Monday, December 28, 2020

The Final Week! Zooma Holiday Challenge

I did it. Six weeks of commitment. Five days a week of movement; two days a week of self-care. I'm so impressed with myself for sticking to this, and I've gotta say, I'm seeing results. This challenge has given me a routine to focus on during this weird era of isolation/working from home. Now that the challenge is over, I have another on the horizon to jump into. Even if I didn't, I don't think I'd just quit. I feel like having weekly goals has been a good lifestyle change for me, and I intend to keep it up.

By the way, there's still time to sign up and join me for the Run Love Challenge! Also, registration for next year's Zooma Run Club is open. There's a free option if you're looking for sisterhood and support rather than swag. 

Let's get into last week's breakdown. Spoilers: this was a week where all my hard work paid off!

Movement 1: I started the week strong with a four mile hill run at the Arboretum. This was a milestone run; usually I have to pause and take a rest and a puff a quarter mile in, because of the hills, but not this time! I ran the entire loop once before I paused for a break, and then completed it a second time. I;m really proud of my progress!

Movement 2: Temperatures in the low 40s couldn't stop me from getting in a near-perfect run. I did a flat 3-miler and felt strong and steady the entire run. I checked my splits (which I never do these days) and was pleasantly surprised to see them so even. It's like this week, things just clicked and I found my groove.

Movement 3: I completed a Peloton arm workout and a core routine I put together myself. I really need to consider doing arms and core more than once a week if I want the results to pay off.

Movement 4: On Christmas Eve, Matt and I spent the night at Scott and Robby's. I did a 30 minute ride on the Peloton that evening. I totally understand the cult-like devotion to Peloton because the coaches are so encouraging and fun, distracting when they need to be, and super diverse. 

I really think using the bike once or twice a week has rounded out my fitness in a way I was missing, improving my running. I guess cross-training is a thing for a reason.

Movement 5: On Christmas morning, the four of us ran a 5k at Greenlake. This was actually Robby's idea, and I gave him the option to back out but he insisted.

Holiday Challenge, complete!

This 5k was my fastest run in Seattle. I felt totally in the zone and incredibly happy with my performance, which wasn't low-effort by any means, but wasn't race-effort, either. I was proud of Scott and Robby for completing it, given that they haven't run in literal years; Matt of course blasted past all of us.

Self-Care 1: Besides my usual nail day, I also bit the bullet and made a phone call I'd been putting off. Sometimes self-care means adulting. 

I had to call our new doctor's office and get us in the system so I can get our records transferred; the call ended up being easy and painless, of course. Staying on top of your health is self-care!

Self-Care 2: Christmas, of course! We spent two nights with Scott and Robby, playing games, making sushi, watching Wonder Woman 1984, and generally just enjoying a low-stress holiday together.

Matt and Scott prepped our post-5k brunch.
Homemade sushi for dinner!
Homemade lemon pie for dessert, of course.
Everyone wore their most festive pajamas.
We got a family pic by the Christmas plant. plant.
Believe it or not, I kicked serious butt at Smash Brothers. It was a Christmas miracle!
This challenge may officially be over, but if it has taught me anything it's that I really benefit from the mindfulness that comes from meeting weekly goals. I'm going to take a break from updating my weekly progress on the blog, but I'll be sticking with the routine for my own sake.


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Grandma's Lemon Pie

You know that episode of FRIENDS where Phoebe reminisces about her great-grandmother's secret chocolate chip cookie recipe, and Monica takes it upon herself to try to recreate said recipe, testing different batters for hours, until finally realizing Phoebe's great-grandma's "secret recipe" is the Nestlé Tollhouse cookie recipe found on the bag of chocolate chips?

Yeah, that's kind of what this is.

My grandma made a delicious lemon meringue pie, with a twist. The crust was meringue, the filling a whipped lemon delight covered in whipped cream; the dessert was gluten free and freaking amazing. I'm not sure if she made it especially for us because we had celiac or if it was always in her repertoire, but either way, she never failed to make it when she saw us. I remember eating it for breakfast after spending the night as little kids, and she always made it when we came to visit as adults.

