Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Meet Oliver

I don't think you've been properly introduced to our amazing cat, Oliver:

He's a British Shorthair, and he's the best cat in the world. I got him at a discount because he was defective. His twin brother is a world champion. Oliver is knock-kneed, so no one wanted him. Except me, that is. He's super cuddly and warm, and his fur is so thick, it's feels kind of sponge-y. It makes him extra squeezable.

He nibbles on our toes in the mornings to remind us to feed him (he's on a very regimented diet, because he's kind of chunky). He has a few dog-like habits, too. For instance, he likes to cover up his food after he eats some of it, and he comes when we call him, no matter where he is in the house.

Most of the time you see this breed, they're gray. But not Oliver. He's orange. He likes to sit in cardboard boxes. He especially likes to hang out in areas where he thinks he's camouflaged. We keep him around because he matches our hardwood floors.

He likes to spy on his toy mouse through this little window. If he can't quite see it, it makes him want it more. He likes a challenge.

This striped chair is one of his favorite spots. He gradually sinks down in between the cushion and the back of the chair, and has to re-situate himself. Sometimes, if he's really comfortable, he drools a little bit.

Maybe you'll be lucky enough to meet him one day. If not, I'm so sorry for you. You're really missing out.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Before & After Photos

So, it's been a long time since I've updated you on the house, but not because we haven't been doing anything. Trust me, a lot has changed.

You already know we've painted our bedroom and the trim in the living room (even though I never showed you a picture like I told you I would). Here it is, by the way.

Can I just tell you how much I can't stand red? I absolutely hate it (something I've inherited from my dad, I believe). I like it in other people's houses, but it's just too bright, or too obnoxious for me to want to look at every freaking day.

And, I haven't quite figured out why, but our living room and dining room were both red when we moved in, but different shades of red. Which, would be somewhat tolerable if they weren't so open to each other. I mean, we're talking about some major clashage going on here, and in rooms where we spend most of our time, no less.

The living room was sort of an orange-y red, and the dining room was sort of a burgundy red. Neither of which sat very well with me. So, after we finished the big bathroom remodel, these 2 rooms were next on the priority list.

Not only did both rooms need to be painted, there were some huge gouges in the walls (from goodness knows what), so we had a lot of spackling to do, which you can see here.

You can also see our test patches above, where we experimented with some new colors. Nothing like forgetting to take a "before" picture until after you already started. Whatever, you get the idea.

So the new living room color sort of looks like cement. It's kind of a grayish brownish green. It was an "oops" paint we found for $10/gallon.

We're amazed at the difference. These colors really suit us much more... they're more mellow and chilled out, like us.

We painted the living room first, and then we had a hard time choosing a color for the dining room that would "flow" well since they are so open. I'm normally not a fan of purple, but I think it works.

It looks really purple here, but it really varies depending on the time of day. In the evenings it looks more gray.

You'll have to excuse Oliver. He heard that orange and purple are complementary colors, so he decided he wanted to be in the picture. We also painted the archways a sea-foam green, which is a nice accent (even though it looks almost white).

So, there you go! That's just a small piece of what we've been doing. More updates soon!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Food Friday: Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Okay, so just pretend that this says "Chocolate Bread." Okay? Can you do that for me? Because it's so super yummy, and I don't want you to not try this just because it has zucchini in it. Okay?


So, in my desperation to use up my neverending supply of zucchini, I came across this recipe. I wasn't too sure about it, to be honest... but oh boy was I ever wrong. You should definitely make this at your earliest convenience. But, you should know... this is more of a dessert-y kind of bread, not a breakfast-y kind of bread like most zucchini breads are. Unless you're one of those people who eats chocolate for breakfast. And if you are, I'm not judging you. I've eaten my share of Count Chocula and Cocoa Puffs in the morning. I never tried those S'mores chocolate pop-tarts, though. That's just wrong.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread
adapted from All Recipes

2 (1 ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate (or you can sub 3 tbsps cocoa powder and 1 tbsp butter per square)** I used DARK chocolate...mmmm
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups turbinado sugar (or white, if that's all you've got)
3/4 cup applesauce (subbed for the oil)
2 cups grated zucchini
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease two 9x5 inch loaf pans. In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave chocolate until melted. Stir occasionally until chocolate is smooth.
2. In a large bowl, combine eggs, sugar, oil, grated zucchini, vanilla and chocolate; beat well. Stir in the flour baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Fold in the chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared loaf pans.
3. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a loaf comes out clean.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Race Report: Race for the Cure 5k

I did it!! I ran my first race! I ran the whole time, and I finished (and I wasn't last, either)! My final time was 33:19, which isn't great (everyone I know finished before me), but it's right on pace with what I've been running, so I think that's good. I didn't go way faster or way slower than normal, and I'm feeling like that's a good thing. My best friend Amy told me not to start out too fast, and I intentionally held back at the beginning, which I really believe helped me in the end.

