Thursday, April 29, 2010

Perfect Pizza Party

You know what you should make Mollie? Pizza! suggested one of my roommates. (Oh boys. What is it about them not liking cake?)
Bahahahaha! Funny joke, my friend. Funny joke. I make a cake of the week. Occasionally I branch out to make cookies, and on a very rare day I go for a pie. But a pizza pie? I'm not so sure about that.BUT, I never back down from a challenge. So in yoga one night I started thinking...and pondering...and planning the possibilities...(the teacher is always telling us to "meditate" - as if that's even possible!). Yes I will do it. I will make pizza.
Though I really can't claim to be a pizza "maker." I bought dough, sauce, and toppings. I've made pizza crust before, but the Trader Joe's kind is really good, and why bother?And toppings, well, not a whole lot of "making" going on there. Can o'olives, package of pepperoni, pre-shredded cheese, assorted veggies...yep, I'm that lazy.

So a pizza maker? No. I like to think of myself as more of a pizza decorator! Because that's how the process felt. 

I rolled out my four rounds of dough: 3 on cookie sheets, and the last on my one pizza pan. 

Then a dash of this, a sprinkle of that, and voila! Pizzas!

The best thing about making your own pizza is that you can completely control the toppings and the thickness of the crust. Everyone has their pizza particulars. I'm a whole wheat, thin crust, extra red sauce, light on the cheese, heavy on the toppings kind of person. (My dad is the complete opposite: thick crust, no sauce, lots of meat. My sister is a cheese cheese and more cheese, nothing crazy, nothing fancy, kind of girl. And my mama just eats whatever you put in front of her.)

So this particular pizza party was for a house dinner occasion. (You didn't think I was making four pizzas for myself, did you?)

First I made a traditional Pepperoni and Mushroom Pizza to accommodate my less-adventurous guests. Mozzarella cheese, red sauce, all things good.Then I made a Mexican Pizza:
I mixed a spoonful of sauce with a cup of pico de gaillo salsa and spread it on a plain crust.
Then I sprinkled it with a Mexican shredded cheese blend.
Toppings: Pre-cooked grilled chicken (holler Trader Joe's!), sliced yellow peppers, chopped onion, and black olives.
And ta-da! my piece de resistence...the pizza that required 3 yoga poses to work through in my mind...Gorgonzola Pear Pizza! Whole wheat crust, tomato sauce, a layer of fresh spinach, sprinkled with gorgonzola and a little bit of mozarella cheese, then topped with chopped onion, artichoke hearts, and a sliced pear. Yep. That happened. And the fourth pizza, we'll call it Everything Pizza, on an herb crust, was just a mix of all the leftover toppings.
I'd say that the challenge was met, and my pizza party was a great success!
What's your pizza preference?


I tried to write, but I'm suffering from a sad sad lack of creativity today. I raced yesterday, and I'm reading a pretty good why the lack of thoughts? This has only happened once before! 

Is this it? Is this the end of Eat Run Read? Has my mama's warnings come true (Mollie, don't you ever run out of things to say?)?


Perhaps a cookie would inspire me?

I promise something better tomorrow!

For now, if you like, read this instead. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

ACLI Capital Challenge 3-Mile Race

Soooo funny story, I raced this morning.

And if your response is What Mollie? I thought you were in the pool? I thought you were doing yoga? I thought you were taking some time off running??? Then you’re right. And brownie points to you for caring about my life. (Seriously, recently it's been a lot of eating, reading, and thinking about running on the Mollie-front.)

Or more likely, if your response is Ummmk? you should probably follow Eat Run Read more consistently. I’m just saying…

Anywhoozle, this morning was the ACLI Capital Challenge, a race that pits government, agency and media organizations against each other on Haynes Point. This year, there were 11 senators, 25 representatives, 6 judges, 25 electronic and 37 print media teams (see the entry list here). Also, get this, Bart Yasso was there! That's THE Bart Yasso, of the Yasso 800s! aka my favorite workout ever (who's a running nerd? Me! Me!).

When I first heard about this race back in the fall, I was like Yes! This is going to be awesome! People at work are going to think I’m so cool for being a fast runner! (I do realize that most people do not judge coolness by running ability…but work with me here people, a girl can dream…)

But as the race-date approached and my issues did not get better, my excited-ness switched to dread. I mean, not that it’s a super-serious race, but still! I like to run well, and I like to race when I’m prepared. Racing unprepared is just setting yourself up for misery and failure (do as I say, not as I do kids).

BUT I had entered, and without me our team would have to cancel, so there I was, lacing up my flats on a windy DC morning, mentally preparing for the worst.