It's a recipe I often asked for, but she told me she didn't have it written down anywhere. Eventually, I turned to google, only to discover that it's basically what Martha Stewart calls an "upside-down lemon meringue pie", or an Angel Pie.

Grandma in 2015; me in 2019.
This may not be an original family recipe, but I will always associate it with my grandma, who passed away in November 2019, and I intend to make it every year in her memory.

Each time I make it, I can't help but comment on the fact that it really only has four ingredients, but a LOT of each: lemons, sugar, eggs, and heavy cream. 

This pie is incredibly light and delicate, a little tart and very sweet. It's the perfect treat after a heavy holiday meal.

This year, I thought I'd share the recipe.

Tip: to quickly bring eggs up to room temperature, submerge them in warm water for 10-15 minutes. They separate more easily when warm, too. 2021 note: try 5 whites for a thicker crust.

This recipe is completed in four big steps and is pretty time-intensive, but there's lots of waiting around between steps — including an overnight rest in the fridge — so it's not overwhelming. Plan ahead!

  • Preheat your oven to 300°F. Make sure your rack is placed in the center of the oven.
  • In a stand mixer, beat 4 egg whites until frothy. Add 1/4 tsp of cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks begin to form.
  • Slowly add 1 cup of sugar until thick, glossy peaks have formed.
  • Butter your pie plate. Then, fill it with your meringue. Smooth the meringue up the sides of the dish, but don't cover the edge.
  • Bake for about 40 minutes, then allow to cool in the oven for 1 hour. After an hour, remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
  • Your meringue will rise out of the pie plate as it bakes before collapsing in on itself. This can be disconcerting the first time you make it! It will also crack. That's fine. The more slowly it cools, the less likely it will be to crack, but the collapsing bit is necessary.
That rise, baby!
This plays tricks on your eyes, but there is a giant crater in the middle, I swear.
Filling Part 1. I complete this step while my crust is in the oven. By the time the crust is cooled, the curd will be ready to use as well.
  • First, you'll make a lemon curd. To do this, zest and juice 2-3 lemons until you have 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp lemon juice and 3 tbsp zest. Set aside about 1/2 tbsp of zest for garnish.
  • Whisk your room-temperature egg yolks in a cold saucepan (as in, do this off the heat) until they thicken and turn a lighter yellow, about 2 minutes.
Matt helped!
  • Whisk in 1 cup of sugar, your lemon juice, and 2.5 tbsp lemon zest. (I sometimes add more zest because I like a very lemony curd.)
  • Over medium heat, cook the yolk mixture while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot. BE CAREFUL. If the curd burns, your pie will be ruined.
I've done this with a rubber spatula before and the wooden spoon actually makes a huge difference.
  • When the mixture is thickened (about 10 minutes), pour it into a large mixing bowl and press a piece of cling wrap to the surface. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, until completely cooled.
Filling Part 2. Do not do this step until both the curd and pie crust are completely cooled.
  • Fluff up your curd a bit. I just use a spatula for this.
I highly recommend you give this a taste because YUM.
  • In a stand mixer, whip 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
  • Gently fold the unsweetened whipped cream into the curd, working in batches. Don't stir or over-mix, but make sure everything is homogenous and no yellow or white streaks remain.
So streaky!
Much better!
  • Pour the filling into the meringue crust. The crust will look woefully under-filled; that's okay. 
  • Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Topping. To be completed the next day.
  • Whip 1 cup heavy cream and 1 tbsp white sugar until desired whipped cream texture forms. (The original recipe calls for soft peaks but I like a slightly denser topping. Avoid accidentally making butter.)
  • Note: The crust and filling are very sugary, so a lightly-sweet topping is preferred, but if you have a family with an intense sweet tooth — like mine — you can add more sugar to the whipped cream. I use 2 tbsp sugar instead of 1. You've been warned, though. It's a SWEET pie.
  • Smooth the whipped topping over the pie, covering the lemon filling. Sprinkle a bit of your reserved lemon zest overtop to complete.
Perfection! This may be the best I've ever done, because I started it early and was able to take my time.
I like to start this pie two days before I plan to serve it. That way, the curd and filling has plenty of time to set, and I'm not rushing to make whipped cream the day of.
Another year, a different place, the same tradition.
This pie is always a huge hit, and is probably my favorite to serve because it's always so well received.

