Monday, August 31, 2009

Cake of the Week: Carrot Cake


First of all, a little trip down memory lane to my first experience with carrot cake. 
I very vaguely remember a little girl named "Candrianne" (spelling? who knows - this was way pre-literacy in my life). She had a birthday party, at which I remember eating a cake I really liked. For some reason it stuck in my head as something called "carrot cake." I think I was about 4 - definitely pre-kindergarden.

So when my mom asked me what kind of cake I wanted for my birthday that year, I said that I wanted carrot cake. 

My mom made what I'm sure (retrospectively) was a delicious cake. I took a big bite, and I HATED it!

Why? Well - it turns out that "carrot cake" was a mini-Mollie-mental-misnomer. The cake that I liked so much at the other girl's party was actually a lemon cake. But in a little kid's mind, carrot cake does not relate directly to carrots, nor does lemon cake necessarily lead to thoughts of lemon flavor. (Seems obvious, but when you're like 4, things just aren't.)

So my first carrot cake was a pretty bad experience. Luckily I recovered. 
Now I rank carrot cake in my top cake favorites. That's right, when I'm in the mood, it may rival chocolate cake (woah, bold statement, I know). 

On Saturday night, pre-long run, my friend Mer came over to bake carrot cake with me. 


When I say "we" made carrot cake, I mean mostly me. I'll be honest, I do not like baking with other people. I just don't understand how it works as a group activity! Mer did some prep-work, and she took care of the frosting. But it's just better for everyone involved if she talks to me while I measure/stir/mix/pour the cake batter (or vice-versa, I'm fine with being the one on the sidelines). I'm a control freak. I know it. That's just how it is.
 
We used Mer's recipe, which is originally for cupcakes. So you should double it to make a whole layer cake (because more layers = more cake = more frosting = yum!).

We didn't realize this at first, so I ended up making one layer, and then the other. This was actually a good thing, because I learned that the 1 egg + 1 egg white is an unnecessary waste of an egg - I made the first layer like that, but the second one I just cracked one egg and it turned out exactly the same. 

Also, I accidentally bought cubed pineapple instead of crushed. So we diced it, which was ok, and resulted in some yummy chunks in the cake. But overall, the cake ended up more pineapple-y than a normal carrot cake because a lot of the juice got in as well. 
Flavor-wise it was kind of a tropical carrot cake - it tasted more like prune-pineapple cake than traditonal carrot cake (which is not necessarily a bad thing). And the pureed prunes made it amazingly moist! 
The frosting was the easiest frosting I have ever made - marshmallow fluff + cream cheese. That's it. No worrying about how melty the butter is, or if I added too much powdered sugar. According to Mer, Trader Joe's cream cheese comes out lumpy, so it's better to stick with Philadelphia. Also, we doubled the recipe. In the future, I would probably triple it to make enough frosting to do a 3 or 4-layer cake!

And I can't stress enough how important it is to wait until the cake is completely cool before
 frosting it.  It can be hard to be that patient, I know - especially when it's 10pm and you have a 13-miler in the morning - but TRUST ME, it's worth it.  This is coming from a girl who has cried over too many cakes that end up looking like a Salvadore Dali Melting Clock.

Frosting-wise, I did enjoy the Fluff+Cream Cheese combo, but I'm not entirely sold (as in, it was good, but is it as good as carrot cake frosting could possibly be???? Again, that would be a pretty bold statement). Here are some links to other frosting possibilities:




Carrot Cupcakes

Recipe courtesy EatingWell.com

Pureed prunes stand in for some of the fat in these carrot cupcakes. Cupcakes

Prep Time:
30 min
Inactive Prep Time:
hr min
Cook Time:
30 min
Level:
Easy
Serves:
12 cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup pitted prunes
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 8-ounce caj crushed pineapple
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large large egg white
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • Cream-cheese Frosting
  • 4 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup marshmallow creme such as Fluff
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped toasted pecans (optional)

Directions

To make cupcakes: Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners or coat with cooking spray.

