Archive | August, 2013

How to kick your snacking habit the Stanley way

30 Aug

This afternoon I discovered the solution to my snacking problem. As I type this, the part of my brain that is saying, “Doesn’t that stroopwafel that you stole from the Amsterdam airport lounge and is just sitting in your kitchen cupboard sound good now?” is silenced because I cannot open my kitchen cupboard because THERE IS A MOUSE IN MY KITCHEN. Yes, nothing shuts up a craving for nuts like realizing you’ve been sharing those same nuts with a furry critter.

Earlier today I had a nut craving, so I was snacking on some peanuts — or as Tesco likes to call them, “roasted monkey nuts.”

roasted monkey nuts

Like a person with a snacking problem, I did not remove the bag from the drawer since I was “just going to eat a few.” After I finished the bag, I noticed some sunflower seeds had spilled in the back of the drawer. So I removed the sunflower seed bag to get closer to them. That’s when *I refuse to name him* shot out. You never know how you’re going to react in these types of situations until you’re in the middle of one.

I screamed like a little girl.

I watched in horror as the little mouse ran across the countertop, tried in vain to somehow go out the closed window, then jumped down off the counter and ran behind the washing machine. My heart was racing — it still is — as I called Ted, our super, in a panic. When he didn’t answer I called down to the porter.

“Hi, there’s a mouse in my kitchen,” I said as calmly as possible. Within a minute Paul was at my door with the net they use to clean leaves out of the courtyard fountain. He smiled, slammed it to the ground and then twisted it, demonstrating what he was going to do to my new flatmate. I think part of me is glad we couldn’t find the mouse just so I didn’t have to witness that. He assured me the little guy is more afraid of me than I him and that he’s probably traveled down the same way he got up and is now in someone else’s kitchen eating their nuts. Comforting. Ted called me back and said some things in his accent I can’t understand, but he is going to get it “sorted” with the building.

I’m getting flashbacks of my freshman year at university. My roommate and I had an impressive collection of instant ramen, which Stanley ate more than we did. Yes, we made the mistake of naming our reside varmint “Stanley.” Stanley eventually met his demise when maintenance set up traps while we were on Christmas break, but then neglected to check said traps and so we were met with the pleasant scent of Stanley’s demise when we returned to campus. I hope however Stanley’s British cousin meets his end is swift, stench-free, and preferably not decapitation via pool skimmer.

 

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Holland Holiday, or What part of my body hurts the most?

29 Aug
There’s this obscure song by my favorite composer Jim Steinman called “What Part of My Body Hurts the Most?” That’s what I woke up wondering last week in Holland.

Was it my legs from biking 35 miles in one day?
Was it my butt from biking 35 miles on a rental bike with a broken seat?
Was it my arm or hand from trying to hold an iPad mini to navigate while biking?

If you couldn’t tell, we went on a short holiday to Holland last week. We stayed in Amsterdam but decided to take a day trip to Haarlem because the only two cities in The Netherlands Rick Steves writes about in his “Best of Europe” book are Amsterdam and Haarlem. We intended to take a train there until anonymous strangers on the Internet planted the idea of biking in my head. “Holland is flat as a pancake!” they wrote. “People commute to work in Haarlem by bicycle everyday! It’s an easy 20 km ride.” (That’s 12 miles, Americans). It’s true that the Dutch bike everywhere and there are very clear bike paths and signs. So we rented some three-speeds from MacBike and set off for Haarlem, armed only with a GPS that couldn’t seem to locate our location and an iPad Mini with the Forever Maps app.

The last time I rode a bike was in college when I rode 10 minutes to my classes on north campus. But sure enough, riding a bike is just like, well, riding a bike, and I easily peddled around the bike rental plaza. But then we had to go on the actual road and I quickly realized I had no idea what the cycling rules of the road were. I knew I had to stay on the bike path, but what about intersections without stoplights? The cars seemed to be giving me the right-of-way, but then a tram came, along with hordes of pedestrians. Eventually I hopped off and walked my bike until we got to the major road. Stephen tried to hold the GPS and navigate while I stopped every 5 minutes to check the iPad map, but eventually we decided to just follow the clearly marked signs towards Haarlem. Google Maps and the random people on the Internet assured me the journey would take a little over an hour.

It took us two hours. At one point a couple that reminded me of my maternal grandparents passed us on their bikes.

“So what is there to see in Haarlem?” Stephen asked as I caught up to him, but couldn’t catch Grandpa. My mind went blank. I knew Rick Steves raved about it, but as we were halfway there I couldn’t remember why I wanted to go to Haarlem so badly.

