Winter running, take 1

Winter running is an entirely different animal, you guys.  I make this statement after two true winter runs, so I’m not the most qualified winter runner blogger, but that’s neither here nor there.

First, it’s effing cold.  It was around 25 when I ran at 4:30pm yesterday – that’s -4 to you Celsius people.  That’s about halfway between the temperature of your fridge and your freezer.  After about the first half-mile, my extremities felt like they were in the freezer, while the rest of me warmed up to fridge temperatures – and my head got sweaty under Shane’s super insulated hat (heretofore known as the sweat hat).  I was less bundled up than last weekend, omitting my neck gaiter (which I missed) and a tank top (which I didn’t).  Prior to putting on my jacket, I looked like a ninja and made suitably hilarious ninja poses for Shane’s enjoyment.  Runner’s World convinced me that my lungs weren’t going to freeze, and I kept reminding myself of that when I felt tired and whiney.  The dry air is a bigger concern than the cold, which is why I missed the neck gaiter.

Second, I need to figure out a better route.  I’m interested in trying fartlek training, and in finding 1-2 mile routes that would allow me to do a couple of loops without actually getting far away home in case I fall on the ice.  I mention this because I ran in the neighborhood five days after a heavy snow, and few of the roads were cleared.  The sidewalks were no better.  I’ve heard that running in Yak Trax is the way to go, but I have yet to try it, and as a result spent a good part of my run jumping on and off the sidewalk and very carefully watching where I stepped.

Despite those things, I ran 2 miles in 18 minutes and felt good for 17 of those minutes.  I was cold, shaky, and nauseous when I got home, even after I changed into fresh clothes and ate something.  I did not wipe out on the ice, and I also did not get frostbite.  It was a good start.

1215 Pork Posole

I’ve had an intense avocado craving since Sonya mentioned that Octavia would be trying her first banana and avocado last week.  Bananas and avocados are two of my local food failings – I love both intensely, and it makes me very sad that neither can be grown anywhere close to the Mitten. Two years ago, in the first blush of locavore fever, my prized souvenir from our Christmas trip to California was a big bag of avocados from an Ocean Beach co-op.  We’re less strict now – we prefer local and seasonal, but if the occasional avocado, banana, or out-of-season pepper means the difference between a happy dinner or the continuation of the winter slump, it’s worth the food miles to me.

I mention this because I was convinced to make tonight’s dinner – pork posole – almost entirely because it was topped with slices of fresh avocado.  I started dinner while Shane was working out, and as he walked into the kitchen, he told me that he kept smelling delicious smells and hoping that they were coming from our kitchen.  Delicious smells indeed!  The soup was simple but hearty, making good use of a couple of cups of leftover corn, pork chops from the freezer, and tomatoes that I canned at the end of the summer.  I would season more aggressively next time – why are magazine recipes so conservative?! – and probably halve the recipe, as we had enough for two big bowls for dinner plus four cups of leftovers.  Oh, and I’d buy more avocados.  Definitely more avocados.

Recipe:
Pork Posole with Avocado and Lime from Fitness

Internet Friday

A bit of this and that to wrap up the work week:

Money-Saving Resources

It occurs to me that I should’ve included these links in my last post.

  • Coupons.com: punch in your zip code to find coupons available in your area. If you’re doing any holiday baking, it’s worth clicking over to find coupons for spices, shortening, oil, foil baking pans, etc. Note that you’ll have to install a coupon printer, but that it’s the same software used by lots of other discount sites.
  • Groupon: sign up to receive daily emails about deals in your area.  The deals can be hit or miss – I think I’ve purchased 6 in the last 7 months for the 3 cities I follow (6/690, or .8% purchasing rate) – but the ones we have purchased have been awesome.  More about Groupon later.
  • Retailmenot.com: if you do any shopping online, it’s worth checking for discount codes – if codes are available and stackable, that information should be noted.
  • Amazon Subscribe & Save: Here’s where your comparison shopping pays off.  We made a list of the non-perishables that we use regularly, then compared the per-unit price on Amazon with the stores where we normally shop.  It makes financial sense to buy macaroni and cheese, toilet paper, and olive oil in bulk.  It doesn’t make sense to buy granola.  By ‘subscribing’, you’ll often save an extra couple of bucks, and you can cancel your subscription as soon you receive your order.
  • Target shoppers, if you use your Target credit card, you save 5% on all your purchases.  This is only actually a deal if you pay off your card each month, but if you’re working on (re)building credit like I am, it’s worth keeping in mind.

1214 Is it spring yet?

Snow Day
Photo by di_the_huntress

I ask because the winter angst is hitting me hard.  Shane picked me up from work and I immediately burrowed under a blanket and refused to come out.  I wouldn’t come out to exercise.  I wouldn’t even come out for Taco Tuesday, not even when Shane offered to brave the cold for Sabor Latino takeout.  I regretted it later when he was enjoying his tacos, but still couldn’t be convinced to come out from under my blanket until Shane consented to turn the heat up a few degrees.

