Monday, June 7, 2010

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes

So yesterday I experienced true spirit of dedication and friendship. Four of my friends met me at 5 a.m. for a run in the sauna that is Texas in June because it was the only time that I could get in an outside run. It was crazy nuts sticky and awful but still kind of fun because my friends are just that cool.

However, the effort at that early hour in the humidity took every ounce of energy out of me. I didn't have any reserves left and I needed a pick me up. Weeks ago, I had received my May/June Cook's Illustrated magazine and in it was a recipe for the "Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes". I had been thinking of them ever since.

I know that I said that I was going to try not to post about unhealthy baked goods, but I promise that these are worth it. Chocolate cupcakes are good for the soul. Oh, and DrRuckus pronounced them the best cupcakes he's ever had. They sound complicated, but they are sooooooo worth it. Make them. Don't hesitate.

The Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes
Recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, May 2010

Ingredients for Ganache Filling:
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped fine
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

Ingredients for Chocolate Cupcakes:
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped fine
1/3 cup (1 ounce) Dutch-processed cocoa
3/4 cup hot coffee
3/4 cup (4 1/8 ounces) bread flour
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients for Frosting:
1/3 cup (2 1/3 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large egg whites
Pinch table salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter , softened and cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate , melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions for Ganache Filling: Place chocolate, cream, and confectioners’ sugar in medium microwave-safe bowl. Heat in microwave on high power until mixture is warm to touch, 20 to 30 seconds. Whisk until smooth; transfer bowl to refrigerator and let stand until just chilled, no longer than 30 minutes.

Directions for Cupcakes: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard-size muffin pan (cups have ½-cup capacity) with baking-cup liners. Place chocolate and cocoa in medium bowl. Pour hot coffee over mixture and whisk until smooth. Set in refrigerator to cool completely, about 20 minutes. Whisk flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

Whisk oil, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla into cooled chocolate-cocoa mixture until smooth. Add flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Place one slightly rounded teaspoon ganache filling on top of each cupcake. Bake until cupcakes are set and just firm to touch, 17 to 19 minutes. Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before frosting, about 1 hour.

Directions for Frosting: Combine sugar, egg whites, and salt in bowl of stand mixer; place bowl over pan of simmering water. Whisking gently but constantly, heat mixture until slightly thickened, foamy, and registers 150 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 2 to 3 minutes.

Place bowl in stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Beat mixture on medium speed until consistency of shaving cream and slightly cooled, 1 to 2 minutes. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, until smooth and creamy. (Frosting may look curdled after half of butter has been added; it will smooth with additional butter.) Once all butter is added, add cooled melted chocolate and vanilla; mix until combined. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light, fluffy, and thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds, scraping beater and sides of bowl with rubber spatula as necessary.

To frost cupcakes, mound 2 to 3 tablespoons frosting on center of each cupcake. Using small icing spatula or butter knife, spread frosting to edge of cupcake, leaving slight mound in center.

Yield: 12 cupcakes

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

So, it has now been over two weeks since I had my favorite meal ever, and the memories of that night are still as fresh and delectable as every morsel that I ate there. On the most gorgeous of Spring afternoons, DrRuckus and I went to Tarrytown, NY to experience the perfection that is Blue Hill at Stone Barns. I am not sure exactly how to express how incredible this place is. Even one of my favorite food bloggers of all time made a cartoon after he first visited.

Growing up in northern New Jersey and spending a great deal of time in Vermont, I had no idea that idyllic, lush rolling hills and farmland exists right there, mere miles outside of NYC. Yet, it does! Located 30 miles from the city is the Stone Barn Center for Food and agriculture and this is the farm from which much of the food served at the restaurants (there is one in the city too) is grown.

We had just finished reading The Omnivore's Dilemma and so heading to this farm to tour it and then really experience a "farm to table" meal was truly exciting for us. We walked around the farm, saw the happy and healthy animals, and acres of greenhouses and gardens where the herbs and vegetables for our dinner were growing.

After touring the farm, and admiring all of their techniques as well as the fruits of their labors, we wandered around the courtyard that is the heart of the Stone Barn Center. There is a great deal going on there, including frequent farmer's markets and a cafe, as well as many educational opportunities. Finally, it was time for our reservation!

