Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Guest Post: Pro-Toenail and Proud Of It

This is a guest post by 6x6.

At this point in my running life, I consider myself a serious runner. I run six days of the week, I know and understand running workouts, I can write my own running plan, and I have even made some running friends. There is however one aspect of running that will forever remain a mystery to me - the purposeful surgical removal of one’s toenails. [Editor's note: Despite 6x6's implication, toenail removal is not "normal" for most runners!]

Most common to those who run ultra marathons (distances longer than a marathon) some runners will elect to have their toenails surgically removed in order to avoid any potential bother from their toenails.

This isn’t right. I believe as much as anyone else in “to each, his own” but there is a limit. To quote the author of Born to Run, Christopher McDougall, “You know any sport has gone off the rails when you have to remove body parts to do it.” Amen. Body parts are for life. You simply aren’t meant to remove them.

This can be avoided, says one experienced ultra marathoner, “if you wear properly fitting shoes, keep the nails trimmed short, and potentially even use something like aquaphor on them before a long race, you'll be fine.” Even custom orthotics or running sandals could alleviate any wear and tear on the toenails. Many runners will cut holes in the tops of their sneakers to relieve the pressure.

The removal of toenails carries serious risks. Not to mention, toenails often grow back after surgery. Toenails are not evolutionarily obsolete. They provide important protection to your feet just like your rib cage does to your vital organs. Nails can also serve as an indicator of health. Oxygen deprivation, infection, dehydration and lack of protein, among other health issues are sometimes all seen first in the nail bed. So toenail removal can be like taking the mercury out of a thermometer, while you have a fever.

Growing up with a father and grandfather who were missing fingers, I admit that I may be biased toward keeping all of my appendages, no matter how small. Like a tattoo, it’s a choice you’re simply bound to regret when you’re older or when you decide to wear open-toed shoes . . . whichever comes first.

Author's note: This is by no means medically accurate, simply my observations from a bored day at work spent on Google.

[Editor's Note: OMG finding pictures for this post was horrifying! My toenails aren't about to win any beauty pageants, but oh man, Google "toenails" or "toes" and you may feel a bit nauseous! The things I do for you readers. All for you!]

Cake of the Week: Cakeballs

Cakeballs [keyk bawls]
- noun, pl.
1. Extreme nuggets of cakey awesomeness.

Yup that’s right. Cakeballs are fun to say and even funner to eat! They’re elegantly simple: Take cake, mix it with frosting, and dip it in chocolate.
And oh man they are good!
I’ve been oogling cakeballs since I discovered the wonderful world of baking blogs about a year and a half ago – I’m surprised it’s taken me so long to actually try them out.

My first cakeball adventure (yes, there have been 2!) took place in Tahoe with Sister2. As we lay on the beach in the late afternoon, conversation turned to the all-too-common questions: What are we having for dinner? And more importantly, what are we having for dessert? Sister2 wanted something rich and chocolatey and extreme. Double Chocolate Cakeballs? Yes!

I texted 6x6 to alert her to the awesomeness about to occur in my California kitchen. She responded, offering a “gazillion dollars” for me to bring some cakeballs back with me.
Hmm, not likely. Instead I promised to make her some when I returned to DC. The opportunity arose as we planned our second LOTR party (there are 3 movies, two down and 1 to go!). For The Two Towers we went with an Elves and Ents theme. LLC cooked a dinner of falafel, pita, hummus, baba ganoush, couscous, and salad (Middle Earth = Middle East? Sure, why not!). And butter tarts. Oh Lord the butter tarts! (I’ll blog about those later.)

Of course I offered to provide a dessert: Red Velvet Cakeballs! Cakeballs do kind of remind me of truffles, which can probably be found in the Ent forest (it’s a stretch, but work with me here).
This is abnormal for me, but I really prefer the red velvet to the double chocolate (blasphemy!). But the possibilities are endless – any cake/frosting/chocolate combination would work.
Without any further ado, here’s the recipe from Bakerella:
Red Velvet Cake Balls

1 box red velvet cake mix (cook as directed on box for 13 X 9 cake)

1 can cream cheese frosting (16 oz.)