I am not in this picture, so don't waste your time trying to find me.

Honestly, I can't believe I did it. I'm usually a quitter, which you know by now. But, I've had a surprisingly easy time sticking with the training, and it really never crossed my mind as an option to not do it. Which, is a good thing. I think I've passed some sort of important milestone because of that. I haven't been this proud of myself in a long time, and that is totally awesome.

So, how did it go? It went fine, actually. I think I've mentioned that Justyn runs faster than me (he finished in about 31 minutes), and so I ended up running alone for practically the entire race. I found that part of it harder than I thought, actually. Every time I would get close to another group of people, I would get a burst of energy... but when I was alone, my energy started flagging a bit. I don't really understand why, because normally I run alone anyway. Not sure what that's about. They're estimating that there were about 50,000 people there, and I think I was really hoping to feel like part of something. I did at certain points, but I think being surrounded by a bunch of people, but still alone, made it kind of hard. There was no one waiting for me at the finish line, either, which kind of took something away from it for me. I mean, I know I should be doing it for myself, and I am. But... it would've been nice to have someone cheering for me, you know?

About halfway through the race, I passed an older guy with a sign on his back that said he was running in memory of his wife who died of breast cancer. I totally almost broke down at that point. I was almost at the top of a huge hill, at which point you could look out and see the river and several of the bridges (a really great view of the city), and I just got totally overwhelmed with emotion. I started to tear up, and my breath caught a little and I almost lost it. But then I realized I probably wasn't going to make it very far if I was bawling, so I cut it out and passed him. I don't know if it was the emotion of actually doing what I set out to do, or if it was seeing this guy who lost someone, or the beautiful city view, or what. Regardless of the reason, I felt really moved and totally in the moment.

Anyway, that kept me motivated for another mile or so, and around 2.5 miles (previously the farthest I had run before), I definitely started getting tired. But then I saw the finish line, and totally busted it out. I pushed myself a little too hard, though, and pulled my calf muscle. I iced it when I got home, and it feels much better today. But, I definitely learned a lesson. Just because you can see the finish line doesn't mean you're invincible. I knew my legs were fatigued, and I started to realize that I should slow down, but didn't. Anyway, like I said... lesson learned.

A couple of pet peeves I have already with racing. First of all, to the old lady who nearly ran me over: Just because you're old and you're a breast cancer survivor doesn't mean you can plow into me and push me out of your way if you want to go around me. I'm glad you beat cancer and everything, but you don't have to be mean to people who are running slower than you. Maybe you should have lined up in the "7-8 minute" section instead of the "Over 10 minute" section.

And, why, oh why do people cross the finish line and then just freaking STOP? I mean, seriously, who are these people? Am I the only one who needs to ease myself out of running? Seriously, as soon as I crossed the finish line, I hit the people in front of me like a brick wall. I mean, they were just standing there! I'm like, Excuse me... umm... I need to keep walking or I am seriously going to pass out. Who are you people who can just stop, mosy over to the tent and grab a banana to chill out for a while? Am I in the minority here?
Lastly, the race t-shirt was ugly. Even though Amy says they're always ugly, I was holding out hope that it would be cool because it was my first race. Not so much. Honestly, I'd rather they just kept the shirt, and used that money to find a cure. Not that $5 is going to help much.

Anyway, I'm kind of sad it's over now, but I'm definitely sticking with it. I still have 2 weeks of the training program left, so I'm going to pick up where I left off. I found a 5k in another month that I think we're going to run, so I'll be interested to see how much of a difference one more month of training will make. Plus, it's right before Halloween and you're supposed to run in costume, which sounds totally awesome.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Food Friday: Spiced White Bean & Lemon Soup

Good news today, friends. My recipe doesn't contain zucchini OR cucumbers!! It does, however, call for a pound of fresh tomatoes, of which I've got plenty. But don't worry if tomatoes aren't in season when you make this. You can used canned, chopped tomatoes instead.

I think I'm becoming addicted to soup. I find myself craving it more and more often, and making it all the time. I mean, there are so many different spices, textures, ingredients, and flavors to experiment with, so it doesn't get old. Truly, you can make soup out of pretty much anything, and because of this (I think), I just never seem to get tired of it.

