Thursday, January 26, 2012

The first race of twenty-twelve!

Tomorrow I'm embarking on a mini-road trip. After work I'm driving up to Tacoma, Washington to stay the night in a hotel with scary ratings (gee, thanks Priceline!) and then run on Saturday around the Sound. I'm looking forward to the easy nature of this run because it's very laid back and, to be honest, I've not been training as often as I should. This run is more of an encouraging fun run and I'm trying to get myself excited about it, which is why I'm posting a blog - to hype myself up.

I was excited earlier this week when I decided to book a hotel room but I forgot how crowded I-5 gets because I hardly ever drive on highways unless I have to. I enjoy driving and solo road trips, but I'm probably one of the most impatient drivers out there. Traffic never fails to put me in a bad mood. I'm not a jerk who tries to cut other people off or inch around them, but let's just say I'd rather go extra 50 miles and drive the entire time rather than sit in traffic for 20 minutes. Beating tomorrows traffic won't happen unless I leave work/Portland at 2pm or 7pm. (Not gonna happen!)

I've packed most of my bag so I'm going! My hotel said each room has a microwave and mini-fridge so I'm bringing up all of my food. (Side note: I'm now down 10lbs total - yay!

I'm not a coffee drinker before races but I never was a daily coffee drinker until recently so I'm bringing my camping french press just in case the desire strikes! Unless they ask me to tell them the distance I'm running on Saturday before we start running, I will just keep going until I feel sufficiently tired. A 15k would be nice but it's not very likely.

In Winter the weather in the Pacific NW is two things. Rainy and not-rainy. It's supposed to be not-rainy on Saturday so I'm bringing my camera and hoping to get some pretty pictures of the area. I don't know anything about the course besides it is a loop, runs by the water, through a golf course and over some rolling hills. I'm charging up the Garmin right now!

I have quite a few pictures to post in a kitchen orientated post which is coming soon! My kitchen has gotten a mega-upgrade by way of a few new kitchen items and one super amazing appliance. Since I'm a big kitchen geek, I feel it's only polite to designate a proper entry to those items, along with some of my fun commentary. I promise that entry within the next week.

Tonight I'm going to turn in early because I have a feeling I won't sleep very well tomorrow... but not because I'm nervous about running, I've just read the beds kind of suck. My dad uses priceline for hotels and he's raved about some great deals he has gotten, which is why I decided to give it a try. I'm pretty sure he doesn't pick one star and put $39 as his offering price. Hey, it beats waking up at 5am to get there by 8! And let's face it, if I didn't get a room I would probably not be motivated enough to wake up that early.

I think I might go to Seattle for part of the day since I'll be so close. I'll admit it, I'm not a big Seattle fan but I really do love a couple things about the city. The two things I'd make the 20 minute drive for would be fresh fish from the Pike Place market and amazing coffee beans from Vivace. Plus, more photo ops and my family seems to enjoy those posts. (I know they're way more exciting to read). I'll be heading back to Portland early though as I have to work Sunday. Next Friday I am going to put all of my energy into a field trip up to Mt Hood again because we've had 10 feet of snow in the past couple weeks and now have a 100inch base! YES!!

Lots of exciting things - time to finish getting all of my things together and head to sleep. Updates are forthcoming! <3

Monday, January 16, 2012

Adventures into a scary place... baking bread with a toaster oven

I've been reading this book about a blogger who decided not to eat out in NYC for 2 years. Kim was talking about this book over Thanksgiving and I thought it sounded interesting, and I am always willing to check out new literature, so I put a hold on it from the library. I read the first few chapters really fast but haven't picked the book up in like 3 weeks now. I keep renewing the due date because I'm determined to finish the book. Since this post isn't supposed to be a book review I'm just going to skip over my thoughts and write about what I came here to write: my forays into No-Knead Bread!

In the book, the author ponders over buying pre-made food and decides to try her luck with making her own bread after she hears about a popular New York Times recipe. It sounded easy enough and after I read that she could do it, I was pretty confident that I'd make a tasty loaf, even though I'm not really a great baker. I bought some yeast a couple weeks ago while I was at the store and finally this weekend I set out to make my own bread.