We lined up at the start, a mix of Congressmen and judges, TV news and print journalists, Army uniforms and Agency representatives, all ready to run the 3-mile out-and-back before the work day began.

And it wasn’t that bad. I mean, I’m the most out of shape I’ve been since high school, so there’s that. But a nice tail-wind blessed us through the first mile (only to curse us on the way back), and there were enough people in the race (about 700) to keep the motivation high.

So overall not a bad morning. I am currently sitting on an ice pack and enjoying my spoils (i.e. free post-race apples, grapes, and croissants). I ran 19:16, was the 3rd place woman, and 49th overall. 

Ah running…how I missed thee!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Cake of the Week: Oreo Cake

Just 48 hours after last week's cake fiasco, I was back at it again. Usually I give myself a bit more time between cakes, but this one was for a birthday I found out about the day beforehand. And it was for the lovely Megan, my very glorious co-worker, and a reader of this blog (everybody say Hi Megan!).
I found out Tuesday afternoon that it was her birthday on Wednesday. So I called out across our shared wall, Meeegggaaaannnn??? (This happens often throughout the day when I need a meaningful human interaction - i.e. someone to talk about running, cake, etc., or to share some amazing internet find - we're talking dessert-related here people).
Luckily she was there to respond (when she's not I'm just another lonely cubicle-droid talking to myself in a computer screen world).Me: If you were to have a cake of your choice, what kind of cake would that be?
Oh gosh, well, I just really really love vanilla frosting.Dun dun dun. As you know from last week, frosting is kind of the bane of my existence. (And no, I don't think that's an over-dramatic statement.)
I took a deep breath, sighed, and accepted the fact. It's going to be a cake, and it's going to involve frosting. I can do this! I can! I can!
And guess what? I did! It was the best frosting I have ever made. Yep. That's right!

But I get ahead of myself. Let's first talk about the cake.
Oreo Cake from Beantown Baker. Erin had made this cake once before, and though I wasn't in Boston at the time to experience it, rumor (aka, Jess) has it that the cake was fabulous!The original recipe is for cupcakes, but it makes a nice two-layer cake. I lined the bottom of one of the cake pans with Oreo halves, and then crushed oreos into the cake. I used about 20 Oreos total, which I think was almost too much. When I make this cake again (because it's definitely good enough for a repeat), I think I will crush up fewer Oreos into the batter.
And the frosting, oh the frosting. First of all, it worked. Second of all, it was delicious! I 1 1/2-ed the frosting recipe to make sure it was enough for the cake, and it came out perfectly.

As we celebrated Megan's birthday the next day at work, everyone said they loved the cake, and I really don't think they were lying. And if they were, oh well, becuase I love love
love this cake!
Oreo Cake

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour, plus 2 Tbsp for the Oreo chunks
(I omitted this step)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 2/3 cup sugar
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 pkg Oreo Cookies (~45 cookies)
Preheat over to 350F. Grease and flour two 8-9 inch pans.

Twist apart 24 Oreos. Place the wafer with filling on it, filling side up, in the bottom of one of your pans. Cut other wafers in half. Crush the other wafer halves, also for garnishing.

Cut the remaining Oreo cookies into quarters with a sharp knife. Toss with 2 Tbsp flour and set aside. (I didn't toss them in flour.)

In a large bowl cream the butter until fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add the milk and vanilla and mix to combine.

In a separate bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Add the dry ingredients to butter mixture. Mix until integrated. Stir in sugar. With an electric mixer on low speed, beat for 30 seconds. Turn the mixer up to medium speed and beat for 2 minutes. Add the egg whites. Beat for 2 more minutes. Stir in the quartered cookies.

Fill 2 8 or 9-inch cake pans. Bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes for 15 minutes before removing from the pan.

8 oz cream cheese at room temp
1 stick butter at room temp
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
3-4 cups powdered sugar
2 T milk - as needed

Cream butter and cream cheese until fluffy.

Add vanilla extract. Slowly add powdered sugar until desired consistency is reached.

Happy Birthday Megan!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Weekend Report: Happy Earth Day!

This weekend was everything that last weekend was not: relaxing, unplanned, meandering, and fabulous.
Yesterday I celebrated Earth Day to the max. I started with the Environmental Film Festival Bonus Screening Day. I couldn't get anyone to come with me, so this was a solo movie experience...which I don't mind, but it's a bummer when you can't discuss post-movie with anyone!

