NaBloPoMo 2017

November means that it’s National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) once again. Luckily, all of my
Whole30(-ish) blogging in October was the perfect segue into NaBloPoMo 2017. I’m already in the habit of updating my webpage every day which is a plus, but November has traditionally been an extremely busy month for me. Case in point, I’m at Walt Disney World right now for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend which means that my normal routine has been thrown out the window. I’m sitting down to write this post in my hotel room before an early bedtime in order to be ready for the Fall Feast 5K at 5:30 AM tomorrow morning. It’s my first of three pre-dawn race mornings. Not the kind of thing most folks would sign up for on their vacations, but we runners are a little bit crazy! This morning I went to the race expo and picked up my race bibs and shirts for the three races. Actually, I slept in and barely rolled out of bed in time to get to the expo when it started. Last night I went to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom and I stayed until after the park closed at midnight. Very uncharacteristic for me, but the party was amazing and totally worth the effort it took to get there after my flight landed yesterday. I’ll write a separate post about that later. I spent most of the afternoon at Hollywood Studios visiting a few rides that are no longer at Disneyland, like Tower of Terror and Muppet Vision 3D. So much fun. But now it’s time for me prepare for the 5K early tomorrow morning. I have big plans for the rest of this runcation and I need to be well-rested to fully enjoy it!

Ultimate pumpkin bread

After the usual ordeal of preparing for air travel I finally made it to LAX and sat down at my gate with my laptop expecting to be able to connect to wifi and update my webpage. Due to several factors yesterday was just too busy, and by the time I was able to think about blogging it was really late and I needed sleep a little before my flight today. However, when I got to the airport today my laptop wasn’t recognizing the LAX wifi connection for some reason. And then I discovered that internet access on my flight was $24! Needless to say, I didn’t pay that hefty price. So that brings me to the present, sitting in my Disney World hotel room for a few minutes to charge my phone before heading to Magic Kingdom for the Halloween party. After such a long day I’m taking advantage of this brief window of down time to publish this post.

All throughout October I knew how busy Halloween was going to be for me. Not only was it the day of the annual chili cook-off at work, but I figured I’d be scrambling to finish getting ready for my trip to Disney World. Add a 12-hour workday on top of that and I barely had time to eat dinner last night! I’ll write more about that tomorrow. The point of this little rant is to explain why I planned ahead of time to share this year’s pumpkin bread recipe on Halloween rather than writing a more extensive post. So here it is!

I mentioned this pumpkin bread last year, but didn’t deem it worthy of a formal recipe post at the time. This year I’ve used it twice and it’s absolutely the most delicious pumpkin bread I’ve ever made. The amount of spice is perfect and the combination of the pumpkin puree and pudding mix makes this bread incredibly moist. I took half a bundt cake to my Galloway running group’s end of the season breakfast a few weeks ago and they devoured every single crumb. Since I was doing Whole30(-ish) at the time I shared the rest with my co-workers and it disappeared in record time. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like pumpkin bread, and this recipe is so easy to make and perfect for fall and winter. Just remember to grease the bundt pan or, as I learned firsthand, your cake will be ruined!

INGREDIENTS:
5 large eggs
1 1/4 c canola oil or extra light olive oil
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
2 packages (3 oz each) cook-and-serve vanilla pudding mix
1 tsp baking soda
2 c all-purpose flour
2 c granulated sugar (or half white sugar, half light brown sugar)

DIRECTIONS:
Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer. Add the oil, pumpkin puree, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, pumkin pie spice, cloves, ginger, allspice, cardamom, and salt and beat until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the vanilla pudding mix and baking soda and beat until combined. Lastly, add the flour and sugar and beat until combined. Pour the batter evenly into a 12 cup bundt cake pan with every nook and cranny coated with cooking spray. This is important because you don’t want the cake to stick! (This happened to me the last time so I speak from experience.) Bake at 325 deg F for about 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes before inverting the cake onto a wire rack. Cool completely before slicing. Enjoy!

