Monday, August 11, 2014

Cake of the Week: Bourbon Vanilla Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Filling and Meringue Frosting

I hate to be the bearer of bad (obvious) news, but it's mid-August and summer is almost over. Exactly one year ago today I started grad school, which is crazy. Hallelujah right now for a semester sans pre-session this time around (and best of luck to all you back schooling it up in Boston already!).

I will be making my way back to the great metropolis of Somerville at the end of this month and will be making the absolute most of my summer until then. So far it's been a great one -- there's nothing like summertime-ing/weekend-ing in DC: friends and fun and outside activities, and a bit of work here and there too of course. AND after just one more week of work I'm going on vacation to Turkey!!! So that is awesome and you will likely hear about it here on the blog.

But back to the here and now. Summertime desserts are delicious and I've been on a bit of a lemon kick. So let me present to you my most recent baking innovation, inspired by an afternoon of not wanting to think about North African terrorism, and created for an epic end-of-summer rooftop extravaganza: Bourbon Vanilla Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Filling and Meringue Frosting.

They are super light because there are a lot of egg whites going on here, and super-delicious. These are the kinds of cupcakes you feel totally ok eating multiples of (oh why oh why do I have no more?), so make many if you can. The frosting is magical -- I first made it long long ago for a s'mores cake and called it marshmallow frosting. Now that I'm older and far more sophisticated let's call it meringue though, ok? Ok.

The recipe sounds complex, but it's really just three simple components all put together. My roommate made ice cream last week (oh yeah), and so we conveniently had a lot of egg whites in the fridge. A word of warning though: do not use those egg whites that you buy already cracked in a carton. They are not fresh enough to whip into meringue. Also, you can use bottled lemon juice if you feel so inclined, but then you'll miss out on the zest, which gives the curd a lot of flavor.

Bourbon Vanilla Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Filling and Meringue Frosting

White Cake Ingredients:

  • 1 cup milk, room temperature
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup butter (6 oz), softened

Lemon Curd Ingredients: 

  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (2-3 lemons) (do not use the bottled lemon juice)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon finely shredded lemon zest

Meringue Frosting Ingredients:

  • 2 large egg whites (about ¼ cup)  
  • ½ cup sugar  
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar  
  • ½ cup water  
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 


  1. For the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with cupcake liners. 
  2. Combine milk, eggs whites, vanilla, and bourbon in a small bowl with a fork. Set aside.
  3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in an electric mixer and mix at slow speed with a paddle attachment. Add butter. Continue beating at slow speed until mixture looks like wet sand (If you’re doing this by hand, sift the dry ingredients together and rub in butter).
  4. Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture and beat at medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes. Add remaining milk mixture and beat for an additional 30 seconds, scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary. Do not overmix.
  5. Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 of the way. Bake 25-30 minutes, until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  6. Let cupcakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool. 
  7. For the lemon curd: While the cake is cooking, in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk the eggs, sugar, and lemon juice until blended. Cook, stirring constantly (to prevent it from curdling), until the mixture becomes thick (like sour cream or a hollandaise sauce). This will take approximately 10 minutes.
  8. Remove from heat.
  9. Cut the butter into small pieces and whisk into the mixture until the butter has melted. Add the lemon zest and let cool.
  10. The lemon curd will continue to thicken as it cools. Cover immediately with plastic wrap (so a skin doesn't form) and refrigerate for up to a week. 
  11. For the frosting: Put the egg whites in a clean, dry mixer bowl or in another large bowl. Have a candy thermometer (or a meat thermometer can work too) at hand. Put the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a small saucepan and stir to combine.  
  12. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, cover the pan and boil for 3 minutes. Uncover and allow the syrup to boil until it reaches 242 degrees F on the candy thermometer (soft ball stage). 
  13. When the syrup is at about 235 degrees F, begin beating the egg whites on medium speed with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer. If the whites form firm, shiny peaks before the syrup reaches temperature, reduce the mixer speed to low and keep mixing the whites until the syrup catches up.  
  14. With the mixer at medium speed, and standing back slightly, carefully pour in the hot syrup, pouring it between the beater(s) and the side of the bowl. Splatters are inevitable—don't try to scrape them into the whites, just carry on.  
  15. Add the vanilla extract and keep beating the whites at medium speed until they reach room temperature, about 5 minutes.  
  16. You should have a smooth, shiny, marshmallowy frosting. Although you could keep it in the fridge in a pinch, it's really better to use it right now.

