Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review: Attachments, By Rainbow Rowell -- ★★★★

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This funny, clever book took me quite by surprise. My new method of checking out books from the library involves, a list and a computer. As soon as I have a good amount of books on the list, I go online and put the book on hold using my library card.

More often than not, the book is already on hold for someone else, so it may be weeks or months between the time I put the book on hold and when I eventually have it in my hot little hands. It's always a surprise what book is waiting for me when I finally get to the library.  So when I began this book, I had no clue what is was about, but I had a vague recollection it had something to do with e-mails. I certainly wasn't prepared for a quirky novel that would leave me feeling so good.

Lincoln is in his late twenties, lonely and living with his mom, who cooks elaborate gourmet meals for him. He works the night shift at the local newspaper in the IT department as an Internet Security Officer. When he was hired for the position, he thought he would be protecting The Courier from evil hackers. Instead he finds himself in charge of reading employee's e-mails to ensure workers are adhering to company protocol.

He basically hates his job. He thinks it's weird he gets paid to pry into other people's personal communications. But the money is good and really, what else does he have to do other than play Dungeons and Dragons every Saturday night? He hasn't had a relationship since high school and to make matters worse, his sister will not leave him alone about moving out of his mother's house and getting on with his life.

He follows the lives of two co-workers, Beth and Jennifer, through their work correspondance because their e-mails get flagged in the IT security system quite often. He gets so immersed in their lives (through their e-mails) that he begins to feel like he knows them.  Their exchange is smart, funny and quippy.  (I laughed aloud so many times while reading their e-mails.)

Then they start to talk about Lincoln. Beth noticed him at the office and starts to refer to him as Mr. Cute Guy. At the same time, Beth discusses her relationship woes with a musician she has been dating since college who can't seem to fully commit and Jennifer talks in great detail about her fears of starting a family. When Jennifer becomes pregnant, their dialogue takes a more serious turn (but still with light and humorous undertones.) And through all of this, Lincoln is forced to follow them through their e-mails. And he's starting to hate himself for it.

Rowell was able to create characters that are so believable, so down-to-earth, that if you ever worked in an office, you'll find yourself drawing comparisons between them and people you actually know. In fact, she created such a depth to each character (even to the minor ones like Lincoln's mom and sister) that I found myself invested in every single of them.

Lincoln, the hero of the story,  is smart, funny and just plain nice. He's a breath of fresh air, quite frankly.

Beth, who finds herself stuck in a relationship that she knows is not right, yet doesn't know how or if she should disentangle herself from it, is that self-depreciating humor kind of girl who always makes you laugh low and loud.

Jennifer is a lovable character whose fears of starting a family are familiar and her relationship with her husband is warm and endearing.

This is a fun, quirky, Shakespearean comedy of errors type story that leaves a smile plastered to your face. It's a wonderful first novel from Rainbow Rowell. I cannot wait for her next novel!



Verdict: Definitely Recommend
Rating: ✭✭✭

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Scenes

Breakfast.
Fun.
Sun.
First pepper.
Perfect cone.
Delicioso.
Work.
Loyalty.
Problem solver.
More work.
Literal interpretation of jumping for joy.
Dead feet. Dead grass.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Cheeseburger Quesadillas




No matter how many burgers I grill, no matter how many people are eating, I always have one elusive cheeseburger left. Well, really there are always two burgers left, but my husband, who daintily claims he's so full, picks and picks at the second-to-last burger until it's gone, leaving me with the elusive one cheeseburger.

So I'm always searching for a way to upcycle it into a leftover meal. I've tried smashing it down into a sauce and mixing it with pasta, but I'm always met with lackluster results. So because I have an obsession with quesadillas (translation: I like taking almost anything, shoving it between two corn tortillas and calling it a day), I had this brilliant idea to make cheeseburger quesadillas. I was hoping they would turn out as fabulously as the cheddar bratwurst quesadillas I made last summer.


