I think I might be in love with a kitchen appliance

24 Aug

For years now I’ve been lusting after a Vitamix blender. This blog post from 2013 proves it. Last month I convinced my friend to take me to Costco so I could buy their Quest Bar rip-offs (they’re amazing!), but also because I wanted to eat so many samples I didn’t need to eat lunch (mission accomplished). There was a nice girl doing a Vitamix demo so my friend and I parked our cart and did nothing but eat her delicious blender creations for an hour (I’m not exaggerating. We were pretty much best friends with the Vitamix girl by the end). Watching her make tasty smoothies, soups, ice creams and dips in minutes renewed my longing for a professional-grade blender. So I went home and immediately started looking for Vitamixes for sale in the UK.

For those of you who don’t know, Vitamix is the Rolls Royce of blenders. Every professional food blogger (and chef, likely) uses one. They are amazing, high-powered machines. But they are also stupidly expensive. In the U.S. they’ll cost you an arm and a leg, but in the UK they’ll cost you an arm, leg and a foot. Even a used or refurbished one is pricey. I was reading reviews on Amazon, trying to convince myself that I should throw down £399 ($500+) on a small kitchen appliance, when one of the reviews mentioned the Vitamix competitor — the Electriq iQMix. I thought I knew of all the professional blender brands, like Blendtec and Ninja. I had never heard of this Electriq iQMix. So I looked it up.

Electriq iQMix
“Vitamix is a great blender but why spend £400 when you can get the same results from the iQMix for under £100?” The website asked. Good question. I studied the specs and read all the reviews and was sold. I ordered my iQMix blender on Sunday and spent the next three days obsessively refreshing my email waiting for shipment confirmation. I am almost embarrassed to admit how excited I was at the prospect of a new Vitamix-like blender. (I’m actually devoting an entire blog post to it now, aren’t I?)

It arrived early this morning, so I spent my whole run thinking about the chocolate avocado ice cream I was going to make when I got home. Of all the creations we tasted at Costco, the chocolate avocado ice cream was my favorite. It legit tasted like a Wendy’s Frostie, even though the movie Mr. Deeds taught us it isn’t possible to make one at home. But I was going to try! I used the recipe the Costco Vitamix girl gave me (I told you we were buddies!), but realized I was missing one key ingredient — a buttload of ice. In what may come as a shock to my American readers (like my dad), I never have ice in my freezer. I don’t use it for drinks and I’ve never had a blender that can properly handle ice in a smoothie. So I filled one tiny ice tray last night, not realizing the recipe called for 2 to 3 cups of ice. So my chocolate avocado ice cream came out more like a smoothie, but it was still everything I dreamed it would be. And based off this one experience and this one recipe, I would highly recommend the Electriq iQMix to any of my UK readers who don’t want to spring for a Vitamix.

I have a pokeproblem

18 Aug

It just dawned on me that I’m scheduled to run a half marathon in a month. One month! It feels like ages ago that I signed up for the Richmond Half, still bitter about not getting a spot in the Royal Parks Half (side note: my doctor in Kentucky ran the Royal Parks Half years ago. She said even then it was tough to get a ballot spot!). I can’t believe it’s a month away now. I felt more ready to run it in May than I do now. That’s partly because I’ve been traveling for 2 months now, and although I tried to run frequently, I wasn’t doing many long runs because this was the forecast every day:

hot as balls forecast

There’s also another reason my training has been slacking. And it’s name is Pokemon Go.

For people like my brother who spend most of their day on a computer inside an office or at home on the couch playing video games, it really encouraged him to get outside and exercise. But for people like me who were already Fitbit-obsessed, it turned my usual long runs into stop-every-2-minute gotta-catch-em-all walk-runs. Not part of the Hansons half marathon training plan.

I started playing Pokemon Go in early July, right after I got back from my Milwaukee and Chicago adventure. So for the first month I only played in suburban Kentucky, which it turns out is actually the worst place to play. There was only 1 Pokestop near me, and by “near me” I mean I still had to run over a mile to reach it. In London I am surrounded by Pokestops — my actual flat itself is a Pokestop. (For those unfamiliar with the game, a Pokestop is where you can collect free items like pokeballs. You need pokeballs to catch Pokemon. So if you don’t live near any stops, you won’t get many balls, and you won’t be able to catch many Pokemon. This was my life last month). The few times I went into downtown Cincinnati I went a little nuts hitting up Pokestops and catching Pokemon. It was like I was used to getting one bowl of rice a day and suddenly I was at an all you can eat buffet.