Things got off to a rocky start and went downhill from there (but I'm going to spoil this blog and let you know this story does have a very happy ending, so carry on fellow readers). As I started to gather together the ingredients (flour, yeast, salt and water) I realized that I was lacking the full 3 cups of the most essential ingredient, flour. I wasn't sure if maybe I hadn't unpacked the rest or if maybe I just had brought it over to someone's house and forgotten it there. (Probably the latter, oh well, flour is inexpensive!) I had about 2 cups and some change so I decided to cut the recipe by 1/3. Since there were countless blogs about people making this bread, doing stupid things and still making a perfect artisan delicious looking loaf, I figured I couldn't mess this up!

I started the bread at 9pm on Saturday night and didn't start baking until about 4pm on Sunday. The reason why this bread is so popular is because it requires no work beyond throwing minimal ingredients in a bowl and letting it sit for 12-18 hours. This is trick #1. The yeast love a wet environment and this dough is sticky and moist. Since you aren't kneading the bread to release the gluten fibers (as you would in the days of old, before us lazy bakers came around) you need to let this baby hang out on your counter all night.

You can make the loaf completely how it is written or you can add extra ingredients. The reason why I'm not a really good baker is because baking usually requires precise measurements and I'm a non-recipe, improvisational type cook. I live to throw together random delicious meals from whatever I have in my fridge or cupboards. I don't even own a teaspoon/tablespoon set! Thankfully I have a measuring cup, or else I'd be completely lost.

I cut some branches off my rosemary bush, chopped up a large clove of garlic, found some dried lavender flowers I had picked on a walk a few weeks ago and took a few pinches of Murray River pink flake salt and put them all into little spice bowls that I use when I cook.

I added the dry ingredients all together in my big red mixing bowl. I love the color red and love my mixing bowl. I wasn't sure how the lavender was going to fair in the recipe but at least it added some pretty color. I took a picture of this step but really I am just showing off the oils and other random items that I use most often (and that would fit behind my stove top)

Then it was time to cover it with plastic wrap and wait. Since it was about 9pm, I decided tomorrow afternoon would be a good time for baking! I wanted to make sure that the yeast had enough time to do their thing and I was instructed to not bother the dough until I saw little bubbles.

It was a cold night (for Portland) and in the morning I decided to bring the bowl into my bedroom because it was warmer. The dough is supposed to be left at room temperature (about 70F) but I'm pretty sure my kitchen was colder than that. As I was drinking my coffee I heard a lot of gurgling and popping next to me - it was like the dough was alive! I saw the little bubbles and smelled the yeasty smell that everyone says they love. I don't really love the smell of raw uncooked yeasty bread, but every blogger who wrote about this recipe seemed to wax poetic when they talked about this smell. Whatever - my dough was (almost) done!

The next stage is probably the most labor intensive stage. I started to laugh when I wrote that because for me this is where I realized I made a big mistake and it did turn out to be quite a bit more work, but for everyone else, it's really not hard or labor intensive at all, I promise! You might get some sticky dough on your hands if you don't coat them well with flour. It seemed like a lot of people used a spatula in this step though.

The recipe says to turn the bowl upside down and plop the dough out onto a well floured surface. Fold it over onto itself once (this is where the spatula comes in I think) and then let it rest for 15 minutes. I don't understand that but I followed the directions! My dough was really, really sticky and wet. At this point I realized that I used the wrong flour. I also found the other flour, the one I was supposed to use. Note: you can use bread flour but it isn't necessary, but make sure you at least use all purpose flour.

When I was packing to move into my current apartment, I hastily filled and labeled my resuable plastic containers with bulk items, like flours, sugars, rice and beans. I didn't have enough containers, but tried to get most of my baking items stored away. When I got the remainder of the flour out to coat my cutting board, I realized it was pastry flour because of the way it felt. I confirmed this when I dug through a box and found my all purpose and a small bit of bread flour. I really need to unpack everything....

In an attempt to save my bread I added some wheat gluten and coated everything with bread flour. I also took my really wet dough and folded about 1/2 a cup of flour into it then formed a ball with the folded seam side down, like it said in the recipe. I think that the dough is supposed to be pretty darn sticky and a dough ball probably isn't easily achieved but don't fret, just do what you can. It'll cook into a nice round shape and if it's a little funny looking it just looks more homemade, and therefore, even better!
The recipe instructed to put the dough on a cotton cloth coated with flour but I wasn't about to put that dough on anywhere that would be a pain to clean. I sprinkled some parchment paper with flour, folded it up loosely and then wrapped the whole package in a bamboo cloth.