I just can’t handle the cold.  I can’t do it.  I like all the things you do to avoid the cold, though.  I like knee socks and hot chocolate.  I like sweaters.  I like cuddling under blankets in front of a fireplace.  I like coffee, coffee with whiskey, coffee with Bailey’s, coffee with Kahlua, coffee with whipped cream.  I like soup and oatmeal, though not at the same time.  Most of all – perhaps more than any of these other things –  I like taking baths.

So that’s what I did tonight.  I took a long, very hot bath.  I read the August issue of Bon Appetit cover to cover in an attempt to pretend that it was still grilling weather.  I thought warm thoughts, and then I bundled up in my pajamas and read in front of the space heater.

What do you do to cope with the winter?

1213 Meatballs and Polenta

It snowed yesterday for real.  Not the delicate flakes we’ve had so far this month – a dusting that melted away almost every night – a heavy blanket several inches deep, held in place by single digit temperatures.  We both woke up feeling worn down, sore, and just generally unable to face the cold and snow, so we both took a sick day and stayed on the couch under blankets, cats, and laptops.  As is often the case on sick days – or any bonus day at home with no responsibilities – we ended up eating at weird hours, and so weren’t hungry for dinner until OMG we were hungry IMMEDIATELY.  Fortunately, we had a super easy, super delicious dinner on tap: revisiting this summer’s Albóndigas con Salsa de Tomate, using leftover meatballs from the ramen we made last month and a container of homemade tomato sauce.

In the waning weeks of the gardening season, I found myself with all of these tomatoes – not enough to can, but too many to eat, especially with all the peppers and potatoes and other things we were bringing home.  I made pot after pot of simple tomato sauce, with dozens of these small tomatoes pressed through the food mill and then simmered down to their sweet essence, then topped off container after container and stashed them away in the freezer for a meal like tonight’s.

With two cups of tomato sauce and a dozen meatballs already thawed, we were able to have dinner on the table in about 20 minutes.  I poured the sauce into an oven-safe dish and placed it under the broiler to heat up, then tossed the meatballs in a skillet until they were browned on all sides.  While Shane whisked away at the polenta, I added the meatballs to the warmed sauce, and put the dish back under the broiler for about 10 minutes.  Simple, warm, and filling: a great end to a snow day.

Recipes:
Albóndigas con Salsa de Tomate
Quickest Tomato Sauce from Jamie at Home
Basic Polenta Recipe from Giada di Laurentiis – this recipe halved makes enough for four portions for us

I’d like to talk about coupons for a moment.

My friend Amber has posted about the Coupon Mom strategy for coupon savings, which involves things like maximizing your savings with store membership programs and planning your shopping around matching days.  Amber’s tried this approach, and while she was able to save money, she also found that in order to really work the program, you end up buying a lot of processed stuff that she – and I – doesn’t really want to eat.

One of my problems with coupons is that they rarely apply to non-processed foods. Why aren’t there coupons for milk? Apples?  I suppose that’s what the weekly circulars are for – tracking the store that has the best price on these staples.  But you know what? I have neither the time nor the energy to drive all over town to save less than a dollar on a half gallon of milk or a pound of apples.  Perhaps I would feel differently if I were feeding a family of five and going through two gallons of milk each week – but then I would have three other people to keep track of, which would cut into my strategic shopping time!

I digress.

I’ve always been a coupon clipper, but since moving to A2, I’ve been much more vigilant about clipping and printing, planning our shopping, etc.  Our favorite grocery store sends out monthly coupons – usually 2-3 for 10-20% off your total purchase – so we use those along with product-specific coupons and in-store discounts to knock $5-20 off of our weekly grocery bills.  They send additional rewards certificates and discounts based on spending – in fact, I just received an email with a 15% off coupon while writing this post.

Shopping at Plum Market isn’t as cheap as going to Kroger or Aldi, both of which are within a mile of our house.  We could probably save a few dollars extra each week if we shopped at Meijer, or if we went to each store to get the best deals.  Which brings me to a central dilemma about food shopping: cost versus quality.

Plum Market’s product selection is comparable to Whole Foods, but their prices are a bit lower.  Plum is a Michigan owned and operated company, and in every aisle you can find products made in state, if not in town.  My shopping basket this last week included organic celery ($1.49/pound), organic honeycrisp apples grown in Michigan, and half-priced day old bread from Zingerman’s ($3 for a large French round).  The apples were among the best we’ve ever had.  Half of the bread will last us upwards of a week, the other half will go in the freezer for another week’s worth of meals.  I had a $10 rewards certificate, a 15% off coupon, and $5 worth of product coupons.  I could get these things for marginally less money elsewhere, but by shopping at Plum, I’m support local business and industry while also buying high quality products for us.