Based on Taste of Home’s Delicious Pumpkin Bread.

Day 30 – ‘Twas the night before Halloween

‘Twas the night before Halloween and the last day of Whole30(-ish)! And the people rejoiced! Actually, my current mood is pretty frazzled getting ready for the chili cook-off. I’m still looking forward to all of the excitement of tomorrow, but I would be even more enthusiastic if I didn’t have a sink full of dishes to wash, a to do list a mile long, and a suitcase I still need to pack for my pending vacation. And my house is a wreck too. So basically the typical state of things during the holiday season! I should just get used to my life being like this for the next two months. It’s certainly not a bad thing. I’ll gladly take a little disruption in my normal routine in exchange for experiencing my favorite time of the year. All I can do it try to enjoy the festive chaos to the fullest extent possible.

I celebrated both the arrival of Halloween and the departure of my month-long diet experiment by baking a pumpkin sheet cake when I got home from work (while watching the traditional October fare – “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “Hocus Pocus”). I didn’t eat any of it because it’s for the chili cook-off, during which I will sample a wide array of desserts that have been off-limits to me for the last 30 days. For most potluck scenarios I would make an always crowd-pleasing chocolate sheet cake, but Halloween requires something more specialized. I know pumpkin spice has fallen out of favor recently, but it’s still a surefire winner when it comes to baked goods. I’ve made this pumpkin sheet cake before, specifically for the chili cook-off back in 2013, but that recipe included cream cheese frosting. This time I topped the cake with a white glaze (the frosting portion of my white Texas sheet cake) because I wouldn’t have to refrigerate the whole thing that way. Finding space in the fridge for such a huge pan would have been challenging. I also added some Halloween sprinkles (pumpkins and witch’s hats and brooms) for good measure. I’m sure it will be delicious, like so many other things at the chili cook-off. I’ll have a full report tomorrow.

I have so much more to say, but it’s extremely late and I need to go to sleep ASAP. I hope everyone has a lovely Halloween!

Today’s meals:
Breakfast – Scrambled eggs with hot dog slices (cleaning out my fridge!)
Snack #1 – Apple, cashews
Lunch – Carnitas, roasted broccoli and carrots, and roasted diced sweet potato
Snack #2 – Banana with almond butter
Dinner – Tomato soup with Italian sausage

Day 28 – Halloween is coming!

Halloween is three days away and, as of this morning, what you see in the above photo was the extent of my 2017 decorating endeavors. Pathetic! Honestly, I haven’t been able to enjoy October as much as I’d like so far. It’s been a busy month at work, race season and training are kicking into high gear, and my Whole30-ish diet has been sucking up every remaining free moment. There just hasn’t been enough down time for me to relish the holiday season. Along those lines, I was supposed to go to work for a while this afternoon after running with my Galloway group and then picking up my bib for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles half marathon at the convention center (in dreaded downtown LA) this morning. But after I got home, showered, and started doing some of the usual weekend chores around the house, the day pretty much got away from me and it was 5 PM before I even thought about work. And then it was time to watch Game 4 of the World Series! So I decided to stay home for the rest of the day and decorate my house for Halloween. Right now I’m sitting on my couch, watching the Dodgers and Astros, and basking in the glow of my jack-o’-lanterns. The perfect late October night, especially with the blessedly cool weather. Work will have to wait until at least tomorrow. But then, in addition to the half marathon in the morning, I have to make a pot of chili for our annual chili cook-off at work on Tuesday. I did a lot of prep today, including slow cooking a pork roast (I’m trying something different this year), but it will still take at least a couple of hours to complete the process tomorrow afternoon or evening. Let’s just say it’s going to be a busy day.