And then I went to China, where Pokemon Go has been banned because it uses Google Maps, which is also banned. I couldn’t play at all for 10 days. To continue with the analogy, I was starving. And then we landed in Hong Kong and had 8 hours to kill before our flight to London, so naturally we went to Hong Kong Disneyland. And suddenly I went from starving to eating at the midnight buffet on a cruise ship. I couldn’t contain myself. Every few feet there was a Pokestop or Pokemon. My finger couldn’t swipe fast enough.

pokemon go hong kong disneyland

Screenshot I took at the entrance of Hong Kong Disneyland. The 75% battery was already causing me anxiety.

“Wow, you’re catching a lot!” Stephen said. At first he was amused by it, cheering me on as I caught a wild Dewgong by the Jungle Cruise. But then he started getting annoyed. “Just one more,” I told him. “I know I need to stop, my phone battery is dying.” But I couldn’t stop. My proverbial stomach was full at the buffet, but I couldn’t stop eating. I had been depraved for so long.

“Stop playing Pokemon!” Stephen shouted at me as we tried to leave the park during the Paint the Night Parade. There were people everywhere and it was tough enough to walk through without staring at the screen.

I definitely have a problem.

And while I’d like to say I’ve learned my lesson and am now “eating” or playing Pokemon Go a sensible amount, I’m afraid it’s only gotten worse since I’ve gotten back to London. My flat is a Pokestop! There’s a gym just steps away! Regents and Hyde Parks are teeming with Pokemon! I’ve gotta catch ’em all!

….

Dear god, how am I going to run 13.1 miles in 30 days?

….

How am I going to go 2+ hours without playing Pokemon?

Uneventful adventures in China

9 Aug

Greetings from China!

I met Stephen here the other day. He flew in from London, I flew in from Cincinnati and we met in Shanghai. It seemed like blog material waiting to happen, especially since I would have to find my way to the hotel all by myself. Sure, I was nervous, but I’ve been listening to Pimsleur Chinese lessons for months now and it was all leading up to this moment. I even studied on the plane. And then the minute I landed the only thing that came out of mouth was English. Because it turns out the people who exchange money and sell sim cards at the airport speak English. So my I arrived in a foreign country all by myself story was rather uneventful — I cleared immigration, exchanged some money into RMB, bought a sim card, texted Stephen, and caught a taxi. The only minor hiccup came when I tried to use Uber. I couldn’t figure out where to meet the driver and couldn’t call the driver because my sim card was data only (and also I don’t speak Chinese). So I had to take a taxi, which was reasonably priced and easy. What a boring blog story.

It’s been years since I’ve flown from the US to China, but I knew it was going to be rough. 14 hours on a plane is rough, but it’s even rougher when it’s a 747 with no individual TVs. Luckily I expected this would be the case and loaded up my iPad with movies and TV shows. 747s sure can transport a buttload of people, but transporting them comfortably is apparently not a priority. (For the low price of $1,000 I could have upgraded to business class though!) The entertainment options may suck, but at least they feed you well on a 14-hour flight. Every time I was about to reach for my snack bag, there was another snack or meal on its way. I look forward to crappy airplane food entirely way too much on a long-haul flight. But what else is there to do? I tried to break the flight down into manageable chunks. When there was 8 hours left I thought “only a flight to London now!” At 6 hours left it was a Megabus to Chicago. At 4 hours it was a drive to Cleveland. At 3 hours it was DEAR GOD HOW MUCH LONGER, I CAN’T REMEMBER WHAT LIFE WAS LIKE OUTSIDE THIS AIRPLANE. And then whatever meal you eat at 11pm Cincinnati time, 11am Shanghai time came and everything was OK. The obvious solution to not going crazy on an insanely long flight is to sleep. And believe me, I tried. But sleeping sitting up with your feet crammed against a laptop bag is no easy feat. I think I dozed on and off for an hour or two before I gave up and watched another movie. Thankfully our return flight from Hong Kong to London is only 12 hours. 😐

sleepy panda.gif
One final thing — I still may be afraid to speak any Chinese, but I’m amazed at how well I can understand it now. When I really focus I can pick up the gist of Stephen’s conversations. The key there is “really focus,” which isn’t easy, especially when insanely jetlagged. Most of the time my brain decides to just tune it out and focus on eating all the things. (Like xiaolongbao!) Also, have I mentioned before how Asian jetlag is the worst? Because it is. Even after being here for a few days and finally — FINALLY! — sleeping through the night Sunday night, I legit fell asleep on the toilet last night at 9:30. Stephen’s boss’s words still ring true: “You don’t sleep when you go to Asia, you just take a series of long naps.”

jet-lag gilmore girls.gif

Excuses and parking achievements

2 Aug

Yesterday I parallel parked in one shot. I’ve still got it! You can take the girl out of Chicago…

I haven’t blogged in ages, yet somehow decided to lead with parallel parking. As usual, my time in America has flown by. I had so much quality time with friends and family, though, so I guess it’s OK if my blog had to suffer as a result.