1 package chocolate bark (regular or white chocolate)

wax paper
1. After cake is cooked and cooled completely, crumble into large bowl.

2. Mix thoroughly with 1 can cream cheese frosting. (It may be easier to use fingers to mix together, but be warned it will get messy.)

3. Roll mixture into quarter size balls and lay on cookie sheet. (Should make 45-50. You can get even more if you use a mini ice cream scooper, but I like to hand roll them.)

4. Chill for several hours. (You can speed this up by putting in the freezer.)

5. Melt chocolate in microwave per directions on package.

6. Roll balls in chocolate and lay on wax paper until firm. (Use a spoon to dip and roll in chocolate and then tap off extra.)
I also only melt a few pieces of chocolate bark at a time because it starts to cool and thicken. It’s easier to work with when it’s hot.

My additional Eat Run Read suggestions:
  • A whole box of cake mix makes A TON of cakeballs. I divided the batter into two pans and made one cake and one into cakeballs. Even a half-pan made 35 balls! Therefore, I also only used ½ can of frosting.
  • When Sister2 and I made them, we melted the chocolate in the microwave but it burnt! Ick! So the second time around I did it in a double boiler. I also added about 2 tablespoons heavy cream as the chocolate melted because it got weirdly thick (this could be a quality-of-chocolate problem).
  • As you’re rolling the cake into balls, keep some flour around and dust your hands occasionally. No matter what you will end up sticky, but the flour will help a bit.
I emailed my roommates to notify them of the impending party and my edible plans, and got this response:
From: red-velvet-loving-roommate
To: Mollie
Date: Wednesday, September 22, 2010, 2:25 PM

And then I brought the leftovers to work, because though I love them, I do not need manymany cakeballs looking at me every time I open my fridge.

A directly quoted Gchat exchange:
me:  want a cake ball?
 Sent at 3:07 PM on Thursday
Stefanie:  do not tempt me
 Sent at 3:11 PM on Thursday

And a direct quote from my boss:
“Yummmm oh my god WOW! I will pay you not to give me any more of those!”
So I think people liked them! J

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to announce some BIG NEWS.

Sister1 is getting married! I realize that people get married all the time, but this is my sister we’re talking about here! Getting married! For serious!

Last Wednesday I woke up to a missed call and a text: “you better call me back.” Sister1’s boyfriend proposed Tuesday night. It didn’t come as a surprise, but that doesn’t make their engagement any less wonderful.

They’re still deciding what they want to do about this whole wedding business.

 Sister1 doesn’t want to do anything! I know it’s their wedding and they can do what they want, but I’m going to take advantage of their indecision and this bloggy platform to lobby my opinion:

Reason’s Why Sister1 Should Have a Wedding:

  1. You only get married once! I know in this day and age that statement is statistically untrue…but Sister1’s been with her boyfriend from high school to college, through semesters abroad and multiple moves and jobs and all kinds of things, and they’re still ridiculously in love. So I really really really don’t think either of them is going to need to re-marry ever. This is their only shot!
  2. Three words for you: Wedding. Cake. Tasting. Bakeries give you an assortment of their cakes to sample. No duh! How does it work? Go here.
  3. If you’re worried about who is going to marry you, don’t be! I’ve done the research and am fully prepared to get Joey-from-Friends-style ordained in the state of California.
  4. Bridal showers and a bachelorette party. They “shower” you with gifts! And Sister2 and I are totally psyched to host an absolutely fabulous bachelorette party.
  5. This song. And this one. We’re all going to cry and it’s going to be great.
  6. A wedding dress. You can go all Say Yes To The Dress style, or just a simple J. Crew. But you’re young, you’re good-looking, and everyone knows that your wedding day is the most beautiful day of your life!
  7. Your best friends come from all over to hang out with you. Because they love you. And that’s fun!
  8. Honeymoon. You’ll go on one anyways, so I guess this isn’t a reason to have an actual wedding. But readers, I need your input – where should they go?

I’m not saying we need to get all super-wedding here. A simple ceremony in a park and going out to brunch afterwards would suffice. Or you could do the city hall thing and then rent a restaurant. Or we could go Easter-style and do it at Mt. Tam. The possibilities are endless!


(Emily from Gilmore Girls taught me that you congratulate the groom and give best wishes to the bride. Lessons learned.)

