Monday, December 29, 2014

What a year it's been!

Hello everyone and Happy New Year to you all!  As 2014 comes to a close and I think back and reflect on the year, the only word that immediately comes to mind is "Wow."  This past year, 2014.  The year I turned 28 years old, has been one of the most incredible and life changing years I could have ever imagined.  I have been looking forward to writing this post for weeks now, and in fact, over dinner in early December as I started to reflect back on the past year, I was told, "Not yet!  We haven't even gotten through Christmas!"

Which was true.  Dammit.

So I held off, and am now, sitting down to reflect upon the year and already I am choked up and tears are coming to my eyes.  Okay, fine, they aren't just "coming" to my eyes, they may be streaming down my cheeks a bit.  But, that's just because they are tears of amazement, of wonder, of happiness, of pride, of just awe of what the past year brought into my life.

In 2014, I ran TWO marathons, which still blows my mind.  I had the most incredible, life-changing experience of training for and running the Paris Marathon with some incredible friends and all around women.  I then ran and trained for (mostly) on my own the Kansas City Marathon, which I experienced with incredible people at my sides and cheering for me, bringing a new friend into the running religion.

In 2014, I traveled the world.  I experienced some new places for the first time - some I never would have imagined going otherwise - Spain, Romania, Turkey, France, China (2 separate times!), Korea, Japan, and Singapore.  I also traveled within the U.S. to California (multiple times... San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tehachapi), Las Vegas, Florida, Texas, and more.  It was a whirlwind of a year and even now writing this out, I can't believe I fit all of that into just 365 days.  How is this possible???

In 2014, I celebrated the weddings of so many dear friends and family.  Being a part of E & James' wedding, and seeing my uncles wed were incredible, incredible moments I will forever be thankful to have been a part of.  I also traveled home to Rhode Island and to New Jersey for weddings of loved ones who amaze me and whose happiness shines through in everything they do.

In 2014, I moved to Atlanta!  For the first time in my life I moved somewhere a plane ride away from home.  I have spent the past 10 years in Upstate NY (4 in Syracuse and then 6 in Albany) and before that have only lived in Rhode Island, so making the permanent move to Atlanta, Georgia, was a very big deal for me.  And to be honest, I don't even think I realized how big of a deal it was until I've gotten there and started to try and settle in. It has been harder than I thought and it is still taking me time, but I'm learning to become a southerner!  I'm learning up on college football (Go Aggies) and have fallen in love with shrimp and grits.  I'm still working on sweet tea and accepting that Atlanta is apparently filled with hills, which makes even a short run a challenging one, but I'm getting there!

In 2014, I became an aunt to the most incredible little boy and girl in the world (twins!!)  I know this is brand new news to the blog, but some things I do try to keep more private in my life.  This alone could have made this year be one of the most incredible, but wow, just on top of everything else it seems unbelievable.  Back in March right before I left to spend 4 weeks in Europe, I found out that my sister was pregnant with twins.  And then when I was in China in May, I learned the sexes of the babies - and that our family would be joined in the fall by one little boy and one little girl!  We threw my sister a shower in August that was so much fun and I was so thankful to be able to do for her.  And then this fall was on the edge of my seat quite a bit waiting for news but on October 15th my sister gave birth to the two most precious little things in the world, Bridget Carolyn and Jack Richard.  My whole family could not be more in love and the amount of joy and happiness they've brought into all of lives so far has been overwhelming to say the least.  I love these two peanuts more than they'll ever know! (Sorry for the picture spam!)

And finally, although lowest on the importance scale here, but because this is a food and fitness blog... in 2014 I did not weigh myself once!  I vowed to take a break from the scale, and try to use other methods to keep myself on track. which I did, although I am not sure to what success as I definitely ending the year above where I was last year at this point in time.  Getting back on track and likely, weighing myself, is on my list of things to do in 2015.

