A Good Time . . . Cost Only Dimes!

>> Friday, January 29, 2010

It's Friday . . . so, recreation is on my mind. But as I've mentioned again, and again, and again, we're on a tight budget. The FREEKEND idea kind of died (sorry to those of you who were excited about it!) because I didn't get any submissions to showcase. But that doesn't mean I can't share some of our tips for low-cost fun!

When we're not playing Wii, watching movies, renovating our entryway closet, or cooking on weekends . . . we're most likely playing board (and card, etc.) games! Playing them just-the-two-of-us. Playing them with our friends. Playing them alone sometimes?

Maybe. But there's no shame in that.

  • Old School Battleship (we make our own bomb noises)
  • Scrabble (we're both vocab geeks)
  • Apples to Apples (need we say more?)
  • Taboo (crazy times with this one)
  • Boggle (another word-nerd favorite)
  • Jenga (Stephen is much better than I am)
  • Cranium (My favorite part is the clay!)
Basically all the oldies that we played as kids. By far our favorite is Apples to Apples. And we're just sad it's not a 2-player game, or else we'd probably be playing it almost every night. A couple years back, we used to have an unplugged game night with our best friends. We'd take turns hosting and providing the game of the night . . . making tons of tasty foods (and each bringing a dish to pass). Ah, those were the good days. And we're now trying to start that trend again . . .

We get most of our games at yard sales and thrift stores. Seriously, people. If you're already there to check out their selection of housewares, stop by the section with all the games. I was skeptical at first because I thought if people were getting rid of games, it likely meant there were pieces or cards missing (or weird stains, etc.).

But 9 out of 10 times, this isn't the case!

In all our trolling around, we've come across some strange ones, too! Take Pit, for example. The "exciting and fast-paced game of trading commodities" first made popular, I believe, in the early 1900s. We picked up a mint pack of cards at our Salvation Army . . . and even if the game ISN'T that fun (we still don't truly understand the rules), we had a hell of a time chatting about how weird it is . . .

We have procured most of our game collection for under $20 -- total. Now, we have an entire storage bench full of our finds, stowed neatly away in our dining room (in close proximity to the dining table -- where all the serious gaming goes down). In fact, I don't think there's any space left in there, so we may need to either stop buying games or find a bigger storage bench.

So, if you're stuck for ideas. Bored with your usual routine. Whatever. Go scope out the game section at your local thrift store. You'll have the games for years to come, you'll only spend a couple bucks . . . and, like with our beloved Pit, you may find some rare, hilarious gems that'll give you a good laugh.

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Treadmill Survival Guide

Ahhh. A sunlit, sandy beach in early August. I could get used to this! But, unfortunately, last night, I ran on the treadmill because the blustery winds and snow squalls proved too much for me as I walked to my car after work (and I had yoga at the gym, so it just made sense). It was only the third time this year that I had to deal with the mechanical beast. But it made me think . . . every other winter, I was a dedicated treadmill runner. I didn't venture out much unless the temps were above 30 degrees (a somewhat rare occurrence here in the months of January and February). And though I haven't been logging many miles inside -- I have been biking at the gym at least once a week, and a lot of my mental games/etc. are similar for both machines.

Indeed. There's been a lot of chatter about the "dreadmill" on Twitter lately. So, I thought I'd share some "survival tips" to help out. They aren't the most mind-blowing things you'll ever hear. But if it helps you bust out even one workout when you otherwise wouldn't, I consider this post a success!

BEFORE YOU START: Running on a treadmill is different from running outside. Your stride is shorter. So, the speed on the display may SEEM ridiculously slow . . . but you shouldn't crank it higher to your "normal" pace unless it feels comfortable. Or unless you want to ensure injury. As well, if you'd like to more closely emulate outdoor running, you'll want too set the incline to at least 1 percent (some people raise it higher, I usually stick with 1 or 1.5). Doing so will help when you transition back to outdoor running in the spring (the incline simulates, at least in a way, wind resistance.

1.) Think Ahead. One thing that often drives me crazy when I'm working out indoors is when I don't feel comfortable in my clothing. I don't bring a water bottle or grab a towel. I don't bring the right hair ties or headbands. It's difficult sometimes when you're speeding out the door to ensure that you've gathered everything you need for a comfortable workout. But if you take just a little extra time and find those shorts you particularly like, your trusty Nalgene, and a ponytail holder that won't break (like my elastic last night!) . . . you'll feel like you can focus on your run. Not how your leggings are riding up. Or something else. Ugh. Does anyone else know what I'm talking about?