Combine prunes with hot water in a food processor and process until smooth; set aside. Drain pineapple in a strainer set over a small bowl, pressing firmly to extract most of the juice. Set the pineapple aside and reserve the juice for another use.

Whisk flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Whisk egg, egg white, sugar, oil and the reserved prune puree in a mixing bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until blended. Stir in carrots and the reserved pineapple.

Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups, filling them about two-thirds full. Bake the cupcakes until they spring back when lightly pressed in the center, 25 to 30 minutes. Let the cupcakes sit in the pan for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool before frosting.

To make cream-cheese frosting: Beat cream cheese, marshmallow creme and lemon juice in a bowl with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Spread each cupcake with frosting and sprinkle with pecans (if using).

The Weekend Report: Random Thoughts


The Long Run, Again


Saturday morning, against my better judgement, I went on another Women's Trail Marathon training run. Now mind you, I am not planning on running any marathons any time soon. But my friend is going to do this half marathon in a couple weeks, so I'm happy to tag along and run somewhere other than DC for a bit. The trouble with trail running is that it is so freaking slow! It took me a bit over 2 hours to run 13 miles - which is just a long time to be doing anything. 

Within the first couple miles, I came up on this man jogging along. I said "Hey, how's it going?" (because that's what you do) and we ended up chatting for a bit. 
"Not so good today," he said.
Sympathetic noises from me... 
"It's probably because I'm wearing shoes."
Hold up..."Wait, are you the guy who was wearing the Five Fingers last time?" 
"Yep."
"Have you read Born To Run?"
"Yes! It's like my guide to running! I've been running barefoot since the beginning of summer!" 

So finally I've found someone who actually recently started barefoot running. We didn't talk for too long, because he was moving pretty slow and I had places to go, but I learned that he does run in the Five Fingers on asphalt, as well as trails. AND he's already done a barefoot marathon! Crazy!


Places I Never Thought I'd Find Myself


It's funny how life works out. Not to get all existential on you, but it really does blow my mind when I think about it. Five years ago I would never have imagined that I would be here in DC, with the people I'm with, doing what I do!




Saturday night found me at a Kenny Chesney concert in Bristow, VA (Nissan Pavillion). I went with two friends from school: a New York prepster, and an Israeli-American, plus me, a Northern Californian. (We're friends from being on the Ski Team together in Boston.)

So anyways, there we were, in a parking lot in VA. Let me tell you, the people you see at a

 country concert are absolutely amazing! It's really a broad spectrum of humanity. There are normates like us just hanging out sitting on the trunk of a little white car with New York plates. Then the other extreme: people who look like they tailgate for a living: huge pickup trucks, full-sized grills, beer pong tables, tents, and an entire picnic lunch/dinner for them and all their friends. And you see a disturbing number of men who have really embraced Kenny's refrain, 

"No shoes, no shirts, no problems." (Let's be real, some people should really keep their tops on!) And mullets galore!!! At a country concert you have families, adults, frat boys, and everyone in between. It's awesome. 

And then as the Kenny take the stage, he yells, "What's up Virginia!" and everybody (including me) goes crazy. Virginia?!?! Right now that's me, and that blows my mind!

I'll stop there because words cannot do justice to my passion for country music. Let's just say that I am seriously considering becoming a country groupie...

Dance DC Festival 2009

After a bit of a struggle to find the location (for future reference: it's probably a good call to look up the address of a venue in addition to its Metro stop), my LLC, a housemate, and I saw some sweet dance moves on Sunday afternoon
We went to see East Meets West, which was advertised as "An explosive performance you will not want to miss, blending the massive moves of West Africa with the rich traditions of the Middle East with a special dance salute."

The small theater was packed with dance enthusiasts - the first (and best) group was Urban Artistry. They combined  African, Latin, Happy Feet, Lindy, Caribbean Movement, Martial Arts, and American Social Dances. How can that not be amazing!?!?! Check out their videos on YouTube.