First I saw "Nora", a 25-minute short about Nora! the first certified organic restaurant in America, which happens to be just a few blocks from my house. The owner, and namesake, Nora Poullion is an Austrian emigre who has made it her mission to bring organics to the forefront of American culture since 1979. She was there to answer questions after the film. (Unfortunately, some people seem to be confused on the definition of "question." I swear, people get a mic in their hand and all of a sudden you can't shut them up! Jeez people - if you have so much to say, write a blog! Am I right???)

Random Sidenote: This is the second short independent film called "Nora" that I've seen in DC. The
other was about an African dancer and was that's kind of random, but worth sharing...maybe...
Anywho, I digress. The next film was Sweet Crude, which was all about the oil issues in the Niger Delta. A very good documentary - the kind of film I used to want to make. Did you know that it actually rains acid regularly in the Niger Delta? So regularly that the roofs on their houses corrode? And that they used to have white sand beaches, but now the river is lined with toxic sludge? Literally.

I mean, I've been in that river - much higher up, obviously, but still!

Both films were great, check their websites to see if they're screening any time near you.

And then after the films, I headed to the mall for the Ear
th Day Rally and Concert. It was very impressive. The friends I was meeting got a spot about 20 feet from the stage from which we saw Jimmy Cliff, John Legend, The Roots, and Joss Stone preform.

Between acts we were treated to some pretty kick-a people watching. Festival organizers estimated 150,000 attendees! I haven't seen so many hippies and hipsters in one location since I lived at home! It was very uncharacteristic for DC, and I liked it. Though a few too many people took off their shirts (this isn't Woodstock people!). And though the crowd was 99% young (at least so close to the stage), there were some token old hippies whose mission seemed to be to educated the young hippies about how it used to be. 

Some of the speeches were a bit overly-heavy...I mean I know things aren't looking so good for the planet right now, but I'm willing to bet that everyone who attends an Earth Day event belives in global warming. (I pray that I'm right on that one. I mean really.)

But everyone was very nice - how could they not be? Earth day...Jimmy Cliff...the Roots. All things happy.

If you want to listen to some of the artists music, check out these links:
Jimmy Cliff
John Legend
The Roots
Joss Stone

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book List from Dark Star Safari

Want to hear some fabulous news? It's GREEN FRIDAY!!! What does that mean? Well, here at NatGeo, we save the earth by not going to work. Win and win. No, you cannot have my job.

Anywho, this post is a bit of a follow-up to yesterday's (I blogged about my new-to-my-top-10-faves book, Dark Star Safari). About 150 pages into the book, I noticed that Theroux often mentions books by other authors. So I started noting them down on the napkin I was using as my bookmark. By the end of the book, that little Continental cocktail napkin (from my trip to Texas) was covered, back and front, with a new book list.

So here it is:

Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
Killing Rage - Eamon Collin
Lords of Poverty - Graham Hancock
The Road to Hell - Michael Maren
Africa Betrayed - George Ayittey
Africa in Chaos - George Ayittey
The Man-Eaters of Tsavo - John Henry Patterson
Animal Farm - George Orwell
The Grass is Singing - Doris Lessing
Jump - Nadine Gordimer
July's People - Nadine Gordimer
A Guest of Honor - Nadine Gordimer
The Mosquito Coast - Paul Theroux
Jungle Lovers - Paul Theroux
The Return of Water - Kimball Taylor
Black Beauty - Anna Sewell
Les Onze Mille Verges - Guillaume Apollinaire
Finnegans Wake - James Joyce
Volksmoorde/Genocide - Hattingh Fourie
A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh
Sons and Lovers - D.H. Lawrence

I have read many books about Africa, but I've never read any of these, have you?

Anywho, hope you enjoy your weekend!

Happy Earth Day! (I will be hitting up the Environmental Film Festival and the Earth Day Festival and Concert on the Mall.)

Literary Bite: Dark Star Safari

If I didn’t already want to toss my cell phone in the Potomac, jump on the next plane, and bum around Africa for multiple months, this book just might introduce that idea to my daydreams.

Dark Star Safari is the story of a man who did just that. Paul Theroux traveled from Cairo to Cape Town on trains, busses, cars, "chicken taxis," and dugout canoes. The only difference between him and me is that he is a 60-year-old world-famous author, and I am well…myself.

This book is pretty epic – 480 pages. But awesome all the way through.  I have somehow never heard of Theroux before, but he has written 31 fiction and 15 non-fiction books. (Oh man, summer reading list anyone? Looks like I have my work cut out for me!)

To read a full biography of Theroux, go here.