  1. Use a sharp paring knife to cut the centers out of each cupcake: cut in a circle at an angle to pop out a little cone. Do with these what you will (aka eat them dipped in the lemon curd as you assemble...I will neither tell nor judge). 
  2. Scoop a spoonful of curd into the holes. 
  3. Frost liberally. 
  4. Enjoy!!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Literary Bite: The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers is the best book I have read in a while. It's intense but a fast read, and so well-written that you will love it. The non-linear narrative is takes place from 2003 to 2009, in Virginia, Germany, and Iraq, from a young private's enlistment to fighting in the Iraq War to his painful return to "normal" life afterwards.

The story is sad and beautiful and painfully real all at once. While heart-wrenching is a generally overused adjective, in this case it is totally applicable. Powers writes with rhythmic concision, making me want to read some sentences out loud to get the full effect -- "The world was paper-thin as far as I could tell. And the world was the orchard, and the orchard was what came next. But none of that was true. I was only afraid of dying." It's not pretty, how war transforms the characters, but it feels true. And his descriptions of the battlefield and his emotions throughout it all make you feel like you're there.

The story is about 21-year-old Pvt. John Bartle, who fights in Tal Afar in 2003. It's about of friendship, camaraderie, and loss...though I don't want to say too much and give anything away. Ever so occasionally Powers slips into stream-of-consciousness writing at times, which I actually really liked because it's a little convoluted but just coherent enough to make you feel it. For example, this is just part of one pages-long sentence that I really admire:
“Or should I have said that I wanted to die, not in the sense of wanting to throw myself off of that train bridge over there, but more like wanting to be asleep forever because there isn’t any making up for killing women or even watching women get killed, or for that matter killing men and shooting them in the back and shooting them more times than necessary to actually kill them and it was like just trying to kill everything you saw sometimes because it felt like there was acid seeping down into your soul and then your soul is gone and knowing from being taught your whole life that there is no making up for what you are doing, you’re taught that your whole life, but then even your mother is so happy and proud because you lined up your sign posts and made people crumple and they were not getting up ever and yeah they might have been trying to kill you too, so you say, What are you goona do?, but really it doesn’t matter because by the end you failed at the one good thing you could have done, and the one person you promised would live is dead..."
The author served with the U.S. Army in Mosul and Tal Afar, Iraq in 2004 and 2005 and The Yellow Birds is his first novel. The book took him four years to write, and Powers says that it started as "an attempt to reckon with one question: what was it like over there?" But he quickly decided that he was unequal to that task, because "war is only like itself".

This is the only war book I've read, so I don't know how it compares to others in its genre. Some reviews compare it to All Quiet on the Western Front or The Red Badge of Courage.

Read this. Even if you don't read "war books." Because it's a good book, amazing piece of poetry and literature, and also because I feel like it's important. I have no idea how accurate or universal Powers' descriptions of the war and returning from war are, but I'm guessing he has a lot in common with a lot of young veterans today. This is all so very current...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Cake of the Week: Coconut Oil Lemon Bars

Lemon bars are one of my favorite summer desserts. The only downside is that if you try to take them places in Tupperware they tend to melt into a sticky mess. So these bars seek to solve that—thanks to their more solid cookie crust, they’re a more easily transportable twist on the usual recipe. I made them with homemade lemon curd, which is pretty much substance of the gods that I want to eat on a spoon always. Plus the coconut oil in the crust gives them a special hint of extra richness and flavor.

And for the record, I’m officially obsessed with coconut oil. The many uses of this magical substance have been well-documented, so no need to get into them here—let’s just cut to the chase and talk about its utility as a baking ingredient.

I haven’t thoroughly experimented with coconut oil as a straight substitute for butter, but apparently it can be used as your oil of choice in many recipes. It has a lower melting point than butter, so while it works well in bars and brownies and cookies, I haven’t seen it used as much in cakes.  And for those of you who care, it’s vegan and paleo and a lauric acid, which may or may not be good for you, but is probably not any worse for you than other oils/butters/fats. The important part (to me) is that it’s delicious—coconut oil adds a nice hint of vanilla-y coconutty flavor to whatever you’re making.