Next was KanKouran, a West African dance company from Senegal. They were amazingly exhausting to watch. The dancers clearly were enjoying themselves, and the drummers were more than impressive! Here's a video link

The last two groups were a bit sub-par - Belly Dancing kind of dragged as they kept on going and going and going. 

And the last group, Bliss Ananda, wasn't dance at all! It was a band! How did they get into the Dance DC Festival? (Answer, a DC Arts Commissioner was one of the band members...) They may have been good, but due to "technical difficulties" (which their spokesman said that 'young people today may not know about' - ummm-ok, I'm pretty sure I'm familiar with the concept) the electric violin was a bit brain-piercing. 



Thursday, August 27, 2009

6x6 Runner: Five Weeks In- Running Symptoms

I’m starting to feel like a runner. Alright, my mileage has been low; I’ve been running two and a half to three miles for the past two weeks. I am comfortable with that distance and I feel like I definitely could step it up if I wanted to. The other morning, I slept in with the plan to run after work. I woke up at the time I would have if I had gone running and I went running anyways! YES! That has to mean something, right?
So, next week, I am ramping up my mileage. After all, in about three weeks- Mollie and I are running a race. So for my post this week, I thought I would do a
Five Weeks In - Running Symptoms
1) Pants are a tiny, tiny bit looser.
2) I’ve realized how much better I do when I don’t drink four to five cups of coffee a day, which was my normal rate beforehand.
3) If I don’t drink enough water, I ACHE! Feet, stomach, elbows, shoulders, all over!
4) If it’s cool out (cool by Washington standards so high 80’s- completely different than Syracuse, NY and Detroit, MI where I used to live), I can’t wait to run!
5) I drink less on the weekends because when I drink a lot my runs suck!

Upcoming challenges:
For Week 6 I will be running on vacation! I'm going on two vacations, one each weekend.

First I’ll be going to Colorado to my cousin’s commitment ceremony (No gay marriage in Colorado!). So I'll be running in the Mile-High City (aka Denver).
Second, I'm going home to Michigan for the weekend. I have a history of bringing tennis shoes with me on vacation and then letting them sit in my bag...I have vowed to change my ways! This time, I’m bringing tennis shoes and I’m running every day I am gone.

After next week (6 out of 6!!!) I will make my grand decision as to whether or not I’ll keep running. I've come this far, I’m pretty confident that there is no way I can stop running now!

Until next time,
XOXO
6x6

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Literary Bite: The Fountainhead

I am struggling through The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. It’s one of those classics of American literature that I’ve never read and now I know why. It’s a forward-thinking book that you really have to think about to get, and even then, you may not necessarily really get all the subtle nuances.

And really it’s not so much that I can’t get it, but I don’t care enough about the characters (or maybe I should say archetypes?) to force myself to put that much thought into them.

The postmodernist style reminds me of the James Dean/Rebel Without A Cause/Catcher in the Rye genre….

BUT one of my friends loves this book, so I have stuck with it to try to see what she sees…

According to my Rand-loving friend:
The reason I enjoy/love The Fountainhead is because it attempts to create a human superhero out of the main character, Howard Roark It is essentially a fictional example of the Nietzschean "superman" (Roark), in contrast to the Nietzschean "last men" (Toohey, Katie’s uncle and the ultimate sell-out with no faith in humanity). The Fountainhead holds up Howard Roark as beyond human limitation, not by physical power or "beauty" but because he can master the lower doubts of the human mind. Roark is the best architect (ever?). He is driven towards something - he has faith in a vision, which compels him to drop doubt, to drop fear, and to have integrity to that vision of perfection alone. That being said, Rand also shows the downside to extreme adherence to a belief that what one is doing is right. In some ways, Roark lets himself and his vision become his own god. He therefore cannot have morality or love as society would normally define it. This book is in many ways the picture of moral relativism. I love this book because it made me realize that we can’t hold to “ideals” if they are without God. Ayn Rand’s flaw is in holding that there can be a superman, but at least she is honest in showing both the upside and downside of it. Stick with this book, the characters all of them, are so wonderful! Dominique is one of my favorite characters more about her later…
I see what she is saying. The book is about black and white, you’re either entirely committed to your principles, or you’re not at all. I can appreciate that adherence to strict integrity. I’m only up to page 499 (out of 704), so I have yet to determine if Rand is ultimately a pessimist and has no faith in humanity, or if the “good” will triumph and the characters with integrity (Dominique and Roark) will prevail.