“There’s a windmill there… and a church.”

“We are biking all this way to see a windmill and a church?” he replied. I told him the journey was half the fun, even though half the time we were biking next to the motorway and so the only scenery was the cars rushing past the various industrial parks.

Eventually we made it to the city center and parked our bikes near the Grote Markt.

grote markt
The markt area was beautiful. Haarlem reminded me of Bruges, what Harry from “In Bruges” would call a “fairytale $*&%ing town.” We had lunch on the square, toured the Grote Kerk (“Great Church”), then took photos by the windmill.

“How far is the beach, again?” Stephen asked.

When researching the route to Haarlem I noticed the beach town of Zandvoort was only 5 miles from Haarlem. Stephen had wanted to go to the French Riviera instead of Holland for our holiday, so I thought biking to the beach might be a nice compromise.

“The map says it should take less than 30 minutes,” I said.

We cycled through Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, which while beautiful, was certainly not “pancake flat.”
Zuid-Kennemerland bike
So many times we thought about pulling over, calling the mound of sand on the side of the bike path “the beach,” and heading back. But we needed to see the sea — we had come too far. After an hour we finally emerged from the national park into a seaside town. We walked our bikes up the stairs, and there it was — the North Sea. The beach.
Zandvoort beach
As far as I know, The Netherlands isn’t known for its beaches, but I was pleasantly surprised. It looked like any other beach town. We parked our bikes then got some ice cream while we looked at the sand sculptures.
zandvoort sand sculpture
Then we had to bike the 17 miles back to Amsterdam before it got dark. I was better at navigating on the way back, but it still took us over two hours. My butt has never been more sore. That was over a week ago and it finally no longer hurts to sit down. Needless to say we spent the rest of the week on foot, no more cycling.

And now the photos that didn’t fit into the narrative:

Grote Kerk St.-Bavokerk
Grote Kerk
Ceiling of the church:
grote kerk ceiling
Zoomed in:
grote kerk ceiling zoom
Haarlem backstreet:
haarlem street
The famous windmill:
haarlem windmill
My typical shallow depth of field shot:
haarlem flowers
One of the many Haarlem canals:
haarlem canal
Shutters aren’t just for decoration?!
haarlem shutters
Haarlem Beetle
haarlem beetle
Now with some quick, crappy editing!
haarlem beetle bw
At first I thought this was just a different spelling of my name, but apparently Rennes is a city in northwest France.
rennes snackhouse
Finally, proof that I biked to the Zandvoort beach!
holland bike

Why is there a child on my donut peaches?

19 Aug

I’ll admit it, the fruit lady is growing on me. She runs a stall conveniently located on my walk to the grocery store, but I used to avoid her because she smokes near the fruit. But her prices are better than the supermarket and she calls me “love,” so I’ve been visiting her more often. On my most recent trip I picked up some blueberries and strawberries and was about to pay when I saw these weird-looking peaches. Peaches were on my list of fruit to buy at Sainsbury’s, where they are usually 4 for £1. Fruit lady had 6 weirdly flat peaches for £1. Sold.

donut peach

Have you ever seen these weird-looking flat peaches? Google tells me it is called a Saturn or doughnut peach (or, to quote The Guardian, “the donut peach, by people who do not know how to spell.”) In America we blame Dunkin’ for that.

They look like regular peaches that had a Stewie Griffin accident.

stewie-jumping-o

I am happy to report that they are in fact “simply delicious,” just as juicy and delectable as a regular peach and they’re easier to hold. So thank you, smoking fruit lady, for introducing me to this culinary wonder. I just have one question: who is your supplier and why did they think it was a good idea to put a small child on the packaging?:

peach baby

He’s not even holding a Saturn/doughnut/donut peach, that looks like a nectarine or apple!

Green oatmeal protein pancakes recipe

12 Aug

I never used to be a breakfast person. In fact, I can’t even remember what I used to eat in the morning throughout high school and college. But then I discovered glorious oatmeal. And green smoothies. And now I find myself going to bed anxious because I’m so excited about what I’m going to eat in the morning.

I think I have a problem.

Today, I had a specific problem — I could not decide between a green smoothie, oatmeal or protein pancakes. That’s when it hit me — green oatmeal protein pancakes. I could combine them all! The result was glorious. My hands were covered in green batter and my kitchen still smells like burnt butter, but my concoction was a success. So much so that I’m going to share the recipe and my rambling pseudo-expat blog can momentarily become a food blog.