The dough looked dangerously shiny and potentially not quite right, and as I put them in the oven, I was concerned that the bars would turn into some sort of sticky disaster. But nope! They turned out perfect! And came out of the pan so easily—ready to be packed up and taken to a picnic.

Coconut Oil Lemon Bars

Crust Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
Lemon Curd Ingredients:
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (2-3 lemons) (do not use the bottled lemon juice)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon finely shredded lemon zest

  1. For the curd: In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk the eggs, sugar, and lemon juice until blended. Cook, stirring constantly (to prevent it from curdling), until the mixture becomes thick (like sour cream or a hollandaise sauce). This will take approximately10 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat.
  3. Cut the butter into small pieces and whisk into the mixture until the butter has melted. Add the lemon zest and let cool.
  4. The lemon curd will continue to thicken as it cools. Cover immediately with plastic wrap (so a skin doesn't form) and refrigerate for up to a week. This recipe yields approximately 2 cups of curd, so you will have some leftover (yay you win!).
  5. For the bars: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
  6. In a medium bowl, cream coconut oil and sugars until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla extract, and coconut extract. Mix well. Mix in the flours, salt, and baking powder until combined.  
  7. Gently press ¾  of the dough into bottom of prepared baking dish. Evenly spread approximately one cup of the lemon curd over dough. Use your hands to flatten pieces of remaining dough and spread it over the top, almost covering all the curd.
  8. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Cool completely and cut into squares.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Weekend Report: DC Breweries Bike Tour

DC's breweries -- Chocolate City, DC Brau, and Atlas to name a few -- are all realatively new and all in super obscure locations, as breweries tend to be. So clearly the best way to hit them all in one day is by bicycle! This genius tour de beer was devised by SpeedyKate, and it is a must if you're in DC and enjoy beer and biking and fun.

Liz, SpeedyKate, B-Riel, me (duh), Hannah, and Caroline at DC Brau.

After borrowing a friend's bike for the day (mobility! It's glorious!), I met SpeedyKate at noon on Saturday. That may sound like an aggressively early time to start touring breweries, but between biking and beer tasting the whole experience took allllll afternoon and I'm really glad we started when we did. Also, most tasting rooms close at 4pm, so plan accordingly. Joining us on this venture were a couple of my grad school friends, plus one of my friends from college.

Sidenote: Though I can see some of you raising eyebrows (drinking and biking Mollie?!? Is that really a good idea?), it's actually very little drinking. Since most breweries (except Atlas) only offer tiny tasting sizes, we probably each drank a total of three beers over the course of five hours. See? Safe.

Anywho, the 11.7-mile route was devised by SpeedyKate (and questionably navigated by myself). We started in Colombia Heights because that's where we live, and biked three miles to Chocolate City in Brookland, then about five miles on to DC Brau (north of the Arboretum). We then headed about a mile south to Atlas Brew Works, which is just a few doors away from New Columbia Distillers (aka Green Hat Gin). Green Hat was closed by the time we got there, so we'll have to try again another time. Also, our original plan (see route here) had us ending at Bardo, a beer garden in Trinidad, but we decided to forgo that stop in exchange for ice cream at Union Market. Always a good idea.

This bike ride is by no means scenic. It covers parts of the city I only vaguely knew existed and traverses some busy roads and a few strip malls and warehouse areas. But though the ride is not exactly nice, it really is the best/only way to get to these places. And it's fun!

So about the breweries. Chocolate City was the first and most low key. We just showed up and walked into what looked like a small warehouse/garage and a woman at a table offered us tastings of three beers. I wasn't especially wowed by any of them, but it was a nice way to start.

Next was DC Brau, probably the most well known of the three. I feel like their standard The Public Pale Ale is just a generally solid beer but nothing special. But in addition to that, for tasting they had El Hefe Speaks, a really delicious hefeweizen, and also an imperial IPA called On the Wings of Armageddon. When you walk into DC Brau they give you four drink tickets to use for tasting, and the tasting sizes are about 4oz each, so that's pretty great. Also they have an excellent local pride logo. 

Our last, and my favorite, stop was Atlas Brew Works. It's a brewery but also has a bar, and just this weekend started serving pints. Hallelujah there was a food truck outside, so we shared some fries and proceeded to taste. The bad news is that the tastings are not free, but the good news is that for $7 you get four tastings and one half-pint and it is ten thousand kinds of worth it! Their beer was unique and really good -- my favorites were the Rowdy, a rye beer, and NSFW, a double black IPA yummmmm. Atlas is a pretty big space and has tables and corn hole and a few (nowhere near enough) fans. And for future reference, I'm pretty sure you can get their beers at Nats games. 

