Archive | January, 2019

I caved and joined a gym

23 Jan

I resisted for a while. “Why should I pay to run on a treadmill when running in London’s gorgeous parks is free?” I always thought. But the one thing I didn’t think about when I signed up for a half marathon in March is that my training would take place in January and February, the coldest months of the year. While London’s “cold” is nowhere near Midwest and East Coast America cold, I still didn’t want to do my long runs in 30-degree weather. That, and we are finally starting renovations on the master bedroom next week (something we’ve been talking about for more than 2 years now), and I don’t want to run and shower while the builder is here, and don’t want to run when it’s dark after he leaves.

So I joined a gym.

I chose the gym nearest to me, which also happens to be the cheapest. It’s cheap because it’s no frills — there’s no pool or sauna, there’s not even someone to check you in. When you sign up online they email you a code, and you type that code into a keypad before you enter the glass chamber that permits you entrance to The Gym. That wasn’t a Trumpsque bout of random capitalization syndrome, that’s its actual name — The Gym.

I made my first visit to The Gym yesterday as a bit of a trial run before my 8-mile long run today. I am in week 5 of the Hidgon Half Marathon plan, which means my long run this week needs to be 8 miles. I didn’t want to just hop on a treadmill and bang it out, I wanted to ease myself into treadmill running, so I thought I’d knock off the easy 3-mile run in this week’s plan. I successfully entered The Gym through the almost claustrophobic chamber and immediately hopped on the first treadmill I saw. I didn’t want to be seen wandering with that newbie look in my eyes, I wanted it to seem like I belonged there. I started walking as a warmup and put on my new favorite podcast to run to, My Favorite Murder. It got me through last week’s 7-mile long run, so I figured it would make these 3 miles blow by.

I didn’t want my walking time to affect my distance and pace measurements, so I started a new session when I was ready to run. I figured I’d start at a 10-min mile pace, then slowly increase and bang out these 3 miles in less than 30 minutes. I set the distance to miles and the pace to 6. I started running, allowing Karen and Georgia to regale me with the tale of Rebecca Zahau’s murder… except it wasn’t working.

I watched the boxing class happening in front of me. I watched the people walking by outside through the window. But mostly I just watched the numbers on the screen in front of me.

Has it really only been 2 minutes? I wondered.

Then my thoughts began to wander. I needed to pick up mushrooms at the store on my way home. Maybe I should get broccoli too. I wonder who convinced the sheriff that Rebecca Zahau’s death was a suicide when she was so clearly murdered? Why do people tamper with dead bodies instead of immediately calling the police? I bet broccoli would be good in my new air fryer. I bet it’s been at least 5 minutes now.

14 seconds had passed.

I had forgotten how mind-numbly boring treadmill running was. Outside it was so easy to escape into my podcast or music and Pokemon Go, but here I couldn’t stop obsessing over the time and distance. Which, by the way, I realized suddenly wasn’t adding up. 10 minutes had passed and I hadn’t run 1 mile yet — not even close. I slowly increased my speed of 6 to 8.5. It said my pace was 7 something. “I am really flying!” I thought. “Treadmill running is easier than I thought! Now the miles will really fly by!”

Except they didn’t. I was still running slower than a 10-min mile pace. I googled treadmill pace cheat sheets and couldn’t figure out why my numbers weren’t lining up. What unit of measurement was 6 or 8.5 if not mph? Just “speed”?

30 speed

I could think of only one reason why the distance wasn’t displaying correctly — the treadmill was broken! It was a cheap gym with cheap machines that were obviously not calibrated correctly. After the treadmill clock hit 30 minutes I started the cool down. I had probably run 3 miles even if the display didn’t show it. I hopped off and decided to explore downstairs, which I just discovered existed.

It was a lot more crowded than the upstairs, so I reasoned that was where the good machines were. I would do my 8 miles on a treadmill down here tomorrow.