Speaking of cooking, I did quite a bit of it today – broccoli, carrots, and sweet potatoes – all healthy components of the meals I’ve been eating this month. It’s funny to be making so much food when my vacation starts on Wednesday (I’ll write more about that later), but I needed to make a lunch for Monday, and then the rest is going into the freezer for when I get back. Having diet-friendly foods at my fingertips will make it easier to avoid the pitfall of fast food as soon as I get back to Los Angeles. Just so you know, today is another one of those days where I won’t be sharing my meals. It’s safe to say that I ate more than my fair share of carbs (mostly in the form of bread) in preparation for the half marathon tomorrow morning. I felt pretty terrible running only three miles today with my group so I knew I needed more energy to run 13.1 miles tomorrow. Let’s hope it works!

Halloween 2016

The annual chili cook-off at work wasn’t the only thing I had planned on Halloween. (I tend to oversubscribe myself during the fall/winter holidays because I’m afraid of missing out. This is my favorite time of year and I’m determined to enjoy it as much as possible!) Since it was a Monday I had a welcome day off from running, but I still wanted to get to the gym before my evening obligations. I was ambitious and signed up for a 4 PM boot camp class which meant I had to leave work an hour beforehand to drive home, change clothes, and get to the gym on time. Note to self: Leaving work early on the day of the chili cook-off is a bad idea! As much as I try to keep the cook-off from affecting my productivity, I always spend a lot of time configuring the conference room tables and chairs in the morning and deconfiguring them in the afternoon. It requires more effort that I’d like to admit. Luckily I was able to successfully leave work and make it to my 4 PM class at the gym. And it’s a good thing too because I really stuffed my face at the chili cook-off. In an effort to not blow my diet too badly I started off with a small bowl of chili (3 different kinds I wanted to sample, including my own) and some salad, but eventually went back for chips and desserts. I couldn’t help myself! The delicious food my co-workers made was just too hard to resist. I also had my first sugary soda since September 10th (more about that in another post), but it was an incredible specialty cherry cola and worth the calories. Fortunately I felt better after an hour of resistance training at the gym.

After boot camp concluded I drove home as quickly as possible and jumped in the shower. I was due at a friend’s house to trick or treat with a few families and their kids at 6 PM so I had to rush. In an effort to make it there on time, after my shower I simply threw on the same clothes that I had worn to work that day – jeans and my Mickey Mouse Halloween hoodie (see above photo). I bought the sweatshirt at Disneyland when I was there with a friend back in September, but it had been too hot for me to wear it until the last few days of October. Much to my delight it was gloriously cool and fall-like for Halloween this year. The last three years summer has lasted until early November so it was really lovely to have a comfortable Halloween for a change. Trick or treating with the kids – dressed as Harry Potter characters, superheroes, Star Wars icons, and Disney cartoons – was a lot of fun. They were so excited that they dashed from house to house like they were already hopped up on candy! I was actually a little chilly being outside for so long, even in my hoodie, but the kids weren’t affected at all. All they wanted was to fill their buckets with treats. I was completely wiped out when I went home at 9 PM, but trick or treating with the kids was the perfect way to end Halloween.

Halloween recipe variations

On Monday we had our 5th annual chili cook-off at work. It’s a Halloween tradition! It’s also one of my favorite days of the year (maybe second to the annual holiday potluck) and I’m happy to say that even though it was a lot of work it turned out really well. Due to being on the Nutrisystem diet since Labor Day I didn’t get a chance to make any test batches of chili before the cook-off. What a shame! So on Sunday night I simply combined a couple of my favorite old recipes, crossed my fingers, and hoped for a decent outcome. I figured mixing and matching successful recipes couldn’t go wrong! In order to please several non-carnivores at work I promised to make something that was vegetarian friendly. I started with my vegetarian chili recipe, but substituted the spices from my Cincinnati style chili that I made for last year’s cook-off. To my surprise it was absolutely delicious, and actually came in fourth place out of 16 chilis in the popular vote. So in the spirit of Halloween, making a Frankenstein’s monster-style unholy mashup using pieces from different chili recipes can result in something better than the sum of its parts!

