Pumpkin Muffins Take 5: Almost Perfect

I say almost, because I'm sure they could be better, but these are spectacular. They're moist, fluffy and tender, with a great balance between pumpkin and spice. Everything you could ever want in a pumpkin muffin! And they've come a long way since the first round of pumpkin muffins!

I made these by adapting a banana bread recipe, and substituting pumpkin for banana. They ended up a bit too wet the first time I made them, so I increased the rest of the ingredients and used a second egg in place of more milk. I liked the banana bread recipe because it used so much banana, but still used a bit of butter to give it just enough fat and richness.

Post about banana bread is coming soon (it's the best I've ever tasted!) but for now, you'll have to live with pumpkin muffins. How awful.

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Pumpkin Muffins Take 5
makes 18 large muffins

Racing in California + Chocolate Mint Energy Bars

This weekend we travelled to California to race Stanford and Wisconsin's lightweight women and the St. Mary's openweight women in a series of dual races at the PAC-10 Invitational at Redwood Shores. We flew out Thursday afternoon and arrived in California late that evening.

Our hotel was right on the race course. You could almost see the finish line from our hotel room.

The finish line buoys were just out of view.
The next morning, we headed to the grocery store first thing. We still had to weigh-in for the day, but we all stocked up on a lot of fruit and other snacks for later in the day, and for the next few days.

In the afternoon, we practiced twice to get used to the course and our new boat (we borrowed it from Stanford so we didn't have to drive ours all the way out!) and weighed-in.


Weight Lifting Basics

I started lifting weights freshman year in college as part of our training plan. Despite being a varsity athlete and lifting three times a week at the boathouse, it took me two years to get over my intimidation of the weight room at the gym.

As usual, talk to your doctor before lifting, especially if you've never lifted before. If you do start lifting, though, you'll find that your metabolism is higher, you'll feel stronger, and you'll look smoking.

Here are some of the things I've learned:
1. Use Google before you go to the gym
There are a LOT of serious weight-lifters out there who have posted videos and animations on how to do certain lifts. Watch them before you leave so you don't look like an idiot when you get there and do a squat with your feet together.

2. Use free weights, not the machines
When you use a free weight, you not only develop the major muscles, you also develop the minor muscles it takes to keep the weights balanced and above you. Also, it just simply makes you look like more of a badass.

3. Do exercises that bend more than one joint
The more joints you bend, the more muscles you're using. In other words, tricep extension? Bad. Bench press? Good.

4. Pick the right amount of weight
This is the trickiest part of weight-lifting, and most people lift the wrong amount of weight. First, make sure it's not too light. The easiest way to do this is to select something you know is too light, and using it to warm-up doing the same lift. Keep increasing weight until it gets to be too heavy and then drop the weight back down. How can you tell the weight's too heavy? You should be able to do the reps with complete control. The exercise should burn, but you should be able to maintain a steady, even pace for the majority of your reps, while keeping those parts of your body not involved in the lift relatively still.

5. Plan your weight circuit ahead of time
- Do some cardio to get your blood pumping. Preferably, use a machine that uses both upper and lower body, like the rowing machine or an elliptical with moving handles.
- Start with 5-10 core exercises to help get your body warmed up. I suggest: planks, hamstring bridge, push-ups, back extensions (without weight) and bicycles as a basic set. [The first two are not super easy. If you can't do them, replace planks with crunches and don't use a ball for the hamstring bridge--just hold the bent knee position on the ground.]
- Alternate upper body and lower body exercises. Also alternative pushing and pulling exercises on the upper body. Here's an example:
                   1. Squats (lower body)
                   2. Bench Press (upper body, pushing)
                   3. Lunges (lower body)
                   4. Seated Row (upper body, pulling)
                   5. Jumpies (lower body) [squat down to a sitting position and then jump up as high as you can go]
                   6. Overhead press (upper body, pushing)
                   7. Single leg squats (lower body)
                   8. Pull-ups (upper body, pulling)
If you want to do a short lift, switch off between the first four and the last four exercises.
- Know the number of repetitions per set and the number of sets you want to do. For general purposes, 3 sets of 15 reps is a good place to start. If you're trying to gain muscle, do fewer reps with heavier weights.
- Set a rest time between sets and stick to it. Generally, I rest for 1-2 minutes between sets.

6. Stretch thoroughly after you lift
You will have a lot of build-up of lactic acid in your muscles after you lift. Stretching will help get rid of it. If you haven't lifted in a while, I also suggest doing some light cardio for 5-10 minutes after you lift to help flush out some of the lactic acid before you stretch.

7. Lift regularly
The first time you lift, you won't feel like moving the next day. If you keep up the lifting, you'll start to feel better each time. Lift 2-3 times a week, always with at least one day of rest in between lifts and preferably no more than 3 days of rest between lifts.

8. Switch up your routine
Every 2-3 months, switch up your routine. This could be as simple as doing it backwards or as complicated as changing all of the exercises, number of reps and number of sets. Not only will it keep your brain interested, it'll train you better.