Something weird has been happening on this visit though. I’m not buying things. OK, I’m buying things, but I’m not BUYING ALL THE THINGS. A visit to the homeland has always involved 3 things: seeing friends and family, eating all the things, and buying all the things. I’ve certainly been eating my share of American delicacies (my recent cholesterol test results can attest to that), but I haven’t been going crazy buying all the things just because they are a £ or 2 cheaper than in the UK. Does this mean I’ve finally learned my lesson and packing won’t be a dear-god-please-be-under-50 lbs struggle? I sure hope so. For my sanity, but also because leaving the US doesn’t mean I’m going back to the UK — I’m meeting Stephen in China for a little vacation from my vacation. Which means all the crap I pack will be essentially traveling all around the world with me (you hear that, buttload of protein bars?) (OK, I guess I did buy some things. I may have a slight Quest bar addiction)

In short, this is me checking in just to say “ni hao.” Hopefully my upcoming travels will be more blog-worthy (but not too blog-worthy, because the most blog-worthy stuff is never good).

panda falling over.gif

Fun times at The Wilds

23 Jul

Trivia question: The largest wildlife conservation center in North America, a place where African, Asian, and North American species roam freely on over 9,000 acres, is in what U.S. state?

Did you guess Florida, California, or somewhere with way better weather than middle-of-nowhere Ohio? You’re wrong. The answer is Ohio (middle-of-nowhere Ohio, to be exact).

Last week we drove approximately 3 hours from Cincinnati to visit The Wilds, the largest wildlife conservation center in North America. Though it’s partnered with the Columbus Zoo, there’s nothing zoo-like about it — all the animals roam freely in open pastures. The only way to see them is through scheduled bus tours, which drive you through the pastures for 2 hours like you’re on a safari (or at Jurassic Park). They have open-air buses for the authentic safari experience, but since it was 90+ degrees F (33C) on the day we went, we opted for the “climate-controlled” buses. I put “climate-controlled” in quotation marks because whatever air-conditioning system they had on board did not seem to be working and I was a hot, sweaty mess by the end of the tour. If you want to get up close and personal with the animals (and have $125 burning a hole in your pocket), you can take the Wildside Tour. We first encountered a Wildside truck being surrounded by Persian onagers.

wildside onagers.pngAs we circled back around our bus met the same fate.

persian onagers.pngThey were everywhere! Apparently they were attracted to the bus because the exhaust kept the flies off them. Two of them parked themselves right in front of our bus and would not move.

onagers bus.pngOur driver had to call Animal Management to come and lure them away so we could continue on with the tour.

We got off the bus for a bit to see the parakeets and some other animals.

parakeets the wilds.pngCheetah!

cheetah the wilds.pngThey were feeding the African painted dogs while we were there.

painted dogs the wilds.pngZebra (with a less impressive wiener than the zebra we saw in San Diego. Sorry, it had to be said!)

zebra the wilds.png

zebra close up.pngFrom a distance we saw the ostrich harassing the Wildside Tour, so we knew he was gonna be fun.

ostrich wildside.pngHe kept trying to stick his head in our driver’s little window.ostrich bus.pngostrich funny.pngWe had a great view!

ostrich the wilds.pngHow often do you get to see an ostrich and a giraffe together?giraffe ostrich.png

giraffe the wilds.pngSouthern white rhino

white rhino the wilds.pngScimitar-horned oryx have wicked horns!oryx the wilds.pngThey’re native to North Africa and still thought it was way too hot in Ohio.

Baby scimitar-horned oryx with tiny horns!

oryx babies.png

Almost all my photos were taken from the bus, so you can see how close we were able to get to a lot of the animals. If you ever find yourself in middle-of-nowhere Ohio, I highly recommend a visit to The Wilds. Just maybe not on one of the hottest days of the year.