Speaking of unholy mashups, the pumpkin bread I made for the chili cook-off got a similar treatment. I originally planned to make a sheet cake, and I even bought some new Halloween sprinkles to decorate it, but some of my co-workers requested pumpkin bread instead. On the plus side it’s easier to throw together, and I already had a can of pumpkin puree in my cupboard so that’s one less ingredient I had to purchase! But which of my favorite recipes to use? The one I posted in September was the best pumpkin bread I’ve ever tasted, but when I tried something different a couple of weeks later I got even better feedback from the taste testers. What a conundrum! In the end I used the recipe from September (mostly so I could avoid buying buttermilk which I never managed to use all of before it spoils), but with a couple of key changes. First of all, I substituted half of the white sugar for light brown sugar for a richer flavor. But more importantly I used a different spice combination:

2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt

The result was absolutely incredible! Not only did my co-workers gobble it up, but I loved it too. I’ll have to remember that for next year. The moral of today’s story is that experimental cooking can sometimes turn out even better than you could possibly imagine. So be brave and try something new! I am going to try and keep that in mind with the rest of my holiday baking. ‘Tis the season to be bold!

#tbt – Funny story from Halloween

I went to Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland with some friends back in October. Since I didn’t have a proper Halloween costume I decided to just wear my Rapunzel running shirt with a flowered headband and my hair in a braid. It was barely an homage to a costume, but it was the best I could do on short notice. The shirt is purple and says “Rapunzel” on the front, with a long strand of blond hair printed on the back. The first group of friends I ran into that evening was a family with an adorable three year old daughter. They were all dressed as Monster’s Inc. characters which was awesome. My t-shirt-as-a-costume was lame in comparison, but it was far too warm for me to wear my Emperor Palpatine robe (pictured above at last year’s Halloween party – it was still too warm to wear it then as well). When the mom saw my shirt, here’s what she said to her daughter:

Mom: “Who is she dressed up as? What does her shirt say?”
*pause*
Mom: “Oh wait, you can’t read.”

This made me laugh so hard! It took mom a few seconds to remember that her daughter was only three years old and had no idea what my shirt said. Luckily the blonde hair printed on the back was enough for her to recognize that my “costume” was Rapunzel-inspired. Then she insisted that I accompany her on a roller coaster (child-friendly Gadget’s Go Coaster in Toon Town). It was the beginning of a great Halloween-themed evening at Disneyland with friends and their kids.

All holidays, all the time

The weekend after Thanksgiving I put up my Christmas tree. On its own this is nothing out of the ordinary, but this year I did something a little different. Since I had neglected to decorate my house for either Halloween in October or Thanksgiving in November, I decided to make December a celebration of three holidays instead of just one. So while I trimmed my little Christmas tree and decorated my living room with all the traditional Yuletide ornamentation, I also decked the halls with pumpkins, ghosts, pilgrims, and turkeys. Every surface was covered with festive décor. I loved it! Yoda dressed as Santa Claus is flanked by Lucy and Snoopy bobbing for apples at a Halloween party on one side, and Donald Duck holding a cornucopia and wearing a pilgrim hat on the other side. It’s a mash up of the very best kind. All of my favorite things mingled together for the whole of December. What better way to celebrate the holidays? Unfortunately now it’s time to put everything away again. Usually I take down my Christmas tree on New Year’s Day, but I’ve been procrastinating this year. I’ll take care of it before I have to go back to work on Monday. A few more days of enjoying the decorations is all I want.

