Sunday, October 30, 2011

Frighteningly Good Harvest Brownies


If you need some back up for all that bagged candy, waiting longingly for the trick-or-treaters to arrive tomorrow evening brownies are always a good choice.

But brownies sneakily laced with pumpkin? Now that is a trick that is actually a delicious treat!

And if pumpkin brownies couldn't get any better, these are totally fool proof and nearly prep free.

You will need:
      1 box of your favorite brownie mix
      1 egg
      ~16oz of pumpkin puree 

And then:
      Mixie-mixie it all together and bake according to the instructions on the brownie box. 
      Cut and top with whipped cream

Happy Halloween!

Love to all,
~the little pumpkin goblin gal, Jess

PS. This is the first time in years that I haven't had a full blown, costumed to the nine's Halloween. But no worries, I got plenty of costume time in during homecoming week. Enjoy a few shots with my students.

Wacky Tacky Tourist Day
(I'm on the far left of the frame)

Airport Security/Neon Day
(I was the only one who really went with the "security" bit, but I loved my costume as an air traffic controller!)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Learning to Tri: MyFirstTri at The 6th Annual Orlando Women's Triathlon

It was hard. It was encouraging. It made my legs scream. It made my lungs cry for air. It made me smile. It made me a triathlete.

Post Race, rocking my race tee, with Eleanor, my beloved bike.

Here is the story of My First Tri at the 6th Annual Orlando Women's Triathlon. Enjoy the ride. (and swim, and run!)

The Swim: 17:17

The beautiful sunrise over Lake Mary Jane. 
Photo Credit: Gray Quetti Photography

It was a beautiful, but chilly, morning on Saturday, October 22nd 2011 and as promised, I was shivering from both the 60 degree F air and a fair share of nerves. My Mom and her friend Anni, aka my cheering squad, had made a wrong turn on the highway, resulting in a 15 mile detour, so I was all alone on the beach of Lake Mary Jane, watching the sunrise and listening to last minute instructions from the race director.

As the pre-race meeting broke up Mom arrived, sweet sign in tow, and just in time to snap a few photos before my wave took off into the water.

Showing off my body markings.
At 7:20 am (ish-we were ahead of schedule) my wave of "My First Tri-ers" wadded ankle deep into the rather warm water of the lake.
"What buoy are you hitting?"
Photo Credit: Gray Quetti Photography

After one last buoy check, the horn sounded and we were off into the water. As planned, I ensured that I was the last one into the water, to avoid any flying limbs from my fellow competitors. One girl ahead of me freaked out when we were only chest deep in the water. I called out to her "it's ok, you've got this!" but she powered past me to the shore. 

Left Photo Credit: Gray Quetti Photography

As soon as I was fully in the water, I found my breathing to be incredibly rapid, shallow and on the cusp of ragged-aka-out of control. I flipped on my back for a few strokes to calm down, but every time I would turn back on my stomach and start to "crawl" without putting my face in the water I would start to breathe too quickly again. This problem continued for the entire swim, and I spent most of it on my back, doing the "squid."  (note to self: learn how to do a proper backstroke).

 I ended up staying at the back of the pack for the entire swim, since I couldn't get into a strong rhythm. A really great lifeguard in a kayak hovered around, calling out encouragement and helping me sight, since I was on my back. I did contemplate asking for a noddle at one point, but since you legally can't advance with one, and I can get my breath just as easily on my back I just kept doing what I was doing. 

At one point, after I had made the last turn and was really starting to slow, I was just staring up at the sky, noticing how lovely the day was becoming, I thought "hey, this is nice, I could say out here all day" but then I remembered "um, you have another 20km bike ride and a 5km run waiting for you, hurry up!" Frustratingly, when I flipped back on my stomach to try and power my way back to the shore, the shoreline was rotating around on me. Ack. Talk about instant sea-sick. Back to the safety of my back I went.

