Life happens

So it’s been a ridiculously long time since I’ve written a post. A combination of finishing up grad school (yes, I’m finally done and a professional counselor now!) and just life busyness has kept me from writing. Life just happens, doesn't it? I hope the next year is a lot of things, mostly a lot less busy. Luckily, I have still been busy doing the things I love, including cooking and running.

Interestingly enough, the past two months I’ve added two other athletic disciplines to my routine. Yes folks, I just trained for and completed my first triathlon! That’s not to say in any way that I’ve advanced beyond a novice at swimming or biking, but I didn’t drown and I kept up about a 15 mile/hour pace on the bike.

It has been a humbling experience starting at a beginner level in two other sports. Swimming and biking just don’t come naturally to me like running does. But learning something new has been so fun and life giving. Anyone considering a triathlon should absolutely do it. And you should also train more than I did for the events you’re not as strong in.

When I got out in the open water at the beginning of the race, it was a near disaster. I was out of breath from running into the water and when I started swimming I swallowed some water almost immediately. With no lifeguards in sight, to say I got panicky is putting it mildly. But somehow, I found my “happy place” and I manage to make it the half mile through the water and back onto dry ground. I had a huge smile on my face after the swim. Not because I was proud of myself or had a good time—but because it was done! Ha.

Along with some pictures from the race I’m posting a recipe I made a few weeks back. Homemade cinnamon rolls. I’ve never made these before and have always wanted to learn. Since my last post I’ve decided to become vegan, which also adds a layer of complexity to baking. Butter and eggs were a staple in most of my recipes. I’m sure I’ll write more on being vegan in the future, but I wanted to share this recipe today. It made eight (huge) rolls. I froze half of them and hope to have them this week for breakfast. Joel and I eat a lot, but we couldn’t eat all eight for one breakfast the first time. At least not without going into a sugar coma for the entire day! 

Vegan Cinnamon Rolls

Dough Ingredients
4 ½ teaspoons Ener-G Egg Replacer (equivalent of 3 eggs)
6 tablespoons water
4 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 ¼ teaspoons dry yeast (or one packet)
1 cup non-dairy milk (I used coconut)
1/3 cup non-hydrogenated, non-dairy butter (I used Earth Balance)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
Non-dairy milk for brushing

Filling Ingredients
¼ cup firmly backed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
½ cup non-hydrogenated, non-dairy butter, softened (I used Earth balance)
¾ cup chopped walnuts and pecans

Icing Ingredients
1 ½ cups confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons non-hydrogenated, non-dairy butter, melted
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons non-dairy milk

In a blender, mix together the egg replacer powder and the water until it’s thick and creamy. Then, using the paddle attachment in your electric mixer combine 2 ¼ cups of flour with the yeast. In a small saucepan, heat the milk, butter, sugar, and salt, stirring constantly until warm and butter is almost melted. Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture and mix on a low speed.

Add the egg replacer mix and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Crank the speed up to high on your mixer for about 3 minutes. Replace the paddle attachment with a dough hook and knead in the rest of the flour (you can also do this by hand if you want a workout for your arms!). Knead until you’ve got a pretty soft, smooth, elastic dough. It shouldn’t be sticky. If it is, add some more flour. This should take about 3 to 5 minutes.

Shape the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover this and let it rise at room temperature for about 1 to 2 hours, or until it’s doubled in size. At this point, punch it down and place it on a lightly floured surface, cover it with a clean towel and let it rest for about 10 minutes.

While the dough is resting, make the filling by combining the brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, and nuts. Set aside.

More dough steps:

After the dough has rested for about 10 minutes, roll it into a 12-inch square. Brush the filling evenly over the rolled dough. No one with judge you if you lick your fingers while doing this. Then, roll the dough up into a log and do your best job at pinching the ends to seal them. Arrange as many as you want to bake onto a greased baking sheet. I think it’s best if they’re close but not too close to each other. Any that you don’t want to bake, you can freeze and let them thaw out and rise overnight for a lovely breakfast. This would be great if you had company or for Christmas morning.