We sat outside and admired the view, while indulging in a wild ramp margarita. (It was Cinqo de Mayo!) It was possibly the best margarita ever, out there, soaking up the scene.

Then, we entered the incredible space that is the restaurant. I have never been in such a beautiful room. High ceilings, exposed beams, rough hewn floors - it is stunning and warm. The centerpoint is a huge table overflowing with flowers and edibles. When we sat down, they presented us with a list of items from which the meal was be drawn, rather than a menu. The gracious staff then asked specific questions about our preferences. We chose the 8 course tasting and told them that we would eat anything that they brought us, that if they thought it was worthy of being served, we would lap it up. "Even offal?" YES. You make it, we eat it! They seemed glad that we were adventurous, but we overheard other diners expressing very specific preferences and all were taken into account. Vegetarians are obviously no problem, but some people had difficult allergies or aversions. A woman seated next to us actually told the server, "I LOVE caviar" and this was accommodated. (Why didn't I think of that?)

We found a bottle of an old favorite wine, a Riesling from the Finger Lakes, and settled in to enjoy the ride. We started with a presentation of fresh baby vegetables on tiny spikes, so creative, so simple, so delightfully fresh and beautiful. From there, we enjoyed 7(!!!!) other courses of amuses bouches before even beginning our 8 course tasting. Because they change it every night, and customize for every guest, I won't go into each course but will just list some highlights. One of the amuses was a pork liver pate sandwiched between caramelized chocolate and was so surprising, fun and delicious! We had a brioche made from heirloom red grains and ostrich eggs and topped with fresh, warm ricotta made from cows that had been feasting on the sweetest grasses of the spring. We had face bacon as an amuse and a trio of porky goodness (belly, loin and leg). The meat from the healthy, happy pigs that we had seen just hours before tasted like nothing I had ever had before. Our final savory course was goat with a sauce made from a variety of herbs that they brought to the table for us to touch and smell before being cooked into liquid gold. The timing, the service, the presentation, and the array of tastes were all spot on. But, the fact that each of 15 (7 amuses and 8 tasting) courses was wonderful is mind blowing!

If you haven't been to this restaurant, it should be on your bucket list. I can't wait to go back.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Our Foodie Tour of NY/NJ

We recently returned from two fabulous weeks back "home" in New Jersey and spent lots of quality time with our families and some time (not enough, no never enough) in our favorite place, NYC. We had so much to celebrate, from my parents' 35th anniversary, DrRuckus's birthday, a good friend's bridal shower, my MIL's 60th birthday, and just the fact that we were there, in the springtime, with the people we love! Ladybug is getting so big and really loved playing with her family and all of the doggies. She also fell madly in love with the beach and I can't wait to bring her back this summer. Z-Man shares our passion for the area and is becoming a true expert on NYC transit. He and Grandpa spent two days in the city, one day just riding around and the other taking the 4 train to Yankee stadium to catch a game. He also went to his first Broadway show with his aunts and Grandma, though it wasn't as much of a hit for him as just being in Time Square. I am so glad that my kids have the opportunity to really get to know the places we call home.

So, of course, I had planned many of our meals and nights out, and there were some definite high points. We also had some great surprise finds that just thrilled and delighted us. It has been a while since I did a total foodie post, but bear with me, I have so much to share:

Lately my family is living a very Michael Pollan approved lifestyle. We try to "Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants" and have discovered so many new flavors, textures and recipes by eating this way and participating in a CSA. We eat very healthfully and my kids love their veggies. However, my amendment to these food rules, is that when I out to someplace really special (which, being me, I will have researched to death and all but guaranteed that it will be great), all bets are off and I am going to enjoy the specialties of the house.

DeLorenzo's Tomato Pies in Robbinsville, NJ. This place was so good that we went twice! We went on the first night of our trip and loved it so much that we decided to drag the whole family down there to get there at 4 p.m. when it opened to celebrate Mother's Day. Tomato pie is to traditional New York pizza as, well, Chicago style is to New York pizza. These pies have ultra thin, crisp crusts with a layer of cheese and then toppings and sweet tomatoes. We had the red pie with white clams both times and it was divine. The clams were all chopped up and added a briny savoriness to the pie that I loved. We also had the housemade sausage and sweet pepper pie and, while more traditional, it was ultra flavorful and delicious. They also do a fantastic antipasti plate and different fresh and creative salads every day. Both times we were lucky to have their heavenly heirloom tomato salad which will only get better as those Jersey tomatoes really start to come into season. Believe me friends in north Jersey, it is worth the drive to Robbinsville to have this pizza.