Anyway, Justyn's mom bought me an entire soup cookbook a few years ago, and needless to say I've gotten quite a bit of use out of it. I've had my eye on this recipe for quite a while, actually, and now I'm wishing I would've made it sooner. It originally called for chickpeas, but I'm not a big fan of garbanzo beans, so I substituted cannellini beans (white kidney beans) instead. This soup turned out to be really good... the spices are warm and unique, it tastes really fresh, and is enticingly fragrant. Plus, it's super easy and fast to make!

One note about the tomatoes - the recipe calls for a pound of ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped. If you don't know how to peel tomatoes, this is what you do: Fill a small saucepan with enough water to cover the amount of tomatoes you'll need to peel (but don't put them in yet). Bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, drop the tomatoes into the water and boil for ONE minute. Remove from heat, drain, and set the tomatoes aside to cool for a bit until you can handle them. Using a knife, gently pierce the skin of each tomato, grab the edge of the skin, and it should peel right off. After that, you can chop them and use them in your soup! I used a combination of Roma tomatoes and Sungold (which is why my soup turned out more orangey-brown than red). I'm sure you can use whichever kind you like, as long as they're ripe and flavorful.

Spiced White Bean & Lemon Soup
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
Two 14-oz. cans cannellini beans
1 lb. ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
4 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used my old standard, Imagine brand "No-Chicken" broth)
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Juice of about 1/2 lemon

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic, and cook gently for 4 minutes. Stir in the cumin, cinnamon, and ginger, then add half the beans, tomatoes, and most of the stock, reserving about 3/4 cup. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, process the remaining beans and reserved stock to a smooth puree in a food processor or blender. Stir the puree into the soup. Stir in the parsley. Add salt and pepper, and lemon juice to taste, and serve.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Secret

I've been keeping a secret from you. Not a deep, dark, incriminating secret, no. I don't have any of those. But, no matter how you slice it, it' still a secret. Something I have intentionally not told you about. It's not like one of those things I haven't gotten around to writing... I specifically did not want to tell you. But now, I can't put it off any longer, so here goes.

I have been training for a 5k for 7 weeks now, and am running my first official race this coming Sunday. I know, I know... we've been through this before, you and I. And, then, I quit on you. Not only did I quit, but I didn't even tell you I quit until way after I quit. That was in November, and I said as soon as I was feeling "fully mobile" I was going to get back on it. Well... obviously it took me a little longer than that, but come on, I did buy a house, move, had eight weeks in a row of visitors, etc. Anyway, I was totally ashamed last time I had to quit publicly, so this time, I figured I'd make sure I was sure before I told you.

If you remember correctly, there were several issues I was having during my runs, finally culminating with a strained muscle in my ankle which caused me to bag the whole thing. (Incidentally, even though I gave Justyn mad props at the end of my quitting post for going on without me, he did quit like a week later, too. I realize that is officially me throwing him under the bus, but I can't have you guys thinking I'm the only quitter in this household.) Anyway, I was running in some pretty old shoes before, so that was the first task on my list before I started training this time. So, I found a sweet deal at REI for these babies:

Brooks Adrenaline GTS 8

I got them for half-price, around $45, which is totally awesome. And, they feel really good on my feet. I have had zero pain in my left ankle this time around after 7 weeks, so I think I'm good. Issue # 1? Resolved.

Another issue I was having was with my ears, which through the use of my iPod, has become a non-issue. Issue # 2? Resolved.

Issue # 3 was temperature control. I've since figured out my temperature thresholds, which has helped a lot. 65 degrees is definitely my optimum running temp, in which case I wear calf-length leggings and a racerback top with a sports bra. Over 70 calls for shorts instead. 60 degrees and I have to throw on pants and a super thin cotton t-shirt over my sports bra, which usually ends up pushed way up to my biceps after about half a mile. But I found some awesome brand new Nike running pants at Goodwill for $7 which are absolutely perfect for cooler mornings. I definitely need to get some winter running tops, though, which will be next on the list for sure. Another issue resolved.

I was also having problems with my posture and breathing, which both seem to have worked themselves out on their own. I think a big part of my success this time around has been the warmer weather. We started training in October last year, right around the time it cooled off and started to get a little rainy, not to mention it was getting dark super early. I realize that time is coming up again soon, but I'm hoping my habits will be set by then enough that it won't be that big of a deal. Issue # 4? Mostly resolved.

