Weekend away from home (part 1)

Written on Saturday night:
I left home this morning at 6 AM to drive to Pomona for the Holiday 5K. I was worried that it might be an hour-long drive, but the Saturday morning traffic was light so it only took about 45 minutes. And it was such a lovely drive! There was snow on the mountains after the storm on Thursday and Friday. I didn’t realize the drive to Pomona was going to be so scenic, but I really appreciated it. When I got to the Fairplex I had to pick up my bib for the 5K that morning as well as the half marathon tomorrow. I wasn’t sure whether signing up for both races was really foolish, but I was afraid that I’d regret it if I didn’t. Finishing both races means an extra medal. There’s nothing wrong with running just for the bling! I got to the Fairplex at 7 AM to pick up the race bibs and it was 45 deg outside. Brr! I was wearing a light jacket, but I don’t usually put on my running shoes until the last minute because they aren’t particular comfortable except for running (stupid stability shoes). So I wore a pair of flip flips to walk into the fairgrounds, but quickly discovered that it was too cold for open-toed shoes. I also started to reconsider the short-sleeved Hello Kitty Christmas shirt I had picked for the 5K. I knew that I would probably be plenty warm as soon as I started running, but I didn’t want to freeze while waiting for the race to start. After picking up my race bibs I decided to change into my long-sleeved Avengers Half Marathon shirt. I was quite comfortable before the race started, but the clothing choice turned out to be a mistake after about a mile. Not only did the sleeves make me overheat, but the shirt was black and it was very sunny by 8:30 AM. It was like a furnace. Luckily I had a better plan for the half marathon tomorrow. Besides the temperature problems, I wasn’t a big fan of this 5K course. I felt pretty bad during the first mile and a half, but then I realized it was because that part of the course was all uphill! The second half was obviously downhill because I averaged less than 11 minute/mile. That’s crazy! I’m not sure of my exact finishing time yet, but I think it was pretty average for me. No big deal. It’s not like I was out to set any speed records (or even personal records) the day before a half marathon.

In order to save myself multiple long drives to and from Pomona over the weekend (and to get as much sleep as possible before the half marathon) I booked myself a room in a nearby hotel. In a previous post I mentioned that accommodations for December races was my Christmas present to myself and the money couldn’t have been better spent. I had to hang around the race expo for a couple of hours after the 5K before checking into the hotel, though. I was so glad to get there around noon. I took a shower and then went out to get some lunch. I chose Marie Calendar’s because I knew I could get mashed potatoes there, but it was a terrible choice and a terrible meal. After that I had to swing by CVS and get a toothbrush since I left mine at home when I was in a hurry to leave in the morning. I spent the rest of the day being pretty lazy. I watched a lot of TV, did some online shopping (all for myself – I think my Christmas shopping is pretty much done), and surfing the web. It was nice to be able to completely relax for a change. Now it’s time for me to go to bed so I’ll be well rested for the half marathon tomorrow morning!

Running hiatus?

Except for the Avengers Half Marathon last month, I haven’t written much about running lately. This is mostly because I haven’t really done that much of it in the last three weeks. Pretty lazy, I know. With my dad’s encouragement I did manage to run 4 miles in the hotel fitness center when I was in San Francisco for Thanksgiving, but I really hate treadmill running. Even with TV to watch (Have you ever seen the “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” TV special? It’s so weird!), as well as “Back to the Future” on my iPad, I was still incredibly bored. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate treadmills, (especially after my month in Florida last year when it was just too hot and/or rainy to run outdoors), but I’d much rather be outside. But even after I got back home after Thanksgiving I haven’t been running as often as I should. I’ve got way too many half marathons in the next three months to slack off now! In my defense, I had a cold last week and it kinda knocked me on my butt for a few days. I felt the first twinge of illness when I was still in San Francisco, but I hoped it was just allergies or something innocuous. No such luck. On Monday I was sure I had a cold and I felt pretty terrible Tuesday through Thursday. Yuck. Fortunately I recovered enough to go to the Run for a Claus 5K in Irvine this morning. The bad news is that I think this was my slowest 5K ever due to a hilly route and a 9 AM start (the sun really got to me), but the good news is that I crossed the finish line. This was the first of three holiday-themed races I registered for in December and it was fun to wear a Christmas t-shirt and run with people wearing Santa hats and jingle bells. That was festive. Now I have next weekend’s race to start getting nervous about.