The Bent Spoon in Princeton, NJ: I am about to make a very bold statement. This ice cream shop makes the best ice creams and sorbets (dark chocolate!!!) I have EVER had, including at Berthillon in Paris. I know!!!!!! Palmer Square in Princeton is so adorable and lovely, and this little hippie ice cream place makes me want to live there and never leave. They are Pollan-ites themselves, sourcing their ingredients locally, supporting local farms, making everything fresh, creating so many incredible flavors every day. We went, we sampled the flavors, we chose, we ate, we sampled some more and then we got seconds! I loved this place so much, I even got a tee shirt. It makes my beloved Arctic Zero stand out like the nerdy wannabe cousin of ice cream that it is.

Chef Vola's in Atlantic City, NJ: This was our second time at this fabulous Italian restaurant in Atlantic City and was the place we chose to celebrate my MIL's 60th birthday. It was just as good this time as last time, maybe even better because with more people, we got to sample more dishes. I usually think that portions like this are ridiculous, but here those enormous plates just part of the fun. And, everything is so tasty that you can't help but eat the whole thing (yes, DrRuckus did finish his entire 2 pound veal chop parmigiana!) Making a reservation is a pain and the setting is strange, but they know how to please their customers. I even made reservations to celebrate my birthday there a few weeks from now!

Colicchio and Sons in NYC: After a 3 star review in the Times and being a big fan of Colicchio and his other restaurants, we thought that this place would be a slam dunk to celebrate my parents' 35th anniversary. It is in a lovely space right under the Highline and aims to be a contender for destination dining in New York. (Well, it is, for suckers like me who feed into the celebrity nonsense I guess.) It was okay, there were some high points, but I wouldn't go back. Best parts of the meal were the crispy chicken skin on my sister's chicken dish and an incredible cheese from my cheese course that came from Stowe, VT (love you Stowey) and tasted exactly like it.

Union Square Cafe, NYC: We met some good friends for lunch at USC and had a great meal there. It is just one of those places that is always solid, always tasty, always delightful. Their "greenmarket lunch" on the weekends is reliably fresh and wonderful with ingredients purchased right up the street at the weekend greenmarket. I had a delicious fresh veggie and pasta dish with a farm fresh egg on top and truffles shaved over it. Heavenly. DrRuckus had a very tasty burger. We got to catch up with friends in a relaxed atmosphere. Not bad for lunch! And, afterwards, we went around the corner to Baked by Melissa, an tiny shop that sells adorable mini cupcakes. What fun! They have great flavors, the cupcakes are filled and frosted, and you can sample a whole bunch of flavors without any guilt. Why didn't I think of that?

Degustation, NYC: One night DrRuckus and I were heading into the city to meet friends for dinner but we weren't sure where to meet them. We headed downtown without a destination and then the other couple had to cancel on us last minute. We were in the East Village and I turned to my trusty friend, Yelp. Lo and Behold, there was a restaurant two blocks away with a very solid 4.5 star rating that I had never heard of. Yay! We found parking (karma) and walked over. We didn't have a reservation, but it was early and it was Monday and we were seated around a sushi bar for one of the coolest meals of our lives. This place was made for foodies and we loved every second of it! All 16 patrons are seated around a sushi bar where 4 chefs are preparing "tapas" with a french/molecular gastronomy bent. They offer tapas by the plate or in 5 or 10 course tasting menus. You know me well enough by now to know what we chose! At $80 for 10 courses (plus a plate of 3 amazing amuses), it was a bargain! Each plate, each taste, imparted new delights. It was made even more special by the fact that we were sitting up close, watching these artists create each of our plates and present them like masterpieces. The entire meal was like watching a cross between a ballet and an episode of Top Chef, except that I got to taste it all. Each dish was intricate and interesting and yet harmonious. I must say, though, that the highlight was the bruleed brioche pudding for dessert. I am still dreaming of that . . .

