Day 6: Hail the Winter Days After Dark

As you all know, I have a lot of ambitious goals for this year, but one of the more important ones is raising money for Girls on the Run as part of my entry into the National Half Marathon. There are a lot of important causes out there that I could have run for: breast cancer, leukemia, diabetes, the list goes on and on. I decided on Girls on the Run because in this age of screen addiction (computers, tv, video games), I think it’s so important to get kids active and outside. Especially for girls, the pre-teen years can be a tough time because everything around you and about you is changing. Playing sports is a great way for girls or anyone to improve self-esteem and activity, but sports isn’t necessarily right for everyone. Running is awesome, because you don’t need special equipment or special skills — you can just put on a pair of sneakers and go. I just found this newspaper article about a Girls on the Run chapter in Louisiana, and I think it perfectly encapsulates why this cause is worthy. Check it out! And if you feel inspired, please feel free to donate to my fundraising page. 🙂

Daily Achievement
In the spirit of self-esteem, I felt pretty good about my run this morning. It was a lot better than my experience two days ago. I still only did 2 miles, but I actually slowed down my pace a bit. I still finished with the same time, because I didn’t have to take as many walking breaks, and I didn’t feel like death afterwards! Slowing down my pace is tough for me, because a big part of it is ego. I think I should be able to go at 6mph (10-minute miles), so I’m reluctant to go slower. And I’m green with envy when I see people that can run 3 miles in 21 minutes. But going slower really does make a difference, so I guess I just have to adjust my mindset.

Song of the Day
The Decemberists – January Hymn. I was randomly listening to NPR’s online radio station today, NPR All Songs 24/7, and they were playing the entire Decemberists album. This song stood out to me in particular… it’s a nice soulful, wistful track for a cold January day.


Day 5: Once You’ve Had It, You’re in an Awful Fix

I had the first real test of my commitment to my goals (cooking more things from scratch and avoiding fast food/packaged food) tonight. I had “chicken/eggplant parmesan” on my meal plan for tonight, but I wasn’t able to find any eggplant; Harris Teeter’s eggplants looked gross and wrinkly, and Trader Joe’s just didn’t have any. And then on my way home, Jim asked me to grab some McDonald’s for him. He’s sick, so I guess chicken mcnuggets take the place of chicken soup for him. I reallllly wanted some fries and a double cheeseburger. “But then what will I blog about?!” I asked myself. I suppose I could have taken a page from Fancy Fast Food and tried to turn fries into some sort of masterpiece, but it’s a little early in the year to start cheating.

So I resisted the siren call of processed chicken, and while Jim enjoyed his McNuggets, I made an actual chicken dinner for myself.

Daily Achievement
I scrapped the parmesan idea and decided to just throw the chicken into some sauce and serve it over whole wheat spaghetti. I sauteed chicken, mushrooms, red onion, red pepper flakes, and olive oil in a pan, and then mixed it into a jar of Trader Joe’s garlic marinara sauce (which is totally awesome and has a nice short ingredient list, so it’s the next best thing to making my own tomato sauce).

The chicken was a little bland (I probably needed more red pepper flakes), but everything else tasted pretty great. Spaghetti is really one of those things that’s hard to mess up… it’s such a comfort food. Jim ended up being jealous of my meal. 🙂

Song of the Day
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton – Love is Strange. Such an odd, yet delightful duet. Jim and I started watching The Wire tonight, and the Mickey & Sylvia version of this song was playing on the radio in in the 2nd episode. It immediately stuck in my head, but I prefer the Kenny & Dolly version. Dolly is just awesome in general, and how can you not like Kenny Rogers, who started up a fried chicken chain named after himself?

On a side note, who’s seen the Wire? I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it (I’m not really into police shows and crime stuff), but it’s really gripping so far. I hope it continues to be good, since I bought the entire series on sale from Amazon!

Day 4: ‘Cause I Got the Body Aches, Soul Shakes

I’ve been so caught up in my cooking adventures, it’s easy to forget that there’s another component to my goals for 2011 — running. My official training for the half marathon started today. I’m using the Hal Higdon Half Marathon Training Guide. It’s free, and he seems to know his stuff. I used his 10 Miler guide for my race last year, and it worked really well. I’ll be running 4x a week with slowly increasing mileage, with an additional day of cross-training (I hope kickball counts as cross training).

Daily Achievement
To kick off the training, I jogged 2 miles on the treadmill this morning before work. According to the schedule, it should have been 3 miles, but I just couldn’t do it. I was DYING by the end of mile 1. I haven’t really jogged in, oh, 7 months, so I’m super out of shape. I actually use a run/walk method, where I jog for 5 minutes and then walk for 1 minute. It’s easier on me, especially psychologically, since I can tell myself “Only 2 minutes before I can walk!” as opposed to “I have 27 minutes left to go. Crap.” But it wasn’t helping me too much today. After I slogged through 2 miles, my lungs and teeth actually hurt. After checking WebMD, I’m convinced I either have angina or cancer (it’s always cancer on WebMD).

