Sunday, January 29, 2012

On Being Back

You might be wondering why I chose now to return to A View from the Park after a rather long on-again-off-again hiatus. I never wanted to quit blogging, but I’ve felt as though I’ve been stuck in a world filled with writer’s block.

Back in the day (what now, five and a half years ago?), I used to eat, sleep and breath writing about running. You couldn’t hold a conversation without me mentioning this blog (or running). Hardly a thought went through my head without it sounding as though it was the perfect opening line to a new post. I loved this blog.

But I was also horribly bored and miserable at work and still in the process of finding my way in Chicago.

A lot has changed since then, and as something like an adult life began falling into place for me, my desire and inspiration to write started to wane. But as I lost my grip on this, a lot of great things happened… I met the ladies who would become my closest friends in Chicago; I began dating the guy who would become my husband; I started a new job that ended up being a great job; I got engaged and subsequently married; MM and I bought a house, renovated it, and moved to the suburbs (which was followed closely by adopting a dog); and I began fulfilling some of my non-running related fitness goals. Sometimes I feel like taking on those new, more pressing projects (wedding planning, house renovation, choreographing for Zumba) zapped my creative energy, leaving little inspiration for extracurricular activities like writing.

Nonetheless, I’ve always wanted to get back to a place where blogging ranked high on my list of favorite hobbies, where writing a great post made me happy. Truth be told, I’m not sure I’m there, but I’m going to try.

So why now?

Mostly because I’m pregnant (I know, I totally buried the lede), and I know this is a time in my life that I’m going to want to have a written record of. I’m not a good personal journal keeper. I know if I ever ended up with one of those pregnancy books where you write in milestones and stuff, I'd forget about the fact I owned it within a week. With blogging, I like the “idea” that I’m writing for an audience (however small) for whatever reason, and so, I’m back.

But let’s not gloss over the OMG PREGNANT part of this post.

Here’s the deal: I am 14 weeks pregnant, officially in my first week of my second trimester. I’m due July 29, 2012. Yes, we are going to find out if it’s a girl or a boy, mostly because if it is a boy, I need time to process that. More than anything, I want a healthy baby (and I feel more strongly about that every time we see or hear the baby), but having grown up in a female-dominant family, I struggle to picture myself with a baby boy. If we’re having a boy, I want to see that, get used to it, get excited about it.

That covers the big three right… How far along are you? When are you due? Are you going to find out what you’re having? Trust me, there’s more to come.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Unexpected Message

I woke up this morning to an unexpected email from a friend of a friend. Truth be told, I remember the friend, and I remember the party, which was in the summer during marathon training in 2008. I don't remember getting on my "Running Changed My Life" soapbox, but let’s be honest, it's not exactly a leap to believe that I might have said something like this:
Hi Lou,
I am a friend of G's and we met a few years back at a party at her house. At the time you mentioned to me that running had changed your life. For some reason that comment stuck in my head, along with the fact that it seemed crazy. [Bolding added for emphasis :)]
But then I started running in August and I realized recently that you were right. :D

So I wanted to say thank you for making that comment! I will be running my third 5k in March and hope to work up to a 10k at some point.

I hope your 2012 is off to a wonderful start!

PS Reebok Real Flex shoes = my new absolute favorite!
Awwwwww... This really brightened my morning. It also made me a little sad that my passion and drive to train for running events has been a bit eclipsed by a little thing called LIFE getting in the way (wedding, moving, etc.) as well as my focus on teaching Zumba; however, I have never stopped running, nor have I stopped enjoying running, and I hope that eventually I’ll have the motivation and desire to train again.

So I wrote her back:
It's nice to hear from you. I remember you and that party. I think that was the weekend I slept for like 18 hours at G's house (I blamed it on eating encased meats, but it was more likely from marathon training). I'm glad to hear that I no longer sound/seem crazy (G may have a different opinion on that). :)

It's always exciting when someone catches the running bug. I've slowed down a bit in the last year. My husband and I moved a year ago, and training seems to have taken a backseat to getting the new house in order and other life events. I have continued to run--outside even in the winter--at least once a week, and I'm contemplating signing up for some spring races.

Your email made me smile this morning, so I appreciate you sending it. Good luck on your race in March and definitely train for a 10K--you'll love it. If you ever have any questions or anything, not that I'm an expert, but I'm happy to give any insight. Or if you just want to share your running trials and tribulations, I'd love to hear about those as well.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Things That I Love: Burritos

You know what I love? Did the title of this post tip you off?

I love burritos.

I am pretty open to a wide variety of vegetarian, chicken or pork varieties, but my favorite burrito is pretty lame: It’s a vegetarian black bean burrito (no peppers), rice, corn salsa, a little bit of sour cream, a little bit of cheese, lettuce, guacamole on the side from Chipotle.