Roark’s humanity is a matter of debate. He does feel pain, but his pain "only goes down to a certain point" because it can't touch the core of his independent soul – that’s cool, I like that.

Rand is a philosopher, and I think that the biggest problem literature-wise in this book is that she uses her characters a bit too much as vehicles to preach her own dogma. It sometimes feels like a weird aside in a play – suddenly the characters are preaching to no one for no apparent reason. These blips in the narrative continuity are one of the reasons this book is taking me so long, they turn me off and I disengage from the story.

One reviewer wrote, “This is one of the fastest paced books I have ever read… I found the novel to be gripping and I couldn't put it down.”
Hmm…I was just thinking how embarrassed I am at how long it is taking me to finish this book! Of course, part of that is that I have had the busiest August ever, but still…

What Amazon thinks:

The Fountainhead has become an enduring piece of literature, more popular now than when published in 1943. On the surface, it is a story of one man, Howard Roark, and his struggles as an architect in the face of a successful rival, Peter Keating, and a newspaper columnist, Ellsworth Toohey. But the book addresses a number of universal themes: the strength of the individual, the tug between good and evil, the threat of fascism. The confrontation of those themes, along with the amazing stroke of Rand's writing, combine to give this book its enduring influence.


I wish this story was semi-true, just because I want to see what the buildings Roark designs look like! The images I've included in this post are just a result of me googling "modern minimalist architecture" (or some such word combo)...let me know if you have any idea what style his buildings actually were.


Here's a link to a video of Howard Roark's Speech from the 1949 film of the book. 

Running Quotes

I recently “joined” a local running team.

Let me take a moment to explain why I put “joined” in quotes. I pretty much stumbled upon this guy’s coaching website in the course of researching a post a couple weeks ago. George Buckheit is the coach of Capital Area Runners, a local training club. I saw a link on the website to the Elite Racing Team, and I thought, “Yes! I might be on to something here!”


I clicked on the link, only to be directed to an email address telling me to contact George for more information…So I sent him an email, telling him my times and training habits, hoping for the best. He got back to me immediately, and suggested I come to one of the workouts to check the team out.

They workout on Tuesdays and Fridays, at either 6:30am or 7pm at Washington Lee High
School in Arlington, VA.
Hells-to-the-no I’m not working out at 6:30 in the freaking am – looks like I’m heading to VA after work.

I went to my first workout August 10. It was hotter than hell, and thus pretty miserable. But at least I was miserable in a group of pretty decent runners (misery loves company? People do crazy things when part of a group…).

“Alright, good workout Mollie, maybe we’ll see you next week!” said George as I headed home.

Questions I then asked myself:
1. Do I want to take the Metro to run once a week? (It took me 45 minutes to get home – the DC Metro screws me once again…)
2. Is George expecting me to pay for this? (Because I’m not exactly at a point in my life where I can pay to have someone tell me how far to run…I can do that pretty well myself thanks.)
3. Am I going to do this again next week?

Answer: Yes.


And now it’s been 3 weeks, and I guess I’m just about part of the team!

George sends out emails every week with the general training plan, as well as some pretty good advice and links to relevant articles. He also includes some inspirational quotes – as with all quotes, they can be clichĂ© and lame sometimes, but I’ve been pretty impressed with the ones he’s found.

Hope you find something you like!