2.) Crank the Tunes. Many gyms have music playing in their cardio rooms. Many don't. But even if you're in the fortunate category -- well, that's rather relative -- it's good to bring your own music with you. I'm a bit of a music snob, so the top 40s aren't going to cut it for me. And I rarely (if ever) treadmill it without blasting some Bowie or Chili Peppers. Not only will the tunes help keep you sane -- they can also be used in the next trick . . .

3.) Play Games. So here's the thing no one seems to know about winter running. Unless you're training for an early spring race -- you can scale back your mileage to even half of what you were doing in the fall! So, your treadmill workouts need not be incessantly long. Ok. That being said, if you do want to run long (and -- trust me -- I once ran 13 miles on a treadmill, I'm a crazy person) . . . so I play speed games with my tunes to help. I get a crazy song (like Lasso by Phoenix) . . . and whenever the chorus or a fast part comes on, I crank my speed to the top-most of what I can handle. Then go back to what I was doing when that part of the song subsides.

If that faster or louder part of the song keeps going or whatever (like in one of my favorites, Weird Fishes by Radiohead, where the entire end of the song gradually increases in intensity) . . . I employ a different technique. More of a gradual game. Every 20 seconds or so, I push myself faster. But this game need not only be with speed. Use your incline button too!

On especially long runs, I would run for 10 minutes, walk for 1 minute. Just to physically break it up into sections. For that walking minute, I'd up the incline so my heart rate wouldn't plummet.

4. Play Mind Games. Yes -- you can also play some mind games to help pass the time. One I like to play is just simply asking myself random questions (as suggested on this page). Which other culture would you choose to be born into, and why? Which historical event would you like to have witnessed. It sounds kind of super dorky. But at least for me . . . I start thinking of the answer, and then my mind wanders, and several miles just melt away. Anything you can come up with to distract yourself is good. Just don't stray too far from your current situation -- I've seen people face plant off their treadmill. Yikes!

5.) Perform in a Variety Show! Or MIX IT UP from day to day. When I started running, I would religiously run 4 miles every day. Same time each day, same pace each day. Never failing. And boy was it borrrrrrrring. So, go long one day (maybe 6 miles, 4 miles, whatever is long to you) . . . and short the next (2 miles -- and do some X-training). Go fast one day. Go slow the next. Basically, keep your body and mind guessing.

6.) Go Around the World. When all else fails -- give up. Really! Sometimes you seriously can't handle the mental or physical rigors of treadmill running. It's fine . . . but do 10 minutes on the treadmill, then 10 minutes on the bike, then 10 minutes on the elliptical, and another 10 on the treadmill. The variety will chase those indoor blues away. I promise.


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Rainbow Stew: Another Slow Cooker Favorite

>> Thursday, January 28, 2010

My typical lunch "hour" is spent hunched over at my desk doing work, unfortunately. My responsibilities entail not only my attention to detail as the director's assistant, with the PR committee, and with various editing and photography needs (all of which I love) . . . but I'm also the building manager. What exactly does this mean? Well, I'm responsible for arranging to fix anything that breaks within a gigantic, four-story monster of a building that enjoys foot traffic from most of the campus daily. Toilets explode. Alarms go off. Students spit on the floor (true story). ID cards stop granting access. Electricity fails and outlets spark. Ants take offices by force. The list goes on and on (and on). Yesterday I found myself leading an entourage of facilities employees through the building to find nuts and bolts to fix one of our periodicals stacks. Random, random stuff here. And it doesn't stop for lunch.

What's worse is that until recently, I always, always would forget to even BRING my lunch . . . or wouldn't have enough time in the morning to slap something together. For a while, Lean Cuisine was my savior. But all the salt in them started to concern me. And since my favorite is mac and cheese, I wasn't exactly getting the best nutrition.

Enter, again, the slow cooker. I made this "rainbow stew" -- a rather psychedelic name for a rather trippy stew -- by throwing all the veggies I could find into a pot. My favorite ingredients? The sweet potatoes and eggplant AND cauliflower. But the kidney beans and fire-roasted tomatoes have their moments, too. It's all good. If you're wondering why you should eat a rainbow of fruits and veggies, read this.

So, when I take the time to actually bring my lunch, I find myself taking time to actually TAKE my lunch. Use this recipe as a jumping point and you, too, can enjoy a week of intensely nutritious, relaxing lunches (or half a week for two people eating a little over a cup daily). I paired mine with half a PB&J on multi-grain.

Just look at all those veggies!