Second Halloween weekend

The second weekend of Halloween celebrations actually included Halloween, but it started a few days before. On Wednesday the 28th I made my batch of chili for the cook-off at work on Friday. Not only would the chili taste better after spending some time in the fridge, but I had signed up to bring a cake to the cook-off as well and I didn’t want to have to scramble to make both items Thursday night. (I posted this year’s chili cook-off recipe over the weekend if you’re interested.) On Thursday the 29th I started setting up for the annual chili cook-off at work the next day. One of my co-workers helped me put festive tablecloths on all of the tables so that we wouldn’t make as much of a mess. Also, we had to procure some extra power strips so that all of the Crockpots could be plugged in to keep the chili warm. We had a record thirteen entries this year so we actually reserved a second conference room just to accommodate that many Crockpots. Then when I got home that night I whipped up my favorite chocolate sheet cake after I got home from work. I added some Halloween sprinkles to match the occasion because otherwise it would have been just a boring (but delicious) brown cake. Friday the 30th was the chili cook-off which is always a really busy day for me. Every year I think, “I’ll be able to get some work done before lunch.” But that never happens. Between organizing all of the items everyone brings in, fielding questions from participants, and fending off hungry vultures before the cook-off actually starts, I’m always swamped. And after lunch I’m exhausted! But it’s worth it.

By the time the weekend rolled around I desperately wanted a break, but I had a lot of events planned. On Halloween morning I drove to Laguna Niguel for the Grab the Swag 10K (my second of three Halloween-themed races). According to my car it was only 52 deg when I got there so I was excited to run in some pleasant weather for a change! The race was in Laguna Niguel Regional Park and it was mostly on dirty paths. My poor running shoes got really dirty, but I enjoyed the race. When I got home I turned on the Rugby World Cup finals that I DVRed that morning. It was New Zealand vs. Australia and I was rooting for the All Blacks, of course. And they won! That was fun to watch. Then at 12:30 the Florida vs. Georgia game came on. This season has been a bit of a surprise for Gator fans. We didn’t expect much, but the results have been much better than anyone predicted. Besides a loss to LSU (by only a touchdown) a couple of weeks earlier, every other game has been a win. Go Gators! I was pretty nervous watching them play Georgia because the Bulldogs were very highly ranked at the beginning of the season. But it turns out that they are underperforming as much as the Gators are exceeding expectations this year. Despite the Florida quarterback not being that great (Our first string QB was suspended for a year after he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Oops.), the Gators won 27-3. That was really exciting. There are two more conference games this year so the SEC East championship is in sight. Let’s hope they can keep it up! I have to admit that I spent the rest of Halloween being pretty lazy. I was invited to go trick or treating with some friends and their kids that night, but I was just too exhausted by the time dusk rolled around. So instead I stayed on my couch and watched “The Simpsons” Treehouse of Horror episodes, Wholloween (scary “Doctor Who” episodes), and “Game of Thrones.” An enjoyable holiday evening.

On Sunday November 1st I had another race. Ever since October started my brain somehow thinks that two days in a weekend equals two chances to run races. I am completely nuts. When I first found out about the Dinosaur Dash in Tustin the day after Halloween I thought it was a great idea. They had a 5K and 10K, and I figured a 5K would be enjoyable after the 10K on Halloween. However, after doing some more research I discovered that the 10K started at 7:15 AM and the 5K started at 8:30 AM. Then I remembered that Daylight Savings Time started overnight and that meant the sun would be coming up around 6 AM rather than 7 AM. The 7:15 AM 10K was going to be much more pleasant so I registered for it instead. Two 10Ks in one weekend. Didn’t I tell you I was nuts? I’m glad I did it, though. Due to a variety of factors (weather, work, holidays, etc.) I haven’t been running much during the week so these weekend races are helping me maintain some semblance of an exercise routine. Getting 12.4 miles of running in over the weekend was definitely beneficial. I will dedicate a post to my myriad of fall races soon. Let’s just say there are a lot of them. The rest of November 1st was spent doing things around the house. I made a lasagna to feed my co-workers on Tuesday (more on that later), roasted vegetables for my lunches, and did as many chores as possible in preparation for my Disney World vacation this week. I should have gone to work to make up a few of the hours I’m going to miss while I’m gone, but that didn’t happen. I was lazy instead. I needed the rest for more crazy days to come!