Just Desserts

17 Aug

The past two days I’ve spent over 45 minutes on either the treadmill or elliptical or both, followed by some weights and ab workouts. Even though it was nearly 80 degrees inside my house last night, I earned this. (Also, I hate wasting food and Lord knows how seldom I use heavy cream and I had some left over from making cheesecake, so this really had to be done.)

I made dark hot chocolate, home made whipped cream and sprinkled the final product with cinnamon. Ah-mazing.

Ingredients: Heavy cream, vanilla extract, powdered sugar, Dove dark chocolate squares, milk (not shown)

Chill beaters and a tall narrow bowl for 15 minutes in the freezer. Add 1 C heavy cream. Beat until soft peaks form. Add 2-4 tblspns of powdered sugar (depending on your desired sweetness) and 1-2 tspns vanilla extract. Beat until stiff peaks form. Voila! Whipped cream.

For the hot chocolate, I used the remaining bit of cream, some soy milk and a little bit of 2% milk. Heat milk in saucepan and add Dove dark chocolate squares (I used 8 – and some leftover semi-sweet chocolate chips I found in the fridge that weren’t enough to do anything else with.) Heat until chocolate melts stirring constantly. Delicious!

Dark hot chocolate with homemade whipped cream sprinkled with cinnamon served in an oh-so cuddly mug

 

Delicious imperfection

The whipped cream was a little too dense to sit prettily on top like the kind that comes from an aerosol can, but oh well! Maybe a shorter whipping time would help that. Sprinkle with cinnamon and enjoy! (Probably not on a summer night like I did, but even then – so good!)

Not-so-healthy Weekend

16 Aug

I may or may not have gone wine tasting for the better part of Saturday. Afterwards, I may or may not have had barbecued ribs and chicken. Followed by what may or may not have been a significant portion of a 9″ cheesecake. Only to possibly have had breakfast the next morning consisting of chorizo eggs and refried beans. Maybe. Possibly. Could have happened.

I plead the fifth.

The aforementioned cheesecake. It earned rave reviews and I'm proud to say that I made it 🙂

Protein Style

12 Aug

I love cheeseburgers. I love Southern California. Therefore, I love In-n-Out. I also love mystery (as you can tell from my excitement with the secret bakery) so it’s only fitting that I love In-n-Out’s secret menu (locals only, yo!)

I’ve tried a few things on their secret menu – animal style fries and burgers – but last night, I had my first protein style cheeseburger. Loved it!

Lovely picture of a cheeseburger animal style care of TheChive.com

I’m not one to shy away from carbs but I knew I wasn’t going to make it to the gym that night and I wasn’t able to go on my lunchtime walk and I was out-and-about and starving and poor so I took the opportunity to try it. Granted the cheese and ‘spread’ aren’t exactly “good for you” but taking away the bun makes this a slightly healthier burger option (only about 330 calories according to In-n-Out’s nutritional chart). And it was only about $3. Win!

Zumba!

9 Aug

I just found this article and loved the title:

“Why You Should Give In To The Zumba Craze”

It is kind of a craze – like Tae Bo or Jazzercise. And it’s been marketing itself with summer/party-themed advertisements forever (Turn up the heat! The Party’s Here! Feel the Beat! Ditch the Workout and Join the Party! …should I go on?) so it’s perfect for this time of year.

I tried it for the first time this past Sunday (because L.A. Fitness recently started offering the classes – yay! 24 Hour Fitness has been offering them for awhile now) and it was really fun. Granted, I looked like a fool but laughing at yourself works those ab muscles!

It wasn’t very intensive but it did get my heart rate up and is definitely something I would do again – probably in conjunction with higher intensity cardio and/or weights beforehand. The class I was in was small so the energy was kind of low, but I imagine a big group of people would make it even more fun. I also think the Zumba DVDs might be more intensive or incorporate more ‘workout’ moves.

Check your local gym schedule or you can go here to find a class near you.

Lunch Time Workouts

7 Aug

Being back in the States after living in Italy for a month made me realize how little Americans actually move. I walked everywhere in Italy and here, I drive everywhere. Before I left the country, I tried to get to the gym at least three times a week. Now, I still try to make my gym goal every week but I’ve also upped the anti – I’m aiming to move much more on a daily basis. I started on Friday while at work.

I bring my lunch to work 99% of the time but many times, I end up with a lot of time left over on my lunch. (It doesn’t take an hour to eat a turkey sandwich and some grapes…)

So, I decided I would try something. I brought my tennis shoes and iPod and after I was done with my caprese salad, I laced up and started walking. I work on a university campus, so I have access to a track which makes it easy to monitor how far I walked – about a mile and a half.

I didn’t walk very fast because I still had to be presentable when I went back into the office, but I burned way more calories than I would have if I was sitting the whole time.

Another thing I’ve done in the past is go on walks around the campus and through the neighborhoods. The change of scenery makes these walks more interesting if walking in a circle isn’t really your thing.