Theroux first went to Africa when he served for three years as a Peace Corps teacher in Malawi in the 1960s. Dark Star Safari chronicles his return to the “dark continent.” To read a summary, go here. He goes on a wonderful and awful trip to a wonderful and awful place. 

Theroux is obviously a master of his craft, and expert writer. Even if you know nothing about Africa, or don’t care (gasp! Me. Judging. Now.), I think you will enjoy Dark Star Safari. The stories from his travels are sometimes harrowing, sometimes hilarious, but always interesting.

For example, in Ethiopia it seemed that everyone Theroux encountered had a story of time in prison. One man told him about a copy Gone With the Wind:

“I decided to translate it. I had no paper, so for paper I smoothed out the foil from cigarette packs and used the back side of it…But still I had to share the book – I could only have it for one hour [each day]. The translation took two years. I wrote it on three thousand sheets of cigarette foil.  One by one, I folded these up and put them back into cigarette packs, and when the prisoners were released they took them out of prison, tucked into their shirt pockets...I read it over and over for six years. I know the book by heart” (125).

He later tells the story of a thief in urban Kenya, who is surrounded and publicly murdered by a mob for his crimes…and afterward everyone just returns to their daily business (175).

Most of the controversy over this book is due to Theroux’s strong stance against foreign aid. He rails against plush foreign charities (“agents of virtue”) for creating dependent aid-based artificial economies. Theroux is, at best, pessimistic.

He has a valid point. For over forty years, the “West” has been "helping" African nations, and as a result in that time the standard of living has decreased, illiteracy has increased, and the continent is plagued by overpopulation, AIDS, and disease. Aid is political, and Theroux arugues that it is actually counter-productive, “Leaders needed poverty to obtain foreign aid, needed an uneducated and passive populace to keep themselves in office for decades. A great education system in an open society would produce rivals…” (318).

In conversation with a Kenyan student:

“Donor countries tell us that if all state-owned utilities and industries are turned over to the private sector, it will be the answer.” He smiled at me. “But it isn’t the answer.”

“So what is the answer?” I asked.

He smiled. “Maybe no answer” (180).

 Phew. Heavy stuff. But Theroux does not lecture, he merely observes. 

An article in The Guardian agrees with Theroux that, “aid corrupts its recipients and its providers” but points out that “he never actually visits an aid project or the office of an aid organization.” (Duly noted. I’m just trying to provide a balanced view.)

Mid-way through the book, I found myself wondering why Theroux was doing this in the first place. “I was in no hurry, I wasn’t due anywhere, yet whenever I arrived in an African city, I wanted to leave” (225). I don’t want to give too much away, but read the book. You’ll see that it’s not all doom and gloom and that Theroux actually does love Africa, and he loves writing about it, “How nice it would be…if someone reading the narrative of my African trip felt the same, that it was the next best thing to being there…” (388).

In conclusion, read this book. As you know I already love all things Africa, so I expected to at least like this book. Knowledge of East and South African history probably helps, but I think Dark Star Safari could serve as your introduction into Africa literature (don't worry, I have a long list of Africa books to recommend...but that's another post). 

Bottom line: two thumbs way up!

Read a review by an African here. 

And here's a link to a Paul Theroux discussion group.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pooling and Why You Should Do It

pool [pool]
- Noun
1. a small body of standing water; pond.

2. a still, deep place in a stream.
3. swimming pool.

pool [pool]
–verb (used without object)
1. to form a pool.
2. the act of aqua-jogging, as defined by Boston University distance runners.
pool [pool]
1. of or for a pool: pool running.
Recently I’ve been raging quite a bit about my time in the pool, without explaining what I’m doing in there.
I’m pooling.
(I guess the official term for this ridiculous activity I engage in on an all-too-often basis is “aqua-jogging,” but I hate using the word “jogging” to describe anything I do - it just calls to mind a fanny pack-laden shuffle, aka nothing I want anything to do with.)

And though pooling cost me years of my life in rage-induced stress, not to mention chlorine-saturated skin and hair, pooling really is the best form of cross training for runners. Biking can get you a good cardio workout, but pooling actually simulates running. This means that if you do it properly, you can do a week of pool workouts and emerge in the same shape you went in.
Pooling is essentially no-impact running. So for the injured runner, the pool is the place to be. Just make sure that your form is correct. You should be upright and move your arms and legs just like running. Do not let your legs swerve off to the sides (bad form can put unnecessary strain on your knees and muscles). And it’s not about how fast you clock your laps – speed is completely irrelevant – forward motion is not the goal, running form is.
The flotation belt is not absolutely necessary (I don’t use one), but if you’ve never pooled before, you may want to give it a shot.