By not running around to chase sales, we build loyalty points at a single store, resulting in those $10 rewards certificates – and in a small but useful relationship with the store itself.  Our impulse buys are restricted to one store, not two or three.  We know the product selection and price range, which also includes knowing when products are cheaper elsewhere – for example, we stock up on Annie’s macaroni and cheese from Amazon Subscribe and Save and on frozen pizzas at Trader Joe’s – rather than buying those items at a higher price at Plum.  We eat really good food at home without breaking the bank – while making responsible shopping and eating choices.  In the long run, those things are more important than a few extra bucks here and there.

1212 English Muffins

English Muffins!

I go through bread baking phases. When I first learned how to bake bread – back in 2003, in the apartment with a horrifically carpeted kitchen and tile on every surface – it was a revelation. We were broke, and the bread we bought was generally of the extremely inexpensive store-brand variety. Occasionally we’d get a Parmesan pepper baguette or a loaf of olive bread from Mary’s Market. Realizing that I could make an excellent sandwich loaf for not very much money – and also work out aggression from a long day of talking to angry customers – was just as wonderful as you might imagine.

Since then, I’ve gone back and forth. I baked regularly when we first moved to A2 and I was unemployed – but then I got a job and we decided we could splurge on a half loaf of something awesome from Zingerman’s from time to time – or we could stock up on half price breads at Plum after 8pm. I have no complaints about this. I like good bread, and I like not always having to make it.

But here’s the thing – there’s a whole world of breads out there, and I only know how to make a handful of ’em. In the last year I’ve made bagels and yeast rolls, zucchini bread and no-knead bread. In the next year, I want to learn about bread – breads of all kinds! 24 loaves in 12 months. I would consider this morning’s baking a preview for the main event.

We’ve been buying English muffins for the last few weeks in an attempt to perfect the breakfast sandwich – and even though I’m over the breakfast sandwich kick for the moment, I’ve been enjoying them smeared with peanut butter along with my breakfast Greek yogurt.  I’ve had a couple of different English muffin recipes bookmarked for a while, so this seemed like a great project to take on this morning.  With a pot of beef stock simmering on the stove, the kitchen was sufficiently warm for the first rise, and the running dishwasher provided enough heat for the second.  I toasted the muffins in the cast iron, then transfered them to the toaster oven for the final bake.

The end result? 9 golden muffins, all very tasty but a little too dense, and lacking the nooks and crannies that are so good at catching melted butter and fresh jam.  While that’s not going to stop us from eating them – we enjoyed a couple with tonight’s frittata – I think that next time I’ll be a bit more gentle in forming the muffins.  Because there will be a next time.  Maybe even this week.

Recipe:
English muffins from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by way of Pete Bakes

2011 Resolutions

I usually like to give myself until my birthday to make resolutions and to report in on those from the previous year. This year, however, I’m pretty set on my list, and if I post it today, that gives me almost 13 months to complete the following:

  1. Expand my bread repertoire by baking 2 new types per month.  I can make a solid sandwich loaf, but there are many more loaves to try!
  2. Knit socks.  I’m there.  I can do this.
  3. Run the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler.  If my knee, winter training, or finances prevent this, run at least one 10K.
  4. Continue saving aggressively for a down-payment on a house.  We’re hoping to buy this summer, but it might be advantageous to wait another year, which is why this resolution is ‘save’ not ‘buy’.
  5. Complete the 25 Recipes challenge, in which we attempt to master 25 recipes that we’ve been intending to try.
  6. Learn to accessorize.  I love the look of scarves, jewelry, and all of that, but haven’t spent much time figuring out how to work those things into my wardrobe.
  7. Make a decision about grad school.  Do I need/want more of it? In what field? This decision will largely be influenced on my job situation.
  8. Sock away 3 months’ worth of my half of the household budget (approx $4500).  I worked on this in 2009, was un/underemployed for a few months, and then got a job that pays $15,000 less than I was making when we established our budgets. I’ll be posting about this and other financial goals on How I Am Not Spending Money.  Hopefully extra income from teaching will help with this.
  9. Survive my first semester of teaching.  Can I tell you how intimidated I am about this?  It’s a little paralyzing.
  10. Take a solo trip and a vacation with SB.  We’re thinking Portland or San Francisco, and I’m thinking that my reward for #9 should be a trip to NYC.

What do you want to do in the new year?

1211 Living the Dream

Pinkberry!
Photo by yosoynuts

Remember when you were a kid and imagined what being a grown up would be like?  Well, today I lived the dream.  I had ice cream for lunch, and pizza for dinner.  Just ice cream – OK, frozen yogurt.  Just pizza.  And I sat on the couch and watched three movies in a row.

Never mind that it was 30 degrees out, and I picked up the (fat-free, topped with fruit) frozen yogurt after a run on snowy roads.  Never mind that I attempted to make the pizza more healthy, with cracker-thin crust and light cheese.  So maybe I was living a grown up version of the dream?