What you'll need . . .
  • 1 medium-large sweet potato, skinned and cubed (orange)
  • 1 medium eggplant, cubed (purple)
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped (green)
  • 1/2 medium Spanish onion, chopped (yellow)
  • 2 small heads cauliflower, chopped (white)
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped (dark green)
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced (white)
  • 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped (green)
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained (dark red)
  • 1 can garbanzo beans, drained (light brown)
  • 1 can fire-roasted tomatoes, drained (red)
  • 2 cans vegetable broth (a little over four cups)
  • Salt and pepper to taste . . . though we only used pepper

Method . . .
  1. Chop, mince, and otherwise prepare all your ingredients.
  2. Put EVERYTHING -- all vegetables (and fruits if you want to get all technical on me) and beans -- in the slow cooker pot and mix them to distribute.
  3. Pour in the vegetable broth
  4. Turn the slow cooker to high and cook for about 3 to 3-1/2 hours. Mix every hour or so.

PS: Unless you like your soups hot-hot-hot, you'll really want to seed the jalapeno. My husband didn't do this, and ours was very good, but for the first couple days, I'd choke when I took my first slurp.

PPS: Check us out on one of my favorite cooking/kitchen-related blogs -- THE KITCHN -- our kitchen tour made the cut and is now up for your viewing pleasure.

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It's Thursday . . . Have some Naan!

From the METHOD archives . . . A few nights ago, I set out to make naan, and I planned to use it in two dinners. Both worked beautifully. Some history . . . I have quite a love affair with naan. When I was in college, one of my housemates and I used to frequent this little Indian food joint, and I'd always get the same thing: one order of vegetable curry, one order of veggie samosas, and two -- count it -- TWO orders of naan. I'd eat one with the meal and save the other for the next day. Problem was, I've since moved, and I've been missing the meal ever since.

What I found out this week is that naan is both incredibly versatile AND super easy to make. In fact, you "bake" it in a cast iron skillet! So, I thought I'd start you all off with the basic naan recipe. It goes great with this morning's slow-cooker sweet potato/pea/cauliflower curry. That was meal one I made with the stuff. Meal two was a "breakfast" pizza atop the naan. It's pretty self explanatory, but tomorrow I'll give you my favorite breakfast pizza topping combination, as well as some tricks for avoiding a soggy result.

Also note: The naan I made isn't exactly traditional. I mixed some different flours in because I mostly have wheat pastry flour at my house right now. Having just returned from vacation, I'm low on other supplies too. So, below is the original recipe and in (parentheses) are my substitutions. 

Oh, yeah. And this recipe makes enough for TWO meals. So, you'll want to either freeze half of the dough for another night in the distant future . . . or refrigerate for up to three days.

What you'll need . . .
  • 3-1/2 cups bread flour (I used 2 cups wheat pastry, 1-1/4 cup white, and 1/2 cup cornmeal)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast (Fleischmann's Active Dry worked just fine)
  • 1-1/2 cup warm milk (I used regular soy milk -- I heated it up in the microwave for 30 seconds, stirred, and heated for another 20 or so)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon oil (I used olive oil)

Method . . .
  1. Heat the milk in the microwave as instructed above. Then dissolve the yeast and sugar into the milk by whisking and letting sit for 10 minutes until frothy.
  2. Mix the flour(s) and salt together in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Use your fist to make a hole in the middle of the flour -- this is where you'll put in the milk mixture.
  4. Pour the milk mixture into the bowl with the flour, trying to keep it all in that hole you made. Also pour the oil into the mix.
  5. Then with a spatula, gently start to incorporate everything. After a while, you may find it easier to use your hands. You'll also want to add more flour if you find the resulting dough too sticky. It should instead be soft and elastic.
  6. Cover the bowl with a piece of lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in a dark place (approx 1-1/2 hours).
  7. Divide dough into two sections. Freeze or refrigerate one section for another meal (each section makes about five large pieces of naan, so you may use it all if you have more people to feed).
  8. Otherwise, divide one section into five small balls.
  9. Generously flour a work surface and roll each ball until it is very flat/thin. Don't worry -- it'll bubble up and expand once you get it onto the skillet.
  10. Heat an iron skillet on high heat (or regular shallow cooking pan) until it is VERY hot. If you have spray oil, that works best, so spray oil on the skillet and place on your first piece of to-be naan.
  11. Once the dough is on the skillet, use you hand to sort of swirl it around and make sure it doesn't stick. You will start to see it bubble a bit at this point -- let it bubble, that's the best part.
  12. Cook the first side for around a minute, or until you notice it start to brown. You may want to turn down the heat just a bit after the skillet is sufficiently hot, but not too low. You still need it very hot.
  13. Flip the naan and cook until the other side is lightly browned.
  14. Then brush each piece with some butter or Earth Balance, and serve.
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Crock Pot Meals: FAQ Response

The question: Do you guys have any good recommendations for prepare-in-advance and/or crock pot meals? I often have some free time in the morning and less in the evening, so I'm all about getting dinner ready in advance!