Do you ever lift weights at the gym? Or at home? What's your weight-lifting advice? Let me know by leaving a comment or sending me an email at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com!


Absolutely DELICIOUS Muffins

I can't believe it's taken me so long to post about these muffins. I have made them at least 15 times, and they've been delicious almost every time. (I tried a strawberry/balsamic version.. not delicious.) The problem with these muffins is that they always disappear too quickly for me to get a picture of them! Usually they're gone about 2 hours after we make them--my dormmates often find themselves drawn to the kitchen by the scent of these baking and how can I possibly deny them delicious muffins??

Cranberry walnut version
I made a similar muffin with cranberries a while back, but I've updated and perfected the recipe a bit, so I'd like to share it with you in its new improved form. I had applesauce on hand the first time I made this, so it was convenient to use. Most people don't keep homemade applesauce stocked, though. I decided to substitute the applesauce with milk, and I adjusted the balance of baking soda and baking powder to compensate for the change in acidity. It turned out quite well.

Apple rosemary version
I also decided to sacrifice the one-bowl appeal and use a pot for these as well. Although back in the dorm I'll probably go for the one-bowl method, if you have access to a heavy-bottomed pan and a stovetop, the rich, complex flavors from the browned butter really fill out the muffin.

The 400°F I used originally seemed a bit too high for these muffins. They tended to get very crisp outsides, before the muffin was fully set. I've dropped the temperature and increased baking time. If you're in a hurry, they'll still turn out at 400°F.

Finally, in addition to generalizing the fillings, I've also included an alternative for the milk—thoroughly mashed bananas. Use this whenever you have banana as filling!

Whole Wheat Muffin Base
makes 12 large muffins

Mixing bowl
Saucepan + butter stirrer
Stovetop, oven
Muffin tin + liners

0.75c unsalted butter
1c packed brown sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
0.5c milk (***or well-mashed banana, see notes)
1.5c white whole wheat flour
1.75t baking powder
0.25t baking soda
1c chopped nuts
2c filling*** (really, you can add up to 4c)


Book Review: The Bread Baker's Apprentice

This was the first cookbook I owned. I think it speaks to my preferences in culinary creations. Because I live in a dorm, and the kitchen is so far away from my room, I prefer baking. When I bake, I mix the batters and the doughs in my room and ferry them to the kitchen all ready to go. It's very rare that I forget something important since usually all I have to bring is a baking vessel and my batter.

Unfortunately for me, I don't have the metabolism of an 18-year-old male. I can't eat a whole pan of brownies and not suffer dire consequences. At some point, I realized I had to stop baking dessert and start baking more wholesome and more savory goods. My sister had recently made bagels, so I gave it a go.

Cinnamon swirl bread, and a glass of milk sitting on BBA.
Now, I don't recommend that anybody start with bagels. However, if you think yeast is scary, making bagels will flush that right out of your system--the shaping, boiling, topping and flipping are all a lot more intimidating than throwing some yeast in with your flour.

After Tastespotting bread recipes for a while, I read about the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge, to bake through Peter Reinhardt's entire book in order, and blog about each recipe. No big deal, I thought to myself. I can do that. So I bought it. And I read the first section on the hows and the whats of bread making. And I made the first recipe--Anadama bread.


Savory Oatmeal

Every time I make this, I get weird looks in the dining hall.

"Is that cheese in your oatmeal?" my companions ask me with wrinkled noses. "Gross!"

Yes, people, that is CHEESE in my oatmeal, delicious, gooey, savory cheese. And if you've never tried it, you're missing out big time!

Not eating meat, dining hall brunch options can be fairly limited. Donuts aren't exactly a great post-practice fuel and buffet style scrambled "eggs" got old about 2 years ago. Plus, I like to get at least one of my 10 daily servings of vegetables (yes, I normally eat ten, not five) before dinner time.

Here's the solution:
1. Pile spinach high in a bowl (I'm talking as much as you can possibly fit) and microwave it for a minute and a half. If there's no microwave, use a little bit less spinach and the oatmeal will be hot enough to get it mostly cooked.
2. Put a big scoop of oatmeal on top of the spinach. Microwave for another 60 seconds if you like your food mouth-burning hot like I do.
3. Add cheese, pumpkins seeds, and whatever else looks good from the salad bar. (If you're a meat eater, bacons bits are particularly delicious!!!)
4. Stir thoroughly and chow down (carefully--it's hot!!!)

Don't eat in the dining halls? Make it at home with your slow cooker!


On becoming an athlete...

I've been spending much of the last week reading a lot of other blogs, especially those of vegetarian athletes, trying to get a sense of how I need to adjust my nutrition to make up for the lack of meat. Since I didn't eat much meat before, I really haven't been doing much differently.

Reading, though, I realized that a lot the bloggers out there didn't start doing anything athletic until well after their college years. I found it fascinating to read about how they just picked up running, wishing that I could pretend to be so self-motivated.