Eventually I got back to shore and staggered my way out of the lake. I literally was cross-stepping like a drunk! 

Photo Credit: Gray Quetti Photography

Run from water to transition zone: 2:41

I don't know which sadistic member of the race committee thought a 1/2 mile run to the transition area would be perfect after an open water swim, but at the moment I sure could have punched them. I jogged the 1/4 mile along the beach, but once we turned on the asphalt of the park driveway I ended up hobbling/walking along to the transition itself. 

Transition 1: 3:10

Wow! Can't breathe, my feet are wet and grassy, I forgot to untie my sneakers. Are we having fun yet?

The Bike: 57:11

As I predicted, the bike portion of the race was my strongest leg. I just settled into a groove as best I could, and lordy, with the headwind we were all fighting for a good 85% of the ride I needed that groove!

My pace was generally around 14mph, but at one point I slipped down to 10mph! Luckily, I made up for that slow time, when I kicked it up to 17mph for a while, when the wind was (finally!) at my back.

Photo Credit: Gray Quetti Photography

Overall, I had a great ride, and passed a few other competitors, but by the end of the ride my feet felt like frozen blocks of ice, so I was very happy to turn back into the park and hit the bike finish line! 

Transition 2: 2:04

The Run: 45:00

The run, also as expected, was really tough. I was very under trained for this leg, since I haven't been running much at all.  This is when I was thankful for the cool weather, because my cardio control was actually pretty good. But my legs, oh my legs. I've always said my legs have a mind of their own, as in I'll decide to run to a particular place, but a good 10 paces before my "finish line" my legs will just stop!

I actually had a bit of the opposite on this run. I would suddenly start running again, and it felt great! The course was slippery in places, so that was interesting. I literally got confused at one point, when a volunteer seemed to be directing me into the woods, off the trail. I actually stopped moving and just said, "what?"  He assured me it was correct and with a shrug, off I went. 

Only to see the the finish chute looming in the distance! I picked up my pace and with a huge smile on my face (and fighting back tears, for some reason) I crossed the finish line of my first triathlon!

See me in the distance?

Photo Credit: Gray Quetti Photography

Total Time: 2:07:25

I ran straight into my Mom's arms and started fighting back tears, all the while fighting to get my breath!

Aren't these photos of Anni and Mom by Gray Quetti Photography fantastic?

Photo Credit: Gray Quetti Photography

The entire race course, Moss Park and the surrounding neighborhood, was abundant with Sand Hill Cranes, aka Space Chickens, which were yet another reason my run went so well, so I had to take a picture with one!

One of the best things about this race experience was the support. Everyone on the course was so supportive and kind. The phrases "you got this" "hang in there girl" "you are about to become a triathlete" hung heavy in the air all over the race grounds. But one woman made a huge impact on me.

Meet Jessica:
Photo Credit: Gray Quetti Photography

In addition to having a really awesome name, this wonderful woman was the most inspiring/supportive person during the race. She was competing in the Olympic distance and passed me both on the bike and the run portions. Both times though, she said something encouraging and was so incredibly sincere. Oh and she won the entire Olympic division! I tried to find her after I finished to say thank you, but I couldn't find her. So, thank you Jessica, you really made my race! 

Oh and in case you were wondering I finished 4th in my age division. And yes, I will for sure be doing another triathlon in the future; in fact I've already been looking up sprint distance tri's in the spring. In the meantime I'll be spending more time on the road, both on foot and two-wheeling, plus a lot more time both in the pool and open water! 

Love to all,
~the "hey, I'm a triathlete, look at me!" gal Jess 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spooky's Black Cat Cafe

Can you feel it? Can you?

Halloween is a mere week away, friends!

So, it's about damn time I told you about Spooky's Black Cat Cafe, in the Milk District of Orlando.

(in case you are going, "milk district, wha?" like I was when I first heard the term, it's just little nickname Orlandoeans have given the neighborhood around the T.G. Lee plant. When I questioned if that was a kosher way to name a neighborhood, I was told the point is mute. You can't argue with a stubborn Orlando native. Trust me on this.)