The beer portion of our tour ended there around five o'clock, then we made our way to Union Market because Trickling Springs Creamery! 

We sat in the air conditioning enjoying our ice creams, basically the perfect end to a perfect tour. Then of course we had to bike ourselves home. What a great day! 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Race Plans in September -- Reach the Beach!

Running this summer has been a struggle, partially because I'm trying to get back in shape (always an uphill battle), but mostly due to mid-Atlantic summertime heat and humidity. This now my 6th summer in DC, so I've come to expect this weather, but that doesn't mean I like it. But I'm sticking to rule #1 of exercise, which is that if you keep doing it, it will get better.

And I need it to get better because my first race since ummmm (I can't even remember the last time I raced...oh wait Rock 'n' Roll USA Marathon in March 2013) is a 200-mile relay. Myself and 23 other crazies are fielding two teams for Reach the Beach in New Hampshire in September.

This will be my fifth road relay, and third overnight relay. (You can read about all the madness: River to Sea 2010River to Sea 2011Ragnar Relay 2012, and American Odyssey 2013.) Basically I love any and all opportunities to turn running into a team sport. Get ridiculously sweaty in a van with 12 people and not sleep for 24 hours and run a total of 19 miles? Absolutely I am in!

We have not officially distributed our legs yet, but I'm probably going to run one of the longer sets -- I believe total distances in this relay range from 12ish to 22ish. For those of you not familiar with these relays, each team of 12 has two vans, everyone runs three times, and the legs vary in distance and difficulty. It sounds like torture, but trust me it's so fun! Who doesn't love a little bonding through shared adversity?

So how do you prepare for this kind of race? No one really knows. My plan is to continue building up mileage, interspersed with weekly hill repeats and 3-mile tempo runs. I did my longest run to date (10 miles) on Saturday, and my plan is to build up, increasing 1 mile per week, to at least a 15-miler by the end of August. And one of the best parts about so many of us signing up for this race is that I now have more running friends than before -- friends who kind of ran sometimes are now training (sometimes with me) and it is great. I always love more people to run with!

And that my friends is the full extent of my Fall Race Schedule as of now. If all goes well with training I'd like to find a few shorter races around Boston though. Maybe in October when the weather is nice. Maybe on trails (loooove trail races).

Happy Running!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Weekend Report: Fun With Fletcher Friends

That alliteration pretty well sums up every weekend and most weeknights since I've been in DC.

While many of my classmates jetsetted off this summer to intern/work/research literally all over the world (Nigeria and Nepal, Dubai and Dominican Republic, Geneva and Guatemala, and Kosovo and Egypt and Tunisia, just to name a few locales), a critical contingent converged on DC and it is so much fun all the time all the time!

This weekend is an excellent example of this (uniquely?) Fletcher phenomenon. Friday night, after a long week of researching and writing and interviewing and editing, I started my weekend with a bit of Bikram yoga (oof, but it’s getting better!). Then a quick shower and not so quick 90 Bus ride later I met three friends at Union Market for the first drive-in movie of the summer. Forgetting Sarah Marshal was projected on the side of the huge building and people drove in and watched from their cars in the parking lot, or, like us, walked in and sat on blankets or beach chairs. There were drinks and snacks and the weather was perfect – the best way to spend a chill Friday evening outside. Next week is Life Aquatic, so I think the plan is to go back.

We didn’t stay out too late, which was great because I started Saturday with a late-morning long run on the trails of Rock Creek Park. I have a race in the not-too-distant future, so 10 miles was a necessary (and not as bad as it could have been) experience.

On Saturday afternoon 8 of us made our way down to Bluejacket Brewery (so good!) and then went to the Nats game. The weather was perfect for baseball—not sweaty! Aka magic!—and the Nats won against the Brewers with 8 runs.

The socializing really never ends and so of course by Sunday we were still going, capping off the weekend with a bluegrass concert at Hill Country. Mipso is this bluegrass band from UNC and they’re so cute and really good! They’re on tour so you should go see them (if you’re in Boston they’re at Johnny D’s this week).