A while back I signed up for the Holiday Half Marathon in Pomona, which is coming up next Sunday. I definitely wanted to run a half marathon in December and the holiday theme was a plus. After my initial registration they announced the Golden Snowflake Challenge, which offered an additional medal for anyone who runs both the 5K on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday. How could I pass that up? But until today I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger and sign up for the 5K as well, mostly because I’d be spending the entire weekend in Pomona. But after I got home from Run for a Claus this morning something came over me and I finally signed up for the 5K. This might be overly ambitious, but I’m going to give it a try anyway. I’m not expecting to run a fast half marathon anyway since I haven’t been keeping up with my training. As long as I finish the race I’ll be happy. The good thing about these races is that I don’t have an excuse not to run on those days. I paid the registration fee and I’m going to get my medal, dang it! No more laziness!

Christmas gifts

I know it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but bear with me while I talk about Christmas a bit. I love buying Christmas gifts. Giving presents that I know people will love is so much fun. I probably spend a quarter of the year planning and purchasing Christmas gifts for my family. A little excessive, maybe, but it always pays off on December 25th. Each year I usually buy something for myself as well. Last year I got my laptop, which was a fantastic choice because I love it and use it every day. This year, however, is going to be a little different. I’ve already mentioned that I got myself a hotel room near Disneyland for the Avengers Half Marathon last weekend and it turned out to be a great decision. I got a little more sleep, I didn’t have to drive anywhere at 3 AM, and I got to take a hot shower as soon as possible after the race. It wasn’t the cheapest option, but definitely worth the cost. (And I already have a reservation at the same hotel for the Tinkerbell Half Marathon weekend in May.) So this year my Christmas gift to myself is hotel rooms for a couple of races in December. I went a little crazy registering for races next month. I’m signed up for three – one 5K, one 10K, and one half marathon. Oops. I may have overextended myself. Plus, two of the races (the longer two, of course) aren’t exactly close to where I live. So to prevent lengthy pre-dawn and post-race drives (especially in my post-race clothes – gross), I got myself reservations at the closest hotels possible to the Holiday Half Marathon in Pomona and the Magic Mountain Holiday Run 10K in Valencia. They won’t be luxurious rooms, but when the time comes I know I will appreciate them. It might not be a tangible Christmas gift I’m giving myself, but I’ll probably enjoy it as much as anything else I’ve bought this year!

Foodie Friday – Apple butter cookie bars

I made these apple butter cookie bars almost a year ago and I can’t believe I haven’t written about them until now! The good thing is that it’s fall again and apple-flavored desserts are completely relevant again! These cookies were one of a few different kinds I sent to my co-workers in DC last December. Here’s what I wrote about them at the time.

“Apparently the apple butter cookies were the clear favorites. One of the girls out there said they were being hoarded by one of the guys and he got irritated when anyone else took one. She was worried he was going to find a sharp object to defend them!”
12/10/13 post

They sound pretty good, huh? I remember having one or two myself and really liking them. The apple butter flavor made them really unique. Calling them “cookies” might be a bit of a stretch, though, because the apple butter makes the texture more like a cake than a cookie. Kinda like when you add pumpkin to a cookie recipe. You get something much softer and chewier than a traditional crispy cookie. That doesn’t undermine their deliciousness, though. If you have a jar of apple butter hiding in your cupboard, make these cookie bars!

3/4 c (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/4 c granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c apple butter
3 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Cinnamon sugar

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and 1 1/4 c sugar until light and fluffy. You can use an electric mixer, but I usually just use a wooden spoon and some elbow grease. Add the eggs, vanilla, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and apple butter, and mix until combined. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix until just combined. Spread the dough into an 11×7″ or 13×9″ pan (I can’t remember which one I used) lined with aluminum foil and coated with cooking spray. Liberally sprinkle cinnamon sugar over the top of the batter. (I usually mix my own cinnamon sugar when I need it, but I have no idea what the best ratio of cinnamon to sugar should be!) Bake at 350 deg F for 25-30 min or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before slicing. Enjoy!

Based on Crazy for Crust’s Apple Butter Snickerdoodles.