Aren't they cute???

Monday, September 27, 2010

Weekend Report: Harper's Ferry Hike

Sorry for the no-post-Friday! My mama called me on Saturday to check in: 

Mollie, you didn’t blog on Friday!?!?

Me: Yeah, I just wasn’t feeling creative.

Mama: Ok, well that’s ok then. I was just making sure you hadn’t totally lost it and gone off the deep end.

My mama’s worried that I’m on the verge of "going off the deep end"…so there’s that.

Anywho, this Saturday I took advantage of the lovely fall weather and went hiking at Harper’s Ferry. It’s about a 2-hour drive from DC, but totally worth it. The hike itself was on the short side (just 5 miles total), but it was hilly. As in, the first 2.5 miles were so steep that I found myself using the “Rocky Mountain Rock Step” I learned as a camp counselor!

I snapped some pictures of the LOTR-style forests (can you picture Elves and Orcs engaging in an epic battle here?). 

Harper's Ferry was actually a major Civil War battle site, and came complete with costumed historical re-enactors.

We ate lunch sitting on the old fort ruins atop the highest point, overlooking the Potomac River. 

And then we hiked down to an even better lookout point. Get this: to the left is Maryland, in front is West Virginia, and we are sitting in Virginia!!! Three states at once = win! (I'm from a place where the closest state boarder is 3.5 hours away.) 

The town of Harper’s Ferry is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers (Shenandoah to the left, Potomac to the right). I find myself with John Denver (again): Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River…

Post-hike I carried on the fall spirit by indulging in some pumpkin frozen custard – it was delicious! Frozen custard is like soft serve ice cream, but somehow thicker and richer. Mmmmm!

After a long day, I felt abnormally ambitious Saturday night and decided to honor my promise to “be fun” at least one night of the weekend. I went out dancing at Café Citron, a salsa club near Dupont Circle (and yes, per usual proximity to my bed was a major factor in my agreeing to go out). It was fun, but after a couple hours of fending off over-ambitious dance partners I was ready to call it a night.

Sunday was cold and lazy and wonderful – farmer's market and Americanos and yoga and chili - I am loving this rain!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Literary Bite: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

My friends’ mom recommended I read this book almost a year ago and I finally got my hands on it. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid is a super quick read – it’s a finish-in-a-weekend book, which was a nice change of pace after Anna K.

The writing style is interesting and different. A Pakistani man sits down at a café and begins telling his story to an anonymous American listener. It's a unique style, but it seems unrealistic. I don’t care how good the story is, who sits and listens to a stranger talk for 192 pages worth of words?

Stylistic choices aside, it is an interesting and thought-provoking book.

Changez, a very smart young Pakistani man, immediately sucks you into his story. The genius of this book is that you immediately like Changez. You sympathize with him. And even as his life takes a turn for the worse, you maintain that connection. Hamid humanizes a person that the CIA would consider suspect (at the very least) and lends insight into why someone would become anti-American.

And he leaves his readers with a very thought-provoking ending, but I don’t want to give too much away, so if you want more details you can click here, but I suggest just reading the book yourself.

The only thing that bothered me about the book was the title (because I’m a nit-picker when it comes to vocabulary). All too often people confuse “fundamentalist” with “religious extremist” at best, or “Islamic terrorist” at worst. I made that mistake once myself. My Niger homestay father was an imam, and I asked him if he considered himself a “fundamentalis.” He explained that yes, he was a fundamentalist because he believes in following the basic rules of his religion. Fundamentalism isn’t about politics or violence or even culture – it’s just the basics.

But I suppose that title-wise, The Reluctant Terrorist is too sensational and The Reluctant Activist is too boring.

Silliness pickiness aside, definitely read this book! And let me know what you think!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My New Favorite Pool

I know I have a history of super-raging pool rants, but I promise this is a happy post!

Yesterday I had a LOT on excessive energy. Abs and yoga and strength workout videos are all well and good, but I need more. I need to do something to make me tired! Because (much like they say about dogs) a tired Mollie is a happy Mollie. I suffer from severe exercise withdrawal in an I-can’t-really-sleep, daydreaming-about-running, flotrack-video-watching, cranky-because-I-just-want-to-run sort of way.