Yep, just as tasty. Seriously, what doesn't taste good in quesadilla form?

Cheeseburger Quesadillas






Ingredients:

1 leftover cheeseburger
Slices of American cheese
Lettuce
Onions
Mayo
Ketchup
Sweet relish
Corn tortillas
Grapeseed oil
Salt

Directions:

In a separate bowl, mix together 1/8 cup mayo with 1 tablespoon ketchup and 2 teaspoons sweet relish. Season with salt. Taste and readjust flavors if necessary. Set aside.

Smash the leftover cheeseburger on a plate with a fork.


Heat a swirl of oil in a pan over medium heat. Add one corn tortilla. Add a slice or two of cheese, some cheeseburger, lettuce, raw onion and a dollop of sauce.


Lay more cheese on top and then put another corn tortilla on top. Season with salt. Cook until the cheese gets a little goey and each side develops a golden color.


Cut in triangles and devour.


Repeat until all of the ingredients are gone.


This is the best way I found to use up that one mocking cheeseburger. You'll be wishing you had more than one cheeseburger to use. Oh, the irony.



Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Good Morning Muffins







We heart summer. And everything that comes with summer: bike rides, picnics, lazy pool days, the tinny music of the ice cream truck. We were born for summer days.

It's a gorgeous day today in the Chicago suburbs, mid-70s, light breeze and sunny. Yesterday it was so chokingly humid. Today, though, just gorgeous. It's the perfect day to sit outside and blow big fat bubbles into the blue sky and watch them skitter away.

We haven't had any rain in quite some time though and the grass feels a little crunchy underneath bare feet. With the installation of our shed last fall, my husband decided he wanted to add rain barrels to help conserve water. He hooked them up to the back of the shed, using gutters to corral the water into the barrels. They are less than a foot from the veggie garden, so instead of lugging an unbearably heavy hose all of the way across the backyard, all I have to do is take a few steps.


They work awesome. When it rains, that is. This teeny weeny dry spell kind of puts a damper on the rain barrels.

Speaking of gardens, the rabbits are out of control this year. They are gorging everything green in sight that is not barricaded. I keep trying to grow super tall sunflowers on one side of the shed and they keep eating the little sprouts. On the other side, I planted pumpkin seeds, which have germinated, but I have not seen any corn sprouts. I'm really hoping the rabbits didn't get those too.

My dad is probably the only other person I know who really understands what it truly means to grow your own food; he and I seem to both get that warm and fuzzy feeling from pulling veggies out of the dirt and then cooking them up. (My mom says it must be the Italian in us.) So in an effort to help rid me of my rabbit infestation (or to simply stop my complaining), he ordered me this from Amazon.


Can't wait to get this baby set up. 

Speaking of Amazon, we recently ordered a bike trailer for the kids and we broke it in last weekend for a 10-mile bike ride.


I pulled the two kids in the trailer so it was definitely a laborious 10 miles. While this wasn't the fastest 10 miles ever, the resistance was definitely tough. 


We figured with the kids, it was probably an extra 75 pounds I was pulling. But it always feels good to get outside and get the blood pumping. We stopped mid-trip so the kids could play at a park and so we could help mute our grumbling tummies. 


While everyone else munched on Clif bars, I packed one of these muffins in this container for my snack. Loaded with protein and sprinkled with pepitas, these muffins are perfect for breakfast on-the-go or as a mid- or post-workout pick-me-up. It seriously hit the spot.

Good Morning Muffins






Makes 8 Muffins

Ingredients:

3 eggs
1/4 cup oil (I used grapeseed)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup + 1/4 cup pepitas, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a muffin pan by lining with papers or coating with cooking spray.

In a small mixing cup, whisk the eggs, oil and vanilla extract.


Set aside. In a large bowl, combine the almond flour through the cinnamon.


Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix to combine. Add the chopped almonds, raisins and 1/2 cup of pepitas. Mix well. Divide evenly in muffin pan, filling almost to the top. The almond flour does not lift as much as gluten flour. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup pepitas.


Bake for 26 - 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool on a wire rack.


Store in an airtight container. These freeze quite well.

Till next time!





Nutrition Information Per Muffin: Calories 348; Total Fat 25g*; Total Carb 23g; Fiber 4g; Sugars 13g; Protein 10g
*The almond flour contributes to the fat content of this muffin.
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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Chasing My Pace


I started running last July 4. I just hopped on the treadmill and started running, one mile, two miles -- whatever I could pretty much do. It wasn't until mid-August that I decided to take to the streets outside. My husband was on vacation for a week, so every morning I went outside and ran. Each day I found myself going further and further. On the fourth morning, I was coming around the final bend and my ankles seemed so stiff. For the remainder of the day, my left ankle starting swelling. It continued no matter how much I iced it or elevated it. Finally, I forced myself to an orthopedic doctor and I got the boot.


Yes, this boot.

A stress fracture. By the time my doctor looked at the results of my MRI (uh, a minute before I walked in the room) it was a week after I had gotten the MRI, plus a week after I saw him initially and about another two weeks after the injury first occurred. So I was already feeling better and this stupid boot was making my ankle hurt all over again. So I ditched it and continued on. I didn't run for about six more weeks. When I was cleared, I started slowly. I did NOT want another broken bone. So I eased into running using the Couch to 5K program and by the time Thanksgiving hit, I was running a full three miles.


I trained inside on the treadmill so I could track my progress, but once the program was over, I hit the outdoors. The mild winter allowed to me run outside much more than I ever could have during a normal winter here in the Midwest.  On the days I had to run inside, I hated it. I started to despise the treadmill. I still do and thoughts of days like this picture below (uh, hello February 2011) put my head in a serious tailspin.

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I'm not very fast.  I keep telling myself that slow and steady wins the race. But I clearly want to run faster.


I have seen a 40 second change in my natural pace after I started taking a spin class two days a week. I've read that cross-training is very important and I can vouch that it makes a big impact when you're trying to increase your speed. I wasn't even trying.

Still, a few things I think are inhibiting me from reaching a desirable pace:

My weight.
I'm about 15 pounds overweight. Despite my fairly healthy eating habits and cardiovascular exercise, I have gained about 15 pounds since last summer. I have Hashimotos and my metabolism is extremely slow. Everything I eat just sticks to me. This just means I have to work extra hard to lose weight, which in turn means cleaning up my diet. But when you exercise every day and you continue to gain weight, you get sort of depressed and your eating habits start to suffer. But I'll do the best I can. I'm shooting for 90% whole foods and 10% not-so-clean (for those days when you just need a treat.)


My weakness.
I have not fully committed to a strength training workout, in part because I'm having a hard time finding the right one and because I have to go in the basement to do it. There's something very draining about having to lug two kids to the basement to exercise just to listen to them moan and/or cry the whole time. But I will make it my business to find one and stick to it. Maybe my iPhone is the answer...


My endurance
I am not running far enough. To increase my 5k time, I know I must regularly run farther than 3 miles. I will have to start adding a few 4 milers and eventually 5 milers to my weekly runs and see if that helps increase my 5k time.

My shoes.
After my injury last summer, I knew I needed a good pair of shoes. I bought a pair of wide width running shoes on sale at Kohls (I was later told they were trail running shoes) and got inserts made from Road Runner Sports. My bunions (gross; I know) have been hurting me lately after runs and I think I may have mild shin splints in my right leg. I've been saying I need new shoes and inserts for about two months. This goes to the top of the list because I know I will end up hurting myself because my shoes are shot.


That's the plan. Right now I run a 5k somewhere between 29 and 32 minutes. I would love to see myself running it more along the 25-27 mark.

Time to get to work!

What have you done to run faster and smarter?




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