I know this post will go up after Hanukkah and Christmas, but who said you need a holiday as an excuse to bake a pie? There's nothing stopping you from whipping this up anytime, especially while we're all still trying to find ways to stay entertained during quarantine. 


Monday, December 21, 2020

Zooma Holiday Challenge, Week 5

Week five of the Zooma Holiday Challenge has come to a close, and I feel good. Surprisingly strong and balanced. In the past, challenges have burnt me out, but this time I feel like it's actually laying a foundation for long-term commitment without the stress that usually accompanies it.

This week included the majority of Chanukah. I always feel like taking the time to celebrate counts as self-care, and I spent week five feeling deeply fulfilled and content.

Movement 1: I started the week with a bang, completing a three mile run, an arm workout (Peloton), and a core workout (Coach Marcia). I had finished week four feeling so motivated that it carried right into week five.

I think I'm starting to see some real physical results from my dedication, and seeing results motivates me to do more.

Movement 2: Matt and I took an evening walk (a little less than two miles) to get some fresh air and stretch our legs.
Movement 3: I completed a 30-minute Peloton ride. This was my first ride in my new spin shoes and it was fantastic! Being clipped in REALLY makes a huge difference; I was able to come out of the saddle with proper form and push for a faster cadence. I'm so glad I got a pair of shoes for myself!
They're functional and pretty!

Movement 4: I attempted a four mile hill run, but it turned into 3.3 mediocre miles. My legs were too sore after the Peloton to really dig deep for this run, so I called it early.
One reason I've always avoided cross-training is because I worry it will affect my running. This does seem to be the case if I'm not careful about how I plan my runs. I need to be more intentional about planning for hills, flat runs, and the bike.

Movement 5: My legs really needed a rest. I completed two Peloton app workouts — arms and abs. The arm workouts have really proven to be effective; I'm always sore for days after.

I didn't love this ab routine. It's the first Peloton workout I've done that I gave a thumbs-down.
Self-Care 1: I splurged on Black Friday and bought myself some new makeup, so this week I broke out my stash — which I haven't used since March — and did a full face. I listened to music and just pampered myself. It was fun to experiment with my new eyeshadow pallet, and I had forgotten what I look like in mascara!
We took our evening walk after this, and I've made a mental note to buy some waterproof mascara. The cold wind did a number on my eyes!

Self-Care 2: As usual, I repainted my nails.
But also, I finally set up a time to Zoom with some friends back home! It was so fun to see their faces and chat in real time. I have decided I need to be better about actually choosing a day/time to call, not just saying, "Oh hey, we should Zoom sometime..." That's something I'm going to work on.

Week six is the final week of this challenge, but because I signed up for the full Winter Warrior package, I have the Love Run challenge coming up! No rest for me!


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

"In Shape"

Recently, as I was checking off another day of "movement" for the Zooma Holiday Challenge, I found myself reflecting on my fitness. I've never stuck with a workout challenge this long before while feeling this good; I thought to myself, "Am I in the best shape of my life? I'm definitely in better shape than I was in my 20s."

My realization that I'm in "better shape" now than 10 years ago gave me pause. My immediate reaction was, "What does that even mean?"

[Insert overdone "I'm in shape/a circle is a shape" meme here]

The term "in shape" feels a little overused, like it should be retired for people who aren't actively competing in sport. What does being "in shape" mean for us weekend warriors and hobby runners? Especially this year, when races were canceled but many of us kept running, what exactly are we "in shape" for? It feels like a term that doesn't apply to me, and I wonder if the connotations that go with it are detrimental to people who want to start working out.

I think what's suddenly putting me off this phrase is the implied meaning. Anyone who exercises will tell you it's not about what you look like; it's about the physical capabilities you've developed and honed over time. Someone in fighting shape is physically prepared to get into the ring; someone in racing shape is ready to toe the starting line. It doesn't actually have anything to do with our body shape.