Back to Spooky's. It's fun, it's funky and it's damn tasty.

Oh and did I mention they have a great draft list? 'Cause they do.

I don't 100% remember what this was, something by Cigar City? (I actually visited Spooky's back in the summer, I was just saving this post for Halloween!) Regardless, it was tasty and I believe I had a second round!

We split the Tour of India appetizer sampler.

From the menu: A trio of Baigan Bharta style eggplant curried dip, Pav Baji style vegetable curry dip and Patra style aloo leave, curries and a tamarind roll with a side of curried yogurt, toasted Naan bread, and today’s crisps.

It was mighty tasty, and great fun to play with, as most Indian inspired dishes are. I liked the veggie curry dip the best, but ended up going to town mostly on the tamarind roll, because the rest of my party didn't care for it. It was strongly spiced, but I enjoyed it with the yogurt.

For my entree I got the cheese board of the day. This has become one of my favorite "go to" meals, and the spread put out by Spooky's did not disappoint: brie, wensleydale with cranberries, an herbed goat log and some variety of aged, hard cheese that had a nice bite; all served with strawberries, blueberries, crackers and crouton-thingies (yes, that is a very advanced culinary description. Also, I did not care for said "crouton-thingies). Overall, I demolished this plate, because it was that good!

Ok, well I actually shared some with my friend Jesse, because he ordered my second choice, The Fungi Fun Pizza, and then we taste swapped.

One blurry half, as described on the menu: Ricotta and garlic base, fresh mozzarella, shitake, crimini, and portabella mushrooms. I'm glad of two things here: One that my best boobies friend lets me taste test with her hubby and two, that I stuck with the cheese plate. This pizza was, well, seriously and overwhelmingly fungi-lous. And coming from the gal that ate wild mushrooms at the tender age of 4 because she loves them so much (and the rest of that story is for another day, thank you) is really saying something. Holy moly mushrooms!

If you are visiting Orlando for a spooky good time this weekend, in celebration of All Hallow's Eve, trick or treat your way though the Milk District and have a pint and a bite at Spooky's....if you dare!


Love to all,
~the creepy little cafe lovin' gal, Jess

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Learning to Tri: What a (sucessful) Weekend!

Swim: 17:17

Bike: 57:11

Run: 45:00

Total (with transitions): 2:07:25

Details to come soon!

Love to all,
~the "so, I'm sort of a triathlete now" gal, Jess

Friday, October 21, 2011

Learning to Tri: What Have I Gotten Myself Into?


Could The Semi Abnormal Gal be Any Less Prepared for the Sixth Annual Orlando Women's Triathlon?

So, what crazy signs up for the first triathlon of her life the same week as Homecoming at the school of her employment, the end of the marking period at same said school, oh and volunteers to judge 2 Hi-Q matches that week and photograph the night time pep rally? A week that has left her exhausted, with a stuffy nose/sore throat and chugging Emergen-C like her life depends on it?

Oh! Oh! Pick me! Pick me!

So, yeah....I'm shaking with nerves in my makeshift trisuit, to say the least (and considering the first real cold front of the fall season just hit Florida this week, I'm going to be shaking from cold as well, come Saturday morning!)

But regardless of the fact that I feel under-trained, sick and this cool snap arrived in Florida about 48 hours too soon for my taste I do have I plan, and here it is!

The Swim

The Distance: 400 meters
The Semi-Abnormal Game Plan:
               a- be the last one in the water, seriously. I do NOT want to get kicked. I'm still a little nervous about my swimming skills; I just finally mastered how to breathe over my left shoulder (I'm a righty) a week ago and it's not always that pretty, so I don't need a bonk on the head in addition to my awkward form. 
              b- Finish in ~ 10 minutes? I can swim one length of my gym pool (or 25m) in 35 seconds, so that is what I'm using for my time calculations. We'll see!