And then, in 2014 I ran more than 1,100 miles!  I set a goal at the beginning of the year to run 1000 miles in 2014 which was really just a silly "something to reach for" thing that I had no idea if it was realistic or not.  I ended up smashing it and had I maintained my running after the second marathon, probably could have smashed even further.  I ran a personal best 5K this past summer as well as a personal best 10K.  I tried new races such as a Tough Mudder and a Ragnar Relay, and I ran in new places around the world.  Thinking back on it all, AMAZES me.  2014 compared to 2013 is such a huge improvement.  2014 compared to 2012 is like I am two different people.

What a year it has been 2014.  You have challenged and excited me and brought incredible new adventures - and people - into my life.  I am up to the challenge for 2015, so let's bring it on.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!  I hope you are enjoying some time with loved ones, relaxing, and enjoying the spirit of the holidays.  It's the most wonderful time of the year.  Enjoy it people!


Monday, December 22, 2014

Cooking pasta sauce with Tuttorosso

So, as you guys know, I love to cook and that was the initial reason that I started this blog way back in the day.  And although I fell out of writing about that (quite) a bit, I have a post for you today with a couple of recipes and some food talk!  The bit of a different spin is brought to you as a few weeks ago I was reached out to by a woman on the Tuttorosso company marketing team asking if I would be interested in participating in an online giveaway they were doing.

Now, I have only tried making my own tomato sauce once in my life so it is not something that I have a ton of familiarity with, but when I did it was delicious and I was eager to see what Tuttorosso suggested in their "Celebrate the Sauce" campaign celebrating home cooks, family traditions, and recipes.  I also have needed a boost to start cooking again. And finally, since I am a small time blogger over here, the fact that my name and little hole on the internet had popped up anywhere in a database of potential influential bloggers flattered me, so of course I said yes!

Not long after I received in the mail a small packet that contained some samples of their product, recipes, and an apron and wooden spoon for me to give away to a reader.  I loved the bag that the gifts came in and wooden spoons are my absolute FAVORITE things to cook with - and the perfect thing to cook sauces with.

I additionally received a number of different recipes that all looked delicious and I spent quite a bit of time browsing through to decide which ones to try.  But, for whatever reason I put off actually cooking the recipes for a while and finally before heading home for the holidays, I spent a couple hours cooking up some pasta sauces using the recipes provided by Tuttorosso and some of their product. I chose two recipes to try, what utilized 3 of their different products. Their tomato paste, peeled plum tomatoes, and tomato sauce with basil.

I made a roasted garlic sauce and a classic marinara, both of which, ended up incredibly, incredibly delicious and I will write out the recipes for you at the end.  I did make a few changes to utilize what I had on hand, and sometimes because I just didn't follow the directions well enough (in the marinara sauce you are supposed to use whole garlic cloves to season the oil, but I just chopped up garlic and threw it in without paying attention.  Woops!  This is why I don't bake.)

I started with the roasted garlic sauce - because, come on, garlic? Yum.  While roasting two heads of garlic in the oven at 400 degrees, I cooked up some chopped onion and additional garlic with red wine, Tuttorosso tomato paste, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, Tuttorosso tomato sauce with basil flavoring. Then, once the garlic was soft and almost sweet and lightly browned, I squeezed the cloves out of their peels and stirred them into the sauce where it slowly (and sometimes with some prodding) melted into the sauce.

It took me quite a bit of time to get everything really integrated into the sauce.  As you can see in the picture below (on the spoon) there would be little bits of roasted garlic that I really needed to make sure was incorporated into the sauce.

But once it was?  OMG soooo good.  What I ended with was an incredibly complex and delicious sauce with a little heat, a little earthiness from the wine, and a deep, delicious roasted garlic flavor which was incredible for a garlic lover such as myself. I was really happy with how this sauce turned out and didn’t think that the next sauce I was going to make was going to be able to beat it.

I put the roasted garlic sauce aside to cool and started on the marina. Which, had less layers of flavor, so I didn’t expect too much of it, but also had a totally different style to it. It had more oil, and plum tomatoes the recipe instructed me to crush with my hands, which I did.  And then, it took quite a bit of time for the sauce to reduce down.