But people seem to misconstrue being "in shape" with looking a certain way, and that's not right or accurate. Shape has a connotation of form, something you can see, but it's much more than that.

I weigh more than I did in my 20s, and it's visible; I'm stronger, but you can't see obvious muscle definition in my body. My cardiovascular health is worlds better. When I began running, I couldn't run a half mile without stopping; today, I've completed three marathons and a slew of other races.

And we've all seen professional athletes who don't fit the stereotypical mould but are obviously fierce competitors.

Being "in shape" also connotes an end point, as if there is a final destination in the journey of fitness. But the truth is, there is no destination. Fitness waxes and wanes; there is no final shape to achieve. Even body builders don't stay in physique-competition-form all year round. Actors get fit for certain roles and then let their bodies recover. Singers get into performance shape for intense concerts and then relax after their tours end. 

There are lots of articles about how actors etc gain and lose weight for roles, and it's obvious it's not sustainable longterm. This listicle has a good collection of examples.

No one stays in peak shape forever, and the shape our bodies return to during the off season is perfectly fine and valid. In fact, getting out of shape during off periods is good for us! Our bodies need to recover from the intense exercise and restriction that's necessary for peak performance. It's all about balance.

It's just semantics, and maybe this won't resonate with anyone else, but I am going to retire this mindset for myself. I don't want to think about my shape, whether I'm in or out. I want to let myself continue exploring fitness with flexibility and the understanding that physical shape doesn't have anything to do with it. I'll go through seasons where my body looks and performs in different ways, and that's normal.

For me, being seeking to be in shape feels too much like a dead-end, and I'm here for the journey.


Monday, December 14, 2020

Zooma Holiday Challenge, Week 4

Week four is in the books! Let's jump right into the recap, shall we?
Is anyone curious what my magnets say?
Movement 1: To start this week, I completed a Peloton arm workout and Coach Marcia's ab workout for runners. The arm workout stayed with me the rest of the week, and the ab workout reminded me that I have been neglecting my core. 

I was pleased to build in some strength workouts this week because I tend to skip them in favor of running.

Movement 2: Despite feeling less than excited about it, I did an easy three miles around Greenlake. Of course, once I was done I felt great. That's always how it goes. It was chillier this week, so getting myself out of sweatpants and into running clothes was a feat in and of itself.

The cold weather and flat route made for a speedy run! I am definitely seeing my paces improve, even on hills.

Movement 3: I took a field trip to use the Peloton and completed a 30 minute ride with way more climbs than I was ready for! I ordered myself a gently-used pair of cycling shoes and they should get here in a few days; I'm looking forward to being able to come out of the saddle correctly.

Movement 4: I planned to run four hilly miles, but Matt was planning to hang out at a new-to-me park, so I joined him. It was by far the coldest run I've done here (41°) but not the coldest I've ever done (39° in Cleveland). I felt pretty good physically but spent the entire run worried I'd lost the path and uncertain about how I'd find my way back to my car.

I got to wear my new hat a friend made me. It's designed so I can pull my ponytail through the back!
The views were gorgeous, winding down through tree-filled valleys and up to beachside cliffs that overlook the Sound, and I'm looking forward to trying this one again when I'm in a better mindset. The trail was definitely hilly and steep in places, so I felt like I got a good workout in.

Movement 5: I finished the week much how I began it, with arms and abs. This time I kept it simple and just completed two Peloton workouts.

Self-Care 1: As usual, I'm doing my nails weekly to give myself 30 minutes of focused quiet time. I actually did them twice this week.

Self-Care 2: On Friday night, Matt and I went to Scott and Robby's to make a latke dinner. I really loved being able to share my traditions with them and feeding people is definitely my love-language, so I was beyond happy.

We've been home to light the candles for Chanukah every night this week. This year I've been trying to get back to my roots a bit, and observing this holiday that celebrates resilience and chutzpah feels a lot like self-care. 

Surprisingly, instead of feeling burnt out at the end of week four, I feel weirdly balanced. I don't feel stressed about getting my "movement" done and I like choosing which days I'll move and what exactly I'll do. I feel like I've gotten into a good, sustainable rhythm; I'm looking forward to continuing!