I then put the dough on top of my warm rice cooker to proof it. You don't need to do this. I only did this because of my flour mess up. I also did a bit of kneading to make up for lost time. The best thing though was 2 hours later when I checked my dough - it had risen and it looked beautiful!! I think that the way it is supposed to look might be a bit more wet than mine, but they will cook beautifully too. Remember, it is okay to coat the outside with flour because you can always brush off the excess after it is baked. I read that you can coat the bread with other things before the two hour mark, but I stuck to flour.

Before the dough is done rising here is trick #2 - you need to preheat your oven to 450 degrees with the pan you are going to cook the bread in. Before you even attempt this recipe you need to make sure you have at least a 3-4qt pot/dish with a lid. Preheat the lid too. One of my next purchases is going to be a le crueset dutch oven knock off (because they are $300, whaaat?) that is small enough to fit inside my toaster oven, but big enough to bake bread.

The reason why a lid in imperative is because it traps in the moisture. As the bread cooks and releases all that water that is in the mushy wet dough, the humidity levels stay high in the pan. I am pretty certain this is what creates the chewy (but not too chewy) crispy perfect crust. Preheating the dish with the lid on means you're already bringing the pan and the air inside up to temperature, which makes for a quick bake!

Be careful when you remove the pan to plop the dough in because it is really hot! I would advise to pull out the oven rack a little, take the lid off and let the dough fall off the parchment paper into the pan seam side up. Put the lid back on and set your timer to 30 minutes. The best thing about my toaster oven and the fact that I only had a small pyrex dish and a round cheesecake baking tray as my "lid" is that I was able to watch it cook.

The downsides to a toaster oven is not knowing if things will come out properly or even cook. The lack of space is a big issue too. Since I only had a small dish I split my bread into two balls at the end and made two loaves.

Here is the bread after I put it in the oven:

10 minutes into cooking and it's starting to rise - I started feeling like I may have been successful at this point:

25 minutes into cooking and it's looking great!:

After 30 minutes the lid needs to come off and the bread should be baked for about 10-15 more minutes to brown it up. Since I was cooking a smaller batch I pulled the lid at 25 minutes and then let it brown for 5 and it came out looking like something I wanted to eat right away. I was so hungry and it smelled wonderful. This freshly baked bread yeast smell is the one I like!

You're suppose to let it cool but my loaf was tiny and I couldn't wait so I cut off the first piece, took a couple pictures and dug in. I added a sliver of butter and it was so amazing that I actually ate the entire loaf before the second one was done cooking. Clearly, this was a big win!

Yay! My toaster oven has proven itself worthy! Doesn't it look delicious? Now you should go make some too! Let me know what flavor combinations and herbs you put in your bread. I have a few good ideas for my next loaf.

nom nom nom! Happy Noshing!

Here is a link to the official recipe. Have fun!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Angels Rest Hike (and a little about races!)

January 14th, 2012

I've been a lazy updater! Before I talk about the hike I went on with Anise last Saturday, I wanted to give myself a little happy pat on the back. Since Xmas I decided I should probably get a little more serious about losing the extra weight I've gained from being a bit less active. I realized that I mentioned it a lot and it was just bringing me down so I became one of those calorie counter people. (I know! yuck!) But it works! I am here to report that 20 days later I'm down a healthy (and respectable) 7lbs. Do I look much different? Nope! Things fit a little better but it's more just a confidence booster at this point.

I've started training again for my 1/2 on April 1st. Last year at the Race for the Roses I ran the 5k but I signed up for the 1/2 this year. I signed up really early because that's when you get the pretty great deals and this was a pretty great race (with lots and lots of goodies at the end - bagels, yoghurt, fruit, granola, free lbs of coffee, a free finisher picture, an awesome shirt - and who doesn't love all that stuff? Okay, to be honest, I've not really been training very seriously, just getting outside for 3-5 mile runs - but it's a start. I did load up my google training calender with runs though. Same with last time, it's more of a "suggestion". I don't do well with running schedules (especially because of weather variables) but the calender does act as a reminder of where I should be so I can somewhat stay on track!

The only other races I have planned right now are the one at the end of January (because it was free!), the Shamrock run with Cliff and Kim (yay!), and Run Girlfriend Run at the end of May with Anise. If the Run for the Cheetah is happening again I'll gladly sign up and do my best running up that crazy 900ft elevation gain hill again.

Onto my hike!