For a while, the sauce was looking a bit questionable and I wasn't sure what I was going to end up with.  But again, at the end, was a really delicious sauce that I had to stop myself from eating spoonfuls of.

I put both sauces right into containers in the freezer and I won't like that I really cannot wait to eat these when I get back to Atlanta!  The Tuttorosso products and recipes ended up with some DELICIOUS sauces.  Now, I question however, the amount of time that it still took to make the sauce and whether or not it compares to regular sauces.  It is definitely better than a sauce that you would get out of a jar.  However, I just figure if I am going to take the time to make a sauce from scratch (which, honestly, I am not always), I don't know why I wouldn't necessarily go all the way and make it with fresh tomatoes rather than canned tomato.  Now, I wasn't able to do a direct comparison of totally from scratch sauce vs. semi-scratch sauce with the Tuttorosso products in terms of taste and time, so I am not sure how it compares.  I can say that these made some delicious sauces and I am so excited that I have them in my freezer to use when I get back.  Complex, flavorful, and really delicious that I was tempted to (and did) eat spoonfuls of it.

So, in conclusion, let's all spend some time back in the kitchen this 2015?  I am getting really frustrated with my lack of any sort of dedication to eating healthy and my in general, out of control-ness, that I have been feeling in regards to eating and working out.  I hate to be too cliche with my resolutions, but that is going to be my main focus for the kick off to 2015 and it was fun to spend my last night in Atlanta cooking up these sauces.

And, I have an apron and spoon to give away to anyone who comments.  Will be sending it out in 2015 and will hopefully help someone else get their year off to a good start.  What are your favorite things to cook at home?  Any new recipes?  Have you done homemade sauce before?

Recipes from Tuttorosso are below! You can follow them on Facebook here.  You can head over there today or tomorrow and enter a contest to win a 12-piece Martha Stewart cookware set! 

For more recipes you can check out their website that has a ton of delicious looking things on there that makes me want to dive into the pages and eat them all (pretty much how I've been living nowadays.)

Roasted garlic tomato sauce:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and then bake for 40 minutes 2 bulbs of garlic that you cut the ends off of, drizzled with olive oil, and wrapped in tinfoil.  Garlic should be soft and lightly browned when you take it out of the oven.

While that is happening, in a large saucepan saute one large onion chopped in some olive oil, then add some chopped garlic and cook for one minute before adding a 6 oz can of Tuttorosso tomato paste, salt, pepper, half cup of red wine (while drinking a glass of course), and some crushed red pepper and italian seasoning.  Then add a 35 ounce can of Tuttorosso tomato sauce with natural basil flavor.  Stir to combine and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, stirring regularly.

Once the garlic is out and cooled to be able to handle, squeeze the roasted garlic out of the bulbs and stir into the sauce until it is melted in, simmering about 30-45 minutes.  At this point, I stopped and froze my sauce, figuring I would follow the last step of adding fresh basil, whenever I thawed and chose to eat it!

Perfect marinara sauce:
In a skillet, head 1/4 cup of olive oil and then cook some chopped garlic and then add 1 tablespoon of Tuttorosso tomato paste and one 35 ounce can of Tuttorosso peeled plum tomatos, crushed with hands.  Add in 1/4 teaspoon of sugar, italian seasoning, and salt and pepper.  Simmer the sauce over low heat, stirring occasionally until thickened and reduced.  Season again.  At this point I stopped and froze my sauce.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

So, am I skinny yet?

Well, it's now been a week and a half that I have been counting Weight Watchers points again - I started the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  It's also Now been a full two weeks where I have run - at least one mile - every day, as part of the Runner's World Run Streak.  Last week on Tuesday, I went and joined the running group that I joined way back in August for their regular sprint workout (that left me sore for days.)