We need a little Christmas

“Haul out the holly, put up the tree before my spirit falls again
Fill up the stocking, I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now
For we need a little Christmas, right this very minute
Candles in the window, carols at the spinet
Yes, we need a little Christmas, right this very minute
It hasn’t snowed a single flurry, but Santa, dear, we’re in a hurry”

“We Need A Little Christmas”

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! I know it’s still fairly early in November (although the first week went by fast), but the Christmas commercials started dominating all of the TV stations the day after Halloween. As much as I love the holidays, it still seemed a little early to me. But I’m not really one to talk since I look forward to the Hallmark ornament premieres every July! I guess I’m just a holiday junkie. (I haven’t even put my Halloween decorations away yet! They need to be replaced with Thanksgiving stuff this weekend for sure.) Despite my mild objection to the extreme holiday creep, I went ahead and ordered a new artificial Christmas tree this week. Maybe I should have waited, but I didn’t want to put it off and have to dig through the last few trees left at Target after Thanksgiving. Based on a recommendation from a friend I ordered my tree from Treetopia. I decided to just get a 4′ tree since I don’t really have any need (or any space) for a larger one. But even a 4′ tree will give me more room for my collection of beloved ornaments than the dinky little one I’ve been using for the last two years. I was not sorry to see that tree go when I dropped it off at Goodwill in January. Hopefully my new tree will work out well in my little apartment. It was delivered on Wednesday, but I’m going to leave it in the box until after Thanksgiving. That’s what a regular not Christmas-crazy person would do, right? I’ll just look forward to setting the tree up and trimming it when I get home from San Francisco after Thanksgiving. I probably need to look for some garland and a new tree topper beforehand. So much to do before Christmas! Good thing I ordered my Christmas cards today. With cards and a tree already taken care of, I’m ahead of the game! ‘Tis the season!

Foodie Friday – Crockpot hot chocolate

This recipe is long overdue since I made this Crockpot hot chocolate for the annual holiday potluck at work last December, but it’s worth waiting for! I made the hot chocolate as my contribution to the potluck breakfast buffet. It was fantastic for something that I just dumped into the slow cooker and let heat up for a few hours. The only downside was that the chocolate chips didn’t melt completely so it wasn’t as smooth as I was hoping. Either I didn’t let the mixture cook long enough or the chocolate I used wasn’t the best quality (how does Nestle rank on that scale anyway?). An immersion blender might have helped if I’d had one handy. But the hot chocolate was still really rich and everyone at the holiday potluck loved it, even with little bits of unmelted chocolate in their glasses. I’d like to try a slightly different version that uses cocoa powder and sugar instead of chocolate chips to see if that fixes the problem. Maybe for this year’s holiday potluck!

1.5 c whipping cream
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
6 c milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 c (11-12 oz) chocolate chips (milk chocolate or semi-sweet)

Get ready for some complicated instructions. Ready? Stir together the whipping cream, condensed milk, milk, vanilla, and chocolate chips in your slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is hot and the chocolate chips are melted. Make sure to stir well before serving. That’s it! Enjoy!

Based on Mrs. Happy Homemaker’s Creamy Crockpot Hot Cocoa.

Foodie Friday – Skillet green beans

My family had a big dinner together on Christmas Eve since my brother had to fly back home to San Francisco the next day. I got up early that morning to put some marinara sauce in the slow cooker for a vegetarian lasagna, but then there were side dishes to consider. We had a few options after going to the grocery store the day before, but ultimately I decided to try a recipe for stir-fried green beans. I’d never simply cooked green beans in the skillet, but one of my co-workers brought something similar to our annual holiday potluck and they were delicious. I cooked them in olive oil rather than bacon fat like she did because my brother is a vegetarian, but they were still amazing. These green beans couldn’t be easier to make and they turn out crispy and flavorful. They were perfect for a Christmas dinner side dish.

1-2 Tbsp olive oil
12 oz green beans, ends snapped
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder

In a large nonstick skillet heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the green beans and stir to coat with oil. Add the salt, pepper, and garlic powder and stir to coat. I didn’t really measure the spices, but just sprinkled each one over the green beans a couple of times. I don’t think you can go wrong, no matter how much of each you use. Cook the green beans, stirring occasionally for about 8-10 minutes. Be careful not to burn and make sure not to over cook them if you want the beans to still be a bit crispy (i.e., not mushy). Enjoy!

Based on She Wears Many Hats’ Sautéed Green Beans.