Anise came and stayed with me last weekend and we wanted to do something fun. Her birthday was on Tuesday (she is 12 now!) so we celebrated by doing a lot of fun things but one was a hike up Angels Rest in the Gorge. It's about a 45 minute drive from Portland and really close to Multnomah Falls. The hike is short but the elevation gain is significant (about 1550) and over 2 miles that made for some good exercise!

There were a few other people with the same idea as us, because we saw a lot of people on the trail. Someone was nice enough to take our picture near the bottom.

It was really muddy and there were a few parts where I thought maybe we should turn around because I wasn't sure how I was going to make it back down the steep parts without wiping out - but we kept on - and I'm glad we did! The views as you are hiking up are just little previews of how amazing they are at the top. Here are some pictures from the hike up:

Views of the Columbia

Cooper Falls

Anise stopping for a break to enjoy the view!

Hydration is important people!

There were a lot of switchbacks

Near the top you start walking over a section with lots of rocks.

The top! The outcrop of rocks is what is called Angels Rest. We hiked up a little higher to a rock so we could overlook the entire Columbia and have our picnic lunch. We packed sandwiches, fruit, carrots, hummus and a couple caramels. We started to get cold pretty fast though as it was chilly! I was smart and wore lots of layers (which wasn't so great on the way up) and was thankful I packed a hat, but Anise left hers in the car. Brr!

We were above this foggy/clouded area and it made the whole hike pretty magical feeling. I took a couple more pictures and we headed back down.

One of Anise and I before our picnic. I was really sweaty :)

Pretty snow topped mountains in the distance

Someone offered to take our picture again on the way down. No smiles from Anise!

And finally, my favourite picture ever of the entire hike! I LOVE living somewhere that is so beautiful.

Don't you just wish you lived here??

The website said it would take 3-4 hours but we conquered the 4.6 miles in a little over 2 hours (plus we ate for at least 20 minutes at the top). I think we did well! I know my legs and gluts were really sore a couple days later and I hope to go up there again when it is a little less muddy. I also would like to hike up a bit further to Devil's Rest, which is a couple more miles up.

That night I bought Anise a massive cupcake called "Chocolate Explosion" from Whole Foods and also treated her to some gelato. I wanted to bake something delicious but my toaster oven is kind of sad. She loved it though and even she couldn't finish the whole thing.

I made her a homemade birthday card (I've been all crafty recently and getting into lots of random projects) and I thought it turned out well. Yay for cardmaking!

This weekend my only goal is to get a 70 minute run in and catch up on some rest! I meant to run yesterday but a close friend from the UK (Trish!) is in town so I spent the day with her. I think I may break out the video games because I can't seem to sleep in anymore and clearly I need a reason to stay up really late engrossed in some RPG. I'm going to go old school and play some Final Fantasy. It's pretty chilly outside and the forecast said it is going to snow in Portland tomorrow! That means we'll maybe see a couple flurries, but it's still exciting. This also means snow on the mountain - and I think next Thursday or Friday I'll be going up for a day of skiing!

It was a long update, but I had a lot to catch up on! Go outside and enjoy some nature! And take pictures! :)

Monday, January 2, 2012

I'm finally doing what I started this blog for again!

I've been running again regularly! Yes, I know, it's awesome!!

I started out a few weeks ago just walking and running a little bit, trying to rehabilitate my knee. Last Saturday (12/24) was my first official run that started off this good week+ of running. So far since then I've gone a little over 19 miles.

Oh, so I'm slow and I'm walking still a bit but just getting out there and running feels great. Last Monday was my "long" run of a little over 5 miles and while I did that on the 31st I may go about 5 miles again today. It depend on how my knee wants to cooperate. It started hurting a little on Saturday so I eased off and walked most of the last mile.

Running makes me feel good. Even if it's going to take awhile to get back where I was I am already seeing and feeling improvements. Right now I'm drinking my coffee, chatting with a friend and just finished my breakfast and will be off to a run in an hour or two.

I won an entry to a race that is super low key and will max out at 40 participants. The distance can be 5, 10, 15k or 1/2 marathon. I don't have to decide until I get there. It's at the end of this month and it's not timed (more of a social fun thing than a race) so who knows how much I'll do!

I'm spacey. I forgot to post this blog so I'm actually now off for my run! I left my emergen-c packets at work so I may work in a stop to whole foods and get a couple to tide me over for the day. Thanks dad for the box of emergen-c for xmas, I would use it everyday if I could afford it! (PS - it's great for hangovers)