On Thursday I went to a Nike Training Club workout at the local Nike store, that I absolutely LOVED.  I did jumping jacks and squat jumps and burpees and high knees and push ups and lunges with a bunch of strangers to a live DJ (so cool.)

And on Saturday I officially joined the Atlanta running scene, making my debut at the SheMoves Reindeer Romp 5K.  It was RAINING.  A LOT.  And I still ran.

I thought they were giving out ornaments at the end of the race, and I wanted one, so I did it.  And then they didn't even have ornaments to give out. Ugh.

Then Sunday I joined a gym!  The gym comes with a few free personal training classes and I've gotten started right away.  I ran Monday.  Did a personal training session Tuesday.  Then today I ran 3 miles THEN did a group fitness weight training class!

And I've been eating healthy.  I made mushroom barley soup.  I made Emily's italian wedding soup and bubble up pizza recipes.  I have been eating smoothies and apples and carrot sticks and drinking lots of tea.

So, in totally logical sense, I expect an amazing transformation to have taken place in this past week and a half.  I should be skinny by now, right?  My clothes should be fitting better?  I should be able to run a sub 8-minute mile with ease, right?

Ugh, not yet.

Today I felt a bit disappointed that I wasn't seeing some drastic difference in my appearance (or really, how my pants button), which I know is totally irrational.  But I guess I just am anxious for that "feeling good" stage to come about.  Where you feel validated that what you're doing is working and you start to get a little pep in your step that motivates you to eat healthy and workout the next day!  I feel I'm going to need that as Christmas and Christmas cookies creep closer and closer.

BUT, I did feel really good on my run today.  And I am excited to be in a routine of going to the gym again and be scheduled and try new classes and have fun with exercise.

I'm going to sign out, but cheers to starting New Year's Resolutions early!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Exploring the food and culture of Seoul, South Korea

Let’s just jump into things, shall we? The rest of my time in Korea was a blur and a truly wonderful experience. I spent Tuesday-Friday in Pangyo, which is actually a bit outside of Seoul, and I learned, not really representative of what Seoul offered. My coworker, who I spent the majority of my time with this week (in the office and the times he was kind enough to show me around!) explained that before he got his job at our company, he didn’t even know that Pangyo existed. The reason that I was stayed there was because of its close proximity to our offices.

Thursday was a relatively low key day, as I ate in the cafeteria at work for lunch and then ate dinner at my hotel. Not too exciting since hotel buffets generally don’t have the best quality of food in my experience, but it got the job done of keeping me fed and alive. There was also a chocolate fountain and marshmallows, so that wasn’t terrible.

And the lunchtime meal was actually pretty beautiful, and although I didn’t really like the chicken, the rest was pretty good! I mixed the rice with the vegetables, the egg, and some spicy sauce, which I was told is actually what they call Korean “bibimbap.” I’ve heard of this dish-with-a-fun-name before but never knew what it was and never made the connection that it was Korean, so although it was just a cafeteria meal, I thought it was fun to get another new type of Korean meal checked on the box!

As a whole, I was so pleasantly surprised with the food in Korea! I really enjoyed all of the different meals that I had! I was not sure what to think or expect of Korean food going into the week, but from the hot pot to the bibimbap to the delicious meals I had on Friday (which I’ll get to), I can truly say that I love Korean food. Which, of course, it doesn’t hurt to have people with you helping guide you on what to order. So, I am very thankful to my coworkers who helped me navigate the week and took me out!

On Friday, both lunch and dinner were culinary adventures that would be worthy of their own dedicated blog posts were they not both experienced on the same day!

At lunch we ate at a very nice restaurant that had a number of small plates that were served to us. The first I didn’t grab a picture of, but it was a really delicious root vegetable soup.  We also had some small different pancake type things with vegetables and egg that were all super yummy, some salad type things, and something else I don't know what it was but it tasted good. And finally the main dish was some meat that fell apart as I touched it with the chop sticks. It reminded me of Persian kebab that I have had before with ground up meat mixed with herbs and onion and seasoning and then formed back into a thin patty. It was so delicious and I enjoyed every single bite of this meal!