After such an amazing meal, we walked around the very happening East Village for a while and decided that the only thing that could top off such a great meal would be a massage. "Hey!" we said, "This is New York. We can definitely get a massage at 11 p.m. in this city." So, with trusty Yelp on my iPhone, I found a place in Chinatown called "Foot Heaven" that promised to be legit, high quality and open. Off we went and had pretty amazing reflexology massages at that late hour. Only in New York!

The ultimate high point of our trip was the afternoon and evening that we spent touring and dining at Blue Hill at Stone Barn. It was so amazing though, it will get its own post.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Little Family Time

Who would have thought that a family road trip to Geezer Village West would be one of my top trips of all time? Surely not me! At the last minute, DrRuckus and I decided to take the kids to Lake Worth, Florida to see my self-proclaimed "old Grandma" who, after a few months delay, had finally made it down to her condo there. We hadn't seen her in a couple of years and she had never even met my Little Ladybug. Though she is doing very well for 92, we wanted to see her before, well, before "it was too late". So, we decided that we would load up the car and take our little family on the road, 1200 miles from The Woodlands, TX to Lake Worth, FL. I got some advice from a seasoned road-tripping friend (those Canadians sure do like their car travel) and packed our car full of toys, books, snacks and fun.

The trip was so much better than I expected for so many reasons. First of all, because it was really great to have a dedicated block of time with just our family. We are always running around, and it was nice to just be together. Second, it was a highlight of my life to see my kids with my grandmother and to watch them fall in love with each other. Third, we got the added treat of a few days with my parents and youngest sister and made the love-fest even bigger and better. Fourth, because we learned that my kids are really great travelers.

On this road trip, we actually gleaned a number of important lessons. So, if you are taking a road trip with young kids and toddlers, I hope that this list might help you.

Top 10 Things we Learned on our Family Road Trip to Florida

10. The best driving is done in the dark. We got the easiest, most relaxing miles done early in the morning the first day, when we left our house at 5:30 and didn't stop until 9 a.m. After that, we took it easy and made plenty of rest stops the rest of the day. We even did as our fathers never did on trips, we ventured off the highway to tour the USS Alabama. Still, after a picnic dinner, we put the kids in PJs, let them fall asleep in the car, and drove 400 more miles to end up at Disney World. We never expected to get that far in one day, but the night time miles flew by and we decided to make a spontaneous trip to "Mickey World"! On the way back the other day, we also drove for hours after a delicious dockside dinner in Destin, FL and covered a lot of miles while the kids slept.

9. If you are going to blow your diet, blow it with something worthwhile. I highly suggest the deep fried crab stuffed bacon wrapped shrimp from Dewey Destin's Seafood in Destin, FL followed by made fresh every hour custard from Shakes down the street. You might think that it would be too much richness, too over the top, but really it was a heavenly meal.

8. High Fructose Corn Syrup really might be pure evil, but when you never let your kids consume it and then let them gorge on it for 2 days straight, they are beyond thrilled! Even before reading Omnivore's Dilemma, I knew not to give my kids processed food or things containing "HFCS", but on the road, anything goes! Sweet Tart bunnies, jelly beans, Kix, and even Fruit Loops. Oy vey!

7. It is worth it to go down a couple of "star levels" in lodging in exchange for a lot more square footage. Those who know me know that I love hotels, that I love nothing more than getting a great deal on a luxury hotel, that I take advantage of all of the luxuries at those hotels, and that it makes me happy when the staff know my name and want to take care of me. Well, when traveling "en famille", it is totally worth it to give up luxury for space. We stayed in a huge suite at the lovely Doubletree West Palm Beach Airport and having all that space made the stay there so much easier. (Plus, they were always giving us delicious freshly baked Doubletree Chocolate Chip cookies that were divine!)

6. Kids need to be older than 5 in order to really appreciate Disney. 6 or 7 would be even better. My kids, especially the Z-Man, had a great time and were amazed, astounded and delighted by our few hours at "Mickey World", but they had just as good a time, if not better, playing in GG's pool. One of the highlights of the trip for the Z man was learning to use the key cards to open doors at the hotel. The few hours at Disney were a perfect little taste, and we are glad that we went, but won't go back for at least 5 more years.