The Bike

The Distance: 20km 
The Semi-Abnormal Game Plan:
              a- Cycle my heart out. I know I'm totally new to the "roadie" world, as I just got my bike Eleanor in August, but I adore riding on her. I know I will get passed, but I'm ok with that.
              b- Finish in ~60 minutes. I just finally got a working speedometer back last week, and I was pleased to discover that my "comfortable" speed is faster than I though, since I also had been under calculating the distance I was covering. I know what my "push it" speed is and how long I can maintain it, so I'm excited about my performance on wheels.

The Run

The Distance: 5km
The Semi-Abnormal Game Plan:
               a- Ugh. I really truly hate running. I can't fool myself about this and therefore my only "training" run was last week. It was more of a hobble.
              b- Finish in ~45 minutes? I honestly plan on power walking most of it. I do want to "run the finish" line though, because I've never actually done that before. My last race (which was also my first race) was a relay and I was the first leg.

The Transitions

The Distance(s): Not sure
The Semi-Abnormal Game Plan:
              a- I don't have a plan for this. I haven't practiced transitions, but I'm ok with that.
              b- I am concerned about running from the lake to T1 and then running with my bike. See "The Run" above. (Doesn't like to run, got it).

Well, there you have it. The not so planned out plan, which put me finishing somewhere around the 2 hour mark.  That seems like not long enough, so I'm not sure what I haven't accounted for? Regardless, my bike is racked on my car, my gear is packed and the check list is checked! 

I'm off to Tri!

Love to all,
~the "I can't believe this triathlon is finally here!" gal, Jess

Monday, October 17, 2011

Chinese Takeout Pizza OR How we Make Up For No Delivery Service in the Boonies

I love visiting my bestie in Orlando for many reasons. One of which is the beauty of food delivery.

Don't want to go out in the rain for dinner after getting drenched 11 million times previously that day? No worries, just call the restaurant you were going to visit and they will bring your hot Pho soup to your doorstep. Ahh, now that is what I call service, and no, I don't mind paying a touch extra for delivery/tip if I can eat in my PJ's in front of a dumb cable movie, thank you very much!

At home however, I live 35 miles from the nearest restaurant that even offers delivery. And for some odd reason they aren't willing to make the 40ish minute trek out to my neck of the woods. (I literally live in the woods, fyi. That isn't just a cute expression.)

However, thanks to some inspiration from a Rachel Ray recipe for Mu Shu Pork Pizza, I can now satisfy cravings for both pizza and Chinese delivery with one make at home meal.

So, if you have a need for take-out delivery, or just a wacky fun dinner, give my take on this RR meal a try!

The Goods:
  • 1 lb pizza dough (I did the Publix Bakery pre-made dough)
  • 4oz thick cut pork chop (or loin)
  • ~4oz white mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 a medium sweet onion, diced
  • 1/2 head of escarole (or cabbage/ hearty green of your choice), rough chopped
  • sesame oil
  • hoisin sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil for grilling

Saute the onions and mushrooms in a drizzle of sesame oil.

After the onions and 'shrooms cooked down season them with S&P then toss in the chopped escarole.

Meanwhile, season the pork with sesame oil (mine was a butterflied chop) and grill it over medium heat, then smoother in ~1/3 cup hoisin sauce. Cut the seasoned pork into cubes and toss with the veggies. (now off the heat)

Fight Roll the pizza dough into something resembling 2 disks. Rub with a small amount of olive oil and grill until deliciously brown and puffed.

As soon as the dough comes off the grill, brush generously with more hoisin sauce.

Top the crust with the pork and veggie mixture and enjoy!

This tastes just like mu-shu pork, but with the satisfying chew of pizza, instead of those flimsy Chinese pancakes.

Chinese/Pizza Delivery cravings crushed!

Love to all,
~the "a girl's gotta do, what a girl's gotta do when living in BFE" gal, Jess