I also learned a lot about Korean culture as the colleagues I was with were incredibly knowledgeable and insightful. One of the things that they shared was how the Korean culture is obsessed with speed and efficiency. As a whole, they are impatient and innovate around efficiency and speed. The taxi drivers in Korea all accepted credit cards, which was something I noticed right away, as other countries generally don’t have that advanced a taxi system. Heck, a lot of cab drivers in the U.S. give me a hard time if I ever want to pay with a card (which is why Uber is awesome!)

Another sign of this impatience/desire for efficiency came from the fact that the tables that we ate off of had little buttons that you could press when you wanted your waiter! And not just when you wanted your waiter, but specifically if you needed water, the bill, etc. Efficiency, baby!

I also was explained why the Korean culture is a “drinking” culture. I had heard from a number of colleagues to beware of the Koreans as they like to go out and drink a lot and I had been given slight privy to that the other night when I learned about the different “rules” around the drinking culture in Korea. Well, my coworker explained to me that the reason that Koreans drink a lot with coworkers is because of that obsession and need for efficiency. When you drink with others, you become looser and open up and share more and bond more. So in forming relationships, drinking helps you jump to that place where you say what is on your mind and what you are thinking!

This definitely rang true to me and seemed to make sense!

And what are those “rules” of drinking you might ask? Well, it seems like a bit of a complicated system and a lot to think about, but let me get into a bit. First, you never pour your own drink. Beer is ordered by the big bottle, and served with small 8 oz glasses. You should always be sure that the others you are drinking and eating with have a full glass. However, you can only refill their glass when it has been completely emptied. And when you pour the drink, while someone is pouring your drink, and every time you “cheers” you must use two hands. Oh, and the first round is to be chugged. And finally, when you are drinking with someone who is older than you, you must turn your head away every time you take a sip as a sign of respect. Bottoms up!

At dinner that night, we put these “rules” into practice and I also learned about the traditional Korean liquor called “Sanju” which is mixed with beer as we do “bombs” in the U.S. but it is just sipped regularly (besides that first drink, which is finished right away.)

For dinner on Friday night in Korea we ate in a neighborhood in Seoul that is incredibly international called Itaewon. The streets had all sorts of different national flags hung along them, there was a clearly large ex-pat community in the neighborhood, tons of restaurants and bars, and a lot of young Koreans out as well.

It was a meal that I was really looking forward to in Korea, as we were going for Korean barbeque. The meal consisted of a small grill on the center of our table, we ordered different kinds of meat, and were given a few different sauces and sides, big pieces of lettuce, salt and sesame oil to dip in, and a really awesome salad that had a delicious black sesame dressing on that we ordered “seconds” of. 

Most restaurants in Korea bring out the sides “for free” – which, I am sure it is included in the price of your meal somehow, but you don’t order the sides and you don’t get charged for second rounds, you just get them! I was happy with that because I really liked that salad. And the barbeque itself was delicious too. I love social ways of eating like this where you eat over the course of an hour or so, cooking and ordering more food as you get hungry and not shoving a whole meal into your mouth as fast as you can, which is my typical M.O. when out at restaurants.

We ate out with two of my coworkers, and I had invited a few of the local interns to join us as well, but they both politely declined saying that they had dates, haha. Apparently Friday is a big dating night in Korea and it has the nickname “Fire Friday” for whatever reason – maybe with the thought that sparks fly out on dates on Fridays? I’m not sure. My coworkers told me a lot about the dating culture in Korea too, which I thought was interesting. In high school, students tend to work even harder than they do in college. The pressure on students throughout middle and high school is incredible and nobody really dates. Once teens get older and some of that pressure is lifted (although not much… it seems like Koreans are always working, put in long hours, and have intense pressure to perform and succeed), blind dates and group blind dates are very popular! Sometimes people will go on group blind dates of up to 10-12 single men and 10-12 single women all together. I’m not quite sure who organizes these things but sounded interesting!