Some of my friends are almost done with their internships and about to leave (Callie don’t go!!!), but one just arrived (welcome Pat!), and at least a few of us are staying in DC to the end. So if you need me until then, I will be eating Ethiopian food and fro yo and going to concerts and enjoying rooftops and barbecues until September!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Literary Bite: Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog

This book was exceptionally beautiful but also oof not an easy read on the emotional front. Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog is the kind of book that challenges you, makes you think, and leaves you feeling drained at the end. Which is about what I expected, considering it’s about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa in the 1990s. The frame for the story is the experience of a white South African journalist covering the trials, but it’s focused on the series of vignettes of actual testimonies.

It’s about forgiveness and reconciliation, humanity and evil, and a country trying to build itself through the public exposure of pain and suffering.

And everyone wants to know: Who? Why? The victims ask the hardest of all the questions: How is it possible that the person I loved so much lit no spark of humanity in you? 

It’s arranged loosely chronologically by themes: Before the Commission, First Hearings, Politics, Reactions, and Unwinding. The most interesting parts to me were the actual testimonies – I think there’s a bit of voyeurism going on because reading someone else’s pain is painful but also captivating. And I also was really struck by some of the identity issues Antjie addressed and how a country as a whole can unify and forgive and rebuild after something as horrific as apartheid.

A myth is a unit of imagination that makes it possible for a human being to accommodate two worlds. It reconciles the contradictions of these two worlds in a workable fashion and holds open the way between them. 

I was less into the section on politics, as I felt that sometimes she went into too much detail. Though I think it was written assuming of basic knowledge of the events and people covered – knowledge I don’t really have. Had I been familiar with the politicians and leaders, those parts would probably have been more interesting.

The writing is really beautiful though (I took pictures to save a number of quotes on my morning bus rides – i.e., “The texts grow next to one another in the vapor of freshly mowed language”), and she has clearly thought long and hard about these difficult issues. This isn’t a book to offer solutions, just to depict how one woman, and at the same time the whole country, is processing the Truth and Reconciliation experience.

I definitely recommend Country of My Skull; however I suggest you read it concurrently with something lighter because this isn’t casual reading. It’s not dense – the prose reads very well and flows quickly and effortlessly – it’s just heavy subjects, difficult thoughts.

The word “reconciliation,” on the other hand, is my daily bread. Compromise, accommodate, provide, make space for. Understand. Tolerate. Emphasize. Endure…Without it, no relationship, no work, no progress, is possible. Yes. Piece by piece we die into reconciliation. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Dark/White Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

What a 4th of July weekend! I feel like I’ve been going non-stop since leaving work Thursday afternoon in all the best ways possible – friends and running and barbecuing and fireworks-watching and roof-decking and beach-lounging and ice cream eating.

Ever since the temps got above 85 degrees I’ve been craving ice cream sandwiches. Not those kinda soggy rectangular chocolate cookie kind (though they have their time and place), but the real deal – soft and delicious chocolate chip cookies completely stuffed with vanilla ice cream. (Preferably consumed on a beach or a dock or on the front deck immediately after returning from one of those places, bathing suit slightly damp and sand still sticking to my feet.) Mmmmmm yes.

So what better occasion to make them happen than the 4th of July?!? The 4th itself did not involve a beach for me this year (though the 5th did!)  – I am in DC after all and there are epic National Mall fireworks to be seen and heard and felt.

Gustavo came down from NYC yayayay!

But long before heading down to join the crowds around the Monument, I did some post-run, pre-barbecue baking to get the day started right.

I made these 4th of July morning before carefully carefully transporting them to a barbecue, where they were later inhaled by the lucky few who knew about them in the freezer. I heard (and can infer based on the cookie dough I consumed in the baking process) that they were delicious. And so easy!

I am definitely making these Dark/White Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches again. Maybe tonight.

If you want to get super-fancy you can make homemade ice cream, but that takes more time, so I just bought mine. Any flavor you want works, though I recommend sticking to something simple (i.e. vanilla) to not overwhelm the cookie.