We love our crock pot. Especially when we were training for the marathon, we used it to make soups and other meals at least once a week. Here's my original post (from the METHOD archives) about this juicy, slow cooker vegetable curry.

This week has indeed been an experiment of how to get the most variety of healthy foods into my diet. I've found that using our slow cooker has (tremendously) helped me achieve success with this quest. It all started on Sunday, after I ran my weekly long run. I mused for those 2+ hours about how I'll ever be able to run 26.2 miles. I wasn't concerned cardiovascular-ly, really, because I'm devoting so much of my time and energy to that aspect. More nutritionally, I'm lacking these days. My diet has consisted mostly of white bread and cheese because I've become incredibly lazy (OK, and busy with work, tired with aforementioned running, etc.). So, Monday morning, I took charge -- throwing a rainbow of vegetables into the slow-cooker pot . . . seasoned it all with some spices and vegetable stock to make a soup that has lasted for lunches all week.

Tuesday, I made the vegetable curry (above) . . . and it stretched out to two dinner for us!

I've also discovered through all this veggie-love that I heart cauliflower. I don't know why exactly -- I always figured the white stuff was devoid of nutrition. But I was wrong, and if you'd like more information on why you should be eating cauliflower, just click here.

And here's what you'll need . . .
  • Slow cooker/crock pot
  • 2 medium-large sweet potatoes, skinned and cubed
  • 2 cups cauliflower, chopped
  • 1-1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
  • 1 package veggie Chik'n Strips (optional, but highly recommended)
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 cup coconut milk (I used light)]
  • 1 teaspoon raw sugar
  • 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
  • 1 small jalapeno, finely chopped
  • Bunch of cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • Soy milk (optional, see below)

Method . . .
  1. Place the cubed sweet potatoes, chopped cauliflower, and peas in the slow cooker.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the vegetable stock, coconut milk, sugar, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, turmeric and curry powders.
  3. Pour this mixture over the veggies and mix around a bit to coat.
  4. Turn the slow-cooker on the LOW setting and cook for 4 to 5 hours. If you're in a pinch and would rather wait only 2 to 3 hours, you may use the HIGH setting. However, I've read that that makes it all a bit more mushy.
  5. You may find that you want more liquid in the pot. If so, feel free to add splashes of soy milk as desired. However, note that the veggies will cook down.
  6. If you plan to eat the meal the day you make it -- once it is ready, add the Chik'n Strips and heat until they are warm. I decided to add these last so they didn't get too soft. And, actually, we ate ours the next day . . . so I poured the vegetable curry into a big pot, heated it up again (on the stove) and THEN added the Chik'n strips.
  7. Serve with naan (recipe coming later today!)

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Thrifty Veggie Stew

>> Wednesday, January 27, 2010

All you healthy eaters out there may now breathe a long sigh of relief. No more peanut butter chocolate pillows to give you a food coma. Ahhhhhhh. Vegetables! Beans! No sugar added! I crafted this meal with you folks in mind. The consistency of this dish is really less stew-like than my title may imply. It's almost more of a pasta dish. But, yet again, too stew-like to deny that fact in the title.

What can I say . . . I'm confusing.

The "thrifty" part comes in when you realize you have most of the ingredients needed already in the back of your kitchen cupboard.

What you'll need . . .
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 can sweet corn (no salt added)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (fire-roasted)
  • 1 can pinto beans
  • 3/4 cup Israeli couscous
  • 3/4 cup elbow pasta
  • 1/2 cup Marsala cooking wine
  • 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 package (about 12 ounces) frozen spinach
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Method . . .
  1. In a large stock pot, combine the vegetable stock and water. Heat on medium-high until bubbling (but not boiling).
  2. Drain – but do not rinse – the corn, tomatoes, and beans. Add them to the pot, as well as the couscous and elbow pasta. Heat on medium-high heat for approx. 10 minutes.
  3. Check to see if the pasta & couscous are getting soft. Then add cooking wine and garlic chunks, and turn the heat down a bit. Cook for another ten minutes.
  4. Add the frozen spinach, stirring occasionally until it is fully incorporated (and not a frozen brick!).
  5. Add salt and pepper. Cook on low heat until ready to serve.