I think part of my issues this morning stemmed from the fact that it was the first time I’ve gotten up before 9am in weeks, so I was pretty groggy. In that twilight haze in between hitting the snooze button over and over, I dreamt that I got up, put on my workout clothes, and then my boyfriend morphed into Tony Bourdain and told me to go back to sleep. Needless to say, I was extremely confused when I woke up for real. I think I’ve been watching too much Top Chef lately. If this morning workout schedule is going to work, I really have to make an effort to get to bed earlier so that I’m not so tired in the morning.

Song of the Day
Sugar & Gold – Bodyaches. I couldn’t resist, since my body is aching from my first workout. This is a song that’s been a mainstay on my running playlist for the past year. Sugar & Gold are an underground pop/dance/disco band with some insanely catchy songs. I’d love to see them at the Black Cat someday.

Day 3: Now You Want My Soul

Today was definitely a resounding success for the meal plan. I actually ate breakfast for once, made my coworkers jealous of my leftover pork chop for lunch, and then cooked a pretty awesome dinner for myself.

Daily Achievement
For dinner, I made Sausage, Kale and Lentils. This is a meal Jillian Michaels supposedly created for (I’m so sure she had time to sit down and write out a bunch of recipes in between advertising weight loss pills and making people cry). Kale and lentils are both new to me. I wasn’t even totally sure what kale looked like. When I went to the grocery store, all the lettuces/leafy greens were in one section, but they weren’t labeled very well. I actually had to look kale up on my phone in the store to make sure I was getting the right thing, instead of something like red cabbage (ew) or collard greens (double ew).

I was pleasantly surprised by this meal! It was really easy (just sauteeing everything together in a pan and I managed not to smoke out the kitchen this time), and the flavors were really good. The kale had a nice sort of crunchy texture with a slightly peppery taste. I’m typically not a big fan of the cruciferous greens, but I would actually eat kale again. I think the red pepper flakes and olive oil I cooked it in helped, though! And the lentils and turkey sausage went really well with it. It was a pretty big, filling meal that honestly didn’t take me more than 10 minutes to do (ok, 20 if you count the time it took me to chop up the sausage and kale).

I did cheat in one area, though. I picked up a bag of dried lentils on my grocery store trip, and then realized I don’t know how to prepare the lentils. I didn’t really want to fiddle w/ 2-4 hours of soaking them, so I stopped at Trader Joe’s on my way home from work and grabbed their pre-cooked lentils. Maybe I’ll graduate to preparing my own lentils next time I make this dish?

Verdict: Jillian (or her recipe ghostwriter) knows her stuff. You win this round, Michaels, but I still think the fact you hawk diet pills is lame.

Song of the Day
The Bird and the Bee – I Can’t Go For That. I don’t even remember how I discovered this song… I think it might have been through Pandora. I’d never heard of the Bird and the Bee, and I’m not sure why they decided to do an album of nothing but Hall and Oates covers, but this song wormed its way into my heart. It’s an awesome electro-pop cover of the original. You won’t even miss John Oates’ crazy mustache.

Day 2: I Guess the Change in my Pocket Wasn’t Enough

In order to facilitate my new plan of cooking as often as possible and avoiding too many processed foods, for Day 2 I decided to make a meal plan. My meal plan usually goes something like this:
1. In burst of inspiration, buy tons of veggies at grocery store with no real plan
2. Admire the veggies in the fridge, but realize I’m hungry immediately and don’t want to cook
3. Order take-out Thai
4. Repeat steps 2-3.
5. A week later, sadly throw out rotting veggies; vow to do better next time.

You get the point. So I figured maybe if I actually wrote out what I want to cook every day, get the ingredients for that, and stick to the plan, I can avoid wasting food/money and not fall into the Thai trap. I busted out a couple cookbooks, wrote it all down in a notebook, and hit the grocery store to get everything for the week… to the tune of $150. Ugh. Is that normal for a week’s worth of food? It does include stuff like chicken breasts to freeze for a later week, though, and this overly expensive curry powder which had better be worth it.

Daily Achievement
So my first meal on the meal plan was last night’s dinner — balsamic pork chops with roasted asparagus. I have to confess something: the only meat I feel comfortable cooking is chicken and ground beef. I’ve tried beef tenderloin in the past, and it never comes out well, and I’ve never even attempted fish or pork. Cooking a pork chop was a total first for me. At first, it seemed like it was going to be a disaster — I cooked the pork on the stovetop in a pan, and almost immediately the kitchen started filling with smoke. The pork was getting blacker and blacker on the outside and still staying pink on the inside. Finally at the very end, it magically became white in the middle. I made a sauce in the same pan which was super easy, luckily — a mix of balsamic vinegar and chicken broth. Once I covered the pork in enough sauce, it was actually pretty good. It wasn’t too dry and had a really nice flavor from the sauce. Maybe I just need to use lower heat next time so the pork doesn’t get quite so black on the outside?

The asparagus was awesome. I just stuck it on a cookie sheet, drizzled it in olive oil, sprinkled on some garlic/onion/herb medley thing Jim had sitting around, and roasted it for 10 minutes. It was really good in the balsamic sauce too. Mmm… asparagus.