Green oatmeal protein pancakes

green pancakes

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup oats (I used a mixture of instant, jumbo rolled and steel-cut because I always have three types of oatmeal (porridge) on hand. Regular old-fashioned rolled oats work)
  • 1/4 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 or 2 egg whites
  • Banana
  • Handful of spinach
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Spoonful of ground flaxseed (optional)
  • Milk of choice

Recipe:

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a blender. Add a small amount of milk (I used almond milk) to get the batter moving. You don’t want the batter to be too runny though.
  2. Spoon batter into bowl and then onto greased frying pan and cook like normal pancakes. (I do not know how to do this well, which is why my kitchen smells like burnt butter and I only made one photo-worthy pancake.)

Optional steps if you did not pour batter into bowl and spooned it from the blender instead, getting batter on your hands each time you dipped in:

  1. Google “Is eating raw eggs bad?” then read way too many bodybuilding forums.
  2. Decide that raw egg salmonella is a rumor perpetuated by moms over the decades to get kids to stop eating cookie dough, and lick pancake batter off hands and blender.

I topped my green oatmeal protein pancakes with fruit and homemade caramel sauce, but you can choose your topping based on which of your breakfast cravings is strongest. Smoothie? Fresh fruit. Oatmeal? Granola. Pancakes? Syrup.

And in case you were wondering, here is what the rest of my pancakes looked like. Not exactly food blog worthy, but I’m learning:

pancakes fail

Hope you enjoy my very first recipe!

Apple Geniuses and I really hate hot weather

1 Aug

There’s a stereotype that Brits like to complain about the weather no matter what. I was queuing at the till at Sainsbury’s on Monday (let me Americanize that — “standing in line at the grocery store”) and overheard the cashier talking to a customer. They both said this heat is dreadful and just wish it would rain. Then it poured almost the entire day Tuesday and I’m sure they complained about that too. I think I fit in here in that respect — is it too much to ask for it to be 68 and sunny everyday? Why only oppressive heat or rain?

I had to venture out in the rain Tuesday because I had an appointment at the Apple Store Genius Bar. I’ve been having a hard time clicking on my Macbook Air’s trackpad and it’s been driving me nuts, so I figured I’d have it checked out. It was my first time at the Genius Bar and it felt exactly like the South Park episode:

south park genius bar

The genius helping the guy next to me looked exactly like the bearded guy with the dark hair. My genius took my computer into the back room to perform surgery. In the meantime I just sat there taking the whole place in — I couldn’t believe how many geniuses and customers there were. I don’t know what that says about Apple — so many people seem to have problems with their products, yet they also seem to take care of the problems effectively. My genius brought my laptop back and said she tightened a screw. She also informed me that the trackpad is built like a mouse and technically you’re only supposed to click on the left and right, not in the middle. Apparently I’ve been using the trackpad wrong and now I need to retrain myself. Whoops.

When it comes to running, I think I prefer a torrential downpour to oppressive heat. When we were in Greece Stephen and I decided to run outside when it was 90 degrees. The scenery was beautiful and the sea offered a nice breeze, but I still felt like I was going to die, especially going up the last hill. The next day it was back to the treadmill in the AC. Today in London it’s hot again –87 degrees (30 C). I always tell myself I’m going to wake up early to run to avoid the heat. But I don’t like to run before eating, and by the time I make my oatmeal, eat it, do some work, then download a new running playlist it’s almost noon. This week’s C210K session is three 15-minute runs with 1-minute breaks in between. I tried to pump myself up with new music, but eight minutes into the first 15 the sweat started pouring down, and it didn’t stop. I felt like I was running through a cloud of humidity, which depending on my proximity to the pond or boating lake, smelled faintly of duck and swan poo. It took everything I had to start that second 15 minutes. An older woman ran by me, which normally would motivate me to speed up, but this time I just thought “good for her” and slowed to a walk to wipe the sweat out of my eyes. I plodded along at the slowest speed that can still be considered a jog. When I started the final 15 minutes I put on DaRude’s “Sandstorm” (that one techno song that you’ve heard a bunch but don’t know the name of). Even with sweat dripping down every inch of your body, you can’t not run to that beat. I got my second (or at this point probably sixth) wind and took off.

“Yeah!” I thought. “I can do this!”

And then I started getting chills — while running.

“Woohoo!” I thought. “I’m not even hot anymore! I can keep going!”

::pause::

“This is probably not good and I may be dying.”

It turns out chills is a symptom of heat exhaustion. I always thought I’d be OK since I bring water with me, but I was definitely sweating more than I was drinking and pushed myself a little too hard. I skipped my usual sprinting exercises and walked the rest of the way home, looking and feeling like this:

anchorman hot

No more running in the heat for me. Autumn can’t come soon enough.