Last night I was craving a workout. Not the equivalent of a light jog, but a calf-burning, shaky-legs-inducing, lightheaded-when-it’s-over WORKOUT.

So I bit the proverbial bullet and found a pool because I’m self-aware enough to know that I need to exercise to be a functionally pleasant human being.

The Marie H. Reed Recreation Center in Adam’s Morgan is my new favorite pool! I can’t believe I’ve lived within 10 minutes of this place for over a year and am just now discovering it!

It’s a DC public pool that’s supposed to be free for residents and $4 for non-residents. I headed to the pool after work, stuffing my passport, copy of my paycheck, and library card in my backpack and planning my explanations in my head (it’s really hard to prove residency if you don’t drive or have utility bills in your name).

My worries were all for naught. I walked in the door with my confused face on, and the lifeguard just waved me towards a sign-in clip board. And that was it. My name and “time in” and I was good to go!

The locker rooms were unimpressive, and for a brief moment I thought to hope that the pool is cleaner than the rusty showers...but either way relative cleanliness wasn’t going to stop me!

Reasons I love the Ad-Mo pool:

-       It’s FREE. (Because I’m a runner I just can’t get behind paying for exercise. It should always be free!)

-       They have a lane specifically marked for “Water Running.” When I started there was another pool-runner, then she left and a pregnant woman shared my lane (she wasn’t really running…but she definitely wasn’t swimming either).

-       The water is warm. I hate getting into cold water. Hate it.

-       It’s not too crowded. I arrived at 6:40 pm, and the pool practically empty! But by the time I left at 7:50, it was a lot more crowded. The pool closes at 8, but people were still showing up at 7:45!

-       There are two doors open to the outside. Not that I could see anything, but it’s nice to get a breath of fresh air.

For my workout I did 20 minutes at a moderate pace to warm up. (Go here to learn more about how and why to pool run.) Usually I pool run by time, but since there wasn't a big clock, I decided to do my repeats by laps. I did: 4 laps, 3 laps, 2 laps, 5x1 lap, with one lap recovery between each rep. Then I cooled down for 10 minutes.

I got out of the pool feeling pretty good about the whole experience. Workout mission accomplished!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cake of the Week: Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

I went out dancing in Adam’s Morgan on Friday night, where one of the most horrifyingly awesome interactions I have ever experienced occurred.

I was out with friends of friends, and one of them was apparently interested in me.

Guy: I heard about your blog, so you must be a good baker?

Me: Umm, yeah, I like to bake…

Guy: Well I know your mom must be a good baker!

Me: ?

Guy: She is because she made you!

And then my mind exploded. Like WHAT???? Did that seriously just happen? Yes it did. Obviously I fled the scene immediately because really? He expected that to work??? Sigh.

Though this young man was over-confident and uncreative and slightly creepy, he did have a point. My mama is a good baker! And one of her specialties is zucchini bread. And because my family is awesome, our zucchini bread tends to involve chocolate. This recipe can vary from healthier cinnamon-walnut zucchini bread to chocolate chip zucchini bread, to double chocolate zucchini bread. All are delicious! A slice of zucchini bread and a cup of coffee makes the perfect breakfast or afternoon snack.

I can remember my mom grating those super-huge zucchinis you get when you leave your veggies too long on the vine into her big mixing bowl. She then proceeded to make loaves and loaves and loaves of zucchini bread. (Remember the biscotti? My mama makes things in large quantities.) Some we ate immediately, and the rest went into the freezer to save for later.

I made zucchini bread this weekend for my LOTR party. I thought that zucchini bread seemed like a hobbit-ish food because it has veggies (hobbits are farmers)…I imagine Bilbo Baggins sitting down to a slice of zucchini bread for elevensies, or perhaps afternoon tea?

Mama's Zucchini Bread

¾ cup vegetable oil

3 eggs

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoon baking soda

3 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups flour (you can do half whole wheat and half all-purpose flour if you want)

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups grated zucchini

1 cup chopped toasted walnuts

¾ to 1 ½ cup chocolate chips (this time I got a little carried away and went for 1 ½ cups of chocolatey goodness…but use your best judgement)

1. Preheat oven to 350*. Mix the grated zucchini and salt in a drainer and let sit at least 15 minutes. Press the zucchini with a paper towel to drain out extra moisture.