The next day (today), I headed straight downstairs. I knew podcasts and music weren’t going to cut it for essentially an hour and 20 minutes of running in place, so I came armed with my iPad loaded with Netflix shows. I hopped on a treadmill that reeked slightly of body odor, so it had been used recently and at least wasn’t broken, and decided to do a little experiment. This thought occurred to me yesterday while I was running, but it didn’t seem right so I didn’t test it out. What if the distance was in miles, but the speed was actually in kilometers? So if I wanted to run 6 mph, I had to set the speed to 10 kmph. I tried it for 10 minutes, and sure enough my distance was 1 mile. Which meant that whole time I thought I was running fast yesterday, I was actually running really slowly. I knew it felt a little too easy, but I chalked it up to all my training. I settled in at 10 kmph, which is slower than I was hoping to run the half, yet still somehow felt strenuous. Man, I hate treadmill running. My iPad at least covered the screen so I couldn’t watch the time and miles tick by, even though I lifted it up to check every 5 or 2 minutes. I watched the first episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which I was hoping could become my new favorite running show, but I didn’t love the musical aspect of it (and I love Broadway and West End musicals, I know). It helped me kill 45 minutes though, and then I switched to The Great British Bake Off. I’m still deciding if watching a show about delicious desserts while you’re burning calories is the best or worst idea ever, but it helped distract me so I could power through. I ate Jelly Babies for fuel at miles 5 and 7 and pretended they were made of Victoria Sponge and not just cornstarch-dusted glucose. And I did it. I ran 8 miles on a treadmill!

The iPad definitely helped, but I still think treadmill running is the worst, especially on a treadmill that measures distance in miles and speed in kmph. Next week the long run on the schedule is only 6 miles, which I’ll be doing outdoors racing the London Winter Run. I run a 10K on Thanksgiving in Cincinnati every year, but I’ve never actually raced a 10K in London. I’m actually a little excited for it and pray the weather holds up. There’s no iPad and treadmill option for races!

Advertisements

How not to make peanut butter in a Vitamix

14 Jan

Longtime readers will know I have longed for a Vitamix blender since I became obsessed with smoothies at least 10 years ago. Who can forget the famous blender blowout of 2013?

blender explosion

I almost pulled the Vitamix trigger back then, but just couldn’t justify the expense. Instead I found a cheaper high-powered blender, which served me well… until it broke. And then I found another high-powered blender, this one claiming to be on par with Vitamix for 25% of the price. I even wrote a glowing review it here on the blog.  But lately I could tell it was starting to struggle to blend my smoothies, especially when I used melon or other large chunks of fruit. So when Stephen asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I told him I didn’t need any more shoes, purses or clothes.

I needed a Vitamix.

I ordered a certified reconditioned model on Boxing Day, so I got a great deal on it. I read reviews that said certified reconditioned models are often unopened returns, so they’re basically brand new. Plus if anything were to go wrong, it comes with a 5-year warranty.

I felt like a kid on Christmas morning when it was delivered, and made a delicious smoothie that day. I could immediately tell there was something about Vitamix that sets it apart from other high-speed blenders, especially my old Electriq iQMix. I could add ice to my smoothies again without worry! I even used it to make soup. But there was one thing I was particularly excited to try: making peanut butter.

I have a borderline obsession with nut butter. For a while I was buying it in individual portions because I couldn’t be trusted not to eat an entire container in two days. I’m trying to work on eating it in moderation, though, for my health, but also because good, pure nut butter is expensive! And according to the internet, homemade tastes even better.

I bought a kilo of raw peanuts in Chinatown and toasted them myself. I obsessively read recipes and blogs about how to make nut butter in your Vitamix. The top tips were to toast your nuts, which releases their oils, thus making them turn into peanut butter instead of peanut flour, and to allow them to cool fully before blending, as blending will heat them up as well and you don’t want to melt your Vitamix container. (Yes, apparently that can happen!)

I went into my peanut butter-making experience knowing all this… but I was also impatient. I decided to start the process less than an hour before I was scheduled to Facetime with my mom. I let the nuts cool on the tray, then put them in the refrigerator for a few minutes. They weren’t by any means hot anymore, but they weren’t chilled, which was another tip I had read — use chilled, toasted nuts. I was running out of time, though, so I decided the nuts were cool enough. I put the nuts into my blender, slowly increased the speed, then flipped the switch to high. The Vitamix started making noises as the blogs warned me it would, and I used the tamper stick to constantly push the nuts down the sides and into the blades. One blog said the whole process would take 1 minute, so when I didn’t have smooth peanut butter after a minute, I worried something was wrong. I stopped the blender and checked on the peanuts. They were more the consistency of cookie dough, not smooth peanut butter. They were also certainly hot, but my container didn’t feel like it was melting, so I went back to blending. And blending. And blending. Something felt wrong. The almighty Vitamix should not be struggling like it was, I thought. I opened the container once again and noticed some black specks in my peanut “dough,” almost like chocolate chips. But I definitely didn’t add any chocolate chips. Then I pulled out the tamper and was about to lick the end of it, when I saw this:

melted vitamix tamper.png

“Oh no!” I thought. I had done it. I had melted my tamper stick by not using chilled nuts. I poured my peanut dough into a bowl and starting picking out the chunks of plastic.

peanut butter plastic chunks.png

I texted my Vitamix-loving friend to show her what I had done. She told me to email Vitamix customer service since there’s no way that should happen.