Dark/White Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

Yield: 12-15 large sandwiches

  • ¾ cups (1 ½ sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon salt 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli 70%, and since the chips are really big I chopped them smaller)
  • ½ cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 pint vanilla ice cream
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
  2. Beat the butter and sugar until smooth, then mix in eggs and vanilla.
  3. Stir in dry ingredients until almost combined, then add the chocolate chips, then finish mixing.
  4. Use two spoons to scoop cookie dough onto a cookie sheet (approximately 2-tablespoon sided scoops). 
  5. Bake for approximately 9 minutes. Immediately remove from baking sheet to cool on a wire rack.
  6. Cool cookies on wire racks for approximately 30 minutes, then put them in the freezer (I just put the whole rack in the freezer) for approximately 20 minutes. If you try fill them with ice cream when they’re still warm it will become a melty mess. 
  7. Match up your cookies into 2’s of around the same size. Scoop ice cream onto one cookie, press the other on top, and done! Ice cream sandwich! Put the sandwiches back in the freezer for at least 30 minutes (the longer the better) before transporting. I just carried them on a cookie tray covered in foil, but you could also wrap them individually in plastic wrap. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Yoga is the worst! But also the best. But also the worst.

Tonight I went to my second yoga class this week. This was after having taken seven months off of yoga, training for a marathon, getting injured and completely out of shape, going to physical therapy, and then (currently) making the arduous uphill climb back to some semblance of fitness. So you can imagine, it was an experience, and I'm not ashamed to admit that at many points I hated it.

Because no, I this is not relaxing. I do not feel my breath. I am not into the flow. And I have no idea where my inner peace is, but I seriously doubt I'm going to find it in a room full of Lululemon-clad women with the city sounds of sirens and street noise serenading us from the sidewalk.

But I go to yoga anyways. Because my back needs twisting, my hips need opening, and oh my goodness could my hamstrings and calves be any tighter??? I go because it's good for me. Forcing me to stretch for an extended period of time. Improving my core strength and stabilizing muscles and all those things that will make me better at running and (most importantly) will decrease my chances of getting injured.

But do I like it? At all? Today in class, while we were supposed to be clearing our minds, I thought about this...

So I've always had mixed feelings. I was not a fan in high school and college, but then I came to like Bikram when I first moved to DC. From Bikram I moved on to try other forms of yoga, and oftentimes enjoyed them too.

Last fall when my back was a mess, I went to yoga multiple times per week because it was pretty much the only exercise I could do: vinyasa flow, power yoga, bootcamp yoga -- you name it I was in. And I liked it. I liked the noticeable improvement from week to week. I liked how strong it made me feel, like my body could and would do whatever I wanted (within reason, let's not get crazy). I liked how I felt so in control of my movements. Want me to hold that pose forever? Sure. Oh so now my leg goes here? Yeah no prob. Another chaturanga (yoga push-up)? On it.

Of course I will never be a yogi-master, nor do I want to be. There are some ways my body just does not bend, and poses I doubt I will ever be able to do -- i.e., I have no interest in headstands or arm balances, and I don't care to master side-crow or dragonfly.

But I do want to get to the point that feels reasonably not terrible.

So are you ready for the secret? People talk about yoga like it's oh so great immediately and always, but like any sport or athletic endeavor, it takes time to get in shape. To get used to the movements. To know what's up in both your head and in your muscles. And just like running, once you get in shape, that is when it starts to feel really good.

In conclusion, despite the pure torture stretching and holding and balancing and holding will be for a bit, I'm on the yoga train for the summer. Namaste.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Tale of Two Hills: Northwest DC Run

After two years away, which included a major detour up to Boston, I'm back in my natural habitat: summertime-ing in Northwest DC!

Rock Creek Park
In some ways I feel like my life has come full circle since I first moved here in 2009, but we'll call this the 2.0 version -- aka mostly the same but better. I'm living in the same general neighborhood, but there are more/new restaurants and bars; my new office is across the street from where I worked in 2009, but now I actually care about and enjoy my job; the running options are the same (some things never change), but now thanks to grad school and DC friends moving, I have even more people to run with!

This morning I ran with Chris (remember when he blogged last summer??? That was great). We did a loop that I think of as "my morning 7-miler" from when I lived in Dupont. It's the perfect mix of roads (with very few stoplights), trails, bikepath, flats and hills.