What creative ‘moves’ do you do during the work day?

Dairy, Sugar and Acne – Oh My!

5 Aug

I met my friend Sarah in Italy and not only is she a great travel buddy, she’s a wealth of information regarding skin care, beauty tips, hair secrets and all kinds of other girly stuff (that I normally don’t pay much attention to). But when she started talking about diet changes that affect your complexion, my ears perked up real quick!

She posted this link on her Facebook about how dairy and sugar cause acne no matter what age you are.

Here’s a sample of what the study said:

“Two large controlled trials found that cow’s milk increased both the number of people who got acne and its severity. Other large randomized prospective controlled trials (the gold standard of medical research) found that people who had higher sugar intake and a high glycemic load diet (more bread, rice, cereal, pasta, sugar, and flour products of all kinds) had significantly more acne. The good news is that chocolate (dark chocolate that is) didn’t seem to cause acne.”

Sorry, had to bold that last line. My recommendation for excellent dark chocolate? Dove Silk. Pair the squares with raspberry sorbet and you have my new favorite dessert.

Back to the study: The dairy and sugars cause a spike in hormones, androgens and insulin which causes pimples! The article lists a slew of hormones that are found in cow’s milk (even organic, raw, etc.) which quickly makes it become as bad for you as all the sugar in soda.

Basically, cow’s milk is essential for growing calves just like mother’s milk is essential for human babies. Do humans continue drinking breast milk after being weaned? No. Do cows continue suckling other grown bovines? No. Why do we then continue to drink hormone-filled cow’s milk as adults?

The Alternatives

Personally, I love carbs. And after taking a test on what my specific metabolism is like, my body needs carbs. So I can have wheat and grain-based breads and pastas (that are better than bleached, heavily processed carbs that cause acne) without feeling guilty. Thank God! Eventually I’ll start exploring starch substitutes and post on those, but for now I’ve got a few dairy replacements to talk about.

I’ve already tried almond milk and recently picked up Trader Joe’s low-fat original soy milk. The soy milk’s texture and consistency is much better for cereal than almond milk. It’s thin like the fat-free cow’s milk I drink but unlike fat-free milk, the soy milk is a little bit sweet. I’ve heard people say that fat-free milk is basically water (heavily hormoned water…) but low-fat soy milk is just as light and has more taste. It also works great in my coffee, taking the bitterness out and complimenting the splash of Splenda I use.

The shelf life of soy milk is also super long – my half gallon doesn’t expire until October!

However, this particular soy milk has more calories than the almond milk – 110 per 8 oz. serving. Yikes! 2.5 grams of fat (in the low fat variety) and 10 grams of sugar. BUT! No hormones. There’s also 5 grams of protein and a substantial amount of calcium, Vitamin A and D.

Different brands may have lower-calorie varieties and I believe there may be an unsweetened type with less sugar. (I’m new to the soy milk party so I just grabbed a carton and went on my merry way.)

There’s also the option of rice milk, which is next on my “To Try” list.

Little adjustments like these are a great way to be healthier and have prettier skin, too!

Home Again & Broke

2 Aug

I’m home! I spent the day getting ready to go back to reality. Grocery shopping, the gym, laundry, mani-pedi with the bestie and now, I’m broke.

I had to restock all my food and toiletries and please believe me when I say the pedicure was absolutely necessary. This was only the second professional pedicure I’ve had in my life so you know it was desperately needed. Of course a Starbucks was called for before being pampered. And then In-n-Out for dinner was a must. I mean, I AM back in Cali after all. And after binging on delicious animal-style fries and vanilla shake we HAD to walk around the Ontario Mills to help settle our meal. Which of course reminded me that I got a coupon for a free pair of underpants in the mail while I was gone, so we had to stop at Victoria’s Secret which of course led to a matching bra purchase (I had another coupon though!)

Fortunately, I go back to work tomorrow and can start working on bringing in money rather than just dishing it out, but there are so many fun things I need to do before my first (small) paycheck comes in!

I need to do happy hour on Thursday with my bestie at our favorite watering hole! I need to go out dancing with my friends (old and new) on Friday because I haven’t seen (some) of them in over a month! I need to meet up with my new friend and her friends at the OC Fair because I love my new friend so much and meeting people is one of my new favorite things! (Fortunately, the day we’re going to the fair, I just have to bring 5 pieces of gently worn clothing to get in free so that helps.) I need to have girls night next Monday with my grad school friends because they never come to anything I try to put together!

Dang all these unexpected expenditures!

Don’t you just hate it when life happens?

Italian Adventures: Homeward Reflections

31 Jul

I’m coming home today. I’m all packed and have a few minutes to spare before my taxi comes to take me to the airport.

In a way, I’m going to miss this apartment. Yes, it’s constantly dirty. Yes, there are 7 other girls here. No, they never sleep during normal hours. But it has been my home for the past month. I have been happy to come home to it after long weekends in Rome and the Amalfi Coast. But I am looking forward to coming home to MY bed and MY room and all of MY familiar things. I’m looking forward to coming back to my life.