I really enjoyed my Friday in Korea when I headed from Pangyo, where I had been staying since Tuesday into the city of Seoul. I felt like I finally saw the Seoul that I was expecting. Lots of people, bright lights, flashy signs, exciting energy, etc. It was so much to take in and a really thrilling experience that I just tried to take in completely.

(If there is one thing I appreciate about the Asian culture is that they appreciate a good pic of your food or mid-eating picture.  My coworker got a bit excited in the amount of pics he took of me, but since I have them, might as well use them!)

Oh, and one other thing on that Friday night dinner. Before we were seated at the Korean barbeque place we went next door to a restaurant and got a drink and some “nachos” as we waited for our table. The nachos were corn tortilla chips, with Parmesan cheese and slivered almonds sprinkled on top and little side cups of tomato sauce, mayonnaise, and cheese that looked like it came out of an aerosol can on the side. My mind was blown at this concept of nachos.

Anyways, my Saturday in Seoul was on my own and I started my day early – apparently too early – and head over to the Garuso-Gil neighborhood, which is made of all sorts of cafes and shops, but none of them open until 11am or 12pm so my arrival at about 9:45 a.m. had me in a ghost town. I hung out in a Starbucks for a while and then went walked around a bit until the stores started to open. I wasn’t interested in doing a lot of clothing shopping, but it was fun to see the stores get filled up, and there were “pop up” stores and sales all over that made for a very vibrant and fun neighborhood to explore.

I also explored a neighborhood called Insadong that was very touristy with all sorts of souveniers and keepsakes to take home with you, where I did some shopping as well.

When I was in China in the spring, I did a lot of shopping there (so much so that I needed a new suitcase to carry it all home!) So, I knew that in Korea was where I wanted to do the majority of my gift shopping for people.  While I didn’t do a TON of shopping, I did make a couple purchases and lets just say that my family and friends have some Asian-themed Christmas presents to look forward to this year!

After shopping, I went to the Gyeongbok Palace where I toured the museum of Korean culture and history, viewed some of their older mock villages they had set up, explored the outdoor area and made friends with some of these cute little buggers!

It was a really beautiful day out and the sky was a beautiful blue.  It was a bit chilly though so I ended up spending more time in the museum than I usually do.  I'm not a museum person, but it was fun to explore old pictures and such a bit and learn about the Korean history and traditions.

The end of my evening was spent exploring some of the neighborhoods that were just incredibly vibrant and filled with lights and exactly what I pictured when I imagined myself going to Korea.

I stumbled upon a lantern festival along a river.

And then ended my night “Gangnam style” on the north side of the river (“gang” means river and “nam” means north... who knew?!) It is filled with bars and restaurants and shops and was an incredible place to people watch and stimulate the senses.  I also got such a kick out of the fact that I was "Gangnam" and kept laughing to myself about the Psy song that was such a hit a couple years ago.  I remember when my friend first showed us the video and I had actually forgotten until when I was actually in Korea that it was a Korean song.  My coworkers joked that the only two Koreans that Americans knew were Psy and Kim Jong Il.  Which... unfortunately isn't terribly untrue... until they reminded me of the girl from Lost!  And I knew of her too!  I hate when I end up living up to an American stereotype, but I couldn't deny my amusement with "Gangnam" street in Seoul.

I stumbled upon a shop and a bar that I will add to another hotel I spotted earlier for my collection of “Things Korea Should Consider Renaming” series:

One of my coworkers met me in the Gangnam neighborhood in the evening for one more Korean cultural experience of drinking a milky rice wine out of a saucer that we would serve kittens milk with in the U.S. We also had a pancake thing that was similar to what we had eaten for lunch the day before, but giant.

I walked SO much on my free Saturday and by the end of the day I was exhausted. The whole experience in Korea was really incredible and I went to bed on Saturday so tired but so fulfilled with all that I had been able to experience there in such a short amount of time.

Up next on the blog will be my return to China and time in Singapore!