This morning's route was a little different from the Dupont version because we started closer to Colombia Heights, and a lot different because we ran it clockwise. You might be thinking yeah ok whatevs, clockwise/counterclockwise nbd at all, but let me tell you: this is a hilly neighborhood and direction matters. Our run this morning included what I might deem excessive uphill: the long gradual climb up Connecticut Avenue from Woodley Park to the Zoo then from Cleveland Park to Tilden Road, then the incredibly epic Rock Creek Parkway hill to get from the bike path up to Calvert Road (I die every time), plus (bonus hill!) that goshdarn last little bit on Colombia Road to get from Adam's Morgan to Colombia Heights.

But don't let the hilliness deter you! (And this coming from the girl who hates hills.) They're good for us -- everyone knows that running hills makes you faster. Also if you are recovering from a knee problem (like Chris and me siiiigggh), uphill is actually way more comfortable than downhill.

Happy Running!

Here it is on MapMyRun.

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Cake of the Week: The Perfect Brownies

Single people wonder, does "the one" even exist??? This spring I was beginning to despair. After so many off experiences -- too many that were just not quite right, and a few that were straight-up wrong -- I had lost all but a modicum of hope, and was about to throw in the proverbial towel and give up the literal chase.

But the best things happen when you're not expecting them, right? One spring afternoon SpeedyKate connected us via email and all of a sudden my life changed. This experience has been 27 years in the making, but it has finally come.


All the ones that came before have been forgotten, swept away by the rich chocolately excellence of these brownies, and forever banished from my contact list. We all know the bad ones -- ones that promise to be great but end up too dry, or too cake-y, or not chocolate-y enough, and all too often more work than they're worth.

These brownies are none of those things. It should be easy, right? (That's what they say.) They're so simple you barely have to think about it when you're making them, and so good that you cannot stop thinking about them once you've eaten them.

So without further ado, I share my new love with you.

The Perfect Brownies

  • Butter or spray for greasing the pan
  • Flour, for dusting the buttered pan
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 8 ounces melted butter
  • 11/4 cups cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Thoroughly butter and flour a 9x13" pan. (Just FYI, I've made this recipe twice and the first time was in too small of a pan so the brownies were much thicker and that's what the pictures in this blog post come from. But I recommend using a 9x13" pan.)
  2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until fluffy and light yellow. Beat in both sugars. Add remaining ingredients, and mix to combine.
  3. Pour the batter into the greased and floured pan and bake for 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
  4. These will be messy coming out of the pan -- I recommend waiting until they're completely cool (like a couple hours) before you try to cut. Run your knife under hot water for a clean cut. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Apple Oatmeal Muffins

Moving to a new place always requires some settling-in time. Unpacking and hanging up my clothes, figuring out a new commute and where the closest grocery stores are, making friends (luckily I already have those here!), and stocking my fridge and pantry with all the requisite snacks and staples and baking supplies.

So finally this week, two weeks after moving to DC, I lugged bags of flour and sugar, a cylinder of oatmeal, and a box of butter and one of baking soda home from the store (in a hundred million degrees humidity) to bake!

Enter Apple Oatmeal Muffins. Oatmeal, non-fat yogurt, apples, whole wheat flour -- these muffins are breakfast treats that are altogether acceptable and probably preferable to eat every day.

I'm kicking off this summer with something healthy because after finals and post-finals celebrations and the fried things and meat orgy that was my southern road trip, healthy is probably a good idea. And I'm starting with muffins because now that I'm back to work, I need an easy breakfast to take with me to the office.

If you're looking for cakey muffins (i.e. crumbly and buttery) then go for a more decadent recipe. These are definitely more muffin-y and not too sweet -- though they taste delicious, they are not a dessert equivalent.

So without further ado, here's the recipe. I made 6 muffins and one small loaf.

Apple Oatmeal Muffins

  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 oz) plain yogurt
  • 2 large eggs, whisked
  • 1 medium-sized apple, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped pecans for sprinkling on top (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray your pans -- I used one 6-cup muffin pan and one loaf pan. 
  2. In a medium bowl combine the oats, flours, baking soda, and sea salt. Set aside.
  3. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar. Whisk in the yogurt, and then the eggs. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, add chopped apple, and stir just until combined. Try not to over-mix. 
  4. Pour the batter into the muffin tins, filling each 3/4 full. If you're using pecans, sprinkle those on top.
  5. Bake 25-30 minutes (depends on your oven) or until tops are golden. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn onto a cooling rack. 
  6. Makes about 1 1/2 dozen muffins.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Road Trip: Kansas City

And now for the final post of this road trip adventure! (Sorry for the delay btw...I moved to DC and started a new job, so I've been a bit busy.) We ended the trip in Kansas City, partly because barbecue, but mostly because it is the home of Peter.