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PPK's Peanut Butter Chocolate Pillows

When I was browsing the Post Punk Kitchen site the other day, the photo of their vegan peanut butter chocolate pillows caught my eye. Perhaps that's an understatement. When I saw the cookies, I printed off the recipe in a frenzy and bolted down to the kitchen to bust out my mixer. I made them immediately. For once, I followed the instructions step by step -- changing nothing, really.

And I'm excited to say that these "pillows" are my new favorite cookie. I never thought I'd beat peanut butter blossoms . . . so it blows my mind. Breathe in all that peanut buttery goodness . . . (PS: My hands were WAY TOO sticky to take good process photos for this post -- the dough feels rather oily, but it's OK, they turn out beautifully.)

What you'll need . . . taken from the PPK)

For the chocolate cookie part:
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup raw sugar (I found that the larger granules give them a crunch)
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons non-dairy milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened dutch processed cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Filling:
  • 3/4 cup natural salted peanut butter, crunchy or creamy style
  • 2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons soy creamer or non-dairy milk

Method . . .

  1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer combine oil, raw sugar, maple syrup, non-dairy milk, and vanilla and mix until smooth. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, dark cocoa, baking soda and salt together and add to the wet ingredients. Mix to form a moist dough.
  2. Make the filling: In another mixing bowl beat together peanut butter, confectioner’s sugar, 2 tablespoons of soy creamer and vanilla extract to form a moist but firm dough. If peanut butter dough is too dry (as different natural peanut butters have different moisture content), stir in remaining tablespoon of non-dairy milk. If dough is too wet knead in a little extra powdered sugar.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Shape the cookies: Create the centers of the cookies by rolling the peanut butter dough into 24 balls. Scoop a generous tablespoon of chocolate dough, flatten into a disc and place a peanut butter ball in the center.
  5. Fold the sides of chocolate dough up and around the peanut butter center and roll the chocolate ball into an smooth ball between your palms. Place on a sheet of waxed paper and repeat with remaining doughs. If desired gently flatten cookies a little with the heel of your hand.
  6. Place dough balls on lined baking sheets about 2 inches apart and bake for 10 minutes. Remove sheet from oven and let cookies for 5 minutes before moving to a wire rack to complete cooling. Store cookies in airtight container.

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Quick Snack: Grilled Peanut Butter Sandwich

>> Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Remember that awesomely delicious vegan challah recipe we shared with you back in December? The one we made that sinful French toast with? I never finished telling y'all what else can you do with the stuff! I think the absolute best use is . . . making grilled sandwiches. Now, this one really doesn't need a recipe . . . so consider this post a friendly suggestion.

Here are some flavorful combinations you might try:
  • Peanut butter + jam
  • Peanut butter + honey
  • Peanut butter + fluff
  • Peanut butter + banana slices
  • Nutella alone
  • Nutella + banana
  • Banana + honey
  • Nutella + maple syrup

Go crazy. All you need to do is generously butter (or Earth Balance) the outsides of the challah slices you intend to grill, slap on your ingredients, and then grill over medium-high heat until golden brown.

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It has been one month since I started the “detox” . . . and now I’m ready to wave goodbye and continue on my way through this veggie-crazed food journey I call my life. However, the healthy eating doesn’t stop with this post. I’ve learned much from my adventures with raw food, vegan food, green leafy veggies, and beyond. If you’ve been reading the entire series, you'll also see that I've learned you don't need to be perfect to lead a healthy eating lifestyle.

First, here's the month's "detox"-related posts . . .

  • Day 1 (Where it all began and Coconut-Carob "Cookies")
  • Day 2 (Miso Soup and a typical day's menu)
  • Day 3 (Smoothies, smoothies, smoothies)
  • Day 4 (Healthy crackers inspired by Oh She Glows)
  • Day 5 (Small setback, but still going strong -- Ginger-Miso Dressing recipe)
  • Day 6 (January Freeze Series 10K)
  • Day 10 (Healthy eggplant chili recipe)
  • Day 17 (and still chugging along -- update on progress and new energy chunk recipe)

Have I eaten 100 percent perfectly since day 1?
No. I'm the first to let anyone who's curious know that I haven't been on a true detox. I've eaten cheese and bread. I've had beers and cookies. But what I did that was most beneficial is increase the healthy foods I consume by like 300%. I've been successful with this task because I've made it fun. I crafted energy bars (full of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and non-sugar sweeteners) and Stephen made amazing hummus. We created a delectable sesame-soy sauce for broccoli dinners. Things that made us CRAVE the good stuff.