5. You might have a house full of toys, but all you need is a bowl of shells and a walker. How many kids have gone to my grandmother's condo and played with that same bowl of shells? And now she has a new "toy", a walker with a seat so that my kids were able to take turns getting rides to the pool. It is the simple things, I tell you.

4. Worth Avenue in Palm Beach is a dangerous place. . . for your wallet!

3. The portable DVD player is the best road trip invention since cruise control. I had packed bags of books, toys, crafts, snacks, etc, but my kids happily zombied out watching movies for 95% of the ride. In the meantime, we got to listen to the music we love and I even read The Omnivore's Dilemma out loud to DrRuckus.

2. The iPhone is the greatest overall travel invention since, well, anything! I knew that I loved my iPhone, but now my appreciation for it is so much deeper. We had music, movies and books right there. Maps and directions were at our fingertips. When we wanted to find a place to eat, we had Yelp and Zagat leading us to some true gems. I could text, email and facebook every mile of the way. I forgot my camera, but I still was able to snap and send pictures. And the list goes on.

And the #1 thing I learned (or re-learned) on our Family Road Trip:

I adore my husband! He is the smartest, kindest, most fun, most generous, most loving husband and father that I can imagine. He used his few days off to get in the car with us and take us to see my grandmother and made the whole trip into the adventure that it was. We reaffirmed that together we can do anything, and that we have a great time doing everything. We make an amazing team. I love you, baby.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Feeding the Addiction

Like many good things, I first discovered this from Hungry Girl. When I saw that I could order this "ice cream" treat from Amazon and have it delivered, still frozen, to my doorstep, I had to try it. The first time I ordered, I got the combo pack of chocolate and chocolate peanut butter. Yes, it was $50 for a 6 pack, but I had to give it a try. A serving is only 32 calories for ice cream! It arrived two days later (gotta love that Amazon Prime membership) in a styrofoam box with lots of dry ice. Each pint was still frozen solid.

It was love at first pint! The problem was that because each serving is only 32 calories, the whole pint is only 128 and there is something so satisfying about being able to eat a whole pint of dessert. Plus, that pint contains almost 20 grams of whey protein! It is the perfect treat each night after a long day and a hard workout. It rewards me while not sabotaging all of my healthy habits - a huge serving of sweet, cold, creamy, high protein, low calorie deliciousness. It wasn't long before I had to order every week because I was having one pint a night.

This has gone on for a few months. And it probably would have continued had we not made a recent purchase. Now I need to trim the fat, or in this case, the fat free. I told DrRuckus that I would stop ordering it and consuming a 6 pack a week. But what was I going to do? I really am addicted. So, I asked my favorite grocery store to carry it. Less than 4 days later, they have it in stock! They have lots of flavors, and it costs A LOT less than buying it from Amazon. I am going to try to keep it to under 4 pints per week, but at least I don't have to give it up completely. And now, you who live near me can all try it for a lot less than ordering it from Amazon. And if you don't live near me, check their website because they are starting to carry it in more and more places. You will love it. But don't say I didn't warn you!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Coming Up for Air

Alas, it has been a long time since I have blogged. So long that it is almost intimidating and overwhelming to start again. I stopped because I felt like I had strayed from my reasons for starting this blog and that I wasn't really putting anything out there that was fascinating. And then, I tasked myself with trying to be fascinating and thus not writing at all. But here I am, not fascinating, but coming up for air and blogging about it.

The past two months have actually been really great. I have been so content that I haven't wanted to break the peace and fulfill an "obligation" to sit down and blog. I have been reading a lot - books, magazines, blogs and also catching up on movies in our theater room. It helps that DrRuckus has been around a lot more as he has fulfilled his promise to work fewer shifts and have more family time. This has been fantastic for all of us and we have had more time to enjoy one another as a couple and as a family. We had a wonderful little getaway to Austin sans kids (if you haven't been to Frank's for sausages or Uchi for sushi, GO! NOW!) He and I both had Lasik eye surgery, which is miraculous and something we should have done years ago. I have spent time with old friends and made some new friends, all of whom enrich my life. Also, I have been cooking tons of new recipes, mostly soups and vegetarian meals, and have been getting much more adventurous about creating recipes.