Pork chop and asparagus

Overall, I’d count the meal as a win. I cooked pork for the first time and it wasn’t terrible! On the downside, my apartment still smells like slightly burnt pork. The cats are going nuts.

Song of the Day
For some reason, I had this song stuck in my head while cooking. It’s super catchy, and Gweyneth Paltrow surprisingly didn’t butcher it too badly on Glee. So my song of the day is F**k You by Cee-Lo. I dig the retro vibe and the “oooh-ooohs”.

Day 1: Now That I’m On My Way

2011… the year I’m going to stop eating all my meals from the microwave, and the year I’m going to successfully complete a half marathon in under 2 hrs and 30 minutes. In order to complete these goals, I’ve challenged myself to cook at least one thing from scratch and/or go for a run every day in 2011. I’ll be blogging about these activities to keep myself accountable, and hopefully have some fun while doing it!

I’m a fairly mediocre cook. I’m just not very experienced since I cook so rarely. I can follow a recipe, but take me off-recipe and I’m hopeless to make changes. I’m also lazy, and the last thing I usually want to do when I get home from work is take the time to put something together that I’m not sure will even be tasty. So, I tend to live off of frozen meals from Trader Joe’s, or get take-out.

My go-to meal, much to my chagrin, is Go-Go Taquitos from 7-11. It got to the point where the clerk actually handed me my preferred flavor (taco and cheese, if you must know) before I can open my mouth. Trader Joe’s frozen meals aren’t too bad for me, but I’m definitely a little concerned about all the sodium and preservatives I must be getting in my system. Plus, I just need to eat more veggies. So I’m going to make an attempt to start cooking more often, working off of some sort of plan so that groceries don’t go to waste. Hopefully my skills will improve as the year goes on.

Happily, I’m a pretty good baker (although it’s really hard to go wrong with enough sugar, butter and chocolate). I also have an interest in cocktails. So for the purposes of my goals, I’ll allow baking and cocktail shaking to count as “cooking something from scratch.” I just can’t let too many cocktails lead me back to the Taquito siren song…

I have a fairly short running history. I had a short-lived and unmemorable stint on the indoor track team in middle school and didn’t lace up running shoes again until 2007. I signed up for the Virginia Beach Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon with a few friends, and then stupidly didn’t train at all. I managed to finish the race, but with a time of 3:09 and had sore legs for days. I figured running just wasn’t for me. Then last year, I signed up for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, and made a commitment to train for it. I used the Couch to 5K plan and then the Hal Higdon 10 miler plan, and finished the race in 1:46! I was incredibly proud of myself, but once my goal had been achieved, I promptly quit running again.

This year, I’m signed up for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler again. But more importantly, I also signed up for a half marathon! I decided to run the National Half Marathon, and better yet, I’m doing it through Girls on the Run. Girls on the Run is a pretty cool program that helps elementary school girls (3rd through 8th grade) train for a 5k, mixed with healthy living programs. It’s supposed to build self esteem, teach them healthy habits, and all that good stuff. In exchange for having my entry fee to the half marathon paid for, I’ve commited to raising at least $262 for Girls on the Run leading up to the half marathon… if I don’t manage to raise it, it’ll be coming out of my own bank account, so I’m definitely motivated! If you would like to donate to my cause, I invite you to check out my Fundraising Page. I promise to bake something for every contributer (and then I can count that as cooking from scratch… 2 birds with 1 stone, here!)

Daily Achievement
So, what have I done today besides watch the “Worst Cooks in America” marathon on Food Network (at least I’m not as bad as those guys, even if it’s probably played up for television) and set up this blog? I cooked something from scratch!

Macaroni and Cheese

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese! Hey, what do you expect from me? I had an extremely late night and I’m not exactly firing on all cylinders today. My mom makes a great homemade mac and cheese, but the stuff from the blue box is one of my favorite comfort foods. It’s actually one of the first things I ever learned to make myself. Back in the day, when my father was in charge of me and my brother for meals, he’d usually take us to McDonald’s, or make us mac and cheese. Once I got old enough to boil water, he had me start doing it myself. (This is not a knock on my dad’s cooking skills — he makes a mean PB&J sandwich!) I actually made a small tweak to the classic recipe today — I’m out of milk so I used half & half that happened to be in the fridge. I felt totally wild and crazy… and it tasted darn good, too.

Song of the Day
Toby Keith – How Do You Like Me Now? I know, I know. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure song. Country music isn’t my favorite genre, but I actually saw Toby Keith in concert this past summer w/ some friends, and it was an interesting experience. He’s sponsored by Ford, so there was a giant honkin’ Ford on stage that he actually popped out of… it was pretty ridiculous. However, he’s a good showman, I had fun hanging out on the lawn with my friends, and this song was my favorite out of the bunch. Plus, I kinda like singing “How do you like me now? now that I’m on my waaaay” in my head to psych myself up on the treadmill. I promise that future songs of the day will be edgier (ok, to be honest, they probably won’t).