I’ve learned a lot on this trip. First and foremost, I’m braver than I thought. I mean, I signed up all alone. I knew no one when I got on that plane 30 days ago. Now, I have about 30 new acquaintances and a few new friends that I’ll keep in touch with when I get back home. I’m still learning/grappling with the fact that I’m reserved. Something about my innate aura sends a message to people that I’m not…something. Fun? Approachable? I don’t know what exactly. But it’s the reason I’ve always had a hard time meeting people and making new friends. In a way, it’s good. Because only the people who take the time to actually talk to me and get to know me become my friends. The rest are too fickle and superficial, and I don’t want or need them around anyway. However, I’m still deciding if I really want to be able to turn my reserved-ness off easier/faster or if I want to embrace it whole-heartedly.

Also as far as bravery is concerned, I’ve navigated the streets of Florence to the point where I can go anywhere here by myself and be completely comfortable. I’ve learned bits of Italian and can ask for certain things in Italian. I know that traveling to other countries is very manageable now. I’ve also done all of this without a cellphone or phone number of any kind. Imagine how much easier it would be with modern technology! I’m not afraid of leaving my comfortable home and in fact, I’m eager to keep venturing out and discovering new places.

But at the same time, I’ve learned how truly fortunate I am to live where I do. I love California. It’s amazing how many people honestly dream of coming to California and I was born and raised there. I’m also very lucky to live in the States. We Americans are really spoiled. Things we take for granted are sorely missed abroad. Like free water at restaurants. Ice in your beverage. Option, options and more options! You can’t go to a restaurant in Italy and order a salad with no this, extra that, and dressing on the side. In fact, if you ask to many questions, the waiter walks away. There’s no Netflix or Hulu or Pandora or local broadcasting channels that stream shows online in Italy. There is no Target or WalMart. There is no one-stop shopping. There is very little – if any – diversity in food options. Aside from tourists, there’s very little diversity period. And everything is expensive. I would never want to live permanently anywhere else.

I’m grateful for this experience. I’m proud to be able to say I lived in another country for a month when I was in my 20s. I’m also excited to be a more interesting person now that I can say I’ve traveled – I have so much more to offer in certain conversations! I’m thrilled with the excitement for life this trip has given me. I want to see and do everything, and have every intention of tackling as much of it as possible.

I’m also grateful for the people who have very much influenced me for the better during this trip. Sarah is incredibly independent, confident and strong. She’s traveled to plenty of places and has the same outlook as I do on many things. Becky is outgoing and fun and entertaining and super talented – she’s the personality that I have with my closest friends and family, and that I wish I could have with everyone, but she’s that way all the time. Both of these girls make me want to be better in different ways and that’s great!

I think most importantly though, I’ve learned that change is good. Change is growth. And that being open to change or not having a plan – if just for the day or your whole life – is good.

Italian Adventures: Fun Tidbit

31 Jul

Before I left for Italy, I posted about my grandma and throughout this trip I’ve thought of her many times.

I’ve seen dresses and shoes in store windows that reminded me of things she brought to the States from Germany. I’ve been to different places in Italy and wondered if she was in the same spot many years ago during her travels. And yesterday, I smiled to myself in Venice when I heard something I haven’t heard in a very long time.

I was in a crowded area following my tour group when we passed by this family. I believe they were German but I could be making that up in order to fit my memory better. Anyway, as we passed, one of the children lost their balance and started to fall as one of the adults quickly grabbed the child and said, “oops-sa-la.”

I haven’t heard “oops-sa-la” in years. My grandma always said it when “oops” or “uh oh” was called for and I’ve never heard anyone besides her say it.

It was a nice way to bring my trip full-circle.

Italian Adventures: Secret Bakery

30 Jul

My roommate’s friend who studied abroad told her about a secret bakery in Florence near our apartment. Apparently, they work/bake all night and deliver the goods to other restaurants during the day. So, the only way to buy the pastries fresh is to visit the shop from 1-5 am.

We found it tonight. It’s down a small alley of a residential neighborhood and has an unmarked door. You can tell it’s the bakery by 1. the delivery van in front 2. the sign that says, “Be quiet please” and 3. the delicious smell.

You have to knock on the door – pound rather – and wait for the baker to come and unlock it. He opens it just enough for you to say, “croissant?” to which he answers, “chocolate, cream or plain?” After taking your order he shuts and locks the door. It’s like a drug deal but with sweet treats!

For only 1 euro each, the 4 of us that made the trek in the middle of the night each got a fresh croissant. We saw a group of guys walk away with pizza slices and one had a pineapple danish. Yum!

Tomorrow morning, closer to 5 am, I’m going over there to get a few for breakfast at the airport. Too bad we didn’t know about this joint sooner.

Becky, me, Jonathan, Sarah after our second Secret Bakery Trip