Also, I have been adhering to my resolution to be more patient with my children and that has made all of us much happier. As I promised myself, I have been trying to live in the present, to let things roll off my back, and to try to be as calm and relaxed as possible. Most of the time, I have actually been succeeding! At times, this has been especially challenging, and at times I fail miserably, but mostly I am doing it and I am proud of myself.

Admittedly, I am addicted to my exercise routine, so when I had some bad hamstring tendonitis in January that prevented me from doing most of my regular activities, it could have thrown me off and made me miserable. And, it could have sabotaged all of my efforts to be patient and present. Instead, I took it in stride and attempted to figure out how to still work out and thus be the happier Mommy I am learning to be.

I used the "arm bike" for some cardio, I did a lot of resistance training with my upper body only, and I took up swimming. I was so hesitant to start swimming for fitness because of bad experiences on the swim team as a child, but it came at the perfect time for me. I was just starting to re-learn how to swim when I re-injured my hamstring. But, using a pool buoy, I was able to swim by just using my upper body and concentrate on form that way. When I was somewhat healed, I was able to add back in the kicking without affecting my tendonitis. Now I almost fully healed and pretty much able to do everything I was doing a few months ago, but swimming has become an important part of my week.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, I take an Adult Swim Conditioning class with a group of wonderful women, friends both old and new. We have a great teacher and true camaraderie in the class and are learning to be good swimmers while having a great time encouraging each other. Those two days have been so fantastic that I try to swim one other day of the week by myself and this has been one of my favorite workouts of the week. I go early on Fridays, get in the pool and swim (slow) lap after (slow) lap enjoying the sound of the water, the feel of my body gliding through it by my own power. When it was suggested that I get some music to listen to while swimming, I was aghast! I have enough noise in my life. Swimming is meditative, contemplative, quiet while still being a kick ass workout! It challenges me with every lap but I emerge from the water feeling wonderful: tired, accomplished, clear headed, and somehow, just satisfied.

See, coming up for air!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Can't believe I succombed!

At first I thought that they were Fugly. Then, they grew on me, but I thought that they were "over". And then I moved to Texas and thought that they were unnecessary (and "over"). And then we had a cold snap down here in tropical Houston.

Really, with all of the yoga and pilates I have been doing as well as the fact that all of my gym workouts are in my five fingers, well, I just didn't have the right foot attire to wear to and from the gym and studio. And it has been cold! (Plus, I am trying to be good and go barefoot or be as close to it as possible so as not to overly strain my hamstring.)

Okay, I love them. I don't want to take them off. I just realized why they are not "over" yet. People just don't want to give them up. I get it. Finally.

Monday, January 4, 2010


On Saturday, I had the opportunity to go to Lululemon here in The Woodlands to participate in a yogaFLIGHT workshop. Sky and Slade are a married couple from Ottawa, Ontario who are currently traveling in their Airstream trailer to Lululemon stores across the US and Canada to share their unique approach to yoga. They are endeavoring to "teach you how to stay grounded amidst the hustle and bustle and the stressors of modern life whilst enjoying the bliss of having your world turned upside down." Yoga Flight is based on the feeling of pure joy you got as a kid when your dad would fly you on his feet while he was lying on his back. It is about being playful and adventurous while building confidence and strength.

This was one of the coolest experiences of my life! The class was held in the middle of our local Lululemon store (a.k.a. my favorite store) in the middle of a busy Saturday. The group of us spread out our yoga mats while others were shopping and began with a series of sun salutations to warm up our bodies. Then Sky and Slade demonstrated some of the moves and poses we would be doing. Well, Slade is 6 feet tall and made of muscle and Sky is a small (albeit strong) woman not much over 5 feet. So, he "played base" while she was the flyer. They did all kinds of crazy moves and asanas, flowing from one to the other, Sky suspended on Slade's feet. Then it was our turn to play. I partnered with Tiffany, my yoga instructor and another small, strong woman. We surprised ourselves and were able to hold each other up and do some of the moves without much difficulty. However, we were not strong or brave enough to try the more advanced stuff.

Later I got a chance to work with one of the guys who works at Lulu and he was able to "fly" me pretty well. It was really cool to be able to get into the "hanging bat" pose where my legs were butterflied and I was holding my ankles suspended from his feet. But then I had a chance to "fly" with Slade and it was a whole new world! I had so much fun and felt so powerful and so graceful. He was so supportive both physically and mentally, that I felt like I could do anything! Moving me around was like nothing for him and this made me feel secure enough to try lots of different moves. Slade was even able to fly the guy who had "played base" for me and was pretty much the same size as Slade!