Finally, the issue of timing. This was a big one for me, and honestly, I think resolving this issue alone has made the biggest difference. The Couch to 5k program is great, but requires a lot of different timed intervals which is difficult to keep up with while you're running. So, this time around, I googled "Couch to 5k iPod playlists" and found some chick who had put together some music with voice cues to tell you when to start and stop. I was so unbelievably psyched to find this, and it has made a huge difference. And, of course now I'm running 25 minutes at a time, so I can finally listen to my own music which totally rocks. Final issue? Totally resolved.

So anyway, Justyn and I have signed up for the Race for the Cure in downtown Portland this coming Sunday. And honestly? I'm a bit worried about what I've gotten myself into. You see, we aren't really done with the training program. I think we're through the hard part, but technically we still have like 2 weeks to go before we're consistently running a full 3 miles. I don't really mind it if I have to walk part of the race, but I'd like to run the whole thing. On the other hand, I don't want to hurt myself either. Does anyone out there think I'm risking injury by trying to run the whole thing if it's farther than I've ever run?

The other thing I'm worried about is this: When you start the program, they tell you that you can either run for time or distance. Well, time is so much easier, so that's what we've done. Until today, when I actually mapped 2.5 miles beforehand, just to see how I was doing. So in 25 minutes of running, I should have run 2.5 miles. But instead, I only ran 2.37 miles (averaging about a 10:30 mile... which, by the way... is that like laughably slow?). Could I have pushed my way through to the 2.5 mile mark? Absolutely. Is it a big deal? I don't know. All I know is that on Sunday I have to run 3.1 miles which, at my pace is going to be about 33 minutes and I don't know if I can do it. Or more importantly, if I should.

On the flip side, I am super excited about running my first race (for a good cause), getting my first race t-shirt, and a real live BIB!! I totally can't wait.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Food Friday: Harvest Grains & Garden Goodness

In case you've been wondering, my garden is still going strong. See?

I have more cucumbers, tomatoes, and zucchini than I know what to do with, but somehow we're still consuming it all. I guess that's a good thing... better than overconsuming other things (like ice cream).

These are the first Bush Delicata squash that I harvested:

Never heard of it? I hadn't either, actually, but it's also known as "Sweet Potato Squash". A friendly neighbor gave me the start when I first started my garden. The flavor is sort of a cross between a sweet potato and and acorn squash, with a slightly milder flavor. Really good. When I eat squash (acorn, usually), I generally just slice it down the middle, roast the halves upside down in the oven, and eat it right out of it's own skin. But, I kind of wanted to try this in another way, and had just found something great at Trader Joe's with which I wanted to experiment. So, I peeled, seeded, and diced the squash, coated it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted it in a covered baking dish at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes (until easily pierced with a fork, but NOT MUSHY).

By the way, this is a great side dish on its own if you ever need a different veggie on your plate.

Anyway, the cool new thing from Trader Joe's is called "Harvest Grain Blend" which is basically a mixture of Israeli couscous, orzo, red quinoa, and baby garbanzo beans. It caught my eye when walking through the store because of the beautiful colors in the bag, and I just had to try it. (You know I'm always trying to find new grains to eat.) I think you can just cook it up on its own to have as a side, but I wanted to incorporate some of my garden veggies so I made sort of a casserole instead. Don't worry if you don't have a TJ's near you. I'm going to do my best to guesstimate all the ingredients and ratios so you can make it yourself. Aren't I the best?

Harvest Grains & Garden Goodness
1/2 cup Israeli couscous
1/4 cup red quinoa
1/4 cup dried baby garbanzo beans, halved (so they cook faster)
1/4 cup orzo (multi-colored if you can find it, but that's just for the sake of presentation)
2 cups broth of your choice
1 Bush Delicata squash, or other squash of your choice
1 cup fresh green beans, cut
1 cup chopped tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
olive oil
1 tbsp. butter

1. Peel, seed, and cube the squash into an oven-safe baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss to coat, cover, and bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Don't let it get mushy.
2. While squash is roasting, slice your green beans into 3 inch pieces. Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil and 1 clove garlic in a skillet over medium heat. Saute green beans until tender.
3. While your green beans are cooking, put butter and 2 cloves garlic in a medium saucepan with dried grains. Toast over low-medium heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add broth, salt, and pepper to taste; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until all liquid is absorbed and grains are tender (about 10 minutes). Note: the garbanzo beans will still be firm - that's normal. All other grains should be soft.
4. When everything is done, stir the veggies into the cooked grains, and return to low heat until warmed through (if everything's not still hot from cooking). Top with fresh tomatoes, and serve.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Breaking My Silence

I realize that the last few weeks have been quiet here on Going Oregonic, and I'm sorry for that. I don't really have an explanation for it, except that I just haven't felt much like writing. And, I haven't really had much to say, either. I've been spending a lot of time with new friends, and enjoying life in general instead of constantly looking out for blogging opportunities. You know what I mean?

