Thursday, September 13, 2018

Getting Fit (Part 1)

One of my goals for the year was to visit the gym at least 50 times. I set this goal while I was still at the firm and commuting between Austin and Dallas each week. For the first half of the year, I was struggling to get to the gym even once per weekend. I was just so tired and so burnt out.

Then I left law firm life. Without question, there was time to get fit.

For the first few weeks, I enjoyed jogging on a treadmill in the air conditioned gym. Soon, though, I found myself just walking on the treadmill so I could simultaneously read my latest book on loan from the public library's electronic bookshelf. My workouts lacked intensity--some days I didn't even break a sweat.

That's when I downloaded the Peloton app and started using a bike in my gym's empty spin studio to take spin classes. Although I like spinning, I'd never taken too many classes because at $25+ per class spinning felt like a special treat not something I could afford to turn into a habit. Unlimited access to the Peloton app, by comparison, cost $19.49/month plus tax as of the date of this writing. At this price I could (did and still do) take a spin class every day of the week.

Two weeks into working with the app and I could feel tone in my muscles for the first time in a long while. I lost a little weight, but most importantly, I was awash in beta endorphins that gave me a sense of well being around the clock. I was hooked. And relieved.

In the 15 months prior, I had subsisted on Diet Coke and french fries (literally--this is what I would pick up from the McDonald's drive through on my way from the office in Dallas to the motel where I stayed during the week), worked out sporadically with little intensity, and spent nearly all my time sitting at a desk or in my car while working or commuting. I'd had a miscarriage that resulted in the loss of so much blood that I needed a blood transfusion. I'd been hit from behind and knocked off my feet by a SUV while walking across the street. I'd been rear ended in what was a serious car accident. And, for the first time in my life, the results of basic lab work drawn at my annual physical looked bad. Long story short, I was in terrible shape.

I had started to believe that I had already experienced the best health I would experience during my lifetime. That I had let things go to far.

I'm so happy I was wrong.

I'm so grateful that my body has turned out to be more resilient than I anticipated.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

12 Books in 2018 (Part 2)

Part 1 is available here.

I loved reading as a child and young adult. It set me on a path towards a liberal arts major in college and, ultimately, law school. As an attorney, I read hundreds of pages of material every week, but it's not the sort of stuff that sparks the imagination.

So, when I was pulling together a list of goals for 2018, I decided to read 12 books this year just for fun.

To facilitate this, armed with last year's library card and a hand-me-down iPad, I downloaded the Libby app, linked it to my library card number, and unlocked a universe of ebooks. Incredible! I am in love with this tool that makes the library's collection so accessible.

Here are six books that I've read just for fun during the second half of 2018:

  • Hunger by Roxane Gay. About all the invisible things that influence and flow from the authors relationship with food and her body. 
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. A story about finding worth at the end of life when you're feeling left behind by the ones you love. This tugged at my heartstrings because I have worried a great deal while watching my grandfather struggle with the death of my grandmother.
  • Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman.  I came back for a third novel by Backman--a spinoff of My Grandmother Asked me to tell you She's Sorry. American popular culture largely ignores the elderly. Each of the three Backman novels that I read this year were led by an older, if not elderly, character. I enjoyed this shift of perspective. (Backman is a Swede.)
I finished this goal earlier than expected (no doubt as a result of moving from a law firm to in-house role at work). During what remains of 2018 I plan to focus on non-fiction. Have you read any good books lately? Some of the best recommendations I've received in the last ten or so years have come through this blog or #lawtwitter.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

New Dessert/Bread Recipes

One of my 2018 goals is to try six new-to-me dessert or bread recipes. Mission accomplished! In order of increasing complexity:

1. Carrot Cake

I have lost count of the number of times I've repeated this recipe in 2018. Nearly all of the ingredients are pantry staples. Have a leftover carrot or two? Make this! No cream cheese for the frosting? No worries. The cake is tasty on it's own.

This cake is petite (the red dish pictured above measures 5" x 7"). By my appetite, that's four servings per cake--just enough to be worth the effort without so much that it goes stale before you can eat it.

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook.

2. Molasses Spice Cookies

Don't let the name fool you--these are gingersnaps. I love a crispy store bought gingersnap, but had never tasted a variation of the cookie that was crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. This is a new favorite that I plan on including in my holiday baking traditions.

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook.

3. Maple Pecan Scone

I tried this recipe at the beginning of the year because I had a bag of pecans left over from holiday baking. The recipe yields four scones. After toasting the pecans, the dough can be assembled in a small food processor, then plunked onto a sheet of parchment, hand shaped, sliced into four wedges and transferred to a cookie sheet (just pick up the piece of parchment and plop it on top of the cookie sheet to keep things simple) to be placed in the oven. The glaze is made of maple syrup, powdered sugar and a splash of water. You'll never open your wallet for a stale Starbucks scone again!

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook along with cranberry/orange and ginger variations that I look forward to trying in the future.

4. Soft Pretzels

Not my first attempt at homemade soft pretzels, but certainly my first successful attempt. I give all the credit to the recipe, which explained that, once shaped, each pretzel should be dipped in boiling water spiked with baking soda before going into the oven. This extra step makes all the difference.

This recipe can be found on the Pioneer Woman's website.

5. Fig Newtons

I've never tried a Fig Newton, but there's someone special in my life that adores them. When Smitten Kitchen posted her Fig Newton recipe days before this someone special's birthday, I knew I was meant to give this recipe a try. (Trader Joe's will have sticky dried figs you need in just the right quantity.) Piping the fig filling and rolling the dough around that filling was a challenge, but the cookies tasted great in the end.

6. Sticky Buns

Holy hell, this was a labor intensive recipe. First, there are the chopped and toasted pecans. Don't let them burn! Second, there's a yeasted dough that you let rise for two separate 1.5-2 hr periods. Next, there's a from-scratch caramel sauce. (Caramel sauce has gotten less intimidating since I purchased a candy thermometer, but it's still a bit daunting.) Then, there's shaping and slicing the buns. (Pro tip from America's Test Kitchen: use a piece of dental floss to slice the buns and they'll retain a picture perfect swirl.) Finally, there's flipping over a hot pan that contains scalding caramel sauce in order to turn the buns out onto a serving dish. If you make it through, you'll end up with stick buns that would make Cinnabon swoon.

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Baking Illustrated.

I'll challenge myself to try six new dessert recipes next year. I love the perceived progress that comes with building up my repertoire of recipes, the novelty of trying new foods and the joy of discovering a new technique that elevates the recipe's results from mediocre to memorable.