Mmmmm... Chipotle.

But there’s a serious problem with Chipotle. That little (OK, big) vegetarian burrito with mostly (ahem) seemingly healthy ingredients tops out at over 1,000 calories, and while that’s OK some of the time, it’s not OK all of the time like I would like it to be.

A few years ago, a friend sent me a black bean burrito recipe that I never tried because I typically refuse to buy tortillas least I eat the entire package in one sitting. For one reason or another, this has changed, and my ability to pace myself with a package of 10 flour tortillas has increased, so I finally dug up the recipe in my email and gave it a shot. I realized quickly that it is only a minor revision of this recipe, aptly titled: Delicious Black Bean Burritos. Says the recipe contributor, "These burritos are soooo good, you'll want to have them every night."

She (or he, I guess) was correct. After making these for the hubs and myself last night, I do want to eat them again... like, right now.

For the record, I cut back on the amount of oil (2 TBSP isn’t necessary) and the amount of cream cheese (I used about 2 ounces). Then I added chopped avocado, a small amount of sour cream, and lots of mild salsa. The burrito didn’t last long enough for me to take a picture.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Slow Cook

I’m always trying and subsequently failing to make my life more functional, which is why the slow cooker (or “crock pot”) has always appealed to me. The only problem, my hand-me-down crock pot had a cracked lid, which I learned after attempting to cook with it several years was probably contributing to my inability to make anything decent in the damn thing.

So I bought a new one and set out to prove that it was in fact the dysfunctional crock pot making the sub-par meals and not the dysfunctional cook. After approximately four and a half minutes of research on Amazon, I settled on the Hamilton Beach 33967 Set ‘n Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker.

Here’s a tip that everyone already knows: Do not buy a slow cooker that does not have the programmable timing feature. No matter how much you want to be home exactly eight hours after you walk out the door to go to work, you will not be, even if you work in a highly functional, humane environment like I do.

My beautiful new kitchen appliance arrived almost immediately (it arrived the next day even though I chose the free shipping option and before Amazon indicated that the product had left the warehouse—not sure how that little shipping miracle happened), and I immediately began sucking up precious work hours searching for glorious toss-in-and-go recipes.

Slow cooking is all the rage these days (not really), but there’s been a resurgence—now that I think about it, this is probably mainly due to people looking for new ways to make their job title “stay-at-home-blogger.”

Even with all of the resources, just like before, most of the meals I attempted were rather bland or just OK, which when you have 8-10 servings (you can’t really make a crockpot meal for two), OK does not cut it. It started to seem like the secret to crock pot cooking was to use several cans of over-processed, sodium-rich cans of cream of [insert vegetable or meat] soup, which I like to refer to as “death soup.” Not really though.

Then I found a high-rated tortilla soup recipe at Generally I don’t like All Recipes because it’s information overload. Too many people go batshit changing everything about the recipe then post a review saying they loved the recipe but changed a dozen things and suddenly the only thing that has stayed the same about a soup recipe is that fact that they threw a bay leaf into the stock. But this recipe seemed to get a lot of “made the recipe as is and it was great,” reviews, so I took the plunge:

Slow-Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

My first attempt was tasty, but then, I decided to take the recipe into my own hands. My biggest complaint: the consistency was not soup-ish enough for me. The broth was more chunky that I prefer and I wanted it smooth. So I came up with a plan that added a step to the process of preparing the ingredients, which totally is against the point of a slow cooker meal, but was so worth it:

Step 1: Prepare the broth.
1 (15 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, mashed
1 (10 ounce) can enchilada sauce
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chile peppers
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups water
Approximately 2 cups of chicken broth

Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender (or you can do what I did which was put it all in a big mixing bowl and get out your immersion blender because it excites you as a kitchen appliance). Blend (or process) until smooth.

Step 2: Add all other ingredients to your slow cooker.
1 pound shredded, cooked chicken
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 10-ounce package frozen corn
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Step 3: Pour the broth into the slow cooker over the other ingredients. Set it on low for eight hours.
The proof: My husband and I went through approximately six of the eight servings of this soup in one day. In my opinion, you can skip the frying of the tortillas in favor of some broken tortilla chips and as much avocado as your little bowl can handle.

As my 20-something coworker would say, “Shit is nom.”

Translation: That is good shit.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hello Again

Dear Friends and Strangers from the Internet,

It's been awhile, hasn't it?

Please excuse the new posts showing up in your Google Reader (or other reader). I'm bringing blog posts from Reading Cookbooks (the URL no longer exists) back over to A View from the Park. My intention is to start blogging again, and what better place than here, where it all began. But in the meantime, I want to make sure everything that I've put out there on the Internets is in one place.

Lots to come so please stay tuned!