My mom sent me this cartoon a while back, shortly after I started this blog:

Cartoon from here.

When she first sent it to me, I thought, "I'll never be like that." You know, not enjoying the present moment because I'm constantly thinking of how I'm going to write my post about it. Anyway, it seemed kind of like it was starting to happen lately, so I just wanted to take a little break and enjoy things as they happened, not worrying about the subject of my next entry. So, that's sort of what's been going on. And, on top of that, I just haven't felt very creative lately. I also haven't been cooking much, which is my primary creative outlet. I think my obsession with zucchini recipes has stifled my culinary prowess. It also doesn't help that I live in a city (and now within blocks) of excellent, healthy, cheap food. I have been eating out for an obscene amount of meals lately.

Until today, that is, when I decided to bust out some cookbooks and plan a couple of new meals for the week. And during this outing, something happened that has caused me to finally break my silence.

It's a beautiful day today, and I was going to walk to the store, but I just got this wicked new bike basket for my birthday and thought it would be a shame not to use it. I'm still trying to overcome my fear of biking, and since it was the middle of the day, I figured it would be a less busy time to go. So, I hopped on, got halfway there and realized I forgot my bike lock. Turned around, proceed to get said bike lock, and departed again. I mosied over to the library first to pick up some books I had waiting for me, and then headed in to get some groceries.

I brought an extra bag with me to hold heavy stuff, because the previous (and first) time I used my bike basket to go get groceries, I found it made my bike a little bit front-heavy and harder to steer and balance (not a good thing for a beginner like me). I figured I could put the books and canned goods in my backpack, and produce in the bike basket to make things a little easier on myself. Well, you can probably see where I'm going with this by now, so I'll just cut to the chase.

After my shopping was done, I started to make a right turn out of the parking lot onto the street when I realized some crazy chick in a BMW was flying towards me (I promise I'm not making excuses... she was going entirely too fast.) Well, it scared the shit out of me and unfortunately there was a car parked on the side of the road right by the turnout which I was trying to go around... anyway, I got all wobbly, lost my balance, and totally fell into and hit the parked car. Then I totally overcompensated and thus started to fall the other way in front of crazy BMW lady. When my brain realized that I was about to fall into the street and oncoming traffic, I somehow snapped out of it, straightened myself up, and kept right on riding/hyperventilating all the way home.

I'm totally fine, no scrapes or anything which is good. But my ego is sufficiently wounded, as is my confidence that I should even be on the road in anything other than a car. Which is a real bummer because my new bike basket is super cute and I want to use it again.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Food Friday: Shanghai Cucumbers

Okay, so I realize it's been like 2 or 3 weeks in a row now that I've hit you up with a zucchini recipe. I have more in the hopper, but I figured I owed you a break. Don't get too excited, though... it's a recipe for the other vegetable of which I have an abundance: my beloved cucumber.

I really love PF Chang's. I'm not usually really big on chain restaurants, honestly, because usually the quality sucks, the food tastes "chain-y", and the service isn't so great either. Especially "ethnic" chains... I mean, really, we all know that PF Chang's isn't real Chinese food. But it's so good, right? Kung pao chicken? Hot & sour soup? Fughettaboudit.

Anyway, one of my favorite dishes at PF Chang's is called Shanghai Cucumbers. It has always seemed so simple, really, and I've been meaning to come up with my own homemade version for a long time. Well, now that I have like 15 pounds of cucumbers to use up, I figured it was an opportune time to give it a shot. I used lemon cucumbers for this, but any cucumber will work just fine. While it tastes really similar, I'm not 100% sure this is exactly like the PF Chang's version. But it's still damn good, so who cares? I don't.

Again, I made this one up, so the measurements are approximate. But, you should get the idea.

Shanghai Cucumbers
1 cucumber, chopped in about 1 inch pieces
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Drizzle the sesame oil over the chopped cucumber pieces in a small/medium bowl. Add the remaining ingredients together and toss. Serve slightly chilled. (I keep my cukes, sesame oil and soy sauce in the fridge anyway, so it's kind of already chilled anyway once I make it.)

P.S. Remember the cobbler recipe I posted twice? I know, I know... I still feel guilty about that. While I'm not going to torture you with posting again, I do want you to know that I made it again this week using freshly picked nectarines and Chester blackberries. Mmm.