And even if you’re not injured, one day in the pool a week can be a good supplement to your training – it’ll give your joints a rest, while maintaining your fitness.
My strongest caution is this: make sure you are working. Just because you’re in a pool moving your arms and legs does not mean that you are getting a workout. Just like running, you should feel tired when you’re done.
And because the pool is booorrriinnnngggg, I suggest doing some repeats, just to keep you motivated and engaged. I always start with a 15-20 minute warm-up and end with at least 5 minutes of cool-down.
Workout possibilities:
-       Four 5-minute hard reps with 5 minutes easy in between. (I just watch the clock on the wall.)
-       Ladder down from 7 minutes (with half-time recovery). So you run hard for 7 minutes, then easy for 3:30, then hard for 6, then easy for 3, etc.
-       3 minutes hard, 1 minute easy, 1 minute sprint, 1 minute easy, 3 minutes hard, etc…
I do not wish injury-mandate pool time on anyone (arg I wish I were running right now!), but it really is a great component to add to your training program. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Cake of the Week: The Blue Cake - oh man.

Ok, let me explain.I did not intent to make a Smurf cake, or anything reminiscent of Dr. Suess, or a Dali-esque melting cake...But in baking you don't always get what you expect. And once I step into the kitchen, anything goes.It all started because I owed one of my roommates a cake of her choice. She immediately requested a repeat of the glorious Africa Cake, and I was happy to oblige. So I planned another Africa cake, inspired by a different swath of fabric from Niger (for those of you who have no idea what I'm taking about, it's a red velvet cake, catch up here).I made the layers and froze them (which makes the frosting process easier). It's supposed to be a purple velvet cake, but it turns out I'm not willing to use the quantity of food coloring necessary to make a red velvet cake anything but brown-ish. Oh well. (Click here for the recipe.)Photoman joined me in the kitchen to document this cakesplosion, and a cakesplosion it certainly was! Luckily (for me) this is not a video blog...though you would probably be amused. 
Anywho, back to the process:
I took the layers out of the freezer and cut them in half. So far, so good. (Why make a 2-layer cake when you could make it 4, right???)
Then I made the frosting, and things just went downhill from there (things I struggle with: frosting. Always.) I started with a stick of butter and two packages of cream cheese. Then I added some milk. And some powdered sugar. (But retrospectively it was too much milk...but you know what they say about hindsight being 20:20. Dun dun dun. That was some indiscreet foreshadowing for you.)I blended to the click of Photman's camera. Work it! Beautiful! Fabulous! Hold that pose! 

I was concerned with the consistency (too runny)...but I didn't want to keep adding powdered sugar because then the frosting becomes a sugar-paste, which is just not that yummy. So I thought that *maybe* it would firm up. Boy was I wrong!

I scooped out some of the frosting and set it aside for later before I mixed in the blue food coloring.
To quote Photoman: You know what would be funny? A complete cake disaster! That would be hilarious!

Yep. He jinxed it. If he didn't take such fabulous pictures I would almost be annoyed!
But once you start you can't just stop mid-cake. So I went for it and frosted away, still hoping beyond hope that it would turn out ok, praying that the too-runny frosting would firm up a bit as it dried. Nope. My mumblings (which, thanks to Photoman, do not qualify as me talking to myself) went from Oh, maybe it will work... to Please work cake! Please? to Ohnoohnoohnoohno it's melting ohmygosh it's melting! My profanity increases in direct proportion to the stressfullness of the baking situation, and to Photoman's picture-snapping hilarity. But I will spare you a quote. Let's keep this blog PG kids!

Arrrgggghhhh! What am I going to do?!? I cried in dismay as I finished applying the smurf-like blue frosting to the outside of the cake. 

My immediate solution: Freezer. STAT. 

Sidenote: Again, thank God this blog doesn't include video...though all you readers would probably get a kick out my my cake-induced shrieking. 

Anywho, I whisked the cake to the freezer.  Ohmygod it's not going to fit! Ah! What am I going to do? What am I going to do? 

(Remember, Photoman is laughing hysterically and snapping pictures throughout my colorful cake conflict.)

 Frosting on my freezer cieling. Ok, I guess the fridge will have to do.Phew. Crisis averted for the moment. Though more like it's just hidden in my fridge. 

While my cake thought about what it has done, I mixed up the yellow frosting. I had resigned myself to the lost-ness of this cause, and just hoped that the end product would at least kind of resemble a cake. 
Well, at least we know it will taste good, right? Photoman tried to console me.I guess...