On the weekends, we started making our own pizza with a homemade wheat-flax crust. Not only did we save money this way, we also could top off our pie with as many veggies as we wanted. We'll continue to have our Friday pizza-making tradition . . . and I'm sure we'll be healthier for it. In addition, we've learned from our mega-sandwich THE LOVER that vegetarian food can be gratuitous and oh-so satisfying -- man-versus-food style, even.

I've embraced the fact that no workout is too short or slow. Something that for a marathon runner like me, well, it's difficult to accept. And I've started using my new Garmin watch to track my runs. I don't go stat-crazy like Stephen does, but the info helps me see how many calories I've burned . . . how long and far I've actually gone . . . and keeps track of everything so I can look for trends in my workouts.

Along those same lines. Stephen and I started going to yoga together. And we continue to go -- in fact, even later this evening we're attending class at our gym. It's a great thing to do together, it's wonderful cross-training for running, and it just feels good. And, no. I can't do what I'm doing in the photo above right now. This was taken a couple years ago. We'll see if I can get to this point again. haha.

I haven't weighed myself in about a week. For some reason, I think I'm back to just about where I started. Blame it on last week's homemade bagels or a soon-to-be-posted cookie recipe . . . but I'm OK with it. My activity level has gone down since training season, and our new schedule starts on January 31st. Lehigh Valley Half Marathon -- here we come! But weight loss or no weight loss, I'm eating better. I'm feeling better. And I'll likely continue to live longer if I continue to cut out so much butter and fat from my diet.

Overall, the "detox" adventure was well worth embarking on. It got me to try new foods. It got me to fall in love with healthier foods (hello, avocados!) and experiment with some of my own recipes to make them fuller or nutrients and not empty calories. I use less sugar in my baking thanks to agave nectar and maple syrup. I start each day with a generous mug of herbal tea. I'm eating more fruits and veggies. And -- at least from what I gather in my comments -- I've inspired others to examine their own food intake. Any improvement is a good one. And small steps eventually lead to big rewards. So, if you're still on your own "detox" . . . or if you even just thinking of starting one: KEEP AT IT! And I'd love to hear how it's going :)

And if you want to find recipes for some of the healthy foods you see in this post, just visit our recipe finder!

Psssst: Welcome to neverhomemaker.com! Your surfing should be relatively unaffected, but if you aren't receiving updates in your favorite feed reader, you may want to re-subscribe.

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Kitchen Adventures: Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookie

I decided to some some experimentation last week with one of my favorite cookie recipes. And so, the vegan pb-chocolate chipper was born. I may have already made a similar cookie, but this one's better. I pulled from BabyCakes wisdom -- using coconut oil in place of butter and applesauce instead of eggs. I incorporated some white whole wheat flour I received as a gift in place of the unforgiving bleached all-purpose. I used peanut butter we bought in bulk. And dark brown sugar for some extra taste.

These cookies are fancy and tasty. Versatile and chewy. Just look at 'em:

What you'll need . . .

  • 1 cup peanut butter (I used the kind you buy in bulk, but Skippy Natural will work well, too)
  • 1 cup coconut oil
  • 2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups while whole wheat flour
  • 1-1/4 cups wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 cup flax meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • vegan chocolate chips (1 cup -- I used Sunspire)

Method . . .

  1. Preheat the oven to 315 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment.
  2. Cream together the peanut butter, coconut oil, and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the applesauce and mix until well incorporated. Stir in vanilla.
  3. Sift together flours, flax meal, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Fold dry ingredients into the wet.
  4. Roll heaping tablespoons of dough into balls and form 2-inch balls that you place 2-inches apart on the cookie sheets. Gently press down with the heel of your hand to flatten slightly.
  5. Bake for between 12 and 15 minutes -- until lightly golden brown. Transfer to cooling rack.

It's important to have a lower cooking temperature with the coconut oil. At first, I had set my oven for the "normal" recipes 350 degrees F setting. But soon realized I would have a burn-fest on my hands. How I figured that out . . . well, experience. The week before I had used some coconut oil in brownies that I planned to bake in my new bundt pan. I set the oven temp too high and a couple minutes after placing them in the oven, I smelled burning.

I have to quickly take them out of the oven, scoop them into cupcake wrappers and bring the temp down low (by holding the oven door open and setting it for 315 degrees F). Here's how they turned out. (They were the worst vegan brownies ever, so you won't be seeing this recipe anytime soon...)

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Best-Ever Homemade Chocolate Glazed Donuts

>> Monday, January 25, 2010

Yet another favorite from the METHOD archives: You need not adjust your screen. What you're seeing is REAL. Homemade donuts -- perhaps one of the only creations better than homemade bagels! I made these puppies for my parents last year, and they turned out about as authentic as possible. So, I'm going to shut my mouth now and give ya'll the recipe.

