack - do not worry.

Dust the cake with powdered sugar or decorate the top with melted chocolate and serve with unsweetened whipped cream and raspberries.

Spanakopita (Spinach Pie)
Adapted from a Williams-Sonoma recipe (This site has tons of great recipes.)

1 lb. spinach, tough stems removed, coarsely chopped
1 1/4 cups crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup grated kefalotiri, Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino cheese (I ended up using fresh parmesan because I couldn’t find affordable Parmigiano-Reggiano.)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 lb. phyllo dough (20 sheets), thawed if frozen (The phyllo I buy is sold in a 1 lb. package with 18 sheets. So, I cut the sheets in half lengthwise, which worked well because I wanted the pies to be more bite-size than the typical spinach pie.)
8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Heat a large fry pan over medium-high heat. Add the spinach with only the rinsing water clinging to the leaves, cover and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Drain well on paper towels, then squeeze out as much of the remaining liquid as possible. Place in a large bowl and add the feta cheese, kefalotiri cheese, eggs, mint, and nutmeg. Stir well to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat an oven to 375°F.

Lightly butter a baking sheet. Cut the stack of phyllo sheets lengthwise into 3 equal strips (Because I already cut the sheets in half once, I just halved them again for this step, so you’ll end up with 2 equal strips.) Remove 1 strip and cover the remaining phyllo with a slightly dampened kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out. Place the strip on a work surface and brush lightly with melted butter. Place another strip on top. Brush the second strip lightly with melted butter. Place a heaping teaspoonful of the filling about 1 inch in from the bottom of the strip. Fold the uncovered end over the filling on the diagonal to form a triangular shape. Bring the bottom of the triangle up against the straight edge. (Essentially, fold like a flag.) Continue folding in this manner until the tip of the strip is reached, forming a triangular pastry. Brush lightly with melted butter. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining phyllo and filling.

Bake until golden, about 15 minutes. (I’d suggest flipping them halfway through. We ended up with pies that were perfectly golden on the bottom, but only slightly golden on top.)

Remove from the oven and transfer to a platter. Serve immediately (Um, not a good idea. My friend totally burnt her tongue on the filling even though the phyllo had cooled to the touch. On the plus side, she kept going even though they were too hot, risking injury just because they were so tasty. Or at least, that’s what I choose to believe. Regardless, I’d suggest letting these sit out for about 10 to 15 minutes before serving.)