“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much, nor suffer much, for they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt


“Marathoners wake up in the morning feeling tired and go to bed at night feeling very tired.” – British Olympian Brendan Foster

“I don’t wear a watch during my long runs. That way I am not tempted to compare my time from week to week.” – US Olympian Lynn Jennings

“Stupid, blind determination forced me on, reeling along the streets until somehow I made the Halberg home. The rest were inside, dressed in track suits. I tottered in, collapsed on the sofa and burst into tears. It was most humiliating, but I just couldn’t stop myself.” – 3 time Olympic Gold Medalist Peter Snell on completing Arthur Lydiard’s mountainous, 22 mile “soul searching” Waiatarua run

“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” – Robert Collier

“Most people need a coach to tell them to work hard; I need a coach to tell me to ease up. Sometimes I wish I had a coach to tell me, ‘Okay, stop working, you’ve done enough,’ because if you tell yourself that, you’ll feel guilty and guilt is what keeps a lot of guys going after they should stop.” – Marty Liquori

"Some succeed because they are destined to, most succeed because they are determined to." – Anatole France

"Completing a workout is like putting a deposit into a bank account. Then when race day comes, it's time to make a withdrawal of all your accumulated deposits." – Karen Smyers, Triathlete


“We train every day of the year under all conditions. A runner once asked me: ‘What would we do if there was an earthquake and the epicenter was right here?’ My answer was: ‘Then we would run right down the middle of the Earth!” – Mario Moniz Pereira, coach of 1984 Olympic Marathon Champion Carlos Lopes



“It’s absolute agony and I dread it, but it allows my body to recover so much more quickly.” – Marathon World Record holder Paula Radcliffe taking about ice baths


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cake of the Week: Lemonade Citrus Cake


I experimented with some unusual (for me) ingredients this week. Kind of Sandra Lee-style (she's the blonde woman who does "Semi-Homemade," aka the Food Network star I would least want to cook for me). The results of this venture were not quite disastrous, but not exactly a brilliant success either...


On Saturday, I somehow got the idea of lemon cake in my head (and the memory of lemony-goodness in my mouth), so it was going to be a lemon cake no matter what. Someone had left a box of yellow cake mix at my house, so I thought that maybe I could do something with that (enter Sandra Lee).

After a long afternoon at the National Gallery, I did not feel like treking through the POURING rain to the grocery store just to buy a couple lemons, so I revved up the Google-machine and put my thinking cap on…and came up with this recipe for lemonade cake! (Which is actually from the Deen Brothers, aka the sons of Paula Deen, aka the Food Network star I love to watch but live in fear of her food - if you've seen her show you know what I mean!)

That same someone who left the cake mix also left a large container of Country Time Lemonade Concentrate (I am more of a Crystal Lite girl myself when it comes to flavored beverages). Enter Sandra Lee – “it’s just so simple, see what you can make with ingredients you already have!” (Don’t worry faithful readers, I will not be ‘table-scaping’ in my next posting!)

So in theory, this recipe was really awesome. You just add 2 Tablespoons of lemonade powder to your box cake batter and voila – lemon cake!

I thought everything was going well, but then after taking my good-looking cakes out of the oven, they kind of collapsed. I don’t know the chemistry of this exactly, but I have noticed that when you add too much sugar to a cake, it does not rise and stay risen as much as it should. So the end result was a good tasting cake, but texture-wise it was a bit chewy and flat. If I had kept it in the oven longer, the outsides would have been overcooked, so I don’t think the solution was a longer cooking time.

I made frosting with cream cheese, butter, and some lime juice. Frosting can be a tricky issue. I’m not really into following a recipe, I just keep adding a bit of this and that until it is the right thickness. So basically, you start with softened cream cheese and butter, mix in the lime juice and a splash of vanilla, and then add cups of powdered sugar and sploshes of milk until it is the right spread-able texture (be REALLY CAREFUL about adding too much milk).

The end result: a very sweet cake!

I may experiment with the lemonade mix thing in the future, but rather than using it with box cake mix, I would make the batter from scratch and switch out some of the regular sugar for lemonade mix…we shall see…

Until next time, remember “Keep it sweet, keep it simple, and always keep it Semi-Homemade – I’m Mollie-Z.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Weekend Report: Ode to Art Museums




I am by no means an artist. But I am an appreciator of art. That means that if you put a pencil/paintbrush/chalk/crayon in my hand, nothing good will come of it, but if you drop me off at an art museum, I will be set for the day.
That is yet another reason why DC is the best city for me. It combines two things I love – art museums and free stuff! What more could I ask for? (Use your tax dollars - go to a national museum!)