(Yeah. It's a long one, but well worth the effort!)

What you'll need . . . (for the doughnut part -- inspired by this recipe)

  • One 1/4-ounce package active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons warm water (98 degrees)
  • 3/4 cup warm soy milk (or milk)
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons margarine or butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups vegetable or canola oil
  • I also added a bit of food coloring for fun

Method . . .

  1. In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water.
  2. Add the soy milk, margarine or butter, egg, sugar, and salt, and blend with an electric mixer until smooth.
  3. Add half the flour and mix for 30 seconds.
  4. Add the remaining flour and knead the dough with flour-dusted hands until smooth.
  5. Cover the bowl of dough and leave it in a comfy, warm place until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour. You can tell that the dough has risen enough when you poke it with your finger and the indentation stays.
  6. Roll out the dough on a heavily floured surface until it's about 1/2 inch thick.
  7. If you don't have a doughnut cutter, simply use a drinking glass about the same diameter as a 14-ounce can. You should be able to get about 12 to 14 donuts this way.
  8. Now it's time to get creative -- it's time for the holes! Find the cap to a bottle of lemon juice or Worcestershire sauce, or any other small cap with a diameter of about 1 1/4 inches. Use this to punch out holes in the center of each of your donuts.
  9. Place the donuts on plates or cookie sheets, cover, and let stand in the same warm, comfy place until they nearly double in size (about 30 to 45 minutes).
  10. Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium heat (to about 350 degrees). It is easily tested with scrap dough left over from punching out the donuts. The dough should bubble rapidly. I also found it helpful to place a small carrot in the oil while frying -- prevents burning, I've heard.
  11. Fry each doughnut for about 30 seconds per side, or until light golden brown -- the color is key.
  12. Cool 5 minutes on paper towels.


What you'll need . . .(NOTE: I found that this made WAY too much glaze, but it's what the original recipe calls for . . . I'd advise making half, but it's up to you.)

  • 5 1/3 tablespoons Earth Balance or butter
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup hot water
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Method . . .

  1. Combine the margarine or butter with the powdered sugar in a medium bowl and blend with an electric mixer.
  2. Add the vanilla and hot water. Mix until smooth.
  3. Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave for 30 to 40 seconds. Stir, then microwave another 30 seconds and stir again until completely melted.
  4. Add to the plain glaze mixture. Blend until smooth.
  5. When the donuts have cooled, dip each top surface into the glaze and then flip over and cool on a plate until the glaze firms up, about 15 minutes.

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FAQ Post #1: Who ARE the (never home)makers?

What are you day jobs? And how do you find time to exercise, bake, cook, decorate, and blog?

This one’s a two-parter. First: Stephen is a high school English teacher – focused primarily on 11th and 12th grades and SAT prep. I’m the admin assistant to the director of libraries at our local university – focused primarily on assisting the director with various tasks, as well as public relations and facilities projects. I also worked for several years in marketing/communications.

How we find time to do everything we do. Well, that’s difficult. We’re not perfect at it. And from reading this blog, it may seem that we’re scheduling geniuses. We’re not. Blogs can make lives seem oh-so wonderful.
  • With exercising – I’ll have to say we find time for that because when we don’t run, we go crazy. Stephen more than me on this one, but if I need to, I get up at 5AM to squeeze in a run. When we were training for the marathon, we each followed a specific plan . . . and when I missed a workout, I’d get scared I wasn’t going to be on target to finish the event. So I’d run my scheduled workout whenever I found time. For those long runs, we pretty much modified our lives for a few months. Every Saturday night, we’d be in bed by 9:30PM. Every Sunday we’d rise early to beat the summer heat . . . and then spend between 2 and 3 hours running, eat for an hour, and then spend most of the rest of the day on the couch. Needless to say, we didn’t have a huge social life. But it worked. Now that we’re training for a half, we feel like we have all the time in the world.
  • With baking and cooking – we have to eat, so, we have fun with it. My weekends are the time I do most of my “showcase” cooking and baking for the blog. I can squeeze in something delicious on Friday night (a new dinner, perhaps – like our favorite pizza), then rise Saturday morning and make some type of dessert (like this week’s coconut-purple sticky rice tart). We do go out during the day . . . but when we get home later in the afternoon – again – we have to eat. I mostly find time for all the culinary stuff because for me it’s super fun. I’m always craving something. And I don’t mind being in the kitchen for a few hours. During the week is a different story. We tend to eat simple meals . . . and I’ll get crazy urges to bake usually on Wednesday or Thursday nights (like last week’s bagel recipe). But – most of what you see on this blog happens on the weekends. AND I’m fortunate to be have a rather large library of recipes from my old blog – I’ve been sprinkling those in every now and again.
  • Decorating is another activity mostly relegated to weekends. We don’t do it all the time. But we have a list of projects we’d like to complete (like our big entryway redo), and when the stars (and our bank account) align, we go all in and spend an entire day doing a huge project. Otherwise, I just love to shop, so I’m a frequent Home Goods customer. Little things here and there (like a new mirror, throw, or small decorative item) can make a huge impact on a room.
  • Ah, blogging. This is an activity I do when the sun isn’t up – either really early before or after work. I write most of my posts during these times and then publish on breaks or lunch during work. It’s exhausting at times – but I was a writing major in college, so I feel my capacity for writing TONS of stuff is somewhat higher than it might be for others. All those long research papers and essays. It’s like running a marathon, really. I’ve done all the training, so my endurance is higher.