I wish that there was a place to practice Yoga Flight nearby because I would love to repeat this experience. I might have to get Tiffany to try some of the moves in her Thursday class!

New Year's Resolutions

I don't usually make New Year's Resolutions; they just kind of occur to me some time in the new year and I am off and running. (Oftentimes literally.) Last year, on a whim early in January I decided to start doing Weight Watchers. Little Ladybug was just four months old and I had started Pilates and begun to get back in shape but knew that for me, the accountability in recording my points worked. With Weight Watchers, Pilates, and a dedication to healthy living and eating, I far surpassed the "goal" that I set for myself. In a year, I have lost 35 pounds, gone from a size 12 to a size 2, and am in by far the best shape of my life. I have been on the maintenance plan for 6 months and still use WW as a tool for holding myself accountable. I run faster than I ever thought that I could and feel great doing so. My heart and my body are strong, and I am so much more flexible and than I ever imagined that I could be. I am even more coordinated and graceful than before (but that isn't saying much!) In 2009, I dedicated myself to this goal of total fitness and I have accomplished it.

However, somewhere along the line, I became so focused on myself and what I needed to do to attain my goals that I stopped focusing on those two little people who are my heart's joy. I have always subscribed to the "put your own mask on first" theory of mothering, but lately I haven't been ensuring that theirs are on right at all. Over the past few months I have found myself being increasingly short tempered and exasperated with the two of them, and they do not deserve that. They are great kids, magical even, and it is my job to nurture them at every stage and help them to grow into incredible people. Christmas week really made it clear that my patience for my two amazing children has been in short supply and that it was making us all miserable. Yet, I didn't know that I was going to make a change until I just up and did it.

At some point on January 1, I had a lightbulb moment! I realized that if I could transform my body, my eating habits, my health and my fitness just by focusing really hard, I could certainly put that much effort into having patience for my kids. So, all of a sudden, I slowed down. I have been feeling for months like I am a bouncy ball going in every direction and not able to control my energy or focus my attention. Well, I am now making a conscious effort to be more still, more present in everything, but especially in my parenting. I keep taking a deep breath before reacting instead of flying off the handle. I am trying to not sweat the small stuff. When my kids need my attention, I am giving it to them instead of saying, "one minute." When they spill something, I am saying, "no big deal, let's get a towel" instead of flying off the handle. I am trying to put the computer down when they are up. More than anything, I am trying to be more present.

Some of this, I believe, comes from expanding my yoga practice lately and concentrating on meditating and breathing. And, some of this, I truly think, comes from the chia. I have always gotten bitchy when my blood sugar got low, and the chia is helping me to avoid those blood sugar dips. Mean Mommy does not come out as often when her tank is not on empty.

Another resolution actually came to me a few months ago when I went to an amazing U2 concert. For that concert, I ate some "special brownies" and had a fantastic night. During the concert, I sent myself an email that said, "I don't need Lexapro; I just need music". With little kids around, I am so used to having the TV tuned to Noggin in the background or to talking on the phone in the car. However, rock and roll has always been a huge part of my life and makes me truly happy! So, I am trying to play music, introduce my kids to the songs that I love, and feel the joy that it brings.

Now I am trying to figure out my BHAG. I have been toying with the idea of doing Pilates teacher certification. Lately, I have considered doing yoga teacher certification as well. Also, I am in the lottery for the 2010 NYC marathon and there is a part of me that wants to do some great runs and has the dream of qualifying for Boston. Some friends have suggested that I do some tris, but they scare the shit out of me. . . which makes me think that I should do them.

And then, and then . . . I was thinking the other day that I should find a way to combine my passion for cooking and eating with my dedication to health and fitness. I have learned to cook healthy, fresh and truly delicious food with ingredients that I had never used before this year. Things like beets, fennel, quinoa, chia are brand new to me and so exciting. I want to share my enthusiasm with others. I have done so much baking in the past few months, but then I have given it away. Great, so I didn't eat it, but I was contributing to making others unhealthy, (especially my husband who eats at least two portions of everything I make.) I want people to be more healthy and help them feel good; baked goods will have to be for special occasions, not a weekly occurance. So, I am trying to figure out a way to bring my passion for healthy living to others. Stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, I will be putting more healthy recipes and fewer baked goods on my blog. Everyone needs a treat sometime, so while I am not swearing off baking by any means, sweets will no longer be the be all and end all of this blog.