So what, other than the best barbecue in America, is up with Kansas City?

We started our first morning at City Market, where Rose and I continued the beignet obsession that began in New Orleans. We tasted fresh made beignets filled with three kinds of chocolate and peanut butter, and a tirimisu one filled with chocolate and cream. Swoon. Those were by far the best dessert of the whole trip.

Then we drove around a bit to see the sights -- did you know that Kansas City is "sister cities" with Seville, Spain, and thus has a lot of Spanish architecture? And that it is the "City of Fountains" and there are fountains everywhere? (Things you learn when tourist-ing with a local.)

We drove past the art museum and saw big plastic bubbles with a sign commanding: Come play with us! Ummm ok if you say so. We walked up...So wait really? We can just play? Turns out it was some sort of promotional thing, so the answer was yes! So ridiculous! And so fun!

After exhausting ourselves in the bubbles (no but really, running around encased in a giant bubble of inflated plastic bumper-car-ing your friends is tiring) we walked up the museum's huge lawn and checked out the statues. Don't touch them! And if you do, a disembodied voice will politely but firmly command you to step away.

We made it up to the museum's tall set of stone steps, and clearly a race between our trip's most competitive members (not me!) was in order.  Tim, Gustavo, and Peter lined up at the bottom to sprint up, around a column, and back down. Never race down stairs. (Foreshadowing.)

I called ready set go! They were going fast...taking multiple steps at a time...Gustavo was winning...and on the last few Peter dove, took a chunk out of his big toe, and off to the ER it was for us. (Technically he did win the race...just not really the day.)

A loooong while and four stitches later we were collectively drowning his pain in barbecue sauce. We got take-out from Arthur Bryant's and ohmygosh guys ribs! And the best baked beans I've ever had! It was a rather epic late-afternoon feast, and from there we headed to the baseball stadium to continue our super-American Memorial Day.

Oh don't worry, this was only plate 1.

We had seats in the second row, which was amazing! I like baseball games in general, but sitting so close I actually paid attention the whole time. We rooted for the Royals of course (they lost), and for every Venezuelan player on both teams (who knew there were so many?!).


Three of our esteemed companions left throughout the day on Monday, so by the next morning there were just four of us left. We chillaxed around the house, went for a little run around the lake, and then said our goodbyes the airport.

This is what it looks like when 7 students invade your home.
THANK YOU to all who hosted us!

And that, my friends, is that. What a great trip!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Road Trip: Memphis

We arrived in Memphis after midnight on Saturday and were on our way by 2 pm the next day, but we really made the most of our very short stay in the land of Elvis and blues and barbecue!


We awoke early to tour Graceland. I am not usually much of a tour person, but we all agreed that the self-guided audiotour of the King's mansion was surprisingly great. The decor in Graceland is ridiculously tacky -- note the stuffed monkey and panda bear (???) -- and narrated by a combination of voice over information and Elvis interviews and music of course!

There were rooms full of Elvis's awards and of his costumes, and of his cars, and of his airplanes. It's amazing how many things he's won and how many Elvis songs we all know without realizing it: I'm thinking Hound Dog, All Shook Up, Jailhouse Rock, Viva Las Vegas, and Blue Moon, just to name a few...

After seeping ourselves in King lore, we moved on to exploring Memephis's other two main attractions: barbecue and blues. We got barbecue at Central BBQ -- go there, get the wings. Memphis barbecue is all about the slightly sweet tomato-based sauce, and it was delish. After eating (too) many savory smoked ribs dipped in delicious sauce, we made friends with the manager and he gave us a tour of the kitchens and huge hickory smoker.

After lunch we only had about an hour before we needed to leave for the next city, but we couldn't just couldn't visit Memphis without walking down Beale Street. Though this is primarily a late-night place, even in the middle of the day it was hoppin!

Upon a Memphis friend's recommendation we stepped into B.B. King's for a song and of course stayed for about six and of course made a spectacle of ourselves on the dance floor. Blues my friends. So so so sooo good!

I would love to go back and spend more time in Memphis, but on to the next/last stop: Kansas City!