If you’re one of those people who hates art museums and thinks they’re boooorrrring, I’m not going to judge you – I once felt exactly the same way. I spent most of my childhood hating being dragged to various art exhibits. Their only redeeming feature in my eyes was that sometimes my mom would let us miss school to see a special exhibit on a weekday (because who likes crowds?). We would meet my grandma at the de Young or the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, peruse the exhibit, and then go out to lunch at the museum cafĂ©, Cliffhouse, or The Beach Chalet.

So in my eyes:
Pros = missing school, delicious lunch, feeling like a grown-up “lady” with my grandma
Price = spend some time with art



This attitude has evolved over time into a true love and
 appreciation for art museums. I love their air-conditioned quiet. You can’t be stressed in an art museum, you just can’t. In a city where museums are free, I don’t feel any pressure to see everything at once – I walk through the exhibits I like, look right, look left, stop if I feel so inclined, and then leave when I get tired. Sometimes I stay for the whole day, sometimes just an hour.
And I said, I am no artistic expert. Some “art” I just don’t get. It doesn’t matter how you explain it to me, a toilet is a toilet, it is not an artistic creation. And call it any fancy names you want, but a solid painted canvas is something even I am capable of. Sometimes I walk into a gallery and the first thought that pops into my head is “Ooh, ick, ugly art.” You know what I mean?
But for all the art I don’t get, there is exponentially more art that I do get.
This weekend I went to two museums. The first was the National Gallery, and the second was the American Indian Museum. Both are impressive Smithsonians – I’ve probably been to the National Gallery 10 times over the past two summers (it’s huge, so I recommend taking it one part at a time. One day I spend a few hours looking at all the Dutch Master’s paintings -  omg if I never see another still life again I will be ok…how is it that such a small country produced so much art???). But the Impressionist Exhibit there is phenomenal. In my mind that’s all you really need to see, the rest is just fluff.

The American Indian Museum is not an art museum at all, and spending an afternoon there made me realize why I prefer art museums. At an art museum, all you have to do is walk around and look at things. You see beautiful/interesting/ugly paintings, they make you think/feel/whatever something, and mission accomplished. But in a history/culture museum, there is a whole lot more work involved – you get out what you put in – you need to read all the plaques. It’s like a giant, visually engaging, interestingly designed history book. 

You all know I love to read, but some afternoons I’m just too ignorant-American style lazy.
Bottom line, I prefer an art museum.  And as I perused the exhibits at the national Gallery on Saturday with two friends (one new to DC, and one an artist) I realized that though I do not consider myself an “art person,” I am full of fun facts about art, artists, art dealers, and art theft.

Why? Books! Knowing the story behind a museum or a painting makes the experience more interesting and enjoyable. It’s kind of like combining the chock-full-of-info style of the American Indian Museum, with the purely visual National Gallery.
There are a lot of books about art – some non-fiction, some stories based on paintings, some stories inspired by paintings.
So here is a list of the art books I have read:
- Historical Fiction - Vreeland tells the story of August Renoir's famous painting by the same name. She tells of the artist's struggle to capture "la vie moderne" on canvas, while working with an array of models, including friends, other Impressionists, and a few lovers - all within 2 months of summer. You can see the actual painting at the Philips Collection in DC. 

- A memoir/biography written by the famous Impressionist's son (who himself became a famous filmmaker) depicting the life of a struggling artist and master of his craft. 
- Joseph Duveen was the art dealer for John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Mellon, Henry Clay Frick, and William Randolph Hearst. This biography is full of interesting information about how one clever man is responsible for many of the masterpieces in American museums today. 
- Non-fiction detective story about the greatest art theft off modern times. 


- This book-become-movie is a fictional tale based on the painting by Vermeer. 
- The fictional story of an adventure through France in a quest to find a stolen $30-million Cezanne.