Breathe . . .

Where I've Been (or "What I did Over Christmas Vacation")

The answer to is a long winded one, but one of my New Year's Resolutions is to make this blog more succinct and more pertinent to what is really important to me. It has lately become all about baking, and it is even beginning to bore me.

I actually haven't been anywhere physically but have been all over the place mentally. Though we travel more than any other young family that I know, we do not travel over Christmas week because DrRuckus always tries to be the good Jewish doctor and let everyone else get some time off to be with their families. Great for them, just sucks for us. I am always miserable during Christmas week because everyone is busy with their families and my husband is busy working and I feel housebound and lonely, like the only Jew in Texas. This year was worse than ever because we were all sick at various times, and were even more confined to the house. To exacerbate the torture, I was nursing a hamstring injury and so was not able to get the release and endorphin rush that I am so addicted to. I don't really know what we did except count the hours until Daddy got home, but we made it, one hour at a time!

On the positive side, we caught up on some of our recorded TV shows, watched and returned some of our Netflix movies and I read some great books. One of these, "A Homemade Life" by superstar food blogger, Molly Wizenberg of Orangette fame was really well written and contains some fantastic recipes (yes, I tried a bunch of them and just took some of her bread out of the oven). If you want to read a baking blog, go to her site because she is the real deal. And if you live in, or travel to Seattle, go to her new restaurant and report back to me!

One of the other books, "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall, has truly inspired me and helped me ring in 2010 with a whole new brighter outlook. I have been meaning to do a post about all of the books I have read on my Kindle and hopefully will get to that soon. But this one just came at the right time and is making my life so much better!

This book is part adventure story, part anthropology lesson, part history text, part manual and ALL inspiration! McDougall discusses an epic ultramarathon in the savage Copper Canyon in Mexico with the hidden tribe of Tarahumara Indians. He teaches us why we as an animal have evolved to run long distances and makes doing so seem like it can be pure joy. As someone who has slogged through countless long runs, the idea of doing so with much less work and much more joy is very appealing.

He also posits that the reason why there are so many injuries from running is that our modern, high tech shoes are forcing our feet and legs to move in a way that is unnatural to them and not allowing our bodies to do the work for which they were designed. The trend towards barefoot or minimal running is taking off and there is a great deal of evidence as to why this is ultimately better for us and will keep us running injury free. Since I was nursing an injury at the time that I read it, I was willing to jump on board. I cannot fathom going all the way to barefoot because I like having pretty feet way too much. However, I did buy a pair of Vibram Five Finger shoes and have been learning how to run in them with a natural, short, easy stride. Crazy thing is, all of my leg pain is gone and my legs feel better each day that I walk around barefoot and workout in these. They look like gorilla feet, but they are fantastic!

One of the other secrets to the Tarahumara runners that McDougall discusses in his book is Chia. This ancient grain, consumed by the Tarahumara and other natives of the Southwest including the Aztecs, has incredible properties for overall health as well as for endurance. It contains tons of antioxidants, fiber, Omega-3 and Omega-6, Iron, Calcium, Magnesium AND is a complete protein. As if all of that is not enough, eating it also slows the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar, prolonging their fueling effects. It also has hydrophilic properties that help the body to retain moisture and thus prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.

I've been eating it for a few days now and the difference is incredible! Besides going from injury to recovery, which can be attributed to many factors, the biggest difference that I have found is in my energy level. I mix the chia with my oatmeal in the morning and have plenty of energy to get my kids going, get to the gym, do an intense workout, do something afterwards and not eat until about 1 p.m. I usually need some type of snack in the morning and then have to feed myself before I feed my kids in order to bite their heads off! Over the past few days, we have had some late dinners and I have not had the need to have a pre dinner snack (which I would normally have to do because I am used to eating dinner at toddler time) because I had a chia drink in the afternoon. Amazing stuff!

So much for succinct!