I left the kitchen in a state of chaos, lamented to my mom about my peanut butter catastrophe, then spent the night sifting out pieces of plastic because there was no way I was just going to throw out an entire batch of what could be — might be! Should be! — perfectly good peanut butter.

Then I sat down to email Vitamix. But as I was writing about how there was no way the damage to the tamper could have been caused by the blade because the tamper can’t touch the blade when the lid is on, a thought occurred to me: I did briefly run the blender with the lid off. And I used the tamper. I thought the hole in the lid was somehow restricting the movement of my tamper.

That’s when I had a proverbial face palm moment. My peanut butter disaster wasn’t Vitamix’s fault. It was mine.

Looking back at the photos, it’s obvious the damage was caused by a blade and not by heat. I guess I just didn’t want to admit it at the time.

damaged vitamix tamper.png

As embarrassed and frustrated with myself as I was, the good news was that my Vitamix wasn’t broken. And because my old blender was a Vitamix wannabe, its tamper is a perfect fit. I put my peanut dough in the fridge overnight and gave homemade peanut butter another go the next day.

And it worked!

vitamix peanut butter

peanut butter vitamiix

I made delicious, homemade peanut butter, completely smooth save for the odd black plastic speck. Now that I know what to do (and what NOT to do!), I can’t wait to experiment with other nut combinations!

A look back on 2018

7 Jan

It’s that time of year again, friends. That time when I reflect on the past year and completely ignore the fact that I’ve neglected the blog for the majority of it.

As an adult I’ve come to realize days, weeks, months, and years all tend to melt together, but I have to say 2018 was a pretty great year. I kept two of my resolutions — I didn’t eat meat at all in 2018 (aside from fish) and I learned calligraphy. I didn’t manage to run a half marathon in 2018, but I just registered for a half marathon in March, so that’s my 2018 resolution sorted in 2019.

A look back on 2018:

-We renovated our living room, a project we’d been talking about for over a year and finally got done. It took approximately three months even though it was supposed to take 2 weeks, but we feel like we’re living in a palace now.
-I fell head over heels in love with calligraphy, particularly brush lettering and pointed pen. I amassed over 1,200 followers on my calligraphy Instagram account. I am by no means a calligraphy master, but my work looks a lot better than it did on day one!
-I got to visit my friends in Chicago and Milwaukee not once, but twice!
-I attended Milwaukee Pug Fest with my best friend
-I got really into skincare and spent a small fortune on it, but I was able to reduce some of the sun damage on my face caused by running outside. Always wear sunscreen, kids! Even in England in the winter.
-I ran a 5K race with Cherry in 90+ degree heat (well, I ran it, she walked it)
-I voted in my first U.S. primary and midterm elections and vowed to never not vote again
-I went to New York City and saw two Broadway shows (Come From Away and The Donna Summer Musical)
-I was in the studio audience for a taping of The Daily Show
-I survived the worst heat wave in UK history, but not without complaining every 5 minutes about it
-I reached level 40 on Pokemon Go, which is the highest level. I wish I could say I quit the game then, but I still play daily, though not as obsessively
-We traveled to Croatia, where we fed wild peacocks and bunnies, explored Game of Thrones filming locations, and learned the hard way that we are not cut out for sea kayaking
-I went home for Halloween and made Cherry a Wonder Bread costume
-I got a 10K personal best in the Thanksgiving Day Race
-We traveled to Tenerife in the Canary Islands where we fed monkeys and guinea pigs, saw dolphins and whales, and went on an epic buggy safari through Teide National Park
-I got a Vitamix blender for my birthday, something I should have done years ago
-I saw 9 West End shows, which was not a record, but still an impressive and enjoyable feat

2019 is already starting on the right foot. We spent New Year’s Day stripping wallpaper in preparation for our bedroom renovation. I pray once we get the builders in the job really does only take two weeks! Then maybe we can focus on the kitchen, which started as “Let’s just repaint and add some more cupboards” but has evolved to “let’s just completely gut it!” Gulp. Meanwhile I just finished week 2 of my half marathon training plan and crushed my 5-mile “long run,” so at least that’s going well. Ask me again once the long runs get longer than 6 miles though! I’m also still working on my calligraphy and want to try new things like iPad digital art with Procreate and making process videos. Maybe this will be the year I get off the proverbial bench and start selling my work and services(!). Addressing all 30 of our Christmas cards made me think I might be able to do envelopes and place cards for a wedding one day… a small wedding, at least!

doug the pug 2019

Image courtesy Doug the Pug

Here’s to 2019!