2. Mix oil, eggs, and brown sugar.

3. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly.

4. Mix in drained zucchini, nuts, and chocolate chips if using. The batter will be thin.

5. Pour batter into two greased and floured loaf pans. Bake for 40-55 minutes, until a toothpick or sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes in the pans, then shake the loaves out and continue cooling on a baking rack.

If you wanted to make this more healthy-breakfast-ish, you can always substitute apple sauce for half the oil, do all whole wheat flour, and omit the chocolate chips. Though I can't imagine why you would ever omit the chocolate chips!

My mama wouldn't do that...

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Cultured Weekend: From Shakespeare to Hobbits

Oooooh, this weekend was cultured!

One of my friends from back in the day (i.e. pre-elementary school) is in a play in DC. Natalie and her sister are the same ages as me and Sister1, so we spent a lot of time together as children. 

My first Shakespeare experience was with Sister1 and Natalie and Alicia – I was about 9 years old, and our families vacationed together in Tahoe. We all went to the Tahoe Shakespeare Festival and saw As You Like It. Since then, I’ve seen many many many Shakespeare plays overlooking Sand Harbor – so I’m pretty well-versed in Shakespeare’s comedies.

Thus, it seems fitting that 14 years later (sidenote: OMG 14 years!?!?!) I attended Natalie’s first professional performance in the Shakespeare Theater Company’s rendition of All’s Well That Ends Well. 

And I really enjoyed it! The play has received mixed reviews, and obviously it was a bit confusing in parts (as all Shakespeare experiences are), but I thought it was great! The costumes were interesting, and the theater wasn’t too big. And Natalie, of course, was a super-star! She plays Diana, a beautiful Italian town girl who helps Helena (the lead) trick her husband into sleeping with her.

It’s called All’s Well That Ends Well, but I’m pretty sure that Shakespeare was messing with us there. I mean, Helena ends up with a jerk of a husband who she really loves for no apparent reason…but I guess we’ll chalk that one up to poetic license and/or a different time period.

LOTR-Emily and I felt pretty special as we gave the ushers our names to get into the “green room” afterwards. We also learned that CRS tickets are Complementary Reserved Seating, which means that you get your tickets and wait in a line, and a half-hour before the play starts they assign you any available seats.

So theater? Shakespeare? Culture? Check!

But the weekend did not end there. Sunday I hosted a Lord of the Rings Hobbit Party. OMG yes.

Let me explain LOTR-Emily. She hadn’t been assigned a blog name until now because I couldn’t think of a good one! We lived together for most of last year, do yoga together every week, and she was the recipient of the Caramel Birthday Cake. But this weekend the true awesomeness that is LOTR-Emily came out in full force.

You may remember my nerding out LOTR rampage. It started with an email to all my friends in DC: “Hey, not sure if you’re into LOTR, but if so you should totally come to this with me!” Turns out LOTR-Emily is way more into LOTR than I am (She has a Ring! And a cape! And all the extended versions of the DVDs!).

And so she had the genius inspiration – we should celebrate Bilbo Baggins’ birthday!!! His birthday is September 22nd (this Wednesday), but we thought we’d start it early. The extended versions of the films are at least 4 hours each, so you can’t possibly do it all in one night.

So Sunday we chose The Shire as our food inspiration and watched The Fellowship of the Ring.

What is Shire food, you may wonder?

Well, hobbits are all about food. They eat 7 meals a day: breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner and (later in the evening) supper.

They love growing things, so we had a veggie-heavy dinner, with desserts of course!

-   Potato, cauliflower and carrot pot pies

-   Mushroom and potato stew

-   Green salad

-   Bread and smoked gouda, brie, and cheddar cheese

-   Peanuts and caramel corn

-   Chocolate chip zucchini bread

-   Cupcakes

-   Tea

I like to think that Shakespeare and J.R.R. Tolkein would have been friends. They were both creative and adventurous and loved to write. Basically I just enjoy both their works – from All’s Well That Ends Well to hobbits, it was quite a weekend!