A long-awaited wicked 4th of July do

10 Jul

I had a right proper American 4th of July for the first time in a long time. Although I don’t think any American would ever use the adjectives “right” and “proper” together, so they may be on the verge of taking my citizenship away. (I’ve already got one strike against me for no longer drinking my water with ice.) Even when I lived in the US, July 4th was never one of my favorite holidays. As a kid I hated the loud noises, and as an adult I hated the crowded and the heat. But this year I happened to be in Chicago on July 4, so some friends and I had some delicious barbecue, then met up with some other friends to watch what we thought was going to be an amateur fireworks display. On our walk over there we encountered some true amateurs attempting to set off fireworks, one of which went off a little too close for comfort. “Don’t you wish you were in Kensington Gardens right now?” My friend whispered to me. (This was minutes after she whispered “Don’t you miss the Tube?” after we walked right into a hobo fight on the L.) Oh, Chicago. Your trains and streets smell like urine and some of your people frighten me, but you sure know how to celebrate the 4th. When we finally arrived we saw them unloading a U-Haul full of fireworks and knew we were in for a treat (that, or a multi-ambulance emergency. Likely both). The firework display they put on was out of this world, and we were so close we could feel the vibrations. We topped off the night with a classy visit to a champagne bar, which we had practically to ourselves, because Chicagoans apparently enjoy blowing stuff up way more than throwing back the bubbly. It was a brilliant end to my nearly two weeks of traveling. (Also brilliant: the Megabus to Cincinnati left on time and nothing exploded. A successful ride!)

Now I’m in Kentucky, happy to no longer be a hotel nomad living out of a [jumbo] suitcase. I’ve been savoring all the quality family and friend time, and also playing Pokemon Go. Freaking Pokemon Go. As if hitting my Fitbit step goal wasn’t reason enough to walk around aimlessly. But I can save that for another post.

I’ll end with what is clearly a better mascot for America than a bald eagle:
usa corgi.png
(My favorite instagram corgi, supercorgi_jojo!)

Greetings from the land of cheeseheads

30 Jun

I have this theory that your body is just naturally attuned to the time zone you were born in. It’s always easier for me to come back to Eastern Standard Time. That being said, my body does not like Central Time. It never has. I lived in it for several years, and even then I still referred to EST as “real time.” I’m in Milwaukee now, which is on Central Time, and my body has decided that 7am is the time to wake up. This works fine when I pass out at 10pm, but was not too peachy when I went to bed at 2:45am after a successful bachelorette party. I still can’t believe I pulled it off. Planning a bachelorette party/hen do is not easy to begin with, but doing it from the other side of the world is a whole different challenge. Everyone had a good time, I got to ride a party bus for the first time, and the only reason I felt crappy the next day was because of jet lag, not a hangover. I’d call that a success. I also ate cheese curds for the first time, because Wisconsin. They tasted like … cheese. Although perhaps I should try them deep-fried if I want the true experience.

Besides the time change, I’ve also been experiencing some reverse culture shock. In no particular order:

-American power outlets are rubbish. I was brainwashed into thinking they were the best, because, well, America, but they’re horrible. Every time I plug something in it feels so flimsy I’m not sure it’s going to stay. I bought a cheap American curling iron since my British curling tongs aren’t compatible with 120v. Halfway through I noticed my hair wasn’t curling. I was about to blame the cheap iron, but then I realized the plug had just fallen out of the socket. Yes, British plugs are big and unsightly, but they certainly get the job done. In fact, in a recent Reddit thread I believe they were voted best plugs in the world.

-American grocery stores are overwhelming. I’m staying at a hotel near a grocery store so I find myself there practically every day to pick up a meal or snack. I wanted some Greek yogurt. In the UK if I want the legit, high-protein stuff, I have 3 options: Fage Total, Liberte or Skyr. They each have a handful of flavors, but I usually just get plain. At the store here there was an entire aisle of Greek yogurt options — did I want it whipped? With a layer of chocolate on top? With oatmeal mixed in? With nuts mixed in? With a little flippy side full of sweets that turn a healthy snack into a sweet treat? And then there were the flavors — not just strawberry, blueberry and honey like I’m used to, but things like cherry cheesecake, salted caramel and key lime pie. I’m not exaggerating when I say I spent a good 15 minutes standing in that aisle just trying to choose a yogurt. I would say American and British grocery stores carry most of the same basics, but the American ones just have way more varieties of everything. (Don’t even get me started on the cereal aisle…)

-People are really friendly. I’ve walked into stores or hotels and been greeted by people who don’t work there, people who just for some reason want to say hi. I don’t understand this. Also apparently you’re supposed to acknowledge other runners and walkers when you’re out. I thought maybe this was just a suburbia thing, but I’ve been running in downtown Milwaukee and a lot of people do it. This is also weird to me. I will say, however, that Milwaukee is a brilliant city to run in. I took advantage of the one day it wasn’t butt-hot and did 6 miles along the lake and trails. Apparently I’m out of practice because I took a lot of walking breaks, but we’ll blame it on the humidity and desire to take in the scenery.  Like this lighthouse:

milwaukee lighthouseTime has really been flying by, I can’t believe I’ve been here for a week now. And more importantly, I can’t believe my best friend is getting married in less than 2 days!  I think I’m ready to tackle my maid of hono[u]r duties (like saving her a maple bacon doughnut. God bless America!).

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