At this point, cover the dough loosely with clear plastic wrap, and let them rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes. They should nearly double in size, but if they don’t they will still rise a lot in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees while they’re rising. Brush the dough with non-dairy milk. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes. If you have a really hot oven, be sure to check the rolls so you don’t overcook them. My oven is always too hot, so I had to take them out at 20 minutes. You’ll know the rolls are done if you tap them with a knife and they sound hallow.

While your kitchen is starting to fill with smells of delicious cinnamon, start preparing the icing. Combine the confectioner’s sugar, butter, vanilla and non-dairy milk in a bowl. When the rolls are done, remove them from the oven and let them sit for about 5 minutes. Spread a good amount of frosting on each roll.

Cinnamon rolls can be served warm or at room temperature. Personally, I think they are so much better warm, with melty-gooey frosting and a hot cup of black coffee.

Makes 8 rolls.


Cheers & Cheese

I’d like to talk about a little something called a cheese plate. Or in this case cheese plates.

This is in my opinion, the best way to spend a small chunk of money on a date night. So of course, this was how I chose to celebrate my marathon with my husband.

The bare essentials of a good wine and cheese course: wine, cheese and bread. But I suggest adding a few other additions to taste different flavors in your wine. Here’s my suggestion for the course. 

Start with wine. Pick one that you know you’ll enjoy, with a lot of flavor. I prefer dry wines, and would suggest staying away from sweet unless you’re planning on a dessert course.

Next, find a place that sells good quality cheese. There’s a place near Amish country that I like to go for cheese. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are great options, too. 

Pick a variety of cheeses that will pair well with your wine. This time around I bought a sage flavored cheese, smoked gouda and Irish cheddar. Yum!

Next, pick a few of the following:
-          Dark chocolate
-          Dried cherries or raisins
-          Flavored honey
-          Jam
-          Apple slices
-          Grapes
-          Fresh salad greens
-          Baguette slices
-          Crackers
-          Olives
-          Cured meats
-          Smoked salmon
-          The sky’s the limit, really

Next, arrange everything real pretty. Presentation is key. 

Get out some wine glasses. And some small plates. And have yourself a good time. 



Reaching a Goal is Bittersweet

On October 16, at the Columbus Marathon, I achieved a personal goal I’ve been working toward for the past year. I got a personal best for my marathon time, 3:33:49, and qualified for the Boston Marathon. I can’t quite put into words how amazing it feels to work so hard over months of training to achieve a goal. And then to actually do it. 

Running the marathon started out the way they always do. A slight feeling of waking up from a dream and being thrown into a crowd of people. Waiting in line for almost an hour to use the bathroom. Suddenly, everyone is running. Legs and arms are moving fast, but your mind is still numb from the cold and waking up at 5:30 a.m. You know you’re trained, tapered, “ready.” But there’s a little voice inside of you saying “can I really do this?” And then another voice says, “too late to turn back!” 

I ran the first half pretty quick, with minutes to spare ahead of my goal time. I was feeling great right around mile thirteen. And then all of the half-marathoners veered off to their finish line, and I had to run another thirteen miles! From a combination of this mental frustration, and losing electrolytes and dehydration, I got a horrible cramp from about mile 15 to 17. Somehow, I pushed through this excruciating pain, and by mile 20 I knew deep down that I could finish strong. 

The last six miles required my complete focus—mentally, physically and spiritually. If you were cheering for me during the last few miles I’m sure you saw this look on my face. Focus. 

Crossing the finish line, seeing Joel’s face in the crowd, I said emphatically “I did it!” After shoving a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie and some Snowville Creamery chocolate milk down, I spent the next few days relishing in the achievement with the people I love most. It was one of my best moments from the past several years. 

So now what? Right after the race, I stared researching marathons in the other six continents (oh yeah, Antarctica too). Realistically, I’m not sure if I’ll ever make it to the Great Wall of China or the polar circle, but this obsessing over races made me realize that I need another goal or I might go crazy.   

It’s a strange feeling to have accomplished a huge goal and be proud of it, but simultaneously realize that I need something else to work towards now. I’m still working on that, but I hope to run a half marathon in the spring and compete in a triathlon next summer, too.  

On a final note, I finished the marathon with an overwhelming sense of gratitude to God for keeping me healthy and blessing me with amazing, supportive husband, parents, siblings and friends. I am grateful beyond words for the love and support that receive from each one of you.