I'm a sucker for a good "how we met" story, so I'd love to know how you two found each other!

(Above is one of the first photos we have together. Aww. How embarrassing!) Stephen and I met through my friend Rachael when I was a senior and he was a junior in college. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. It was the summer before we entered that year. Anyway, Stephen was working as a barista at this café downtown, and I was just getting over this horrible breakup. When I met him (for seriously 10 minutes at most), I thought he was cute, but was so crazy-depressed from my previous relationship; I didn’t give it much thought. That, and he had a girlfriend, and I simply don’t go there.

Fast forward a semester – we’re in January now – and I was working at our college’s writing center. Stephen popped by one day to say hello. We hadn’t really seen each other since the summer, so I didn’t even remember his name. But there he was again. Still cute, and I was over my previous relationship at that point. We started hanging out in a group with, again, my friend Rachel. Went to a couple concerts. That turned into us hanging out solo a few times. But our first “date” was on February 11th 2005. It was supposedly a friend date – we hit up the Salvation Army, then planned to get dinner. But when we stopped by his café first and he got me a heart cookie – I knew what the deal was (as if the fact that our "date" was so closed to Valentine's Day wasn't enough to tip me off). We’re actually thinking about recreating our first date for Valentine’s day this year. We went to my favorite Thai restaurant for appetizers. Then out to our favorite Korean place for dinner. Dessert was the cookie (and sadly, that café is no longer open). And then we went back to my place to play scrabble and drink wine.

And that was that. People are surprised to find out that we got engaged THREE MONTHS after our first date. When I think about it, it blows my mind that we’re still together. But when something's right, it’s right. We did long distance for a year while Stephen finished up his degree and I moved home to get my first job. Then I moved back to Ithaca . . . and we got married in September 2007.

What is your typical day like?

  • 5AM to 5:30AM: Reluctantly greet the day.
  • 5:30AM: Write blog post, format, and publish – all while drinking a HUGE mug of herbal tea.
  • 6:30AM: Run (though sometimes I don’t quite get up at 5:30, so running is after work those days)
  • 7:50: Shower, eat breakfast (usually a powerhouse smoothie), and rush to work
  • 9AM to 5PM: Work. Post on breaks and during lunch.
  • 5:30PM: Run (as mentioned above, if I don’t get it together in the morning) or cook something/take a million photos/and watch Anthony Bourdain on Roku. OR on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we go to yoga until 6:30, get home by 7.
  • 7PM: Check blog stats. (And eat dinner/watch Bourdain if it’s a Tuesday/Thursday)
  • Read at some point (usually research recipes, etc.)
  • 10PM to 10:30PM: Go to BED.

Also what type of camera do you use for all your photos?

I shoot a Nikon D40. For a beginning photographer like me, this DSLR has been GREAT. Eventually, I’d like to get something fancier, but the D40 is affordable, so I don’t mind as much when it’s caked in brownie batter and other foods.

Are coworkers aware/supportive of (never home) maker adventures?

Yes, maybe of my coworkers (at least the ones I routinely talk with) are aware of the blog. (I post updates on our Facebook page regularly, so they can all be in the loop.) I think they’re pretty supportive. They like the recipes, think it’s interesting, and offer help when they can with technical stuff.

So that's our first round of FAQs. Thanks, everyone, for submitted questions to us. Stay tuned for cooking/baking-related answers (we got some great questions!) to come soon-ish. And if you have other stuff you want to know, fire away!

ALSO: If you love us, you can now get your very own "I LOVE (never home)maker [DOT] COM" button (see below). Or it's also on the right sidebar for easy access. <3

(never home)maker

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