I am a very different story. At the tender age of five, I picked up my first sport--martial arts. I wouldn't consider it a particularly aerobic sport, and I had no idea what it meant to be in shape, but I could certainly do more push-ups than any other elementary school kid you've ever met.

This is me in middle school. Embarrassing.
I continued martial arts through middle school and the beginnings of high school. Looking back now, I wouldn't consider myself at all athletic when I entered high school. I couldn't run more than a half mile without stopping. I was strong, but not fit.



Lent starts tomorrow. I'm not religious or anything, but I figured I could give something up for the sake of lent. So, until Easter (whenever that is) I'll be giving up meat. This isn't a huge jump for me, but it can be a little bit tricky when you eat in a dining hall.. sometimes there is just nothing to eat except salad.

What are you giving up for lent? Any advice from vegetarians on staying healthy and balanced?


oh dieters, how you amuse me

I don't know if you've ever watched somebody on a diet, but it can be really quite funny. Now, I've been on a diet (as most Americans probably have) and I've fallen into some of these traps before, but after taking a step back I can't help but find amusement in it all.

1. Taking the largest cookie from the pile
Because, after all, a cookie is a cookie, and when you enter it into your calorie logbook at the end of the day, it's going to be 120 calories whether it's the biggest cookie in the pile or the smallest.

2. Eating every crumb off of the plate
They're still going to go into your calorie logbook, even if you don't eat them, so you might as well.. I mean, otherwise you're wasting perfectly good calories on nothing.. literally, nothing.

3. Weighing yourself at different times every day
I don't know if you've ever had a 16-oz glass of water to drink, but I have. I've also eaten a 4 ounce steak, some veggies and some starch with that 16-oz glass of water. But since you stop going pee and sweating when you're on a diet, all of that weight should obviously be counted on the scale. So of course then it doesn't really matter when you weigh yourself, right?

4. Thinking you actually burn off an entire Gatorade of calories during that 20-minute run
Since I run a 5-minute mile pace, as do all dieters, I burn approximately 350 calories in 20-minutes. Therefore, I can have that Gatorade, and a granola bar, and ice cream. Again, this makes perfect sense. If I am trying to burn extra calories by working out more, I should definitely eat all of those extra calories, or I'd have a calorie deficit!

5. Burning more calories by running more efficiently
If you run more efficiently, you can run faster, and when you log that in your activity logbook, it says you burn more calories. Never mind that you're running more efficiently, so you waste less energy moving yourself forwards. What really matters is that a faster pace means you deserve that pint of Ben & Jerry's.

6. A meal with vegetables has fewer calories than the same meal without veggies
A hamburger with fries--a dieter's worst nightmare. A hamburger with fries and a side salad--a well-balanced meal. And well-balanced obviously also means low-calorie. So go ahead, enjoy your burger and fries, just make sure you also have some corn on the cob before you have dessert!
[No, seriously, Americans actually believe this one.]

Have you ever gone on a diet? What did you try that was absolutely ridiculous? What's your strategy now?


Book Review: Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies

In high school, I went to one of my teammate's birthday parties and had some of the best chocolate cake I'd ever had in my life. When I got home, my mom informed me that my teammate's mother was Alice Medrich. As it turns out, Berkeley isn't a bad place to grow up.

A number of years later, with that knowledge in hand, I felt confident purchasing her new cookie book, Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies. I've only made two of the recipes so far, but  my confidence was certainly deserved.

First, I made her whole-wheat biscotti. Last time I made biscotti, I accidentally turned the oven to 450°F instead of 350°F. These clearly turned out better. There wasn't anything particularly mind-blowing about the cookies, but they were really quite good. (They also made great spoons for eating pudding.)

Second, I made her Peanut Butter Clouds (although mine had a twist). This is something I never would have thought to make. So far in my life, I've been very much so a cookie purist--chocolate chip cookies, maybe some oatmeal thrown in. They were divine.When you buy the book, make them, ASAP.

The book also has a few sections on ingredients and prepping your kitchen for cookie madness. They're really helpful, so I suggest reading them. (It's helpful knowledge for more than just cookie baking.)

Ok, so the recipes are delicious, and D is certainly enjoying me owning a cookie cookbook, but a few notes of warning:
1. You will make cookies more often, and you will eat them (because they are delicious).
2. This is not a book full of quick cookie recipes to make on the fly. A lot of them involve interesting and different ingredients that you probably don't have on hand. Many others involve sitting overnight in the refrigerator. There are some quick and easy recipes, but it's not the majority of the book.
3. The book is terribly, horribly, awfully organized. I find that it's impossible to find almost anything in it, so I've taken to using post-it flags every time I find a recipe I like. Pretty soon it's going to be filled with flags. The book has an index, but it's surprisingly difficult to read. The table of contents isn't much help either, especially if you like crunchy, chewy, crispy gooey and melt-in-your-mouth cookies.

Still, all-in-all, this book is a win. I mean, it has upwards of 6 different brownies recipes--what more can a girl ask for in a cookbook???
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