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.

Create Maps or search from 80 million at MapMyRun

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!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Road Trip: New Orleans

Last Saturday morning I was sitting on a front porch in New Orleans, a comfortable light breeze blowing through the jasmine and basil, jazz playing in the house next door, and someone practicing trumpet a couple blocks away. (I can’t even make this up.)

So here’s what’s happened over our two days in the Big Easy.

We arrived on Thursday evening, took turns getting ready to go (seven travelers, one bathroom), then went out to dinner: turtle soup! Which is not actually made with real turtles. (I’m upset on the authenticity front, but less upset on the endangered animals front…)

A brief walk down Bourbon Street.

After dinner we hopped in a cab and headed to the Seventh Ward. Just like Broadway in Nashville, three blocks of Frenchman Street are all bars, all with great live bands, and no cover. Both would be the kinda skeezy going-out streets in other cities (18th Street in AdMo I'm looking at you), but because there's live music played by really talented musicians it is a different (classier) story entirely.

The first bar we went to had a bluesy terrific trumpeter, the second had a super sexy reggae-style saxophone, and the third had an old school banging banjo and talented trombone. Clearly New Orleans is where band geeks come to claim their awesomeness. Such a great night! I definitely found myself wondering, what am I doing in the northeast??? (Oh right. The jobz.)


Anywho, Day Two was a blur of snacks and sunshine and all things New Orleans, as we spent it bouncing from one activity to another all day and night.

We started at the famous Café du Monde with the best beignets buried in powdered sugar near the French quarter. They're like donuts, except there's no hole in the middle and the outside is crunchier while the inside is much more dense and chewy. Dipped in black coffee is the way to go here. Mmmmmmmmm!

We spent the rest of the morning wandering around that area – it's pretty touristy but wasn't too crowded.

New Orleans or Disneyland??

Next stop was The Country Club, a European style restaurant/bar/pool party in the Bywater neighborhood. After a long and luxurious afternoon lounging in the sun it was time for our next New Orleans eating experience.

For dinner we got oyster and shrimp po-boys at Acme near Bourbon Street. There was a line out the door of this place, but to be honest I was not particularly impressed. Their signature sandwich filled with fried oysters and shrimp just tasted like fried if you know what I mean. The appetizer of grilled oysters however was delicious!!!

From there it was on to more music and dancing! We started at a wine bar/jazz garden, standing outside and listening to a chill band. Then back to Frenchman Street, where we again went to a series of bars with excellent live bands. It's interesting how much each venue's vibe changes depending on the performers. One of our favorites was a big brass band – so much fun! So much dancing!


Saturday afternoon we sadly bid farewell to New Orleans, but I would definitely go back.

On the way out of the city we had a traditional southern experience between New Orleans and Baton Rough. Called Oak Alley for the line of trees leading up to the front door from the Mississippi, this old plantation had a lot of interesting history, both bad and good.

We toured the slave quarters, then the big house – on the bright side, it was beautiful! On the downside, slavery. I felt like a character in Gone With the Wind, the only thing missing was an antebellum ball gown...

Next stop: Memphis!